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Don't Choke on Cupcakes: A B1G vs FCS Review

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As the FCS payday era comes to a close, let's see who knows how to eat their cupcakes properly.

Eat up, Rutgers!
Eat up, Rutgers!
Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images

An Illinois preview seems like a reasonable and predictable thing for me to contribute.

So, I'm not going to do that. Mostly because Illinois hosts Western Illinois, which is a directional FCS school in its own state. This is not the type of game Illinois should ever lose for any reason, and they won't tomorrow.* Though WIU has a tremendously talented receiver in Lance Lenoir, they simply don't have the type of defense or running game usually found among FCS teams that knock off power conference teams.

*I am aware that I've just doubled down here. You might think saying this will make a loss hurt much more, but that implies that there's a level of despair beyond what I would normally experience from losing to Western Illinois.

Further bolstering my confidence is Illinois' 14-0 record against FCS teams. Unless tomorrow is a catastrophe of epic proportions, Illinois will have only Murray State next year standing in the way of closing out its FCS scheduling era with a perfect 16-0 record. Others, however, have not fared so well.

Illinois: 14-0

Closest Call: (19) Illinois 28, Southern Illinois 25, 1985

Though the Illini struggled against SIU in 2013 and trailed Youngstown State in the fourth quarter last year, it was Mike White's 1985 team, ranked #19 at the time, that came closest to blowing it. (Source) They escaped when SIU's 48-yard tying field goal fell short with a minute remaining, after Illinois corner Lance Harkey performed the Heimlich by knocking down the would-be go-ahead touchdown pass. Illinois would finish 6-5-1, losing the Peach Bowl to Army.
Original source: "Illini Struggle To Beat SIU" by Robert Markus. Chicago Tribune: September 16, 1985.

Indiana: 12-1

The Choke Job: Southern Illinois 35, Indiana 28, 2006

Last week the Hoosiers fought back to narrowly avoid losing to Southern Illinois for a second time. In the third game of 2006, the 2-0 Hoosiers gained only 315 yards of offense against the Salukis in a back-and-forth battle decided by SIU's go-ahead rushing touchdown with 6 minutes remaining. The Hoosiers would finish 5-7, one win short of a bowl game.

Iowa: 13-0

Closest Call: (22) Iowa 17, Northern Iowa 16, 2009

The first game of 2009 saw the Hawkeyes unable to run the ball against a stout UNI defense and trail 13-3 in the third quarter. AIHRBG watched carefully as Iowa's Adam Robinson found the end zone in the third quarter, but did not act immediately. Tony Moeaki's fourth quarter TD reception from Ricky Stanzi finally gave Iowa the lead back, but the Panthers kicked another field goal, forced a punt and marched from their own 8 to the Iowa 22. With 7 seconds remaining, Iowa blocked the first down field goal attempt, but gave UNI another chance when the Iowa player nearest the ball heard voices telling him not to pick it up. Iowa blocked the second attempt and recovered the ball that time. This is as close as you can come to losing without doing it. Iowa would go on to win the Orange Bowl. Imagine telling that to anybody at Kinnick Stadium during halftime.

Maryland: 15-0

Closest Calls: Maryland 7, William&Mary 6, 2012; Maryland 38, James Madison 35 (OT), 2009

I felt like both games deserved to be on here, and you'll probably agree. Kicking off against defending FCS semifinalist James Madison, the 2009 Terps got out to a 21-6 lead in the second quarter, but lost that lead on a Chris Turner-thrown pick six. Torrey Smith's 8 yard run evened the score at 28, but Maryland immediately surrendered a 70-yard TD scramble on a playaction rollout. JMU missed an FG in overtime while Maryland hit one, but perhaps it wouldn't have gotten that far if not for 11 penalties for 105 yards against the Dukes. Ralph Friedgen's Terps would win just one more game in 2009.
Randy Edsall's second season at Maryland kicked off with a miserable 242-yard offensive performance against William and Mary, whose two first-quarter FG's were the only points on the board until Justus Pickett provided the game-winning touchdown run with 9:52 remaining. This is how not to offense. The Terps would finish 4-8, rebounding the next week to upset defensive juggernaut Temple.

Michigan: 2-1

Props to Michigan for only ever scheduling three of these. However: Appalachian State 34, (5) Michigan 32, 2007

Appalachian was Hot Hot Hot. I don't think the world needs another recap of this game. It never gets old.

Michigan State: 5-0

The closest Michigan State has ever come to losing one of these was a 28-6 win over Youngstown State in 2011 where they led 14-6 at halftime. Congratulations Sparty.

Minnesota: 15-3

Choking Hazard: North Dakota State 27, Minnesota 21, 2007; South Dakota 41, Minnesota 38, 2010; North Dakota State 37, Minnesota 24, 2011

Minnesota was losing to NDSU before it was cool. Losing to the Bison, who still have a 5 game winning streak against FBS teams, is as honorable a loss as FCS losses get. 2007 was Tim Brewster's 1-11 campaign and their 6-point loss to NDSU was arguably one of their strongest showings. They held the lead until Thor Brown hammered into the end zone for a TD catch. This game was over the moment Thor Brown took the field. Ohio State probably couldn't beat Thor Brown.
In 2010, after winning their opening game, Brewster's squad could not keep pace with South Dakota's offense, and a late rushing TD to bring the score to 41-38 was too little too late. The good news for the Gophers is that this started the 6 game slide that finished Tim Brewster's tenure mid-season.
2011 was Jerry Kill's first campaign, and an unfortunate time to run into NDSU. They were good in 2007, but in 2011 they were in their prime and this win is part of their current streak. This was a convincing win throughout the second half.
A positive effect of the B1G's move away from FCS teams is that it saves Minnesota from itself. From 2006 to 2011, the Gophers went 2-3 against the Dakotas, with wins coming 10-9 against NDSU in 2006 and 16-13 against SDSU in 2009.

