Tech Preview: Blurring the Lines

After eight FCS programs upset FBS schools in week one, taking the guarantees paychecks and clouding the lines between the two divisions in the process, Tennessee Tech and its up-tempo, spread offense look to deliver a similar result at Wisconsin this Saturday.

MADISON - When college football fans of major conferences saw a Football Championship Subdivision opponent on the schedule, the impression was teams were basically buying a win, cashing him on the home revenue that couldn't be generated on a bye week.

But over the last several years, and one week of the 2013 college football season, that once distinct line between the Football Bowl Subdivision and the FCS has become even more blurry.

The FCS ended up with eight wins against the FBS in the first week of the season, which boasts more athletic scholarships (85 versus 63), resources and home-field advantage. Not only did they overcome those obstacles, those eight teams collected a combined $2.625 million by FBS foes, including Eastern Washington getting $425,000 to beat up No.25 Oregon State and North Dakota State – the back-to-back FCS champion – upsetting Big 12 champion Kansas State, and getting $325,000 in the process.

Those upsets would be great billboard material for Tennessee Tech head coach Watson Brown to give his players before their Saturday's matchup at No.21 Wisconsin. The thing is, though, he doesn't find it relevant.

"I won't bring it up," said Brown. "We've played a bunch of these games at Tech, so they are used to this. They look forward to them and they go play their hearts out, give it their best shot. It's not a hard week because they look forward to these types of games."

Tech is 0-10 playing higher division schools since 2003, including losing 63-14 to No.4 Oregon last season, and has been outscored by an average of 48-7 in the eight games against the division since 2008.

But while Tennessee Tech finished 111th out of 121 FCS teams in total defense (466.0 yards allowed per game) and ranked 115th out of 121 FCS teams in scoring defense (39.4 points per game) last season, the Golden Eagles ranked 29th in scoring offense (31.6 points), using a potent spread offense with a dual-threat quarterback; two things that have been a bugaboo for the Badgers in past seasons.

"On our level we want to try to wear people down," said Brown. "We're not going to wear down Wisconsin, so we might have to play a different style than we normally play. At the same time when the ball is snapped, we want to execute. We just like to get a hat on the right person, execute the way we need to execute."

While The Golden Eagles also have two senior running backs and bring back three of its top four receiving targets, junior quarterback Darian Stone is Tennessee Tech's best offensive threat.

Not only did he complete 70 of 143 passes (49.0 percent) for 786 yards with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions last year, he also was the team's leading rusher, carrying 89 times for 553 yards with a touchdown in just nine games after taking over midway through the season due to injury.

In the season opener, Stone threw for two touchdowns and rushed for two more, totally 178 yards of offense in less than three quarters of work, in a 63-7 victory over Cumberland (TN).

"He's getting better as he goes," said Brown. "He had a really good spring, preseason, and I thought he played well. He didn't have to do a lot in the first game … He's got all the tools. He has a very strong arm, one of the top 10 fastest kids on our team and he can really run … His deal is consistency. He's just got to keep getting more consistent in everything he does. If he does he's going to have a really good year. If he's inconsistent, he'll be an average player."

This will mark the eighth straight year Wisconsin has faced a FCS school, including last year's uncomfortable 26-21 win over Northern Iowa in the season opener. Trailing by five, the Panthers had a first down at midfield before a fourth-and-1 pass fell incomplete to seal UW's victory.

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez has assured the Badgers' fan base that the school and the conference will eliminate FCS schools from its nonconference schedule in the future, as the Big Ten's decision comes as schools attempt to bolster their schedules with the start of the four-team College Football Playoff next season.

Strength of schedule will be a component in figuring out the playoff teams. UW is scheduled to face FCS opponent Western Illinois next season (the last lower division team scheduled), but the Badgers will compensate by opening the season against LSU in Houston.

Young calls that the decision a "disappointment," citing the guaranteed paychecks FCS schools receive go a long way to funding a program's daily operations.

"We need that on this level," said Young. "We're a little different. We want to go find as much money as we can find. We don't care who it is. We'll play anybody."

That "anybody" this week is the three time defending Big Ten champions, a daunting task that Young hopes will better prepare his team when they open Ohio Valley conference play in two weeks.

"(Our players) understand the atmospheres they go to," Young said. "They understand the caliber of the competition. I just want them embrace it, relax, enjoy the moment, play as hard as they can possibly play and try to go win the game."

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