At long last the 2022 FCS season is here. On Saturday the wait that’s that drug on since January will finally end and some teams will get the ball rolling before things really heat up next week. With “Week 0” now at hand, there’s several storylines to keep an eye on as teams prepare to get their seasons underway.
Austin Peay, Idaho State, Duquesne, Florida A&M All Seek FBS Upsets
Last year 12 FCS schools pulled off upsets over their FBS counterparts and several more will have their chance in 2022. The Governors of Austin Peay will be the first up.
Austin Peay will hit the road to take on Western Kentucky at 12:00 PM ET on Saturday afternoon to take on a WKU team that’s seen its fair share of turmoil this summer. Fans can watch it on CBS Sports Network.
Earlier this month veteran quarterback Jarrett Doege entered the transfer portal after only being with the Hilltoppers a few months. Doege lost the starting job to DII transfer Austin Reed.
The Governors, meanwhile, is coming off a 6-5 season in 2021 and is looking to make a return trip to the playoffs after missing last year. Austin Peay head coach Scotty Walden is entering his third year with the program and will be looking to hand WKU its first loss to an FCS opponent since 2019.
Also trying to play Cinderella will be Idaho State when they head to Las Vegas on Saturday. The Bengals hope to deliver UNLV its second loss to a Big Sky opponent in non-conference play in as many seasons. Last year Eastern Washington beat the Rebels in double overtime.
ISU will be led by Charlie Ragle who is making his head coaching debut this season. Ragle was hired over from Cal where he served as the team’s special teams coordinator and tight ends coach. Idaho State is coming off a 1-10 season while UNLV is looking to rebound from a 2-10 record in 2021. The contest will kick off at 3:30 PM ET on CBS Sports Network.
Later on Saturday, Florida State will play host to Duquesne and look to avoid another FCS upset after dropping last year’s contest to Jacksonville State on the last play. The Dukes are hoping to pick up their second victory over an FBS team in consecutive seasons after taking down Ohio in 2021.
Duquesne went 7-3 last year but did not qualify for the postseason. Several are picking them to win the NEC this fall. The Seminoles and the Dukes will kick off at 5:00 PM ET on the ACC Network.
Finally, Florida A&M will take on North Carolina in Chapel Hill to round out the night. The Rattlers are on the heels of a successful 9-3 run that ended in a playoff berth, an uncommon feat for an HBCU team. Head coach Willie Simons has built FAMU into a legitimate contender but the program has yet to make an appearance in the coveted Celebration Bowl.
On Wednesday this week, Simmons announced that Vanderbilt transfer Jeremy Moussa would start for the Rattlers at QB this weekend instead of last year’s signal caller Rasean McKay. Defending Buck Buchanan Award winner Isaiah Land will begin his final season with FAMU as they look to dispatch the Tar Heels at 8:15 PM ET on Saturday night on ACC Network.
No. 10 Lumberjacks, Gamecocks take Center Stage on ESPN’s “FCS Kickoff”
ESPN will renew a tradition broadcasting a Week 0 FCS game as part of their “FCS Kickoff” series by airing this year’s neutral site contest between Stephen F. Austin and Jacksonville State in Montgomery, AL. The network is coming off a one-year hiatus from the game. JSU has taken part in the FCS Kickoff twice before (2017 and 2018) while SFA is making their first appearance in the contest.
Jacksonville State is beginning its final season as an FCS program after accepting an invitation to join C-USA in 2023. Playing in their second season in the ASUN Conference, JSU made the news cycle for various reasons this week. First-year head coach Rich Rodriguez accused Stephen F. Austin of having unauthorized personnel filming their spring game and practices leading up to this contest. Team punter Jack Dawson was also arrested on Monday for alleged abuse incidents that took place while he was with Troy in 2020.
Then there’s SFA, a program that is fresh off an 8-4 run in 2021 and nearly won their first playoff game in 12 years last winter. The Lumberjacks, a hot pick to win the WAC this year, are guided by fourth year head coach Colby Carthel and come into this game ranked #10 in the country according to the STATS poll.
SFA boasts perhaps the FCS’ best receiver in Xavier Gipson, a finalist for last year’s Walter Payton Award. Gipson is looking to build on 3,142 career receiving yards and 30 career receiving touchdowns. The Lumberjacks will be led by senior signal-caller Trae Self. Self passed for over 3,000 yards last year while starting in all 12 games for SFA.
