Who’s the best start-up ever?

Greetings, all

Hope this finds you well. I don’t know if you read the story about Georgia State starting 5-2, but if you didn’t, here’s the link. But anyway, I said Tuesday I was going to compare Georgia State with other first-year teams and, if you read it, you realize that I didn’t do that. I had a lot of things I wanted to get into the story – some of which was on the blog Tuesday – but I was not able to, mostly because to touch on all the things I wanted to, the story probably would have had to be twice as long as it was.

Anyway, I did end up looking at the best start-ups, at least for FCS. It wasn’t quite as easy as I’d hoped. For one thing, do you include schools that had football previously and then started it again decades later? Plus, the  NCAA’s list of schools that have started football since 1968 doesn’t seem to be complete, which makes me wonder if there’s schools not listed that also were start-ups that I’m not aware of.

That said, here are my findings.

Best start-up season by record for an FCS (I-AA) team:

Robert Morris, 1994 – 7-1-1

Old Dominion, 2009 – 9-2

Georgia Southern, 1984 – 8-3

Villanova, 1985 – 5-0

Cal St.-Fullerton, 1970 – 6-4-1

As best I could tell, no other FCS team was over .500. South Florida, a team to which I’ve seen a lot of comparisons, went 5-6 in 1997.

The most interesting things I found out while looking up all this stuff (disclaimer – some of this material comes from Wikipedia, which I wouldn’t do for a story. But trying to find out at 9 p.m. whether or not Canisius’ first football team was Division I-AA and what its record was is not as easy as you’d think.)

1. In its first game in 2001, Florida Atlantic drew more than 25,000 to what was then called Pro Player Stadium. (sound familiar?)

2. In the 50’s, Georgia traveled to Philadelphia to play Villanova.

3. The first points scored by Monmouth were by a player who intercepted a pass on a two-point conversion attempt.

4. I guess I knew this, but it’s still remarkable to me that Georgia Southern won a I-AA title in its second year.

5. Florida Atlanta Atlantic was 11-3 and finished No. 4 in I-AA in its third year.

6. UNLV used to be Nevada Southern University.

I have more to say about what constitutes a successful start-up year, but I’ve got to run. You’re welcome to provide your own definitions.

One other link: A blog post about secondary and special teams coach Anthony Midget in the Daily Press in Virginia.

UPDATE, 11:55 a.m. – this is an argument you could use to explain how GSU’s schedule is stronger than ODU’s.

Team, record and season-ending Sagarin ratings for ODU 2009

Fordham – 5-6, 188

Jacksonville – 7-4, 194

VMI – 2-9, 216

N.C. Central  – 4-7, 234

Presbyterian -  0-11, 236

Campbell – 3-8, 240

Georgetown – 0-11, 241

Savannah State – 2-8, 244

not included: Chowan and Virginia Union, both D-II schools

GSU 2010, current record and Sagarin ratings

Alabama – 6-1, 12

Jacksonville State – 7-0, 83

South Alabama – 6-0, 108

Old Dominion – 3-3, 151

Lamar – 3-4, 187

Morehead State – 2-4, 222

Campbell – 2-4, 227

N.C. Central – 0-7, 229

Savannah State – 0-7, 235

(not included: Shorter and Lambuth, two NAIA schools)

ODU’s schedule has six teams 200 or higher (which you could argue is an arbitrary number), GSU has four. ODU’s highest-rated team is 188 – GSU’s schedule has five teams better than that. (GSU, by the way, is 174. There are 245 teams ranked — all of the FBS and FCS schools.)

One thing GSU has going for it that ODU didn’t is that it couldn’t play GSU, Lamar and South Alabama because they hadn’t started playing yet. If GSU had started in 2009 and not ODU, maybe its schedule would have been weaker, also. And strength of schedule only means something if you can play up to it. You can argue GSU has a stronger schedule but it won’t mean much if the Panthers get torpedoed over the next four games.

(Counter argument – Sagarin ratings aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.)

30 comments Add your comment

Debbie Downer

October 20th, 2010
9:38 am

By definition the best first year team would be OD. They had the most wins and if you look at there schedule they played only two D2 teams, both of which they defeated. Robert Morris and Coastal Carolina played more non-D1 schools there 1st years. The Panthers can claim it only if they beat Alabama to negate the loss to Lambuth. But both us and OD are too young still to classify as “best program” beyond the first year.

I can’t believe Ga So won a 1AA title in its second year. That might make them the best startup program if you look at it objectively.

Delbert D.

October 20th, 2010
9:44 am

Villanova started playing football in 1894, but they dropped football in 1980. The regents voted to restart the program in 1983, and began play in 1985. Not from a Wiki; but an actual Villanova site (oldlibrarysite.villanova.edu)

This is funny: The Villanova site spells “losing” as “loosing”. I think that website author posts to ajc sports blogs under several names.

Panther Prowler!

October 20th, 2010
9:50 am

It’s a different sport and in the pros, but the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer won a championship and the U.S. Open Cup in their expansion year. Of course, that league only had a few teams at the time.

