Utah football: Utes determined not to be next FCS victim
Weber State visits on heels of FCS upsets over FBS teams
Published: September 4, 2013 11:13AM
Updated: February 14, 2014 11:33PM
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Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah opened last season against FCS team Northern Colorado and plays host to Weber State, another FCS team, on Saturday. Utah athletic director Chris Hill says he plans to continue scheduling one of the smaller schools each season.

The Utah Utes are 35-0 against Big Sky opponents and have outscored Weber State 119-44 in the teams’ three meetings, yet there is no chance the Utes are going to take the Wildcats lightly when the teams meet at noon on Saturday in Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Evidence of what happens when a smaller school isn’t taken seriously mounted over the course of opening weekend, with seven teams from the FCS notching upsets against FBS teams.

The biggest upset was Eastern Washington’s 49-45 win over No. 25 Oregon State, marking just the third time an FCS team beat a ranked FBS team.

Other upsets included SUU’s 22-21 win over South Alabama, Eastern Illinois’ 40-19 win over San Diego State and North Dakota State’s 24-21 win over Kansas State.

The Utes don’t want to be added to the list of upsets in Week 2.

“We’re going to take them just as serious as Utah State,” defensive tackle Tenny Palepoi said. “We aren’t overlooking anyone. We don’t feel like we have the right to do that.”

If the Utes keep their focus, they should be able to put the Wildcats away early and have a relatively easy afternoon. That scenario is exactly why Utah schedules FCS teams — to catch a break and virtually ensure a win before hitting the difficult part of their schedule.

It’s a scheduling habit most FBS teams follow and one that many deem as necessary to survive the rigors of the long season.

But as strength of schedule becomes more important when college football moves to more of a playoff system in 2014, will the demand for scheduling teams such as Weber State continue to exist?

Utah athletic director Chris Hill, for one, believes it will. He believes the Utes have plenty of difficulty in their season thanks to a nine-game Pac-12 schedule. He also likes to schedule another high quality non-conference opponent, such as BYU this year or Michigan in 2014 and 2015, to make things challenging and keep the Utes’ profile high.

The key is to just not make things too challenging, which is why Utah is playing Idaho State in 2014 and SUU in 2016.

“If you are only playing one of those games, it’s not going to influence the strength of schedule too much,” Hill said. “What people are really looking for is a chance to play seven home games to give people an opportunity to go to games.”

FCS teams are willing to be FBS victims, er, opponents, for big checks. The Utes are paying Weber State $400,000 for Saturday’s game — a small price to pay considering the Utes usually make about $1.68 million in ticket sales alone per game. Scheduling local teams such as Weber State and SUU also allows the Utes to help keep interest up with local connections and keeps the money in-state.

“It’s good to keep the resources in state,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “I’d like to think playing us helps those teams too.”

Of course, things can backfire. One of the more humorous tidbits of all the weekend losses was that the seven FCS teams combined for $2.375 million in profits for the games according to ESPN. They took the paycheck, got the win and the notoriety, making it a total win for the little guys.

The Utes are determined they aren’t this week’s victim of such proportions. The Wildcats beat Stephen F. Austin 50-40 a week ago, adding to Utah’s respect for Weber as an opponent.

“Those wins got our players’ attention,” Whittingham said of the FCS upsets. “Weber State got a big win with a lot of offense and rushed the ball extremely well and put up a lot of points.”

lwodraska@sltrib.com

Little guys win

Seven FCS teams defeated bigger FBS opponents in the opening week of college football. The scores, with the payouts each FCS team received:

Result Payout

Eastern Washington def. No. 25 Oregon State, 49-45 $450,000

North Dakota State def. Kansas State, 24-21 $350,000

McNeese State def. South Florida, 53-21 $400,000

Eastern Illinois def. San Diego State, 40-19 $325,000

Northern Iowa def. Iowa State, 28-20 $350,000

Towson def. UConn, 33-18 $275,000

SUU def. South Alabama, 22-21 $225,000

Source for payouts: ESPN

Weber St. at Utah

O Saturday, noon

TV • Pac-12 Network