25. Texas A&M-Commerce at Sam Houston - September 17
This one makes our list solely because it’s a battle of one of the newest faces in the FCS squaring off against a departing powerhouses. A&M-Commerce was a top dog in the DII ranks before moving up this offseason and the Bearkats are in their transition year before joining C-USA. Each team has a national championship in recent memory at their respective level. Sure, Sam Houston will likely win but it should be fun to watch these two Texas programs battle it out in what will likely be the only time they both meet as FCS teams.
24. Southern Illinois at Incarnate Word - September 3
This will be a fun non-conference matchup between two playoff teams from last year to kick the season off. The Cardinals did lose one of the biggest transfers of the offseason in quarterback Cameron Ward but they will still field a very formidable team. They're coming off a 10-3 season in which they nearly upset the #1 seed in the tournament. SIU, on the other hand, made the playoffs for the second straight season last year under seventh-year coach Nick Hill. Hailing from a very tough Missouri Valley Conference, the Salukis are used to seeing top tier competition. It could be a doozy down in San Antonio.
23. Florida A&M at South Carolina State - October 8
Two of the best HBCUs from last fall will clash in early October. The Rattlers joined some rarefied air in 2021 when the qualified for the playoffs, an uncommon occurrence for HBCU programs. The defending Buck Buchanan Award winner Isaiah Land recently announced his return to the team which should make FAMU a force to be reckoned with again. Meanwhile SC State won last year's Celebration Bowl in what many considered an upset. The Bulldogs are out for a repeat and the Rattlers want to prove that last year's run was no fluke.
22. Delaware at Rhode Island - September 17
We'll call this one a battle of the "almosts". Both the Blue Hens and the Rams missed out on the postseason last year but both could easily be back in it this time. Delaware hired former Sam Houston offensive coordinator and Blue Hen alum Ryan Carty to lead the program. The Rams, however, are perhaps one of the hungriest teams in the country after finishing with a 7-4 record but failing to reach the playoffs. With perennial powerhouse James Madison now gone, the CAA is wide open and this early-season conference bout could go a long way in deciding it.
21. Stephen F. Austin at Sam Houston - October 1
Sam Houston, as previously mentioned, is beginning their FBS transition this year and therefore can't qualify for the playoffs. That doesn't mean, however, that they won't want to stick it to the Lumberjacks regardless when they face off. Last year the Bearkats had an unbeaten regular season but their biggest scare came at the hands of SFA in what was a narrow 21-20 victory. This could be the Lumberjacks' last shot at their in-state rivals for quite some time and you just know they have last year's loss on their minds. If SFA is to make the playoffs again like many expect them to, they'll need to avenge that defeat this time out.
20. Montana State at Eastern Washington - September 24
It's never easy to roll into Cheney and win on the red turf. In fact only two teams did it last year and Montana State was one of them. The Bobcats will have that same tall task to start Big Sky play this season and Eastern Washington is probably hellbent on not letting it happen again. MSU, fresh off a trip to Frisco, shapes up to be solid again but did lose some studs on defense. EWU lost a star of their own in QB Eric Barriere. Both teams, however, are legitimate contenders for a conference championship and the winner here will set themselves up well in that race.
19. East Tennessee State at Mercer - October 15
The Mercer Bears have never made the playoffs but they came tantalizingly close last season. In fact, it was a loss to ETSU by a mere three points in their final game that kept them out. That contest was played in Johnson City but this time it'll go down in Macon. Now in his third season as Bears head coach Drew Cronic wants to get over that postseason hump. The Pirates, despite losing Randy Sanders to retirement, are the defending conference champs and will be trying to repeat after a very successful 11-2 season in 2021. This game again may decide the SoCon champion.
18. North Dakota State at Southern Illinois - November 12
In last year's impromptu spring season, the Salukis put a shocking beatdown on a then #1 NDSU to the tune of 38-14. It gave some fans across the FCS false hope that maybe the Bison were falling off and the dynasty was over. Of course that was just wishful thinking as North Dakota State went on to win last year's championship resoundingly. What’s more is that the Bison easily toppled the Salukis in their playoff run. All that being said, this could be a sneaky good MVC game towards the end of the year. Odds are NDSU will have a spot in the tournament locked up by this point but SIU could be fighting for their playoff lives. With the game being in Carbondale anything could happen.
17. UT-Martin at Missouri State - September 8
A good, old-fashioned rematch is always fun and that's exactly what we'll have here. Last year the Skyhawks rolled into Springfield and upset the Bears in the opening round of the playoffs (without their starting QB). Missouri State will again play host to the defending OVC champions in an early-season bout and this time, while it wont necessarily be do or die, it will be a quality win on the victor’s record come selection time. The Bears may need every win they can muster up to again qualify for the postseason as they have to navigate a tough MVC slate. The Skyhawks will be looking for back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in program history.
