Duquesne football set for early-season tests

Courtesy of Duquesne Athletics

Luke Henne | Sports Editor

Aug. 26, 2021

After finishing in the top three of the Northeast Conference standings every year since 2015, the Duquesne football team might have a subtle edge over conference foes this season. Why?

For the Dukes, the season starts with back-to-back matchups with Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponents. Duquesne will travel to Fort Worth, Texas, to meet TCU on Sept. 4 before heading to Athens, Ohio, for a date with Ohio on Sept. 11.

Should anyone expect Duquesne to win either of these games? Probably not.

Per ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Dukes have just a 4.8% chance to knock off the Bobcats in their second game. In their opening game, Duquesne is given just a 0.5% chance to knock off the Big 12 Conference stalwart.

So, what can a smaller, FCS-level program like Duquesne gain from games like these?

For starters, it provides a great opportunity for rostered players to get noticed and get more exposure than they typically would.

The games will be streamed on both ESPN+ and ESPN3. The popular streaming services, coupled with larger viewing audiences, serve as portals that will allow Duquesne players to be recognized more easily if they were to have a notable game.

It also provides a chance for the Dukes to get familiar with top-tier competition. In 2018, Duquesne also played two road games against FBS opponents: Massachusetts and Hawaii. The Dukes lost by scores of 63-15 and 42-21, respectively, but won the NEC regular-season title and advanced to the second round of the FCS Playoffs.

While Duquesne would certainly not be expected to win, under most circumstances, against an FBS opponent, playing such quality opponents might be the key ingredient that puts them over the rest of the NEC at season’s end.

It is worth noting that the Dukes are not alone in this type of scheduling. Central Connecticut, who won the 2019 NEC regular-season title, will get a similar opportunity when they head south to battle Atlantic Coast Conference member Miami (Fl.) on Sept. 25.

This isn’t something Duquesne is planning on doing for just this season. Between 2022 and 2026, the team is currently scheduled to take on six more FBS opponents: Air Force, Coastal Carolina, Florida State, Hawaii, Toledo and West Virginia.

All of these games, as expected, are scheduled to take place away from Rooney Field. Why would Duquesne want to frequently travel great distances to play road games, games in which they are almost always the overwhelming underdog?

Duquesne is participating in what are commonly referred to as “guarantee games.” This is a game in which a higher-level program signs a contract with a smaller-level program, guaranteeing to pay them a certain amount of money to play the game. The amount is expected to cover the costs for hotels, food and travel during the trip.

Combine that monetary gain with the opportunity to grow the recognition of one’s players and program, and many athletic directors agree to schedule guarantee games for their school.

Jerry Kutz of The Osceola, a website dedicated to covering Florida State athletics, examined the logic behind Duquesne and Florida State agreeing to play each other during the 2022 season in a Feb. 2021 article.

Kutz notes that Florida State will pay $400,000 to host the Dukes. While that might not seem like much when one considers the costs necessary to accommodate hotel rooms, food and travel costs for an entire football roster, playing multiple games of similar fashion annually over a multiple-year period should provide Duquesne with a financial boost.

Additionally, while guarantee games are typically guaranteed to be a win for the team paying a large sum of money, this isn’t always the case. Perhaps the most notable example of this came in 2007, when fifth-ranked Michigan paid $400,000 to host Appalachian State, the top-ranked FCS school in the country.

Appalachian State stunned Michigan in a 34-32 victory, and this win had a direct effect on the growth of the school’s national recognition. The school transitioned to the FBS level in 2014.

While these games often have a similar outcome, cases like Appalachian State will always exist.

In all likelihood, Duquesne will start the season with two consecutive losses. That’s just the nature of the beast.

At the end of the day, however, the games still need to be played. The possibility of catching either TCU or Ohio, if not both, on a bad day will still exist. The opportunities sit right in front of the Dukes.

Regardless of the final scores, Duquesne will come out on top financially, in addition to having multiple chances to grow their program and player exposure on a larger scale.