It’s been quite the two years for the ASUN and the WAC, from forming new FCS-playing conferences, to adding members, to losing members, to combining in 2021, and to re-combining for one auto-bid this May for the 2022 season. They have different preseason All-Conference teams, different media days, and different schedules, but are one joint league playing for one AQ with current uncertainty on how the auto-bid will be decided if two teams have the same record.
It’s all a bit confusing. But so too is FCS conference realignment.
With all of that said, the combination of ASUN and WAC teams in 2022 is a pretty dang strong group of programs. And we’re just going to treat the ASUN and the WAC as one conference as long as they share an auto-bid. We’ll do the same with the Big South and the OVC when they combine for football in 2023.
So here’s a look ahead at the ASUN-WAC this fall, some top names to know, and our power ranking of playoff-eligible teams.
Returning All-Conference Players
From last season’s All-Conference Teams
Stephen F. Austin — 12: DB Jeremiah Walker (2nd Team WAC), DB Myles Heard (1st Team WAC), DL BJ Thompson (1st Team WAC), K Chris Campos (1st Team WAC), WR Xavier Gipson (1st Team WAC), LB Brevin Randle (1st Team WAC), LB Tkai Lloyd (2nd Team WAC), OL Clint Lapic (1st Team WAC), OL Keegan Holm (2nd Team WAC), P Max Quick (1st Team WAC), QB Trae Self (2nd Team WAC), RB Miles Reed (2nd Team WAC)
Sam Houston — 7: DL Jevon Leon (2nd Team WAC), LB Markel Perry (1st Team WAC), LB Trevor Williams (1st Team WAC), OL Ethan Hagler (2nd Team WAC), RB Noah Smith (2nd Team WAC), WR Ife Adeyi (2nd Team WAC), WR Cody Chrest (2nd Team WAC)
Central Arkansas — 6: DB Cameron Godfrey (1st Team ASUN), DL Logan Jessup (1st Team ASUN), OL Justin Lairy (1st Team ASUN), OL Jaylin Hendrix (1st Team ASUN), P Chandler Caughron (1st Team ASUN), Darius Hale (1st Team ASUN)
Kennesaw State — 5: DL Travis Bell (2nd Team Big South), K Nathan Robertson (1st Team Big South), OL Zion Katina (2nd Team Big South), OL Terrell Paxton (2nd Team Big South), QB Xavier Shepherd (1st Team Big South)
Eastern Kentucky — 4: K Patrick Nations (1st Team ASUN), LB Matthew Jackson (1st Team ASUN), OL Payton Collins (1st Team ASUN), QB Parker McKinney (1st Team ASUN)
Jacksonville State — 4: DL Jaylen Swain (1st Team ASUN), LB Stevonte Tullis (1st Team ASUN), TE Sean Brown (1st Team ASUN), WR P.J. Wells (1st Team ASUN)
Abilene Christian — 3: K Blair Zepeda (2nd Team WAC), OL Reese Moore (2nd Team WAC), WR Kobe Clark (2nd Team WAC)
Austin Peay — 2: K Maddux Trujillo (2nd Team OVC), WR Drae McCray (1st Team OVC)
Tarleton State — 2: DL Javier Duran (2nd Team WAC), OL Blake Haynes (2nd Team WAC)
Utah Tech — 2: DB Tyrell Grayson (2nd Team WAC), LB Will Leota (2nd Team WAC)
North Alabama — 1: RB Parker Driggers (2nd Team Big South)
Southern Utah — 1: DL Francis Bemiy (3rd Team Big Sky)
Returning HERO Sports All-Americans
From last season
Stephen F. Austin — 4: WR Xavier Gipson (1st Team, Soph.), P Max Quick (Soph.), OL Justice Guillory (Fr.), K Chris Campos (Fr.)
Central Arkansas — 3: DL Logan Jessup (Soph.), RB Darius Hale (Fr.), OL Justin Lairy (Fr.)
