One of the most exciting aspects of college football is the matchups we don’t often get to see; the ones when the nation’s big schools entice their FCS counterparts to pay a visit in exchange for a hefty payday. Usually these games go as expected... but not always. In 2022, eight FCS programs ended up knocking off their FBS opponents. It happens to someone, somewhere every year.
This season the two divisions will meet up a total of 118 times. Of those contests, there are ten that stand out, at least on paper, as having the perfect storm for an upset. In 2022 we called only two of our ten guesses for such upsets correctly here at Underdog Dynasty. How many can we get right this time out?
10. Maine at FIU (September 2)
This one may not be the hottest pick for an upset but FIU struggled greatly with its one FCS opponent in 2022. Bryant took the Panthers down to the wire last September, falling by just one point in overtime. Maine could find itself in a similar situation when it kicks off its season in Westchester this fall. Sure, the Black Bears didn’t have a year to write home about a season ago but several of their losses were agonizingly close to some of the best teams in the CAA. Maine has plenty of talent on its roster including last year’s leading receiver Montigo Moss. Also coming back is 2022’s top pass defender Kahzir (Buggs) Brown. Toppling the Panthers on the road won’t be an easy task but it’s definitely a doable one.
9. Holy Cross at Army (November 11)
The Crusaders had arguably the best team in school history last year with a group that didn’t lose until it met the eventual national champs South Dakota State in the quarterfinals (even then they put up a good fight). Much of that very same Holy Cross group is back in 2023. With signal-caller Matthew Sluka still commanding the offense and stud linebacker Jacob Dobbs returning to a stout defense after missing much of last year with an injury, the Crusaders appear poised to give Army all it can handle when the two team clash in West Point in November. Holy Cross pulled off an FBS upset last year when they bested Buffalo on a miraculous last second Hail Mary. The Black Knights, on the other hand, had a down year in 2022, going 6-6 and missing out on a bowl game. The ingredients for an upset will certainly be there in West Point.
8. Rhode Island at Georgia State (August 31)
Rhody may very well grab the first big upset of the year when they take on a less-than-impressive Georgia State team in late August. The Rams, who have been on the cusp of the FCS playoffs the last two years, have kept a solid core together as they enter 2023. Quarterback Kasim Hill will still be throwing passes and Kahtero Summers, last season’s rushing leader, will be taking handoffs. Yes, URI has said goodbye to some big playmakers as well but Georgia State is fresh off a 4-8 campaign. The Panthers haven’t exactly done anything to instill a lot of confidence that they’ve turned things around so Rhode Island could be in for upset watch in this one.
7. New Hampshire at Central Michigan (September 9)
One of the surprise playoff teams from last year was UNH but the Wildcats came by their postseason berth honestly. New Hampshire boasted one of the best offenses in the nation last year and with key pieces like Dylan Laube and Max Brosmer coming back, there’s reason to believe they’ll be just as lethal again in 2023. In Week 2 UNH will take on Central Michigan out of the MAC and that could spell trouble for the Chippewas. CMU is coming off a 4-8 season in which they allowed nearly 30 points per contest. UNH put up the same amount per game in 2022. All that could be a recipe for disaster when the two teams come together in early September.
6. Southern Illinois at Northern Illinois (September 9)
Southern Illinois could be in prime position to pull off another FBS upset. The Salukis, despite missing the playoffs last fall, had one of the FCS’ biggest highlights of the year when they pulled off a stunner against the Big Ten’s Northwestern Wildcats in Week 3. Now SIU will have the chance to make a similar statement when they take on Northern Illinois this season in DeKalb. The Huskies won just three games in 2022 and only beat their lone FCS opponent (Eastern Illinois) by a touchdown. There’s plenty of reason to believe the Salukis, who return several key players like quarterback Nic Baker and receiver D’Ante Cox, can snag another win over the FBS.
5. Florida A&M at South Florida (September 9)
USF has had a tough go of it in recent year. The Bulls have won a mere three games over the last two seasons, two of those victories coming over FCS competition. This year Florida A&M will get a crack at USF and look to avenge their 2021 loss in Tampa. The Rattlers are one of the best teams in SWAC and are looking to make a run at the Celebration Bowl this year. Willie Simons and his team is just two years removed from a trip to the playoffs and only lost two games all of last season (one to FBS North Carolina and the other to Jackson State). The Rattlers will return the likes of quarterback Jeremy Moussa and one of his top targets in Jah’Marae Sheread. FAMU will be no pushover and if USF isn’t careful they could be on the wrong end of this one.
4. Merrimack at UMass (November 4)
It seems like the Minutemen appear on these sorts of lists every year. Last year UMass had another season to forget, going 1-11. That single win, though, was over an FCS team when they welcomed Stony Brook. Merrimack makes a trip to Hadley this year, however, and Merrimack is no Stony Brook. The Warriors won eight games last year and would have nabbed a share of the Northeast title had they not fallen to St. Francis in the final week. Now a full DI member, Merrimack is looking for much of the same success this time around and they have the team to achieve it. Last year’s leading receiver Pat Conroy returns as does defensive back Garry Rosemond Jr who grabbed four picks as a freshman. The Minutemen will have their hands full.
3. Idaho at Nevada (September 9)
This year’s FCS preseason darling is Idaho and rightfully so. The Vandals made great strides last year with a very young team and fresh head coach. Now Jason Eck is entering his second year leading the team and last year’s Jerry Rice Award winner Gevani McCoy is coming into his sophomore season. A playoff team for the first time in a long time in 2022, Idaho has a lot to look forward to this year. Nevada, though, seems to be trending in the opposite direction. The Wolfpack won only two games last season and lost at home to Incarnate Word as well. It’s really not a stretch to think that the Vandals could have them on upset alert for the second straight year.
2. Incarnate Word at UTEP (September 2)
Incarnate Word took the country by storm last year when it made a run all the way to the national semifinals and, in spite of loosing its head coach and an abundance of talent, there’s actually reason to believe the Cardinals can do it again. UIW has proven that it knows how to reload with the best of them. After bringing in former Texas A&M and Auburn quarterback Zach Calzada and promoting Clint Killough to head coach the Cardinals seem poised for another great year. UTEP, conversely, has struggled as of late, going 5-7 last year. Incarnate Word took down Nevada a season ago in impressive fashion, showing everyone just how dangerous they can be. The Miners could be in for a long afternoon.
1. Kennesaw State at Sam Houston (November 4)
Sam Houston’s first season as an FBS team could be a rocky one. The Bearkats went 5-4 last year and lost three games to teams that didn’t qualify for the postseason in their FCS finale. Now Sam Houston is a bonafide member of Conference USA and will welcome in a Kennesaw State team that itself is in the process of moving up a level to the same league. While the Owls did underperform last year but so did the Bearkats and of all the contests on this list, these two teams are perhaps the most evenly matched. KSU, in its last season as an FCS program, will field solid talent again this year including senior QB Jonathan Murphy and standout DB Markeith Montgomery. It’s not a stretch at all to say that the Owls could take down the ‘Kats in Huntsville.