FCS programs will play their FBS counterparts 115 times this upcoming season. Of course, this means a nice little pay day for the smaller programs. It could also mean a victory that catapults the program into the news cycle for at least a few weeks, and creates memories for those fans and players for a lifetime.
Last year Montana notably topped ranked Washington in Seattle to send the college football world into a frenzy. East Tennessee State blew out Vanderbilt in surprising fashion and UC Davis also snuck away with a win at Tulsa. These sorts of upsets aren't unheard of by any means and there will undoubtedly be more as we head into a new year.
In the upcoming 2022 season, these ten games seem like the most plausible victories for the underdog, and the best chances for America to have a new favorite FCS team.
10. Northern Iowa at Air Force - September 3
The Panthers head to Colorado to kick off their season and their date with Air Force could have the Falcons on upset alert.
UNI head coach Mark Farley is one of the more experienced coaches in all of the FCS and will be entering his 20th season. The Panthers are coming off yet another playoff appearance in 2021 and, despite losing Trevor Penning and Isaiah Weston to the NFL, it’s hard to imagine Farley not having his team primed for another successful run this fall. Air Force is no slouch either, though. Last year they capped a 10-win season with a First Responder Bowl victory. Undoubtedly, this will be a tough game for Northern Iowa, but a team with their sustained level of success has a chance to roll in and beat the Falcons.
9. Southeastern Louisiana at FAU - September 10
The Lions have a lot of looming questions as they head into this season. Last year they bid farewell to one of the more prolific passers in school history with Cole Kelley, who helped them make yet another run into the playoffs.
Despite still having a very talented team, SLU will be tested early as their first two games of the 2022 slate pit them against FBS foes. Following what will likely be a tough trip to Lafayette to square off against the defending Sun Belt champion Rajun Cajuns, the Lions will hit the road again to face Florida Atlantic. The Owls, however, could be a more favorable matchup than Louisiana. Last season they only won five games and went 3-5 in conference play. Meanwhile the Lions only lost three regular season games and one of those was (barely) to Louisiana Tech. Frank Scelfo is entering his fifth season at the helm for SLU may have his team primed for an upset as they head into Week 2.
8. Central Connecticut at UConn - September 3
It’s no secret that one of the biggest, most consistent whiffs in the FBS as of late has been UConn.
Since the start of 2018, the Huskies have won only four games whilst losing 32. Of those four wins, three have been over FCS opponents (all were one-possession games) and the other was over UMass who, by many accounts, is just as laughable. Yes, UConn made an intriguing hire of Jim Mora after last season but it still doesn’t instill a lot of confidence that they’ll be able to find any measurable success right off the jump. When Central Connecticut comes into town to kick off the season, the Huskies could be in for trouble. The Blue Devils by no means had a banner year in 2021 either, but they have won an NEC title and had a playoff appearance in the Ryan McCarthy era.
7. Sacramento State at Colorado State - September 24
Sacramento State has been an interesting team as of late. In 2019 the Hornets claimed a share of the Big Sky championship and in 2021 they won it outright (the team did not play in 2020) but failed to do anything once reaching the postseason in both of those years. Still, they’re a very talented group that’s gone 18-7 under head coach Troy Taylor.
Last fall they went into Cal and actually hung around with the Golden Bears in what was their first of only two regular season losses. Meanwhile Colorado State had a rough go of it last season, winning only three games and actually losing to another FCS powerhouse in South Dakota State (quite handedly). Yes, the Hornets are now without guys like Asher O’Hara but are still expected to return nine starters on offense and eight on defense. The Rams could be in for trouble in this one.
6. Montana State at Oregon State - September 17
There was some unease around Montana State when former head coach Jeff Choate departed for Texas but it only took Brent Vigen one year to quell those worries. Vigen’s Bobcats made an incredible run to the national championship last season before falling to a very good North Dakota State team and, while MSU lost several big names like Troy Andersen and Lance McCutcheon, the future is still bright.
