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‘Small’ schools deserve bigger respect

by Dave Wiggins

The headline of a recent story on ESPN.com read: “Small School QBs Have Big Talent.”

OK, you’ve got my attention, MAS thought to himself.

So he read on, expecting to find out about hot quarterback prospects from colleges like Valdosta State or Mt. Union — perennial NCAA Division II and III powerhouses, respectively.

I had hoped to learn of the next Dave Krieg (Milton College) who went on to have a solid NFL career for Seattle.

Or another Ken Anderson, the former Cincinnati All-Pro from tiny Augustana, which doesn’t even play football anymore.

Instead, the article focused on QBs from Louisiana-Monroe, Fresno State and Northern Illinois — teams that are part of the FBS (college football’s highest classification — formerly known as Division I-A).

MAS’s blood immediately started boiling.

It always does when clueless media members disparage — either by accident or with intent — the quality of football played outside of the SEC, Big Ten or the other so-called “power conferences.”

If the college game is their beat, they should know better.

Had the author of that headline really understood the college game, he would have known that teams from the lesser-known FBS leagues are NOT small by any means — just under-publicized.

Ask outfits from more famed conferences that have learned the hard way.

Last season, Louisiana-Monroe of the Sun Belt Conference knocked off then-nationally ranked Arkansas of the SEC and the very next week came within seconds of toppling Auburn, the national champ two years earlier.

Further, no “major power” wants any part of Fresno State (motto: Anybody, anyplace, anytime) from the Mountain West Conference.

Not after the Bulldogs ran off a string of so-called “upsets” several seasons back, ruining several “name” teams’ national title hopes.

And Northern Illinois (Mid-American Conference) has been knocking off biggies for years, including the Big Ten’s Iowa this campaign.

Small?

MAS thinks not.

Another phrase carelessly thrown around by the media — and many fans, too — that turns up MAS’s hemoglobin hotplate is the expression “cupcake” opponent.

It’s used a lot during the first month of the college season when well-known teams schedule non-conference opponents from lower-rated leagues.

The “bigs” try to fill out their 12-game schedule with foes they figure they can handle easily — but often have trouble with (see above three “small” teams).

I was shocked that a writer from a major U.S. newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, would use the extremely disrespectful term cupcake in mocking the early schedules of Alabama and several other schools.

On the Crimson Tide’s early slate this season: Chattanooga, Georgia State and Colorado State.

The writer implied that the underdogs were pushovers or, even worse, downright bad.

To the clueless, yes. In reality, no.

Even Bama knows what COULD happen in such contests. Shortly before Nick Saban became their coach, the Tide had suffered stinging losses to the likes of Troy and Middle Tennessee State.

If those names don’t sound familiar, it’s OK — just don’t call yourself a college football expert.

Or write about the sport for the Chron.

If that San Fran beat writer —and any fan who uses “cupcake” similarly — had either played college ball or even just done his homework, he would have known better.

Simply put: There are no bad college teams — only good and better ones.

And anything can happen on a given Saturday.

Several years back, Michigan set the standard for careless scheduling.

The Wolverines opened with Appalachian State, a team from the FCS (formerly known as Division I-AA — one classification below the FBS, ex-D-1A).

Michigan honchos grossly underestimated Appy, which had won the D-1AA title the previous season and returned most of their starters.

Result: Appalachian State knocked off mighty Michigan before 100,000 stunned Big House fans in Ann Arbor.

Since then, a bunch of other FBS athletic directors have also learned that “cupcake” is an insulting myth.

Already this campaign, unheralded FCS member North Dakota State has knocked off defending Big 12 champion Kansas State.

Opening weekend alone, seven FCS teams toppled FBS foes, including Eastern Washington licking No. 25 Oregon State and Towson State blasting UConn.

Cupcakes?

BAMMMMP!

Wrong.

MAS admits, the well-known schools usually have more of the best players.

But they don’t have all of them.

You’ll find high quality performers not only on lesser-known FBS and FCS squads but also on the rosters of Division II and III outfits.

That’s why even MAS’ alma mater, Kutztown (Pa.) University — a D-II school — occasionally sends players to the NFL, like former Denver All-Pro linebacker John Mobley and Bruce Harper, the New York Jets’ all-time punt return yardage leader.

Maybe the aforementioned disrespect toward collegiate teams infuriates MAS because he knows first-hand how hard it is to play at any level of college football — even D-II.

MAS was an all-conference linebacker at KU, where he saw a whole bunch of high school All-Stars relegated to All-Bench status.

Thus, yours truly would never denigrate a teammate who didn’t see the field or someone from D-III. MAS merely counts his blessings.

Most guys in the higher divisions feel the same way about players below them in classification.

It’s ALL good to a guy who’s ever snapped on a college chin-strap.

If only sanctimonious, never-played media draft analysts — who automatically attach stigmatic phrases like “played against lesser competition” or “has unrefined talent” to players from the lower collegiate divisions — could understand this, too.

If they and anyone who employs “cupcake” or “small school” erroneously had ever set foot on a collegiate football field, they would not resort to such semantics.

And MAS wouldn’t blow so many gaskets.

Email Man About Sports at: davwigg@gmail.com