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It took just a few hours into the new college football season for the proverbial apple cart to be overturned – and by two teams in the DMV, no less.
In the middle of Saturday afternoon, the Maryland Terrapins launched their 2017 campaign with a most improbable 51-41 win over heavily favored Texas.
Maryland’s win was one of the big surprises of recent note. But the Terps’ relative miracle pales in comparison to what happened a few hours later just off the desert strip in Las Vegas.
There, the team from Howard University performed an actual football miracle – no scales of relativity here – by beating Nevada-Las Vegas 43-40.
This, despite the Bison squandering a lead of more than 10 points, despite the UNLV team scoring 24 straight points to lead Howard by 12 in the second half and despite the Running Rebels having not one but two chances to win in the final three minutes.
Yet, somehow, the plucky Howard team held on for what is being called in some circles the greatest upset in college football history.
That’s a bit of hyperbole. Michigan’s loss to Appalachian State 10 years ago was more seismic in the grand scheme, but, then Michigan wasn’t a 45-point favorite coming in, as UNLV was over Howard.
The Bison did, however, beat some very long odds and history in beating the Running Rebels.
To wit, prior to Saturday, Howard had lost 19 of its previous 22 games over the last two seasons. They dropped games to Boston College and the aforementioned Appalachian State by a combined 125-0. Indeed, the loss to BC was thorough that the game was shortened, a la the mercy rule in Little League baseball.
Howard’s victory was so astounding, so unbelievable that if you had plunked down the princely sum of $100 before the game on the Bison to win in one of those Vegas gambling facilities, you would have made out with anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000.
The Bison’s victory was a triumph over institutional barriers that usually make the outcome of those events a foregone conclusion.
Though both UNLV and Howard play NCAA football, they don’t play the same game, or at least they don’t play it the same way.
As a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision or FBS of the NCAA, UNLV is permitted to offer 85 full scholarships as well as plush facilities, while raking in millions in television and ancillary dollars.
Meanwhile, Howard, which belongs to the Football Championship Subdivision or FCS, can only offer 65 scholarships and they can be partial grants. And the television and other monies schools like Howard bring in are negligible.
Which brings us to the other deliciously ironic part of Howard’s win over UNLV. Often, FBS schools will pay FCS schools to come to FBS stadiums to play for an extra home game which will give the bigger schools an expected win and money.
The Running Rebels sent out such an invitation to Howard, which not only won the game, but went home with a $600,000 check from UNLV, which will help the Bison athletic department with its budget.
Next on Howard’s potential hit parade is Kent State this Saturday. After this past week, you wouldn’t or shouldn’t bet against them.
And that’s how I see it for this week.