January 6, 2011 in Sports

FCS finalists not all that different

David Hale The (Delaware) News Journal

The clichés and the stereotypes are easy to conjure.

East Coast football fans will sit shirtless in the stands with temperatures well below freezing for a meaningless December game.

West Coast football fans show up midway through the first quarter and leave shortly after halftime.

In the East, a hard-nosed defense is the blueprint for a championship.

Out west, high-flying passing games and finesse offense is the way the game is played.

In the FCS title game, Delaware arrives with an impressive history, with the old-style blue-and-gold uniforms evoking old-school college football traditions. Eastern Washington, meanwhile, plays its home games on a red field.

And yet, for all the preconceived notions of the differences between football here and how the game is played 2,500 miles away, Delaware coach K.C. Keeler said he doesn’t see much separating the Blue Hens from their left-coast counterparts at Eastern Washington.

“It’s a little bit like watching ourselves because they don’t get real fancy, and neither do we,” Keeler said. “I think they are who they are, and we are who we are.”

The Blue Hens have made it to the title game three times in the past nine years, and that’s probably the most distinct difference between the two schools, Eagles head coach Beau Baldwin said.

“It’s a tribute to what they’ve done in recruiting, what they’ve done in coaching,” Baldwin said. “They’re extremely well-coached, top to bottom in that conference and they recruit good talent.”

But while the film tells one story, Keeler admits there’s still that notion in the back of most fans’ mind that the style of play on one side of the country bears little resemblance to what’s being played on the other coast.

“Just looking at the numbers, their conference is more of an offensive conference,” Keeler said.

Perhaps, but there’s certainly a case to be made that the opposite could be true, too.

Delaware and Eastern Washington share just one common opponent this season, and their results against Villanova show that perhaps it was the Eagles with the more impressive defense.

Eastern Washington toppled the Wildcats in the I-AA semifinals in December, less than a month after Villanova beat the Blue Hens, with the Eagles holding Nova to a yard less per play than Delaware did.

That’s a perfect example of why generalizations about regions or conferences often don’t hold up to the facts, Baldwin said. The big-picture numbers can reflect one thing, but specific situations often look much different.

“To me it’s not always a certain conference, it’s just certain teams putting together good classes and going on good runs,” Baldwin said. “To me it didn’t have as much to do with the conference.”

For the past three weeks, however, coaches from both sides have been busy setting aside any preconceived notions and gotten down to the business of actually figuring out what it is that makes their opponents so good.

After all that analysis, even that work doesn’t turn up a whole lot of distinct differences between the two programs, Keeler said.

“You can only look at personnel so many times,” Keeler said. “There’s only so many things you can do from it. … It’s almost at the point now where just we want to play this football game.”

And that’s probably the only fundamental truth when comparing one region to the other. In the end, there’s not really much to be gained from drawing big distinctions.

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