Gipson, Self and company could have a field day with a JSU secondary that surrendered 234.6 passing yards per contest in 2021. The Gamecocks are looking to improve on a 5-6 season in which they went 3-3 in AQ7 play.
Meanwhile JSU will no longer have the talents of quarterback Zerrick Cooper who graduated last year. So far Rodriguez has kept it close to the vest on who will be replacing Cooper. It could be Zion Webb, the starter during the spring season who missed last fall with an injury. Or it could be NC State transfer Aaron McLaughlin.
As for the allegations that SFA illegally filmed practices at JSU this summer, the Lumberjacks have not made an official statement in response.
These two programs did meet up last year with JSU claiming a 28-24 victory.
The game will kick off at 3:30 PM ET on ESPN.
No. 23 Mercer takes on Morehead State
Mercer and Morehead State will get together in Macon, GA to kick off their respective seasons on Saturday evening. The Bears, despite only losing three games and finishing 6-2 in SoCon play in 2021, failed to reach the playoffs last fall.
The Bears enter this game at #23 per the STATS poll as Drew Cronic is beginning his third season as Mercer’s head coach. Cronic will have one of the nation’s best defensive backs patrolling the secondary in safety Lance Wise. Wise finished second on the team in tackles last fall with 46 and he also snagged three interceptions, one of which he took back for a touchdown.
Mercer also has veteran leadership on offense with senior signal-caller Fred Payton. Payton started all 10 games for the team last fall and threw for over 1,600 yards and 12 touchdowns. He will work behind a seasoned offensive line that is comprised of guys like Santo DeFranco, John Thomas and Riley Adcock, a unit that paved the way for a rushing attack that averaged over 200 yards per game last fall.
The Bears were one of the most disciplined teams in the country last year, only committing 38 total penalties on the season (best in the FCS). Their 322 total penalty yards were also tops in the subdivision so expect Cronic’s team to stay out of trouble with the refs.
Morehead State, like Mercer, won seven games a year ago and went 6-2 in conference play (Patriot League) but failed to reach the postseason for what would have been the first time in school history. Head coach Rob Tenyer is entering his 10th season with the Eagles and is looking to lead the team to only its third winning season in his tenure.
The Eagles have undergone the search for a new quarterback this summer with Mark Pappas now gone. Several young guys has been vying for the spot including sophomore Grady Cramer and redshirt freshman Carter Cravens. Also in the QB room are freshmen Colin Parachek and Bryce Patterson.
Morehead State and Mercer will kick off at 7:00 PM ET on ESPN+.
Howard and Alabama State Battle in MEAC-SWAC Challenge
The 16th annual MEAC-SWAC Challenge contest will take place on ESPN on Saturday night in Atlanta, GA between Howard and Alabama State. The Bison are making their first ever appearance in the yearly HBCU showcase while the Hornets will be making their third (first since 2012).
Howard is looking to build upon a 3-8 season under third year head coach Larry Scott. The Bison offense will be piloted by quarterback Quinten Williams. The senior played in seven games last year and threw for 1,630 yards and 11 touchdowns. It is Howard’s defense that is hoping to rebound most. In 2021 the unit only recorded three takeaways and gave up several big plays to opposing offenses.
The significance of this contest is not lost on Scott. “This game is critical,” he said earlier this summer. ”It is a great opportunity for us to set the tone for the season. This is why you come to Howard, to play in big games like this and before a national audience.”
Last year’s SWAC-MEAC Challenge game between Alcorn State and North Carolina Central drew in 1.1 million viewers.
Alabama State, meanwhile, finished as a 5-6 team a year ago and will be coached by former NFLer Eddie Robinson who is making his head coaching debut. ASU hopes Robinson can guide them to their first winning season since 2015 and their first SWAC title since 2004.
The Hornets lost quarterback and former SWAC Freshman of the Year Ryan Nettles to the transfer portal back in May and will be searching for his replacement. Likely leading the charge for ASU will be Auburn transfer Dematrius Davis.
The MEAC leads the all-time series in this contest 11-4 and Alabama State has not beaten a MEAC opponent since 2010. However, Howard has not won a season-opener since 2017. Something will have to give on Saturday night.
The game kicks off at 7:00 PM ET.