Archive For November 29, 2016
It would be all so easy if football were a video game.
If the players were pixels, with easy-to-read sliders with their statistics on them.
Then the FCS playoffs would be easy. You’d plug in the teams, they’d hit each other virtually on the screen, and there would be a result, quantifying the relative strengths and weaknesses of each team. A representative score would come out, and there would be one side bursting with victory, and the other in agony in defeat.
There would be bitterness, some teeth-gnashing, but at least you’d have figured out that the teams gave it their best shot.
But real life is not a video game. Sometimes, star players go hunting, and come down with an illness. It keeps them out of practice, and on the day of the big game, they’re not 100%, or even 75%. Sometimes, foot injuries do not heal, as much as you wish that they would.
And then a team like Lehigh travels up to New Hampshire, not able to put their absolute best foot forward.
Not that it’s an excuse – injuries, and all sorts of other things, happen during a football season. New Hampshire exposed what may have actually been weaknesses hiding in plain sight for this Lehigh team, exposing the soft white underbelly of the Mountain Hawks – the ability to stop an elite running game.
But it was heartbreaking to have Lehigh not be able to put their absolute best foot forward, to not be able to go down with two of their four team captains at full strength.
Instead, all that Lehigh fans got to see were tiny glimpses of the team they had gotten to know so well over the last couple of months, sandwiched around a lot of evidence on how much better the Mountain Hawks need to be in order to compete for a national championship.
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Right from the opening drive it didn’t feel like it was going to be Lehigh’s day.
With sophomore QB Brad Mayes in for senior QB Nick Shafnisky, who was unable to start due to an undisclosed illness, a pass that bounced off the hands of senior WR Derek Knott instead bounced into the hands of New Hampshire’s first team all-CAA CB Casey DeAndrade.
Six plays later, the New Hampshire offense converted that turnover into the very first touchdown of the day for the Wildcats, the first of many on a defense that clearly missed senior LB Colton Caslow, who got hurt in the second half against Lafayette last weekend.
Four different New Hampshire players scored a grand total of six rushing touchdowns, two coming from RB Dalton Crossan, two coming from his backup, RB Trevon Bryant, one from the third-string, RB Evan Gray, and one on a scramble from QB Adam Riese.
All in all, the Wildcats racked up 364 yards rushing on the Brown and White, rushing to a 36-7 lead on the Mountain Hawks and coasting to a 64-21 victory. In the ultimate twist of irony, Lehigh got beat in the way they had beaten so many opponents in their nine game regular-season winning streak – with UNH jumping to a big lead and never really taking their foot off the gas.
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For whatever reason, you didn’t make the trip to Durham, New Hampshire. You’ve popped your popcorn, iced your Yuenglings, and put the meatballs in the crockpot – and then you panic.
How do I watch the game? What is ESPN3? Can I watch it on my TV? Do I need to subscribe to something? WHAT DO I DO???
Never fear. LFN’s here to help.
We break down the FCS Playoffs Game of the Week below the flip.
You heard right.
One of my FCS Playoff pet peeves (especially in the first round) is that, for some reason, ESPN (who owns the TV contract for all rounds of the FCS playoffs) and the NCAA do not space out all the games in fixed time slots.
If ESPN and the NCAA wanted to generate excitement about the playoffs, it would be fairly easy to space out every game with a kickoff every hour (Noon, 1:00 PM, 2:00 PM, etc.) all the way up to 8:00 PM. That way, hardcore FCS football fans can watch part of every single game, with at least one game getting to crunch time every hour from about 2:30 PM on. It would be compelling theater.
But ESPN and the NCAA, for some reason, choose not to do this, and indeed this year, ESPN has five FCS playoff games kicking off at 2:00 PM, one kicking off at 3:00 PM, and a couple of stragglers kicking off at 5:00 PM and 7:00 PM, respectively.
Why? There is literally no good reason for this. ESPN is causing hardcore FCS football fans to watch less FCS football. I’d love to be able to catch Weber State/Chattanooga, but it’s on at the exact same time as Lehigh/UNH, so my chance of catching that game live is below zero.
Had Lehigh/UNH kicked off at Noon, and had Weber State/Chattanooga kicked off at 3:00 PM, suddenly I would have watched more ESPN3. Foolishly, I thought that was also in ESPN’s (and the NCAA’s) best interest that I am writing about and talking about more FCS playoff games all day.
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In order to understand how UNH will be looking at this weekend’s game against Lehigh, you need to go back to the narrative of last week.
And then, you need to go back to the narrative from last year.
