Six – count 'em SIX – Football Championship Subdivision teams took down their bully-brethren Football Bowls Subdivision hosts this weekend.
Amidst an opening “weekend” that spanned six days – from UAB's shut-out of Jacksonville State on Wednesday through Ole Miss' Lane Kiffin-less triumph Monday night – consider this a timeline of when the FCS served notice like never before.
11:06 P.M. ET, Thursday: Visiting UC Davis scored first, never trailed host Tulsa by more than four points and booted a pair of fourth-quarter field goals to upend the Hurricane, 19-17, in a prelude to a weekend of upheaval.
UC Davis had more first downs, possessed the ball for 11 minutes more than its host and had just 54 penalty yards – compared to Tulsa's 122.
1:41 A.M., Friday: Among those slayers of their check-writing hosts, Eastern Washington might be most prolific. For the 11th time in school history – though first since 2016 – the Eagles took down an FBS foe when they dispatched host UNLV, 35-33, Thursday night in Las Vegas and Friday morning in Eastern Time Zone.
EWU probably should not have needed a pair of overtime sessions. It led 20-6 before the Rebels rallied to force overtime and outgained UNLV by 132 yards.
1:06 A.M. Saturday: That South Dakota State was in position to win this game in the fourth quarter should not have been surprising. That the Jackrabbits, 2021 spring runners-up in the FCS Playoffs, flat-out dominated host Colorado State and nearly ran the Rams out of their own stadium – before more than 32,000 fans – in the process was a bit more shocking.
SDSU led 35-10 en route to a 42-23 triumph in its first game since it fell to Sam Houston State in the unprecedented spring FCS title bout, necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
3:34 P.M. Saturday: Holy Cross scored first, led at halftime, led through three quarters and won by double digits, 38-28, at UConn in a game that expedited the inevitable.
By Labor Day evening, the Huskies not only had followed up their announcement of coach Randy Edsall's impending retirement but elected to wholly move on from Edsall immediately rather than at season's end.
The Huskies merely were outscored 83-28 in losses to Fresno State last week on the road and to Holy Cross this week at home.
Worse still, as noted, Holy Cross' offensive output in this single game was virtually equivalent to what the 85-scholarship Huskies amassed in a pair of defeats.
11:08 P.M. Saturday: The Huskies scored a quick touchdown, less than five minutes into the full-season debut of coach Jimmy Lake, and then did not score again – for more than 55 minutes – at home.
Meanwhile, Montana – which had mustered just a field goal through the game's first 49 minutes – scored 10 points in the game's final 10:35 to win, 13-7.
Neither team even eclipsed 300 yards' total offense, but Washington was felled by a trio of interceptions.
It was the Montana program's sixth win in the past 40 years against FBS foe, but it was the first time in 100 years that the Griz leashed the Huskies in the on-again, off-again border battle. Washington fell to 17-3 all-time against Montana.
11:21 P.M. Saturday: As the Randy Edsall era had unknowingly been concluded just hours earlier at UConn, the Clark Lea era at his alma mater was just getting started with a resounding thud Saturday night in Music City.
The Commodores, with offensive issues aplenty entering the season, were held scoreless the final 49-plus minutes of the game by an ETSU program that only relaunched in 2015 and that had less than two years ago lost 38-0 at Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt, with offensive coordinator David Raih hired from the Arizona Cardinals but a first-time play-caller at any level, saw its offense commit three turnovers, rush for fewer than half of ETSU's ground attack (85 yards to the Bucs' 179), lost time of possession and only twice advanced into the red zone.
Expectations weren't high on West End for this season, but this was a debut of Halloween horror-movie proportions.
While those six FBS teams registered victories, they nearly had even more company in slaying their check-writing brethren: South Dakota just missed spoiling Lance Leipold's debut at Kansas in an 17-14 loss; Northern Iowa fell only 16-10 to Iowa State, the Cyclones nationally ranked and a Big 12 title contender. Oklahoma State managed just a 23-16 win against Missouri State.
SOME DEBUTS DESERVE A BOW; OTHERS, A MULLIGAN
On the heels of an unprecedented season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which helped contribute to a bizarrely lengthy coaching-cycle carousel, there were a number of noteworthy debuts in college football's opening weekend.
Some of the good were absolutely extremely good.
Maurice Linguist and Buffalo come to mind, courtesy their 69-7 win against Wagner in Linguist's first-ever game as head coach.
It was an impressive statement. The Bulls could make an even bigger one – and perhaps exacerbate a former high-rising coach's woes in the process – this weekend at Nebraska.
The game could be a statement of early arrival for Linguist & Co. and one of impending doom for the Huskers, who opened their season with a loss Aug. 28 at Illinois.
At Texas, in his return to head coaching, Steve Sarkisian took a physically superior Texas team and, in his debut, showcased the Longhorns as well-coached, disciplined and oft-times dominant in a 20-point win against a strong Louisiana squad coached by Billy Napier and that entered the season nationally ranked.
Across the Southeastern Conference, Auburn's Bryan Harsin, South Carolina's Shane Beamer and Tennessee's Josh Heupel all generated comfortable wins in their debuts as skippers in America's resident “It Just Means More” conference.
Beamer's Gamecocks shut out Eastern Illinois, 46-0, with graduate-assistant-turned-starting-quarterback Zeb Noland leading the way. Harsin's Tigers annihilated MAC-resident Akron, 60-11. Heupel and the Vols, on Thursday night, methodically took apart Bowling Green, 38-6.
No, none of those teams felled any kind of opposition that carries long-term meaning. But consider this: Jeremy Pruitt, Heupel's predecessor, lost his first two openers atop the Tennessee program, including a 38-30 home-loss to Georgia State in 2019 in which the Panthers outscored their hosts 31-16 the final three quarters.
Liam Coen's debut as Kentucky's offensive coordinator, with Will Levis at quarterback, likewise was a big one in the opening weekend. Levis had three of his four touchdowns by the half, as the Wildcats routed ULM, 45-10.
Perhaps, however, nobody topped the debut of Tulane offensive coordinator Chip Long.
Consider: Long hadn't called plays in 644 days, since he was the director of the Irish offense in a 45-24 Notre Dame win at Stanford to close out the 2019 regular season.
After being criminally underutilized for a year at Pruitt's failed Tennessee stint, Long quickly was snagged up by steady program-builder Willie Fritz at Tulane.
So all Long's Green Wave offense did against the No. 2-ranked Sooners was gash them for 35 points, outscore them 21-3 in the second half and punted only three times in the game.
In fact, had Tulane not lost three fumbles then it might not have needed sensational quarterback Michael Pratt to scramble for more yard on its final drive.
Remember: Tulane is a former original member of the mighty Southeastern Conference, and yet the Wave never had scored more than 17 points against an AP Top-5 foe; Long more than doubled that and nearly helped engineer a massive upset.
Elsewhere, in the dismal debuts: hard to have a worse opener than Lea and the Commodores, who looked extremely disjointed on offense and didn't get enough help from a defense that stayed too long on the field.
For a quarter, Marcus Freeman looked like a wunderkind atop the Notre Dame defense. The Irish dominated Florida State for a quarter, but then gave up boatloads of rushing yards to the Seminoles, couldn't preserve an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter; however, the Irish defense steadied itself, got a stop in overtime and Notre Dame won.