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Delaware, Eastern Washington will meet for FCS Championship

As first predicted by LiveBall Sports in this article, the Eastern Washington Eagles and Delaware Blue Hens will meet for the Division I Football Championship.

These games went according to script.  Eastern Washington played like the team that was supposed to win their game over a dangerous, but mistake-prone opponent in Villanova.  Delaware was more fortunate: they were able to avoid a game with the William & Mary tribe, who beat the Blue Hens in the regular season.  Georgia Southern’s offense did not look good in this game.

Delaware has faced two different triple option offenses in the last four years, but they were both Navy offenses.  The triple option should have been a good match for the Delaware defense, but Georgia Southern moved the ball and made critical errors.  Ten points scored both overstates and understates the job they did.

Eastern Washington’s big plays, their identity, didn’t come from their downfield passing offense against Villanova, or long runs.  It was mostly a lot of screens that broke and bring special teams plays.  The Eagles defense kept them in the game, giving the Villanova quarterback fits in his reads, and keeping the Villanova passing game to short, ineffective attempts.

When these teams meet on January 7th in Frisco, Texas, Delaware’s defense will be the story of the game.  They didn’t look great against Georgia Southern one week after dominating New Hampshire’s spread attack, but were the benefactors of numerous turnovers.  Eastern Washington will give up those same turnovers, but this is a team that is trying to catch you in a poor defensive call and get a big play.  When Georgia Southern turned the ball over, they were shooting their own offense in the foot: this is a team that didn’t even complete a pass until late in the third quarter.

I fully expect Delaware’s defense to be the difference.  Their corners, led by 5th year senior Anthony Walters, have been great in this postseason.  By taking away the deep pass, it’s Delaware that has all the advantages going into this game.

This is the first season that the FCS Championship will be played the same weekend as the BCS Championship.  It’s an interesting marketing move, but I think it’s something that they need to do in order to hold relevancy.  Placed right in the midst of the BCS Bowls, the Championship gives itself the opportunity to compete with the big money games in terms of viewership, instead of playing the game in the early part of the bowl season, losing the competition to other Division I bowls.

When you don’t have mass media coverage like the top conferences have, a playoff field is inevitable.  But let’s look objectively at how Delaware and Eastern Washington got to this point.  Delaware was a highly rated team who lost it’s last game of the season in overtime to a team that wouldn’t have made the postseason if it had lost (Villanova).  If Delaware had won that game, they would have been the first seed in the tournament.  They weren’t.  Instead, that seed went to Appalachian State.  Appalachian State lost to Villanova in the quarterfinal.

This suggests that the FCS’ playoff field may be too large.  Villanova lost four games, got in, and got all the way to the National Semifinal because that’s how strong they were.  This is the equivalent of letting Alabama into a playoff field for the bowl teams this year.  Everyone knows that Alabama is strong enough to beat the best teams in college football this year, but with three losses in the regular season, how may more losses should they get before they are out of the National Championship picture?

One of the reasons a non-playoff system gives you a no. 1 and a no. 2 is because teams deflate the quality of their schedules, making the difference between an undefeated and a one loss team a big one.  It’s not the same way in the FCS.  Delaware could have been a zero loss team, or a three loss team.  Based on their playoff draw, they would still have reached the championship game.  Their regular season losses were, in hindsight, irrelevant.

But at the next level, there are elite teams at the top each year.  There are elite teams that would not be beaten in a playoff field by lesser seeds.  It’s not the NFL, where the 4th seeded team has a good shot to beat the 1st season in a playoff.  Stanford would comfortably handle Michigan State in the second round of a 16 team playoff, where Delaware doesn’t know exactly what Georgia Southern team is going to show up in a playoff there.  The difference is that the playoffs are necessary for the Championship series.  In the BCS system, they become a revenue-creating luxury.

The BCS’ issue is that they have a two team playoff, and that’s a poor number in most years: you ideally want to keep playing until every team has a loss.  A playoff becomes relevant when you can pair Boise State and TCU in the Fiesta Bowl, ensuring one would lose.  In that 2009 field, you’d lean towards desiring a four team playoff because it’s the only way to ensure that the non-champions lose.  If you have only one undefeated team throughout the year, the match-up between one and two is highly unnecessary.  The FCS didn’t even have two zero OR one loss teams.  That’s what made this playoff field meaningful: hard schedules, hard conferences.  What didn’t make it meaningful was not knowing who the best teams were.

LiveBall Sports wished for the best team in the CAA, Delaware, to go up against the best team out of the Big Sky Conference, in the FCS Championship game.  Now fans know for a fact this will happen.

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