Tommy Mellott came onto the scene in the playoffs last season and running back Isaiah Ifanse is back for one last ride meaning that Montana State’s offense is still scary. Oregon State will be giving MSU a $675,000 check to come play in Portland in September and that might be a decision they regret making. The Beavers had a mediocre season in 2021 and beat teams like Idaho, Hawaii and a pretty bad Washington squad en route to a 7-6 record. The Bobcats, conversely, were consistently in the FCS’ Top 10 rankings in both polls last fall and took their lone FBS opponent (Wyoming) down to the wire.
5. Stony Brook at UMass - September 17
UMass is bad. We’ll get that out of the way right now... they’re really bad. The Minutemen only won one contest in 2021 and that was over the aforementioned UConn Huskies. Outside of that, they lost all 11 of last fall’s games by an average of 30.5 points. What’s more is they have a history of losing to FCS competition. Last season they dropped games to Rhode Island and Maine after losing to Southern Illinois in 2019.
Stony Brook will be the lone FCS foe on UMass’ schedule this year and there’s absolutely no reason to believe the Seawolves can’t come in and win. They closed out last year winning four of five in a very good CAA with that only loss coming at the hands of a ranked Villanova squad. Things are on the rise for head coach Chuck Priore’s team and that positive momentum from the end of 2021 has Stony Brook poised to knock off UMass.
4. Maine at New Mexico - September 3
While the Black Bears did lose five games last fall, it’s important to remember that three of those defeats were at the hands of playoff teams. Maine also beat a very good William & Mary squad as well as a ranked Rhode Island team late in the year.
Nick Charlton is entering his fourth season as head coach and will have the talents of last year’s leading rusher Freddie Brock. New Mexico, meanwhile, is coming off a forgettable 3-9 campaign in which they only produced more than 20 points twice all season. The Lobos did beat their single FCS opponent in 2021 but Maine is a different monster than Houston Baptist was. The Black Bears will have to work for it, but they may have a very winnable game in Albuquerque to kick off their season.
3. Stephen F. Austin at Louisiana Tech - September 10
Louisiana Tech ought to be worried about facing another playoff-caliber FCS team after the way things last year went. The Bulldogs nearly fell to SLU last September and this year they’ll play host to a very good Lumberjacks squad.
Stephen F. Austin went 8-4 last year and each of their four losses were within a score to teams like Texas Tech, Sam Houston and Incarnate Word in the postseason. Quarterback Trae Self is coming into his own now in his junior season after throwing for 3,201 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2021. Not only could the Jacks have the Bulldogs on upset watch in this one, they may also have Jacksonville State... one of the FBS’ newest members... on the ropes two weeks prior.
2. Southern Illinois at Northwestern - September 17
The Salukis are known to be a thorn in the side of FBS teams in the Nick Hill era. Last year they went and gave Kansas State a scare after easily coasting by UMass in 2019. A season earlier they dropped 41 points on Ole Miss in a loss down in Oxford. This unit, at the very least, is not intimidated by some of the biggest and best venues in college football. Fortunately for them, they won’t be facing that this year.
Northwestern is not exactly a powerhouse despite playing in the Big Ten. The Wildcats won just three games in 2021 and finished near the bottom of the conference standings. Southern Illinois is getting a cool $550,000 to make the trip to Evanston in September but these guys will have their eyes set on a very getable victory.
1. North Dakota State at Arizona - September 17
You can’t have a list like this and not mention the Bison. NDSU is good enough to beat FBS opponents; they’ve done it and done it consistently. In 2016 they famously stunned a then-#13 Iowa team on a last second field goal and two years earlier they put a beat down on Iowa State.
This year, the Bison are scheduled to take on an Arizona group that has struggled greatly. Last season the Wildcats embarrassingly flubbed against in-state FCS foe Northern Arizona - one of 11 losses on the year. Jedd Fisch is obviously hoping for a much better second season but when the defending national champions roll into Tucson this September the ‘Cats ought to be a little nervous. The Bison are a fine tuned machine built to win games like this and there isn’t a moment too big for Matt Entz and company. That makes for a nightmare of an opponent if you’re Arizona.