Last season, FCS teams defeated FBS opponents eight times, down from 12 wins in 2021. The FCS looks to get to double-digit wins again in 2023 with 118 opportunities to do so.
We correctly called out six of the eight 2022 FCS over FBS wins in last year’s version of this article. Here are 10 we believe are most likely to happen in 2023.
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10. Florida A&M at USF
This could be FAMU’s best team in years as the Rattlers look to ascend as the SWAC favorites. Seven All-Conference players return, plus 11 FBS transfers coming in. QB Jeremy Moussa returns for his second year after transferring from Vanderbilt. He had a strong debut season at FAMU, throwing for 2,732 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions.
USF struggled mightily in 2022, going 1-11 overall and 0-8 in the AAC. Its lone win was a 42-20 victory over FCS member Howard. The Bulls rank No. 104 on ESPN’s 2023 FBS College Football Power Index.
9. William & Mary at Virginia
Hammering FBS Charlotte 41-24 in 2022, W&M will try to earn another FBS win, this time against an in-state Power Five foe.
After going 10-1 last regular season and then advancing to the FCS quarterfinals, the run-first offense brings back four starters on the o-line and its top three rushers. And the defense returns nine of its top 11 tacklers, led by standouts OLB John Pius, DL Nate Lynn, CB Ryan Poole, and CB Jalen Jones.
Virginia has been down recently, going 3-7 last year and now ranking No. 72 on ESPN’s 2023 FBS College Football Power Index. If W&M can develop this offseason even more in the trenches, this will be a tight game.
8. Jackson State at Texas State
What a statement head coach T.C. Taylor and JSU can make about the program’s continued trajectory by beating an FBS opponent.
The Tigers have had a fascinating offseason, losing 15 players to the FBS but bringing in 11 FBS transfers and 10 FCS transfers. How does that all mesh, especially in a challenging September slate that also features FAMU?
But Texas State is certainly gettable. G.J. Kinne is the new head coach there after a one-year stint at FCS Incarnate Word. He has brought in 10 FCS transfers, including eight from UIW. It’s a building year for Texas State, who ranks No. 121 on ESPN’s 2023 FBS College Football Power Index.
7. UIW at UTEP
Speaking of UIW, the Cardinals have also had a fascinating offseason.
After a breakout season that featured a 55-41 win over FBS Nevada and a trip to the FCS semifinals, UIW lost its second head coach in two years. Clint Killough now takes over a roster that loses 13 transfers to the FBS, eight who followed GJ Kinne to Texas State, and only returns one of 13 All-Southland Conference selections from last year. UIW did bring in 15 FBS transfers, including QB Zach Calzada, who started 10 games at Texas A&M in 2021 and beat No. 1 Alabama.
UTEP is a beatable FBS opponent. It went 5-7 last year and ranks No. 124 on ESPN’s 2023 FBS College Football Power Index.
6. Rhode Island at Georgia State
Rhody could be set for a breakout year after being right on the playoff cusp in recent seasons. The Rams return an experienced team, led by seventh-year QB Kasim Hill.
Rhode Island got an FBS win not too long ago in 2021 over UMass. Georgia State is a step up from UMass, but it’s no intimidating FBS opponent, ranking No. 92 on ESPN’s 2023 FBS College Football Power Index. The Panthers finished 4-8 last year, although they were competitive in many of the losses.
5. Merrimack at UMass
UMass making this list has turned into an annual tradition, even if its FCS opponent isn’t all that good. The Minutemen suffered three FCS losses from 2019-2021, including an impressive two losses to non-playoff FCS teams Rhode Island and Maine in 2021 by a combined score of 70-32. UMass got over the hump last year by beating Stony Brook 20-3 for its only win of the season. Stony Brook went 2-9 in 2022.
UMass is at the very bottom of ESPN’s 2023 FBS College Football Power Index.
But this isn’t No. 4 just because it’s UMass. Merrimack is pretty good. The Warriors are relatively new to the FCS, and their D1 transition has gone well. They went 8-3 overall last year and 6-1 in the NEC. Expect them to take another step forward as a program and be even better, returning seven All-Conference players led by a beast on the defensive front Brandon Roberts.
4. Holy Cross at Army
Holy Cross has back-to-back seasons of FBS wins, beating UConn 38-28 in 2021 and Buffalo 37-31 last season on a Hail Mary.
The Crusaders get two chances to make it three years in a row, playing Boston College and Army this fall. They bring back a mostly same-look team as last year after finishing 12-1 and offering a strong challenge to eventual national champs South Dakota State in the quarterfinals. Led by QB Matthew Sluka, LB Jacob Dobbs, and a long list of returning starters, Holy Cross has large expectations in 2023.
Army finished 6-6 last year, including three straight wins to end the season. But it ranks just No. 102 on ESPN’s 2023 FBS College Football Power Index, and Holy Cross has the front seven to contain its run-first attack.
3. Southern Illinois at Northern Illinois
Of the eight FCS over FBS wins last year, only one was against a Power Five opponent. That was SIU beating Northwestern 31-24.
Nic Baker is back at QB after throwing for 249 yards and three TDs in that victory. The experienced signal-caller has passed for 6,663 yards and 50 TDs in his college career. The Salukis have a good mix of returning talent and transfers coming in, adding about five FBS transfers and five FCS transfers, including proven players like DL Tim Varga and LB Colin Bohanek.
NIU took a step back last year, going 3-9 after a 9-5 2021 season. Expectations aren’t high as it ranks No. 114 on ESPN’s 2023 FBS College Football Power Index.
2. New Hampshire at Central Michigan
UNH looks to be a top CAA team this fall after making the playoffs. The Wildcats return 10 All-CAA players, led by QB Max Brosmer and all-purpose king Dylan Laube. Dylan Ruiz and Josiah Silver are a dominant DE duo, combining for 32 tackles for loss and 20.5 sacks in 2022.
Central Michigan is certainly a winnable game for UNH, especially a week after the Chippewas play Michigan State. CMU then plays Notre Dame a week after the UNH game. Think it’d be easy to overlook an FCS opponent? Central Michigan may not want to do that, or else it will start 0-3 after going 4-8 last year and entering 2023 ranked No. 106 on ESPN’s FBS College Football Power Index.
1. Idaho at Nevada
Idaho has big expectations heading into this fall. After a much-improved 7-5 season in Jason Eck’s first year as head coach, the Vandals return 12 All-Big Sky players. QB Gevani McCoy won the Jerry Rice Award in 2022 as the best FCS freshman. He has two 1,000-yard WRs back in Hayden Hatten and Jermaine Jackson. Hatten is probably the best returning WR in the FCS. Plus, top RB Anthony Woods is also back.
The defense has more questions to answer, losing its two top LBs. But the overall talent is there.
Now, 7-5 may not be an earth-shattering record, but Idaho was 4-7 in 2021. And two of last year’s losses were to Power Five teams that Idaho competed well against, losing 24-17 to Washington State and 35-22 to Indiana.
Nevada was really down last year, going 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the Mountain West. The Wolf Pack lost 55-41 to FCS Incarnate Word, allowing 435 passing yards. It could be a big day for Idaho’s offense vs. a team ranked No. 117 on ESPN’s FBS College Football Power Index.