Nebraska: 11-0

Closest Call: (19) Nebraska 31, McNeese State 24, 2014

Yep, just last year was the only time the Huskers were seriously challenged by an FCS school. Nebraska had the edge in offensive yards and each team committed 1 turnover and similar penalty yardage, but somehow this game was uncomfortably even throughout. Nebraska couldn't finish drives and couldn't get the Cowboys off the field like you should in these games. With 20 seconds left in regulation, Ameer Abdullah caught a short pass from Tommy Armstrong, decided he was too good to go to overtime with McNeese State, and slashed his way through their secondary for the winning touchdown. In an absolute dumpster fire of a season that resulted in a head coach firing, Nebraska would go on to post its highest number of losses since 2007.

Northwestern: 10-2**

Choking Hazard: Miami (OH) 27, Northwestern 13, 1982**; New Hampshire 34, Northwestern 17, 2006.

**This historical oddity was due to the fact that with the 1A/1AA split, there was a 30K attendance requirement for 1A. The MAC was around at this time and complained about this effort to flush out the "mid-majors," but this resulted in most if not all of the MAC dropping to 1-AA for the 1982 season, during which Northwestern lost to Miami Hydroxide. The moral of the story is as follows: don't lose to Miami Hydroxide. As this was pre-1995, records were not kept, so nobody really knows what became of this team.

In 2006, Northwestern simply couldn't keep up with FCS legend Ricky Santos, the New Hampshire QB who would throw for two scores and run for three more and end up with the Walter Payton award at the end of the year. Eventual NFL players Mike Kafka and Tyrell Sutton could only say "daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn". I can only presume Pat Fitzgerald reacted to this loss the way he reacts to everything: being so smug that nobody questions what's earned him the right to be so smug. Although Northwestern would finish 4-8, some simple math (adjusting for 8 losses instead of 3) shows that they were 13 minutes and 28 seconds from being undefeated.

Ohio State: 3-0

The closest of which was a 38-6 win against Youngstown State in 2007. That's the way to do it.

Penn State: 7-1**

Choke Job: Cincinnati 14, (20) Penn State 3, 1983**

**The same thing that happened to the MAC in 1982 happened to Cincinnati in 1983, causing them to be reclassified for that season even though they had been in 1A since its inception. Regardless, defending national champion Penn State still likely saw this as a welcome tune-up after a week 1 dismantling by Nebraska to the tune of 44-6, with only a garbage time TD getting them on the board. After failing to find the end zone against Cincinnati, Penn State fans must have felt like they'd slept through a few seasons. Fortunately for them, being a Penn State fan would never get more difficult than that loss.

Purdue: 10-0

Closest Call: Purdue 20, Indiana State 14, 2013

Purdue fans, never forget that Akeem Hunt's touchdown return of the opening kickoff was all that separated Purdue from claiming Illinois' title as the most recently winless B1G team for a full season. Purdue was outgained by Indiana State, which was a fairly bad FCS team. After taking a 17-0 lead in the third quarter, things began to unravel. The Sycamores got on the board late in the third quarter with a George Cheeseborough touchdown catch, and scored again with 10 minutes to go to make it a 20-14 game. Purdue somehow kept Sir George Cheeseborough, MBE, out of the end zone for the rest of the game, which is a double-edged sword because although it spared the Big Ten the indignity of having a winless team, it deprives us of the name George Cheeseborough being forever etched into Big Ten lore.

Rutgers: 34-3**

Choking Hazard: Cincinnati 18, Rutgers 7, 1983**; Villanova 37, Rutgers 19, 2002; New Hampshire 35, Rutgers 24, 2004.

**The same situation that Penn State had against the same Cincinnati team. You'd think that this is a pretty good Cincinnati team; they finished 4-6-1 under Watson Brown, who has lost more games than any other college football coach.
Eventual FCS finalist Villanova rocked Rutgers' world in 2002, in a game never really in doubt. Current Illinois quarterbacks coach Ryan Cubit went 17/38 for the Scarlet Knights. Can we finagle a really far-fetched rivalry trophy based on this? Rutgers would finish 1-11 in Greg Schiano's second year.
Northwestern's eventual nightmare Ricky Santos woke up at halftime and threw TD passes 3, 4 and 5 to close the gap, take the lead and pull away in 2004. Rutgers would finish 4-7.

Special note: what the hell, Rutgers? 37 FCS games since 1978? Stop it. I wish one of your many showdowns with Colgate had been a loss, but alas, your many brushes with Colgate still couldn't clean up your act.

Wisconsin: 12-0

Closest Call: Wisconsin 36, Cal Poly 35 (OT), 2008

No, the five-point win over Northern Iowa in 2012 doesn't even come close. This late November game pitted a disappointing but still bowl-bound Wisconsin squad  Wisconsin trailed 13-0 after a punt return TD, and couldn't keep the Mustangs' Wing-T option off the field. It was 13-0 because of a missed extra point, which didn't seem like it would hurt Cal Poly too badly...until they scored in the fourth quarter to make it 29-21 and missed another extra point. Wisconsin scored with 1:42 remaining and converted for 2 to force overtime, where Cal Poly scored again and proceeded to miss a THIRD extra point. Wisconsin, however, did not miss theirs, narrowly escaping. They'd go on to finish 7-6 and get blown out by Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl.

In Conclusion:

Appalachian is HOT HOT HOT!

Other Sources: This Football Geography article, current as of the end of the 2013 season; the wonderful sports-reference.com CFB page