Thursday, January 10, 2013

A 12th Game for Lehigh in 2013?

(Photo Credit: Lehigh Valley Live/Brown & White)

Back in November, I released a tentative version of Lehigh's 2013 football schedule, which included 11 games.

There's nothing earth-shattering about that, either.  Most seasons FCS football teams play 11 regular-season games.

But thanks to a quirk in the calendar next season, 2013 offers a rare opportunity for Lehigh: to play a 12th game.

For Lehigh or other schools in the Patriot League, is it a good idea to play a 12th game?

Absolutely.

The need for a 12th game was articulated well by William & Mary athletic director Terry Driscoll recently in an article in the Daily Press announcing the Tribe's 2013 football schedule.

FCS teams are permitted to play 12 games next season and in 2014 because of the calendar. There's an extra Saturday between Labor Day weekend and Thanksgiving weekend, the first round of the FCS playoffs.

However, the Tribe traditionally has chosen to play only 11 games, even when the calendar permits a 12th game, as occurred in 2008 and '02.

The decision to play 12 games next season stems from 2008. That year, the Tribe finished 7-4 and 5-3 in the CAA and did not make the FCS playoff field. However, Maine chose to play 12 games and finished 8-4, 5-3, but made the playoffs.

Specifically, Maine shoe-horned a game in their schedule that year against non-scholarship Iona, who was struggling to fill out their schedule when their conference, the MAAC, abruptly stopped sponsoring football when St. Peter's College decided to shutter their football program.  That win against a school with zero scholarships was the difference between the playoffs and sitting home.

Continuing:

"It became apparent that if you don't play 12, you're potentially impacting your possibility of making the playoffs. By playing 12, you're giving yourself the possibility of winning one more game. Eight wins are more attractive than seven wins, so you're pretty much compelled to play 12."

It makes for a compelling argument for Lehigh to find a 12th game, preferably with an FCS opponent, to help in their chances to make the playoffs.

Looking over what is known about the Patriot League schedule, there is not a single team that has 12 games as of yet, though it looks very likely that Colgate will fill out their schedule with one more game, either on 9/28 or 10/12. 

(Rumor has it that they will be traveling to Stony Brook to complete their schedule, meaning that their out-of-conference schedule will include a trip to Air Force of the FBS and three games against CAA teams: Albany, Stony Brook, and New Hampshire - talk about strength of schedule.)

Lehigh has two possible openings: 8/31 or 11/2.  Which Division I teams might still have availability on those dates?

8/31 is a date that is much more likely to be available for an out-of-conference tilt than later in the year.

Unfortunately, there are very, very few FBS schools that still have openings for an FCS school in 2013.  Most FBS teams don't like to play more than one, since only one win against an FCS team counts for bowl eligibility, and those dance cards are 95% full.  Army already has Morgan State of the MEAC.  Navy has Delaware of the CAA.  Rutgers has Norfolk State of the MEAC  Temple has Lehigh's conference-mate, Fordham.  Ball State, who's coached by former Lehigh head football coach Pete Lembo, already has Illinois State of the Missouri Valley..

Syracuse is one of the very few schools that have availability to play an FCS school, but they've got bigger fish to fry on 8/31 - Penn State, at the new home of the Giants

It doesn't look realistic for Lehigh to get an FBS school, unless there's a surprise opening somewhere for Syracuse on November 2nd.

While many FCS schools and conferences haven't officially announced their schedules yet, a fair number have, allowing us to think about potential 12th game candidates that are close by for 8/31.   (Note: none of these schools have officially announced their out-of-conference schedules yet.)

* Albany (CAA)
* Delaware State (MEAC)
* Duquesne (NEC)
* Marist (Pioneer)
* Sacred Heart (NEC)
* St. Francis (PA) (NEC)
* Wagner (NEC)

Albany, in their first season as a part of the CAA, is an interesting possibility, especially since head coach Andy Coen has faced off against them before at Murray Goodman stadium, a 17-16 loss to Bob Ford's squad back in 2006 when they were a part of the NEC.

Adding another NEC team to the schedule might not work well for Lehigh since they already have two NEC teams on the docket already in Monmouth and Central Connecticut State. 

Lehigh has never competed against Delaware State, Duquesne, Marist, Sacred Heart, St. Francis (PA) or Wagner in football, though the Mountain Hawks have competed against these schools at one time or another in many other sports. 

In fact, if Lehigh were to play the Hornets of Delaware State, it would be the first time the Mountain Hawks would have ever competed against a historically black college or university in their lengthy history.

Right outside this obvious bus-trip zone are the next regional tier of FCS schools with unofficial openings on 8/31 that might be interested in a home-and-home:

* Presbyterian (SC) (Big South)
* Tennessee Tech (OVC)
* South Dakota State (Missouri Valley)

Lehigh faced off against Liberty last season of the Big South, while Lehigh hasn't ever played an OVC team in the regular season.  (They faced off against Murray State and Eastern Kentucky in the I-AA playoffs, and also faced off against Jacksonville State in the Division II playoffs.)

Lehigh's had a pretty good record overall against Missouri Valley teams in the playoffs too - though their loss in 2011, 24-0, came to the national champion North Dakota State Bison.  Lehigh, though, also has never faced off against a Missouri Valley team during the regular season, either.

And then there's the ones that would require a hefty plane trip and probably some sort of money guarantee.  While there are many schools out West with openings, only a school like Montana State, most likely, would have the combination of a guarantee and availability on 8/31 for a one-off game or perhaps a home-and-home.

Competitively, it's interesting to contemplate Lehigh opening the season against Montana State, South Dakota State or Wagner, three schools that made the FCS playoffs last season and would be good early tests for the Mountain Hawks.  (They will also most likely be nationally ranked going into the season.) 

But one thing's for sure: if Lehigh is serious about getting a 12th game, they had better move fast.

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