16. Villanova at William & Mary - November 12
The Wildcats are a hungry team after the way last season ended and this year presents the perfect opportunity for ‘Nova to take a stranglehold on the JMU-less CAA. Last year they won a share of the conference title with a 9-2 record and finished the season ranked #8 in the national polls. Mark Ferrante is entering his sixth season at the helm and a late season conference battle against a formidable William & Mary team shapes up to be a pivotal game. Remember, the Tribe dealt Villanova one of its three losses last year and did so in Philly. William & Mary is no slouch and is hoping to make a run of their own this year after a 6-5 go of it in 2021.
15. Sacramento State at Northern Iowa - September 17
Sac State won their first ever outright Big Sky championship last year and will have to maneuver a tough schedule if they want to do so again. Part of that schedule is a road trip to Cedar Falls for a date with the always-tough UNI Panthers. The Hornets boast one of the more unique offenses in the country with two explosive quarterbacks in Asher O’Hara and Jake Dunniway but the Panthers have one of the most experienced coaches in the FCS in Mark Farley. Both these teams were playoff participants in 2021 and there’s really no reason to believe they both can’t be again this season. Every win will be necessary to stay afloat in a crowded Big Sky and Missouri Valley and someone looks to pick up a key one here.
14. Florida A&M vs Bethune-Cookman - November 19
There may be no rivalry more fun in the world of HBCU ball than the “Florida Classic”. The annual grudge match between the Rattlers and the Wildcats always brings pomp and circumstance to the state of Florida but beyond that, last year’s game was more than likely the reason FAMU cemented their spot in the playoffs. Bethune-Cookman had won nine of these rivalry games in a row prior to the Rattlers’ 46-21 rout last year. Head coach Willie Simmons has his team reaching new heights and, while the Wildcats underperformed greatly last year, they’ll undoubtedly bring the heat to Orlando for this one.
13. South Dakota at South Dakota State - October 8
It wasn’t often that the Jackrabbits lost last year but for sure the most shocking defeat they suffered was at the hands of their in-state rivals. The Coyotes pulled off a miracle in the closing seconds to take down SDSU in Vermillion. Now the game flexes to Brookings where the Jacks will look to avoid a third straight defeat in the series. They’ve lost last year’s starting QB Chris Oladokun and star running back Pierre Strong Jr. to the NFL but the Janke brothers are still around catching passes. South Dakota will return a pair of talented receivers of their own in Jordan Sommerville and Kody Case. There could be all sorts of fireworks in this rematch.
12. Kennesaw State at Jacksonville State - October 1
The Owls, despite being a relatively new program, have found great success in their dawning years of FCS football. They’ve reached the postseason four times in their young history and have shown no signs of slowing down as 2022 approaches. KSU runs one heck of a triple option attack that’s almost unstoppable at times. Jacksonville State is in the midst of leaving for C-USA and will be looking to stymie Kennesaw in their farewell tour. Last fall JSU was ranked #17 before the Owls made light work of them and sent them tumbling in the polls. The Gamecocks will play host this time and, in what could be their last matchup with KSU in a long while, will look to avenge last year’s season-derailing loss.
11. UC Davis at Sacramento State - November 19
While most of the eyes in the Big Sky will undoubtedly be drawn to other rivalry games on this day (see No. 2 on our list), there will be another that could have just as meaningful ramifications on the conference race. Both the Aggies and the Hornets will be looking to return to the postseason again; a place they each suffered bitter defeats right off the bat last time out. Sac State will welcome their “Causeway Classic” counterparts to Hornet Stadium with the hopes of handing them their third straight loss in the series. UC Davis nabbed a share of the Big Sky title in 2018 but if they want to have a prayer of doing so again this year, a win over Sac State is a must.
10. Dartmouth at Princeton - November 5
The Big Green and the Tigers dominated the Ivy League standings in 2021. Both finished with 6-1 conference records and 9-1 overall marks. Dartmouth, though, manhandled Princeton when the two met in Hanover. Now the game comes back to New Jersey and the Tigers will be looking for revenge. After sharing the league title last year, you can imagine that neither team wants any part of that again. Buddy Teevens and Bob Surace are some of the more experienced coaches in the Ivy League and that could make for a really, really good game.
9. South Dakota State at Northern Iowa - November 5
More than likely there will be at least one home playoff game on the line for someone when South Dakota State takes on Northern Iowa. The Missouri Valley may very well send both these teams to the postseason but this matchup could determine seeding. The Panthers were tough at home last year, going 4-1 in the UNI Dome. The Jacks, despite being a semifinal team last fall, lost to this UNI team in Brookings last year and a trip Cedar Falls won’t be any easier. If South Dakota State wants any chance of claiming a share of the conference title, odds are they will have to snap their two-game skid to the Panthers.
