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The Harvard-less I-AA playoffs got underway last weekend, and since I’m not quite ready to give up on writing about football just yet, I’d like to pass along a few impressions from the Round of 16.
ESPN2 picked up one first-round matchup—third-seeded Georgia Southern vs. New Hampshire—on Saturday, and it was quite possibly the best of the bunch.
The Eagles had never lost an opening round game in 14 tries, and they looked like a lock for 15 as they jumped out to a 21-7 lead. Wildcat freshman quarterback Ricky Santos led New Hampshire back to within two—on two touchdowns, a missed extra-point and a failed two point conversion—and then led the Wildcats down for the game-winning touchdown, as the squad pulled out a 27-21 road victory over Georgia Southern.
While the Eagles’ rushing attack was quite impressive, New Hampshire proved that any one-dimensional offense—and on this day the Georgia Southern attack surely looked it—can be shut down given the right adjustments.
After getting a good look at both squads, I’m convinced that Harvard could have played with either team, and given home field advantage—something that the NCAA would surely bestow on a 10-0 conference champion—would have been favored over both.
Eastern Washington posted the most shocking result of the day, knocking off top-seeded Southern Illinois. The home loss by the Salukis meant that just two of the four seeded teams—fourth-seeded Montana and second-seeded Furman—made it through to the quarterfinal round.
Both the Grizzlies and the Paladins did so in impressive fashion, as Montana blew out Southland champion Northwestern State and Furman took care of Ohio Valley Conference winner Jacksonville State.
The Paladins-Gamecocks game was carried live on Comcast Sports South, so I got a first-hand look at quarterback Ingle Martin and that potent Furman offense.
Martin didn’t disappoint as the Paladins demolished Jacksonville State, and Furman remains the team to beat in my book in the hunt for the I-AA national title. I mean, we’re talking about a team that held a 14-point lead on I-A Pittsburgh with just over five minutes remaining, before the Panthers stormed back for a 41-38 overtime victory.
And now I’m going to veer off on a completely irrelevant and lengthy aside on Pittsburgh and its position in the BCS. Anyone who said that it’s a travesty or a shame or so on that the Panthers are going to a BCS bowl game by winning the Big East has absolutely no clue what he or she is talking about. The only reason the BCS was created was to make sure that the conference champions, if they finished number one or number two in the country, would be free to play each other, rather than being locked into traditional bowl alliances (i.e. SEC with the Sugar, Pac 10 and Big Ten with the Rose, etc.).
The BCS was not meant to take the top eight teams in the country and place them in the top four bowls. Nor was that the way it was before the BCS. There have always been conference champion tie-ins to the top bowls, and there always will be.Until we see a I-A playoff. And that won’t ever happen. Whew.
OK, I think I’ll step off the soapbox now and continue with the rest of my column.
In a head-to-head matchup, I’m convinced that the only remaining team that would definitely beat the Crimson is Furman. Montana might also be a slight favorite depending on the location of the game. But Harvard would be favored over the four Atlantic 10 schools left in the tournament—James Madison, Delaware, William and Mary and New Hampshire—as well as Eastern Washington. The Crimson wouldn’t have faced Montana in either of the first two rounds (due to the lack of proximity of the two schools) and likely wouldn’t have seen Furman until the semifinals, as well.
In other words, if Harvard weren’t banned from participating in the postseason, the team would have likely had two home games against slightly inferior opponents—with either one possibly carried nationally on ESPN2—before reaching the national semifinals.
Thanks to our football-phobic presidents, however, we’re just left to speculate how far this Crimson team could have advanced. And that’s a travesty.
—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears every Tuesday.
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