Eastern Kentucky — 2: OL Payton Collins (Fr.), K Patrick Nations (Fr.)
Austin Peay — 1: WR Drae McCray (Fr.)
Kennesaw State — 1: Xavier Shepherd (1st Team AP, Soph. QB)
Abilene Christian — 1: OL Reese Moore (Fr.)
Utah Tech — 1: DB Tyrell Grayson (Fr.)
Teams With The Most D1 Transfers
Abilene Christian — 19 (19 FBS)
Sam Houston — 18 (14 FBS, 4 FCS)
Eastern Kentucky — 12 (12 FBS)
Tarleton State — 12 (6 FBS, 6 FCS)
Austin Peay — 11 (7 FBS, 4 FCS)
Jacksonville State — 11 (11 FBS)
Southern Utah — 10 (7 FBS, 3 FCS)
Names To Know
TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Xavier Shepherd, Kennesaw State QB — Shepherd led the FCS with 23 rushing TDs last season as he totaled 867 yards on the ground off of 240 carries. He kept defenses honest with his throwing abilities, too. Shepherd completed 77-of-123 passes for 1,341 yards, 15 TDs, and three interceptions.
TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Matthew Jackson, Eastern Kentucky LB — Jackson is coming off of back-to-back standout seasons. In eight games during the 2020 fall, he led the team with 79 tackles, including eight tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Last season, Jackson totaled 102 tackles, 11 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and eight passes defended in 11 games.
Top NFL PROSPECT: Xavier Gipson, Stephen F. Austin WR — Gipson has been making plays since he caught 52 passes for 934 yards and seven TDs as a freshman in 2019. In 10 games during the 2020 fall, he hauled in 52 catches for 841 yards and nine TDs. The 5-foot-9, 170-pounder then cranked it up a notch last season, totaling 74 catches for 14 TDs and an FCS-leading 1,367 yards. Gipson is also a playmaker on special teams, making him an even more intriguing pro prospect. He returned 15 punts for 170 yards and a TD last year. Josh Buchanan ranks Gipson the No. 4 FCS prospect for the 2023 NFL Draft.
HERO Sports’ Power Ranking
Because the renewed partnership wasn’t announced until May, these teams are not all playing each other. We don’t currently know how the auto-bid will be decided if two teams share the same record. So instead of doing our usual Predicted Order of Finish here, we will rank the playoff-eligible teams.
1. Stephen F. Austin
2. Kennesaw State
3. Eastern Kentucky
4. Central Arkansas
5. Austin Peay
6. Abilene Christian
7. North Alabama
8. Southern Utah
This is a solid FCS joint league when looking at the 2022 teams. Sam Houston and Jacksonville State are well-known FCS programs moving to the FBS in 2023. Kennesaw is an established program. SFA is on the rise, and EKU seems to be as well. We’ve seen recent playoff appearances from Austin Peay and UCA. North Alabama has potential after now fully transitioning from D2. Tarleton is currently transitioning from D2 and has massive program goals. And we’ll see if ACU and SUU can turn around recent struggles, plus Utah Tech (formerly Dixie State) is transitioning to the FCS alongside Tarleton from D2.
For how messy and unfortunate timing it’s been for these two new conferences, a joint league where they all played each other this season would have made for a very strong and competitive race. Now, it’ll be interesting to figure out who the AQ is and who the potential at-large bids are.
I really like SFA as a breakout team nationally this year. It has the team balance and overall talent to make a decent playoff run. Kennesaw is that team we hope to see emerge as a bigger national threat in the absence of more FBS move-ups. I’d say those two teams are solid picks to make the playoffs. After that, EKU is right on the playoff fringe, just like last year. This program also seems to be rising up and has a tradition of success. I don’t believe you can expect more than three teams to make the playoffs out of the ASUN-WAC, with whoever that third team is being right on the bubble.