GSU Mens BB Fan

October 20th, 2010
9:57 am

Ken – LOL @ “Florida Atlanta”…must have been a late night for you buddy. But anyway, perhaps comparing the Sagarin ratings of teams that ODU played last year to the Sagarin ratings of teams that GSU played this year. Of course you proabably should throw out “outliers” (like Alabama) on both sides. But that could be a start. There are some other websites like “Atomic Football” and I believe the “Massey Ratings” that also give ratings/statistics for non-Division I schools (like Chowan, Virginia Union, Lambuth, and Shorter). They may help in your analysis.

Fire Rodney Ho

October 20th, 2010
10:28 am

Good article Ken. If GSU can manage to make it to 8-3 do you think that is more impressive than Southern’s 8-3? Or is it too difficult to compare 2010 to 1984?

Fire Rodney Ho

October 20th, 2010
10:32 am

Also, might want to make some edits to your article that you linked. First sentence doesn’t make sense, “loath”, etc. Is Rodney Ho your editor?


October 20th, 2010
10:47 am

5-2 is remarkable ! I wish they were starting Colonial League play next season rather then 2012.

Also looking foward to a natural in state rivalry starting with Georgia Southern. They may have to open up the top half of the Dome for that one.

Go Panthers !

Ken Sugiura

October 20th, 2010
11:50 am

Delbert – your point about Villanova is one of the things that makes it a little hard to compare start-ups. Georgia Southern, for instance, also played football from 1924-41, i think, and then shut down. so you could argue (and perhaps some of you will) that georgia southern in 1984 wasn’t technically a start-up.
thanks for the input, debbie downer. i guess i’d say that old dominion has the most wins for a start-up, but saying it had the “best” year is more difficult, i think. what if georgia state pounds lumps into ODU on saturday? it kind of makes their 9-2 a little less impressive, no?
FRH, if i had a little more time and inclination, i’d dig into your question, but right now i’m afraid i don’t have either. at first glance, it looks like southern played mostly i-aa schools and a few i’m not sure of, but i don’t know how strong those schools were at the time.
you can judge for yourself:
http://www.georgiasoutherneagles.com//pdf4/643330.pdf (page 176)

here’s the ncaa list of start-ups, by the way (page 402, i think)

thanks for catching the loathe typo. one bad thing about spellcheck. (rodney ho didn’t edit it, by the way. if he had, i’m sure he would have caught it.) what about the first sentence doesn’t make sense?

Ken Sugiura

October 20th, 2010
11:53 am

bb – i’d actually looked at the sagarin ratings and would have included it had i had more time when i posted. thanks for the suggestion. i’ll include that information in an update on the bottom of the original post.


October 20th, 2010
11:58 am

If we finish the season 9-2 (you know what that means) then we are then the best start up ever. Period.


October 20th, 2010
12:05 pm

BTW, I started to do a little research on one of our future opponents, South Alabama, to look into their undefeated record this season. Turns out that their schedule this year has at least 4 maybe 5 NAIA opponents. Didn’t have time to confirm all of them. Also, the combined record of all the teams on their schedule to this point (excluding GSU) is 23-37. Remarkably, the only two teams on their schedule with a winning record is us and the Henderson State Reddies (4-2). Looks like they are not as tough as they seem.

Rick Cleveland

October 20th, 2010
12:10 pm

Might better consider the University of South Alabama. Very easy schedule early. Win over Lamar with UC-Davis next to be followed by Geeorgia State will be very intersting.

Ken Sugiura

October 20th, 2010
12:18 pm

Times2 I agree with both your posts. South Alabama’s numbers are impressive, but perhaps inflated.
I think the same about UC-Davis, Rick Cleveland.
i’m impressed you guys are checking on South Alabama’s strength of schedule. you are true fans, or have too much time on your hands.
updated the blog, btw.

Ken Sugiura

October 20th, 2010
12:19 pm

one other thing about Georgia Southern – the eagles played two seasons as a club team. kind of a mitigating factor in their early success. south alabama whipped up on juco teams last year, also.

Fire Rodney Ho

October 20th, 2010
12:37 pm

“From here on out, there are no games more against teams that don’t offer scholarships”

I’m assuming it’s supposed to be ‘no more games.’ One way or the other, I blame Rodney Ho.

Ken Sugiura

October 20th, 2010
12:55 pm

thanks. you are right, frh. i’ll get it fixed. you can blame me.

Hairy Dawg

October 20th, 2010
1:33 pm

If GSU ends up 9-2, Saban will most assuredly have a brick thrown through his window.


October 20th, 2010
1:44 pm

Ken, what did you expect? You have a football blog for one of the best research universities in the country…the alum are going to do their homework. :)


October 20th, 2010
1:51 pm

I believe we are going to whip Old Dominon and South Alabama! I look forward to this Saturday’s game in Norfolk. I have called COMCAST and no one can explain whether or not the game will be televised in the Atlanta market. Go figure? Also, it is official, we now have front license plates available with the new POUNCE logo. The link is listed below. Better to call Custom Engraving Company / Imprint Promotions at (888) 605-2572 Toll free. GO PANTHERS!