But first, let’s start with last week, where the Wildcats were not only battling their Rival Maine in the “Battle for the Brice/Cowell Musket”, they were battling to keep their playoff dreams alive.
The Wildcats, who had qualified for the FCS playoffs for twelve consecutive years, had fallen behind their bitter Rivals Maine, 14-7 at halftime.
With both teams at 6-4. it must have had the feel of a playoff game as well as a Rivalry game. The winner would likely have a good shot at a playoff game; the loser would likely be out.
And the starter, sophomore QB Trevor Knight, was out of the game with a foot injury. The backup, senior QB Adam Riese, would have to be the trigger guy to rally the Wildcats to the win.
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“The Engineer football team once again showed their supremacy over the Yankee Conference leaders by defeating the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats, 16-3,” read the October 26th edition of The Brown and White in 1979.
LB Jim McCormick intercepted a UNH pass early in the game, and returned it to the Wildcat 4, setting up an early touchdown. After that, the Engineer defense would take over, crushing UNH’s offense the rest of the way.
That would be the last time Lehigh has won at Cowell Stadium – 1979, a year where Lehigh was one of four teams in the I-AA playoffs and made it to the championship, ultimately falling to Eastern Kentucky in the finals.
So much has changed since then. The I-AA playoffs have been renamed the FCS playoffs, and not have 24 teams instead of 4. The Yankee Conference essentially was renamed to the Atlantic 10 Football Conference and now the CAA football conference, morphing from a Northeastern-based conference to one whose center of gravity is Virginia. New Hampshire went from a championship contender to a perennial FCS playoff powerhouse, seemingly guaranteed a slot in the playoffs every year.
But what hasn’t changed much for Lehigh over the course of these last thirty-plus years is that Cowell Stadium has been Lehigh’s boulevard of broken dreams. The Mountain Hawks beat UNH in Bethlehem in 2013, it is true. But up in the Granite State, it’s been a different story. Since that epic 1979 win, Lehigh has been 0-7 up there, and not one of the games have been close.
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By now you probably know that Lehigh is headed to New Hampshire on Saturday to face off against the Wildcats in the first round of the FCS Playoffs.
About this, some of you are scratching your heads. Lehigh is 9-2, you say. Every single computer rating system has them ranked ahead of New Hampshire, every single human voter poll has them ranked against New Hampshire. Lehigh won the Patriot League outright; New Hampshire weren’t even co-champions of the CAA. Why is New Hampshire hosting us?
The answer resides in the bidding process and some NCAA rules, both of which explain why it happened.
I’ll talk about this, and my other thoughts on the bracket, below.
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The parties raged on in the parking garage next to Fisher Field, which were packed with Lafayette fans eager to enjoy a party with plenty of great food and copious drinks.
The tiny businesses below Fisher Field, the small bits of capitalism next to the concrete husks of factory jobs that have left ages ago, had plenty of visiting Lehigh fans, enjoying the tailgates and ready to invade the stadium that they hadn’t seen in four years.
In the line coming into the stadium, a silent protest of hundreds of Lafayette students clad in black, handing out a political statement on a piece of paper and showing some signs that were up seemingly to simply show that these people exist, and are not happy.
Somewhere in this mix of people escaping, people expressing and people denying, a football game was played, one that matched an 8-2 team that was headed to the national stage and the FCS playoffs, the other a 2-8 squad that had their fans questioning the tenure of their head coach.
It was one of the strangest disconnect of emotions that I’ve ever seen in a Rivalry game, one where the outcome, a 45-21 victory by the Brown and White, was almost expected by everyone going through the crowded gates at Fisher Field.
There was plenty to celebrate – for one side, anyway.
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Stop me if you’ve heard this before: As a reward for being the surprise outright winner of the Patriot League football championship, the reward is a trip to New Hampshire, the winner headed to seeded James Madison for a second-round game. And somewhere, Sam Houston State looms on the horizon.
This is the exact situation that Colgate found itself last season, and this year, Lehigh is poised to run through the exact same gauntlet and the exact same teams.
Sunday morning, Lehigh found out their opponents for the FCS Playoffs; the New Hampshire Wildcats. The game will be played at New Hampshire at 2PM EST, and will be available to watch on ESPN3 on your computer and possibly ESPN Gameplan Pay-Per-View on your TV.
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Let’s just put it this way: After looking at the mock brackets from around FCS Nation, mocking it out myself, trying to go over as many possible scenarios that I possibly can – I still have no idea.
That doesn’t mean, dear Reader, that I won’t try, and I won’t try to explain to you what I think could happen. But it’s not easy, and you’ll see why.
Put simply, I feel like this is the most wide-open playoff field ever, for two reasons.
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