8. Jackson State vs Florida A&M - September 4
When the Rattlers and the Tigers met in the “Orange Blossom Classic” down in Miami last fall it was a hard-fought, defensive slugfest. Jackson State escaped with the narrow 7-6 victory and handed Florida A&M one of its only two regular season losses. That defeat is more than likely what kept the Rattlers out of the Celebration Bowl when all was said and done. Fortunately we’ll get the much anticipated rematch this year. Jackson State has made excellent recruiting moves and with former NFL star Deion Sanders calling the shots that comes to little surprise. Willie Simmons’ FAMU team, though, is coming off a playoff season and has their sights on even bigger accomplishments in 2022.
7. Incarnate Word at Stephen F. Austin - October 8
Both UIW and Stephen F. Austin made long-awaited returns to the postseason in 2021 and both just so happened to meet up in the first round. The Cardinals got their first ever playoff victory when they toppled the Lumberjacks in an overtime thriller but this year’s grudge match will take place in Nacogdoches. Stephen F. Austin won eight games last year and head coach Colby Carthel is entering his fourth year with the program. Incarnate Word joined the WAC this offseason making them an official conference foe to SFA. The winner of this game may very well end up walking away with the WAC-ASUN Challenge’s auto bid to the postseason.
6. UC Davis at South Dakota State - September 10
In what will be a rematch of last year’s first round playoff contest, the Aggies will hit the road to take on the Jackrabbits in an early-season tilt. Last year UC Davis went 8-3 in the regular season before eventually falling to SDSU in the opening round of the postseason but this time the Aggies will face a very different Jacks team in Brookings. There’s no more Pierre Strong and that could be good as UC Davis allowed him 172 yards and a score in their last meeting. The bad news for the Aggies? Isaiah Davis will still be there and he eclipsed 200 yards in that very same playoff game. Like many other non-conference bouts between the Big Sky and the Missouri Valley, the victor here will have a nice resume-building win on their pedigree come selection time. Will it be a repeat of last year for South Dakota State or will the Aggies get their revenge?
5. Delaware at Villanova - November 19
It seems very likely that either Villanova or Delaware will win the CAA in 2022. That’s not to say that there aren’t other legitimate contenders but the odds favor the Wildcats or the Blue Hens. Delaware hired head coach Ryan Carty over from Sam Houston this offseason with the hopes of returning to the dominant force they once were. Nova, of course, is fresh off a 10-3 season that saw them advance to the quarterfinals and earn a seed in the playoffs. With this being the last game on each teams’ regular season docket something meaningful is going to be at stake.
4. Eastern Washington at Montana - November 12
November is rivalry time in college football and one of the most heated ones of the season this year could be the "Governor's Cup" between Eastern Washington and Montana. Last year the Griz and the Eagles met twice thanks to the bracket makers and both games were excellent. In October EWU narrowly escaped their Big Sky foes at the last second at home but in the playoffs the Grizzlies got payback on their turf while scoring 57 points. There was plenty of bad blood between these two in 2021 as well. When Eastern Washington receiver Talolo Limu-Jones said UM didn’t deserve a seed in the playoffs it brought a whole new mindset to the matchup. Odds are the Griz and their fans haven’t forgotten those words and will bring the noise when EWU travels to Missoula in November.
3. Yale at Harvard - November 19
One of the most storied games in all of football, at any level, is "The Game". When the Crimson and the Bulldogs meet every November it signifies the end of yet another Ivy League season and, while neither Yale nor Harvard has been ruling the roost as of late, this rivalry stands the test of time. The Crimson will play host this year and are looking to win their second straight over the Bulldogs. There will be no playoff spots in the cards here as the Ivies don't participate but there will still be plenty to play for.
2. Montana at Montana State - November 19
There is absolutely nothing like the “Brawl of the Wild”. The annual rivalry game between the ‘Cats and the Griz is probably the nastiest in all of the FCS and odds are a lot will be at stake when they meet at the end of the season. Yes, MSU is coming off that national championship appearance but don’t forget, Montana beat them 29-10 last year in Missoula. The game hasn’t been played in Bozeman since 2019 due the canceled 2020 season but it’ll be back there this time. UM coach Bobby Hauck loves nothing more than beating the Bobcats and MSU head man Brent Vigen is looking for a much better showing his second go round. As always, expect there to be playoff seeding, a possible Big Sky title and revenge on the line.
1. South Dakota State at North Dakota State - October 15
The only reason the “Dakota Marker” showdown takes the top spot ahead of the "Brawl of the Wild" is because last year’s iteration of this game was much closer than that of their Montana counterparts. The Jacks handed the Bison their lone loss of 2021 when, thanks to some nifty trickery, they came away with a 27-19 win in Brookings. NDSU, as they always seem to, got the last laugh by winning yet another national championship and this year’s game will be in the unfriendly confines of the Fargo Dome. You’ve got to believe the Bison have this one circled. Postseason positioning will probably be determined greatly here as will, of course, bragging rights.