The city of Baltimore figures to wake up Tuesday morning in either a happy frame of mind or in the lousiest of moods, depending on the outcome of the Ravens game with Detroit Monday night. But whether the Ravens’ playoff hopes are in critical condition or strengthened Tuesday, gridiron postseason fever around town will still be healthy.
That’s because Baltimore’s other successful football team, the Towson University Tigers, are still very much alive in the NCAA playoffs.
The Tigers will play Eastern Washington Saturday afternoon for the right to play the following week for a national championship. And your eyes are not playing tricks on you. There really is such a thing as a true bonafide national championship in college football. Thing is, you have to go to something called the Football Championship Subdivision or FCS, whose schools offers fewer scholarships than the Football Bowl Subdivision, where schools like Maryland and Navy play. The FCS schools offer a lot more integrity than their much more ballyhooed FBS brethren, but that’s another rant for another time.
What Towson is offering and has offered over the past three seasons is winning football.
Head coach Rob Ambrose suffered through a 1-10 campaign in his second season back at his alma mater in 2010, but kept plugging away. In 2011, the Tigers produced a 9-3 season that marked the biggest turnaround at this level in NCAA history. They won their league and advanced to the NCAA playoffs, where they lost in the first round. Towson narrowly missed the postseason last year at 7-4 despite tying for the league title. This season, Towson set about proving that the previous two years weren’t flukes by beating Connecticut, an FBS school, in the season opener. Since then, the Tigers have been dominant, going 12-2 including winning 10 straight games away from Johnny Unitas Stadium.
In the interest of full disclosure, I write a weekly column for the Towson athletic department’s web site.
The score of Friday night’s 49-39 win over Eastern Illinois notwithstanding, Towson has used an opportunistic defense that occasionally bends, but doesn’t yield to stay in games. And on offense, the Tigers have ridden the legs of junior running back Terrence West to victory. West, a three-sport athlete at Baltimore’s Northwestern High, wasn’t able to get into Clemson or Maryland because of low test scores, but has taken off at Towson. Taken off is a supreme understatement. West, who is a finalist to be named FCS Player of the Year, has run for 38 touchdowns this year, and posted a record 354 yards in the snow Friday.
The transformation of the football team into a power, added to the turnaround of the men’s basketball team from a 1-31 season two years ago to an 18 win team last year and a brand new on-campus arena has Towson on the verge of becoming Baltimore’s signature college athletic program. That’s an interesting makeover for a program that a year ago cut loose its men’s soccer program and nearly discontinued its baseball team supposedly to get into Title IX compliance.
And if things go well in the Pacific Northwest this weekend, Baltimoreans just might end 2013 the way it began: with another football champion.