North Dakota State’s upset of Kansas State last Saturday got me to thinking again about Division I-AA football programs.
A few years ago, I wrote about how the University of Delaware could be a sleeper on the college football scene. The Blue Hens long have been a I-AA power and enjoy great support in their state. I thought Delaware could be a candidate for the Big East, which always seemed to be looking for a quality football school.
I-AA programs often are moving up to I-A.
Old Dominion, Texas-San Antonio, Massachusetts, Texas State, Western Kentucky, Georgia State and South Alabama are the schools that have moved up the last few years.
Everyone is trying to be the next Boise State. The Broncos were I-AA from 1978 through 1995 but have become a national brand in recent years, spurred by their dramatic Fiesta Bowl victory over OU.
So I came up with a funky list. The 10 I-AA programs that have the most potential to succeed in I-A. By succeed, I don’t mean win games, necessarily. I mean, get a piece of the pie. Be discussed for prime conference realignment, have a chance to win consistently, etc. Boise State is an example, but so is Texas-San Antonio, which hosts OSU on Saturday. UTSA hasn’t done much yet on the gridiron, but the Roadrunners have been on the fast track for advancement, getting an invitation to the I-A Western Athletic Conference before ever playing a football game and getting an invitation to Conference USA after just one season of football.
2. North Dakota State
3. New Hampshire
5. South Dakota State
8. Georgia Southern
9. Central Arkansas
10. Youngstown State
Here are some of my reasons:
* The Dakotas are starving for some sports to rally around. North Dakota ice hockey is a state phenomenon, and when North Dakota State made the NCAA Tournament against Kansas in 2009, the state went bonkers. But football, as you know, is different.
* My top five schools, and six of the top seven, come from states currently without I-A programs. That’s important. A school that can elevate itself to singular status within an entire state provides access to funding and donations and sponsorships. All kinds of benefits.
* Nine of the 10 are public schools. Much easier to build a program at a public school.
* I put Villanova on the list just because of name recognition. ‘Nova basketball is a brand. The Big East tried in vain to get Villanova to go I-A football. Villanova declined and is glad it did, considering Connecticut might wish it never had bought a pair of shoulder pads.
* I put Georgia Southern and Youngstown State on the list because of their Delaware-like histories of playing big-time football on the small-college stage. Georgia Southern never could dent Georgia’s hold on that state, same as Youngstown State is no threat to Ohio State. But if Georgia Southern and Youngstown State wanted to go I-A, I think within five years they could a quality program. Georgia Southern could be winning the Sun Belt, for instance, and Youngstown State could be one of the Mid-American Conference’s better programs.
* I put Central Arkansas on the list because in the football-mad South, Arkansas has fewer I-A programs than any other state. Florida has seven. Louisiana has five. So does Alabama. Tennessee has four. Mississippi and Georgia each have three, and both have two majors. Even Kentucky has three. But South Carolina and Arkansas have just two each. Maybe Central Arkansas could get a little of the market.