When your FBS team lines up an FCS opponent it's generally considers less of a challenge on the field than most other games. For blogs though it can be a markedly more challenging week than when the team plays, say, Ohio State.
That's not the case this week though because even though you may not have heard of Duquesne, and even though you probably can't say the name they have great fans. The School has a very well put together blog over on FanSided called "We Wear The Ring".
They sent Duquesne Dave to our weekly show, Last Bull In, and he educated us to some of the fine history behind the Dukes. They really were a great team back in the 30's and if not for the way the GI Bill changed college athletics they might very well still be a national name.
But in the here and now they are in the NEC and we are in the MAC. This is their first game against a team playing in the highest division of college football since before the Korean War. It is, to some of their fans, a validation that the Dukes will find their footing in the FCS world.
We've talked about how UB and the Dukes have had to overcome very similar problems to bring scholarship football back after big changes forced the programs to go dark. So if you see any Duquesne fans around the stadium greet them with a smile... Football is here!
Be sure to check out WWTR for our answers to their questions.
Here is the Swap..
1 - What's the status on Christian Kuntz? Last I saw he was looking to get back on the field this year sometime but it was doubtful he would be ready for Buffalo.
Unfortunately, I haven’t heard anything about this yet, but the Buffalo game is not looking likely at all. The lack of info may seem crazy, but it’s probably one of the advantages of having a mid-major FCS team at a school where more people care about basketball in a town where most everyone is paying attention to the Steelers, the Panthers, the Mountaineers, and to an extent, the Nittany Lions - you don’t have to answer a lot of questions about player status and injuries.
That said, an ACL injury is tough to come back from and I hope they give him the time that he needs rather than risk re-injury. Last I heard, they have contingency plans should he not be able to go at all in 2014, and likely it’ll be FBS transfer Armstead Williams who will play in his spot. Expect to see him a lot during the Buffalo game.
2 - It was not until 2006 that the NEC started to allow scholarships at all and now you are playing an FBS team in your opener. Is there any special meaning to the school in this game or is it just another paycheck?
I think there is. Duquesne has a long football history that was sadly stopped by World War II. In the 30s, the Dukes were involved in two bowl games, winning both the Festival of Palms bowl and the Orange Bowl. In 1941, the Massey Ratings had them #1 in the nation. They were the first collegiate team to play a night game under the lights and earned the nickname "The Night Riders" as a result. They were involved in some big-time football up until 1942.
But a brief suspension of the program during WWII spelled the end. They tried to start things up post-war and went 9-27 in four seasons before dissolving the program in 1950. It wasn’t until several years later that the team was resurrected on a club level, where they did have success during the '70s. In ’79, the program was returned to NCAA play at the DIII level. Finally, they returned to Division I in 1992 as they jumped into the FCS. They repeatedly won the championship in the MAAC, and finally they moved up to the NEC and the scholarship level.
All this is by way of saying - yeah, it means something. The Dukes have some significant history at the highest levels of football, so even the small step of a buy game against an FBS team is pretty meaningful when you consider how far the program has come in a relatively short period of time. There are a few fans who grouse about games like this and YSU, who think we shouldn't play "stretch" games at all, but I don't agree. If you want to take steps forward, you're not going to do it by beating up on weaker opponents.
3 - Offensively you return a great Quarterback and some weapons but what's the state of your line?
First, I like that you recognize Buechel as a great QB, as he’ll just be a redshirt sophomore this year. I think he’ll really start to shine, as the playbook will be a bit more open for him to use. Buechel is very good at spreading the ball around; he had the ability to make a different receiver look like a star in each game last year.
Last year, we had the perfect storm of a new QB, new starting RBs, and a line that wasn't quite ready for prime time. All of these worked in tandem to create a pretty noticeable obstacle. The improvement that we're expecting to occur in these three facets on an island will also help to improve each one in tandem as well.
On paper, the line is going to be far better than last year, mostly due to the fact that it has to be. Last year, the line had difficulty blocking and there were some glaring issues with blown assignments. A better offensive line in 2013 and the team likely wins the NEC outright and goes to the playoffs. This year, it should be a much more cohesive unit, with some more experience, a little more size, and a JUCO transfer named Miguel Mesa. They also have a nice foundation for the future by bringing in Ben Huss, a local player that was the anchor of a line that produced a 1,000 yard RB and a 1,000 passer last season in high school. He was also recruited by YSU and Albany.
Buechel’s experience will enable him to make decisions faster. Another piece that will go hand-in-hand with more OL success is that the run game will take on a more evolved look, and I'm interested in seeing how freshman Rafiq Douglas will perform. Last year was rough, as it was the first year after graduating star RB Larry McCoy graduated. I’m not sure the others were quite ready for that load, and the line didn’t help them get any momentum. Both of the above will take pressure off the line and, frankly, make everyone look better.
4 - If Kuntz is out for Buffalo who is the go to leader for your defense? Aaron Reed, Rich Piekarski, Sam Martello, Chris Johnson?
I think that there are a lot of leaders on the field for the defense, you named a lot of them right there. Reed and Martello are bruising linebackers who can undoubtedly pick up the load, and Piekarski is a defensive captain for the Dukes.
But, since you didn’t mention him, I will talk about Zach Zidian, the leader on the defensive line. He’s the guy who really helped the defense shine last year as they moved into the hardest part of the conference schedule. His ability to absorb multiple linemen has been a huge factor in our linebackers getting to the quarterback and stopping the run. If the aforementioned Williams is the guy taking over for Kuntz (should the injury keep him sidelined longer than we hope), I have little doubt that he’ll be effective because he’ll have Zidian leading the way for him.
5 - I am seeing three big FBS names on your roster. Are you seeing a trend for the Dukes to start looking at transfers in the manner that schools like Stony Brook has been?
Yes. While it’s a bit on the wane, everyone still talks about how Western PA is a hotbed of football talent. As Pitt is seeing, it’s not enough to win conference titles at the FBS level, especially when tOSU and PSU start winning recruiting battles for some of the higher tier players. But in my opinion, it’s definitely enough to win at Duquesne’s level, and a lot of those players are coming here.
Whether we’re talking about talented guys who want to stay close to home (Freshman LB Nate Stone) or BCS transfers who want to return home and play immediately, Duquesne has positioned itself to be the natural landing spot. It’s helpful and really means a lot to team success. When a guy like Dorian Bell gets in hot water like he did at tOSU, when Wayne Capers has injury issues at Arizona, they can come home and play right away in games that are going to matter. And in a lot of cases, there are old friends, opponents, and teammates that they’re coming back to play with. Case in point, Wayne Capers went to school with Christian Kuntz and they know each other pretty well.
The academic profile of the school helps a lot, too. The school broke through the "national" tier on the US News rankings several years ago and has been on a slow climb since (actually, you guys are just a couple of spots above us). The athletic department has likewise been doing very well on the NCAA’s academic rankings.
6 - Once you guys cash the check from the UB games it's back to NEC play. Is this the year you guys outright win the NEC and snag a tip to the playoffs?
Well, it won’t be that easy - there’s one more "buy" game against Youngstown State.
After that, yeah, I think so. I think that the Dukes defense should be at least as strong as it was last year, and the offense ought to take some big steps forward with a more cohesive line and more experienced quarterback. I think it’s the right time - they’re winning the NEC outright, and will have an excellent shot at the same each of the next two years too. Coach Schmitt put together an exciting recruiting class this year, one of the biggest ever at Duquesne, and we have Buechel under center for two more years after this. I like it.