Baltimore-area Tigers have had success at the FCS level
LSU has taken on teams from 114 different schools since it started playing football in 1893.
It has played teams with all kinds of geographical names — Southwestern, East Carolina, Western Illinois, Northwestern State — teams from all over Texas — North Texas, Southwestern Texas, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas-El Paso, Texas Tech — and from all over Louisiana — Louisiana College, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech, Southeastern Louisiana, McNeese State, Northwestern State, Centenary, Tulane, even Loyola.
It has played two teams named Miami — from Florida and Ohio — and two teams named after presidents — George Washington and Jefferson College.
It has played Cumberland, Dakota Wesleyan, Hardin-Simmons, Mercer, Millsaps, Pacific, Sewanee, Spring Hill and something called Haskell Indian Nations — twice.
It has played a team from another country — Havana — and two others that sound like they’re from another country — Transylvania and Troy.
But there has been nary a game against the Towson University Tigers, until Saturday night, that is.
That’s when Towson, an FCS program (think Triple-A baseball) located in suburban Baltimore, comes to Tiger Stadium to play the No. 3-ranked team in the FBS (think Major League Baseball).
All of which leads to the question, what the heck are they doing in Tiger Stadium, playing on national television (ESPNU) to boot?
LSU senior associate athletic director Verge Ausberry joked this week that he didn’t just throw a dart at a list of schools and watch it stick to Towson’s name.
“When you put the schedule together, you look at how you can make it work best for your team,” Ausberry said. “You’re preparing your team to play for a Southeastern Conference championship and a BCS championship.”
LSU originally was scheduled to play the University of Washington on Sept. 29, but about a year and a half ago, Ausberry decided that playing a team from an automatic qualifying conference in between trips to Auburn and Florida wasn’t such a great idea. “We’re in the heat of the schedule now,” Ausberry said.
It turned out Washington, which was wrestling with a schedule complicated by its conference (the Pac 10) expanding to 12 teams, didn’t think a trip to Baton Rouge after it began league play was such a great idea either.
So, the Tigers and the Huskies mutually agreed to move their game to Sept. 8. Ausberry figured that game — presumably the most challenging of the Tigers’ four nonconference games — was a good fit a week after the opener against North Texas.
“You have to feel your team out,” Ausberry said.
LSU opened last season against preseason No. 3 Oregon in the Cowboys Classic in Arlington, Texas. Ausberry said that team, with two senior quarterbacks (Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee) and other experienced leaders, such as Morris Claiborne, Michael Brockers, Brandon Taylor and Rueben Randle, was equipped to handle that challenging of an opener. The Tigers rolled to a 40-27 victory.
But this year’s team, which figured to have about a dozen new starters, including quarterback Zach Mettenberger, needed to have the new starters “get their feet wet” before playing tougher opponents.
“This would not be a great year to start off playing Oregon,” Ausberry said.
The Tigers opened this season by beating North Texas 41-3 then handled Washington by the same score.
“I expected a better challenge from Washington,” Ausberry said.
When Ausberry went looking for a Sept. 29 replacement, an FCS opponent was attractive for financial reasons. Ausberry said the guarantee for an FCS opponent ranges from $350,000-$600,000. Towson is getting $510,000, the largest guarantee that school has ever received.
The guarantee for an FBS opponent ranges from $850,000 to $1.4 million, and LSU already had North Texas ($900,000) and Idaho ($925,000) on its 2012 schedule. It has become commonplace for FBS schools to play an FCS opponent nearly every season. LSU has played an FCS opponent in six of coach Les Miles’ eight seasons.
Ausberry sent out feelers to a handful or so potential FCS opponents, including James Madison, Montana State, The Citadel, Western Illinois, McNeese State and Towson. Several schools, including McNeese, were booked for that weekend.
McNeese, which visited Tiger Stadium two years ago, is scheduled to come back in 2017.
Ausberry said he’d prefer to play in-state teams “and keep that money in the state,” but “we’re looking for teams that play well in their division and go to the playoffs.”
The Tigers from Towson, Md., are such a team, having won the Colonial Athletic Association championship last season and qualifying for the FCS playoffs.
“You want an opponent that has a history of winning and is a quality opponent,” Miles said. “I think it’s easier to get up for a team that when you show (your players) the film they’re talented. And they (the Towson Tigers) are.”
Towson Athletic Director Mike Waddell called the trip to Tiger Stadium “a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity” for the players as well as a “building block” for the program.