Certain fans of “underdog” Power-5 conferences like the Big 12 and Pac-12 (and the Big Ten last season) will take time making fun of “quality losses” factored-in to rankings and CFP committee decisions.
I agree with their premise to a certain point. If the Ole Miss Rebels begin 0-3 in SEC play losing each game by a touchdown, those performances do not qualify as “quality losses” just because they’re SEC scores. As for the elite programs which are expected to win just about every outing, it’s absurd to think of their losses as “quality” in any way, shape, or form.
But “quality losses” exist in the OOC schedule to begin and finish each college football season. Oh, yeah they do. If the art of qualitatively rating a scoreboard-loss was useless to handicappers and pundits, then there would be no betting odds on most Group-of-5 matchups in Weeks 4-7 because there would be no way for London or Las Vegas to handicap them. Most of the MAC and Sun Belt got its clock cleaned by the P5 as usual in 2019.
A Sun Belt game can occur in which the programs are each 1-4 coming in, and it can still be a clash of titans in its own right. The contenders each went 0-3 in opening out-of-conference play and are now scrambling to get back above water vs their own weight class.
Louisiana-Monroe played a big batch of inter-league games right away this season, including a doozy against Florida State in Tallahassee. But the Warhawks survived to at least go 2-3. LA Monroe travels to face the Texas State Bobcats (also 2-3) this Thursday just as the San Marcos offense has begun to come alive against Sun Belt athletes, which its offensive line is better-able to block. Still the Warhawks – a more prominent G5 brand in the national media picture – stand as a slight favorite on the road.
Who: Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks at Texas State Bobcats
When: Thursday, October 10th, 9:15 PM EST
Where: Bobcat Stadium, San Marcos, TX
Lines: LA-Monroe (-3) at TXST (+3) / O/U Total: (61)
2 of the Warhawks’ 3 cracks at Power-5 opponents were predictable affairs. The most-recent contest was a 52-33 loss to 5-0 Memphis (played at Malone Stadium at least) in which Louisiana-Monroe was swept off the field by a faster team and a marvelous performance from tailback Kenneth Gainwell, who (by-the-way) has the most congruous name of any position-player since Michael Stonebreaker. Mid-September also brought a 72-20 drilling from Iowa State that was as troubling for the Warhawk offense as the defense. ISU’s Brady White stayed on the field for what seemed like forever as the AP Poll-motivated Cyclones piled-on academic points. But despite reasonably good-looking postgame stats for counterpart QB Caleb Evans and a host of Warhawk backs and receivers, the guests were error-prone and ineffective when it was time to answer in the 1st quarter.
But LA-Monroe had already turned handicappers’ heads the week prior, taking FSU to the hilt in an unexpected heart-rending finish:
The Warhawks took their first lead of the game with 7:44 to play in regulation on a two-yard touchdown rush from Josh Johnson, which was set up by a 16-yard pass from Evans to Jonathan Hodoh, who thought he scored but it was overturned on replay after seeing his foot step out at the half-yard line. The Warhawks score erased a 21-point FSU lead.
(RB Cam) Akers took matters into his own hands on the next FSU drive, taking a dump off pass 44-yards to the house, outrunning every Warhawk defender in the process to re-give the Noles a lead at 38-35. With 90 seconds left, ULM tied the game on a field goal, and neither team was able to break through before regulation ended. FSU scored to open overtime on an Akers four-yard rush to give the Noles a lead, but the Warhawks answered right back in just three plays, capped off by a 10-yard touchdown rush from Evans. However, instead of going for two, the Warhawks opted to play for a second overtime, but missed the extra point to give FSU their first win of the season.
We know that the host Bobcats have been flourishing against like-opponents, beating Georgia State in another OT finish and bothering a tough Wyoming squad for 4 quarters.
But Texas State has also been vulnerable to losing the LOS completely against powerful front-7s. The Bobcat running game has been all-but nonexistent against opponents like Texas A&M and Southern Methodist, and not to compare the Thursday night visitors to either of those 2 teams…but the Warhawks will have 1 Power-5 level weapon that the host OL may not be able to handle. Furthermore, unlike the Bobcats, the LA-Monroe Warhawks appear to be able to run the rock powerfully in spurts against an opponent of any size or shape.
Lousiana-Monroe’s Donald Louis Jr. is the kind of pass-rusher Group-of-5 coaches can often only dream about. A fearsome 5th-year senior with NFL size and tenacity, Louis Jr. tagged James Blackmon with 2 sacks in the Florida State game.
I concluded he was the type of player whom strong opponents would adjust to and negate to some degree, coming from an overall skepticism of teams that produce upsets thanks to sacks, tackles-for-loss, and turnovers in Weeks 1-3 (that goes for the NFL too). As if to feed me crow over an editorial not written yet, Louis Jr. went out and got 2 more sacks against Memphis.
The Warhawks’ likely TOP advantage means rest for a tough defense, cancelling-out any home-field advantage for the Bobcat OL in facing it.
Take the visitors to cover (-3) on Thursday night.