Every year the college football season is full of surprises and, often alongside them, disappointments. In the FCS last year, a handful of squads didn’t live up to the hype that surrounded them going in. Whether it was expected playoff berths that never happened or seasons that got abruptly ended much sooner than anticipated, these ten teams had a 2023 they’d rather forget.
10. Montana State Bobcats (8-4)
Montana State didn’t quite have the season it had anticipated back in August. The Bobcats had a heap of expectations going into last year after reaching the semifinals and FCS championship in each of the last two seasons respectively. At one point, MSU even held the #2 ranking in the polls after a red hot start. The ‘Cats, though, sputtered down the stretch, dropping a close game to Idaho before getting romped by in-state rival Montana in the regular season finale. They still ended up making the playoffs and getting seeded but their postseason run was over almost as quickly as it began when North Dakota State came in and bounced MSU in their own building in the second round. Despite winning eight games, the finish was a far cry from what the Bobcats and their fans were hoping for.
9. Incarnate Word Cardinals (8-2)
UIW was almost a lock to run through the Southland and return to the playoffs in 2023 after a semifinal run a year ago, even with a new coach in Clint Killough. Zach Calzada took over at quarterback, coming in with experience at Auburn and Texas A&M. While the Cardinals did still win eight contests, they missed out on the playoffs are losing to Nicholls late in the year and costing themselves a league title. Whether or not Incarnate Word should have been in the postseason is a whole different discussion. At the end of the day, they didn’t win a game they were absolutely favored to and it cost them dearly.
8. Eastern Kentucky Colonels (5-6)
Coming off a playoff trip in 2022, it seemed as though EKU was starting to make the right turn as a program. With standout QB Parker McKinney coming back to the fray, the Colonels had their sights set on a big season. Those goals, though, fell flat as they didn’t even muster up a winning record. It certainly didn’t help that Eastern Kentucky began with two FBS opponents back-to-back but even after they evened their record at 3-3, the Colonels dropped three of their last five. What’s even more frustrating is that of their six losses, four came by just three points.
7. Kennesaw State Owls (3-6)
For most of the year, Kennesaw State did not resemble a squad that’s on its way to Conference USA. In fact, the Owls didn’t beat any of their Division I opponents. Their three victories came over the likes of Tusculum, Lincoln (CA) and Virginia-Lynchburg. Keep in mind, that happened with the 85 allowable scholarships given to FBS or FBS-transitioning schools also; not a good look. Overall, the Owls had a pretty good, albeit short, run in the FCS but the way things ended has to be cause for some concern as the schedules will surely only get harder from here.
6. Southeast Missouri State Redhawks (4-7)
One of the surprise teams a year ago in the FCS was Southeast Missouri State. The Redhawks made a great run to the postseason in 2022 and seemed to be on the fast track to going back. In a not-so-strong Big South-OVC, SEMO was supposed to be the team to beat, especially with standout running back Geno Hess and signal-caller Paxton DeLaurent still around. Instead, though, the Redhawks won just four games and didn’t even come close to the playoffs. DeLaurent suffered a shoulder injury that sidelines him for a good chunk of the year and SEMO went out limping.
5. New Hampshire Wildcats (6-5)
Not often does a squad boast a Walter Payton finalist but not make the postseason. That’s what happened with UNH this past season. Signal-caller Max Brosmer was one of the best in the country as was running back Dylan Laube. The duo made the Wildcats offense deadly in 2022 but something got lost in 2023. That duo still put up some big numbers but the defense surrendered way too much. The Wildcats lost games in which they themselves scored at least 30 points three times. Brosmer has found a new home at Minnesota and Laube has his sights set on the NFL Draft in a couple months.
4. Samford Bulldogs (6-5)
So much excitement surrounded the Samford program after an impressive run to the quarterfinals two years ago. Michael Hiers and Chandler Smith were still around and although the SoCon was tough, many felt that the Bulldogs should be right in the mix again. Things, however, didn’t go according to plan and Samford learned very quickly that they had an uphill battle. After Western Carolina blasted them 30-7 in Week 2, the Bulldogs came up short against Chattanooga, Furman and Mercer down the stretch, costing them a spot in the postseason.
3. Weber State Wildcats (6-5)
Weber State, in all fairness, had a few things going against it coming into last fall. Former head coach Jay Hill was gone as was quarterback Bronson Barron. Still, the Wildcats were pegged by most to at least be a playoff team and make some noise in the Big Sky. That didn’t happen. After a 2-0 start, WSU got smacked by several of its conference foes and even struggled in a handful of its six victories against teams they had no business struggling against. It certainly wasn’t a banner first year for coach Mickey Mental but whether or not 2023 was a fluke or the start of a longer trend remains to be seen.
2. William & Mary Tribe (6-5)
The injury bug hit the Tribe hard last year and it resulted in a big slide back from where they were a season ago. William & Mary, which was a quarterfinal team in 2022, returned a ton of talent on both sides of the ball last fall. Guys like John Pius and Nate Lynn came back on defense. Pair them with Darius Wilson and Bronson Yoder on offense and it should have been another good year. It appeared as though it would be, too, after a 4-0 start but Yoder ended up hurt for much of the year and the offense struggled greatly without him. The Tribe lost three straight in the middle of the season and couldn’t recover.
1. Holy Cross Crusaders (7-4)
2023 will go down as a massive letdown for a Holy Cross squad that brought back and abundance of talent. The Crusaders had All-Americans on both sides of the ball with guys like quarterback Matthew Sluka and linebacker Jacob Dobbs. They were also presented with one of the easier slates playing in the Patriot League, of which they were expected to run through. Instead, though, Holy Cross dropped a bad one to Lafayette and ended up not making the playoff cut after failing to win the conference title. Sluka and Dobbs have since entered the transfer portal and head coach Bob Chesney has moved up to fill the vacant position at James Madison.