Holgorsen no fan of scheduling cupcakes, ahem, FCS teams

MORGANTOWN – The last time the West Virginia football team did not face an opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision was 2007. That year, the Mountaineers were still members of the Big East, under head coach Rich Rodriguez, and played out-of-conference teams in Western Michigan, Marshall, Maryland, East Carolina and Mississippi State.

Current head coach Dana Holgorsen wants to party like it’s 2007.

WVU hosts Liberty, a FCS team from the Big South Conference, this week and only plays one more FCS team (Youngstown State next year) on its already booked future schedules. Liberty and YSU were scheduled before Holgorsen arrived at West Virginia in 2011. On top of the Big 12 schedule, where the Mountaineers play each of the nine other teams in the conference, future WVU opponents include YSU, Missouri and BYU in 2016, Virginia Tech and East Carolina in 2017, Tennessee and North Carolina State in 2018, Missouri and North Carolina State in 2019, East Carolina and Maryland in 2020, with Maryland and Virginia Tech in 2021.

All but YSU and East Carolina (American Athletic Conference) are members of Power Five Football Bowl Subdivision leagues.

“We’re taking the approach that we’re not going to schedule a ton of them,” Holgorsen said of FCS programs. “I don’t know if that’s appropriate or inappropriate.”

Last week, Youngstown State was paid $420,000 for playing at Pitt. The Penguins made another $330,000 from Ohio State after the Buckeyes backed out of a previous commitment and played the Virginia Tech series instead.

“I know it’s one of the life lines for the FCS opponents to get a payday,” Holgorsen said. “It’s good for them to come over and collect a pay check to keep their program afloat. Some of them need it more than others. I don’t think Liberty is one that totally needs it. It’s kind of a shame in that sense. I have a lot respect for FCS, Division II and Division III schools.”

Dating back to 1978, the Mountaineers are 15-0 against FCS teams, earning two shut outs. WVU played Liberty in 2010, winning 33-20. Last week’s season-opening opponent Georgia Southern used to be FCS, but moved up at the start of the 2014 season.

“There’s talent out there at every level,” said WVU quarterback Skyler Howard, originally a walk-on at FCS-level Stephen F. Austin to start his college career. “A lot of guys can make the jump (to FBS), but some stay to get playing time and build their own way with certain programs.

“We aren’t taking any team lightly, just because they happen to be a FCS school.”

That could have been the case with the Pac-12 Conference’s Washington State and Big 12’s Kansas who lost to Portland State and South Dakota State (both FCS teams), respectively, in Week 1.

Still, the Mountaineers have loaded up with strong, established power programs for the foreseeable future.

“We are one of the only teams in the country that are scheduling two Power Five schools,” Holgorsen said. “If you look at our future schedules, we are scheduling them. I wish that everybody else would do the same thing.

“If we are scheduling two Power Five schools and a non-Power Five school, then I wish everyone else would, too, as opposed to what some of the other schools are doing by scheduling a FCS school or two FCS schools and two other non-Power Five schools. You can figure out who I’m talking about.”

Likely, Holgorsen is referring to Baylor, who plays only two FBS teams out-of-conference this year and next year in Southern Methodist and Rice, though neither are from a Power Five conference. The Bears play Lamar this year and Northwestern State next year. The only Power Five team Baylor plays in the next few years is Duke out of the ACC in 2017 and 2018. The Blue Devils have only qualified for three postseason bowl games in the last 20 years.

Baylor does have Pac-12 member Utah on the schedule, but not until 2023.

“I think we should do what everybody else in the country does,” Holgorsen said of future scheduling.

When stacked against fellow members of the Big 12, West Virginia is way ahead of the curve is schedule strength. Only Texas, like WVU, faces two out-of-conference Power Five teams – USC and Maryland – both in 2017 and 2018.

Kansas State and Kansas only play two total Power Five teams (Mississippi State and Vanderbilt for the Wildcats; Rutgers and Illinois for the Jayhawks) in the next seven years, albeit in different seasons.

Iowa State has only rival Iowa in its future scheduling plans. The rest of the Cylcones’ schedules are made up of FCS and non-Power Five teams.

Like recent realignment, the general landscape of college athletics could change at any time. Conferences, divisions and levels of play could be shaken up this decade or 50 years down the road. For now, Holgorsen is the first coach to express any disdain for the scheduling of cupcakes, more distinguishly known as FCS teams.

WVU defensive line coach Bruce Tall, who has coached at all levels in his 32 years of gridiron mentorship, can assure you that players take the cheap, low-level remarks to heart.

“(FCS teams) play with a chip on their shoulder,” Tall said. “They come into games (against Power Five teams) and think they have something to prove. We have 85 (scholarships) and they have 63, so there’s just more numbers. It’s not the ability. I’ve had Division III guys play in the NFL. The only difference is more numbers.”

It’s a difference the Mountaineers are establishing in the future, too. A difference in revolutionizing college football schedules.

(Peaslee, a Weirton resident, is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at mpeaslee@heraldstaronline.com and followed on Twitter at @thempeas)


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