If you are a Virginia sports fan, you thought that the football team had hit rock bottom. You fired a decent football coach in Mike London, who recruited well but failed to win games on the field. You hired a well-known coach in Bronco Mendenhall away from Brigham Young. You were ready to begin a new era. And then you learned that there was a new level to “rock bottom,” with an embarrassing loss to FCS neighbor Richmond, 37-20.
Yes, the FCS-level Spiders beat Virginia by 17 points. This was not a FG for the win situation. And Virginia is not just an FBS team, it is an FBS team in a P5 conference. How often does any of this happen? Rarely. But, take some comfort Virginia fans, you are not even the first ACC school to be embarrassed by an FCS opponent in the modern era. Footballgeography.com lists a few recent examples:
- In 1999, Furman beat North Carolina 28-3. That is a larger margin, and a far more futile offensive showing by the Tar Heels. This same UNC team was pretty bad, but also manager to finish the season by beating both NC State and Duke.
- In 2006, Richmond shutout Duke, 13-0. Sure, that Duke defense did a better job than Virginia yesterday. But to be SHUTOUT by an FCS foe is beyond shameful.
- In 2012, current ACC school Pittsburgh–then a Big East team–lost to Youngstown State 31-17. Similar score, similar margin.
So, while it is rare, it does happen that an ACC school will get thumped by an FCS foe.
Outside of the ACC, it has also happened. In 2011, North Dakota State beat Minnesota 37-24. In 2006, New Hampshire beat Northwestern 34-17. In 1996, Montana beat Oregon State 35-14. And so on. The past twenty years have seen a number of comfortable wins by FCS opponents over FBS P5 foes. Outside of the P5, last year Portland State beat North Texas 66-7, resulting in the firing of North Texas’s head coach immediately after the game. And, for whatever its worth, South Florida lost to McNeese State 53-21 in 2013 in Willie Taggert’s debut, only to stay within 15 points against a 13-1 Michigan State team the following week. They say the most improvement is done between weeks 1 and 2, and apparently that was the case. And it may be for the 2016 Virginia Cavaliers.
And the good news is that it usually means that “rock bottom” has been hit. The 1999 UNC loss was dreadful, but UNC was 6-5 the next year and in the Peach Bowl in 2001. Duke would lose to Richmond two more times (2009 and 2011), (and would be generally horrible from 2006 to 2008 at 5-31), but go bowling from 2012 to 2015. Pitt actually went to bowl game in 2012, and has gone bowling every year since. The great thing about “rock bottom” is that it usually cannot get worse.
So, while rock bottom is not a fun place to be, it is at the very least the “cannot get any worse” place. For Virginia fans, that means the future is necessarily brighter than the present.