October 20th, 2010
2:35 pm

Y’all are right about the two years of club ball, but our inaugural season of 1-AA was impressive. We opened against Florida A&M, a former 1-AA national champion, and shut them out 14-0. We were stoked about making the playoffs our first year, but Middle Tennessee State waxed us in the season’s final game, keeping us out. Revenge was sweet when we met them in the second round of the ‘85 playoffs and upset them when they opened the playoffs undefeated and ranked #1. MTSU was our bitterest rival in those days. I already hear the rumblings of this among your fans, and we have gone round and round about this for years. I prefer FCS and winning or losing titles on the field while others want to go FBS to get more mention on ESPN and such. I don’t want to go on anyone’s homecoming tour, and all of our titles are EARNED and worthy of respect. We are D1 and if levels have such an effect, then the mythical NC of the BCS means nothing compared to the NFL’s Super Bowl championship.
Sorry to use so much bandwidth, but you can call us a startup even after fielding a team in the 40’s. The story about our having to run across the street to buy a football for Erk to hold at his initial press conference is true. We had nothing, and Erk built a championship program out of thin air. It truly is amazing and is the reason those of us there in the beginning are so proud and dedicated to our Eagles. I wish GSU success, but you guys could cool off on the mouth a bit.


October 20th, 2010
3:16 pm

I think if GSU has a 8-3 season it would be more impressive than ODUs 9-2 and here’s why. For us to finish 8-3 we have to go 3-1 in our final 4. These 4 games include 1 at home (should be a win) and 2 on the road at ODU and South Alabama both of which will be 19K+ in hostile attendance playing against teams with good records and then of course the game at Alabama. If we are to assume we’ll lose that game, going 3-1 will mean winning at both ODU and South Alabama.

I will be extremely impressed with the team if we win those two games at ODU and SA. I think 8-3 is entirely possible but something in my gut says 7-4 is going to be our 2010 record. 9-2??? Yes, the best start-up ever.


October 20th, 2010
3:20 pm

GSUAlumBaseball81: I don’t see any GSU plates on that site…???

GSU Real Man

October 20th, 2010
3:24 pm


I think what Georgia Southern accomplished is amazing, however I don’t think Ken was trying to downplay what you guys did. He was just trying to figure what a “true start-up” is and after reading the article I don’t think anyone can come to a definite conclusion of what a one really is.

Also, thanks for telling us to cool off on the mouth, but we are really excited to finally have a football team; being that we are in Atlanta (home of the future College Football Hall of Fame), have an extremely large student body, and a really large alumni base, I think the future of GSU’s Football program looks really bright and we are not ashamed to show it.

Go Panthers!!!


October 20th, 2010
4:26 pm

Doesn’t meet all your criteria, I guess, but West Georgia restarted its program in 1981 and won its first nine games before losing in the Division II playoffs. The next year, WGC won the Division II national championship .

Ken Sugiura

October 20th, 2010
4:47 pm

gsugrad06 – i’d have to agree.
real man – thanks for the back-up. you are correct. i think there are so many variations that it’s not easy to pin down.
dobearshare – thanks for contributing. making the playoffs in the first year and winning it all in the second might be unrivaled across all divisions.


October 20th, 2010
5:00 pm

lol @ egeagle – i think that was the first time you’ve wrote something which doesn’t begin with bad mouthing us. Cooling our mouthes wouldn’t be necessary if there weren’t so many trolls here in the first place.


October 20th, 2010
7:41 pm

@GSU Grad06

Better to call Custom Engraving Company / Imprint Promotions at (888) 605-2572 Toll free. Ask for Nicole. They have created a new plate through the NCAA’s recognition of our new logo. Mine are in the mail and yours can be too! They did not even know we had a football team. Now they do and are excited about having a license plate for us. They look awesome as I could not display on this AJC Blog, You will be impressed. BE THE FIRST!!! GO PANTHERS!!! Our book store is adamant on selling us the old POUNCE. They are missing out!


October 20th, 2010
7:50 pm

West Georgia won a Division III national championship in 1982 still impressive non the less.


October 21st, 2010
10:22 am

Y’all bring trolls by putting others down without provocation, and ours is a very proud fanbase. I didn’t think Ken was putting us down; I gave you eyewitness accounts of what did happen. We have tons of experience in hearing smack from all sorts of programs, and we aren’t in the habit of backing down. In many ways, y’all are doing much as we did. Two years of ineligibility for the playoffs featuring a mix of teams leading to 1984’s debut in 1-AA. You guys have the luxury of more money and media fanfare. We had the magic of Erk Russell, instant credibility, and a fanbase with a bad case of the wants. There are similarities aplenty. As I said earlier, you’ll do well to approach what we did, but expect a scolding from your elders when the smack level overflows. Good luck and soften up Alabama for us. We invade next year.


October 22nd, 2010
10:53 am

I thought State had football as a club sport for a few years prior to 2010??? http://www.freewebs.com/gsuclubfootball/index.htm