Non-conference games are important in the subdivision, both to gauge conference strength and to start building out playoff resumes. Here are 10 of the biggest FCS vs. FCS non-conference matchups in 2022.
10. UC Davis at South Dakota State (Sept. 10)
Last year’s playoff result takes some shine off of this 2022 matchup as SDSU dominated UC Davis 56-24 in the first round. But it’s still a game between two ranked opponents and one of a few Big Sky vs. MVFC contests between two playoff squads.
SDSU returns a loaded team and will get plenty of No. 2 preseason votes in the national polls. UC Davis brings back an experienced bunch as well, looking to build off of an 8-4 season that included a 19-17 win at FBS Tulsa.
9. Stephen F. Austin vs. Jacksonville State (Aug. 27)
The Week 0 FCS Kickoff has morphed into the Montgomery Kickoff. This year’s kickoff is between SFA and JSU, a solid FCS non-conference bout. SFA will be a top team in the WAC and JSU looks to contend for the ASUN title, two conferences that formed the one-year AQ7 in 2021.
SFA will be preseason ranked fairly high, returning most of its starters from last year’s playoff team. JSU is not eligible for the postseason as it transitions to the FBS in 2023. With Rich Rodriguez in his first season as head coach navigating the transition and after a 5-6 record last year, JSU doesn’t have huge external expectations in 2022. But this matchup gives us a glimpse of what JSU looks like and if SFA will be a playoff contender again.
8. South Dakota at Montana (Sept. 10)
Two playoff teams from last year in this Big Sky-MVFC Challenge game. USD finished 7-5 with a first-round exit. The Griz went 10-3, losing in the quarterfinals.
Montana should handle Northwestern State in Week 1. The USD game will give us a clearer look at its offense operating under the new starting QB. USD has made strides defensively and was a Top 25 scoring defense in 2021 (20.7 PPG). This is also a key game for USD’s playoff hopes, even though it is early. Playing FBS Kansas State the week before, falling to 0-2 is less than ideal before playing the likes of NDSU, SDSU, SIU, Mo State, and UNI in the conference slate.
7. Sam Houston at Eastern Kentucky (Oct. 15)
SHSU is not eligible for the playoffs as it transitions to the FBS in 2023. The Bearkats will still be a top team in the WAC, though, reloading with some transfers after losing a lot of talent from last year’s quarterfinal team.
EKU was one of the first three left out of the 2021 playoff bracket at 7-4, along with Mercer and Rhode Island. The Colonels will be contenders for the ASUN auto-bid. But even a second-place finish with a strong overall record could get them an at-large bid, and a non-conference win against SHSU would be a resume booster.
6. UIW at Nicholls (Oct. 15)
Former Southland foes turned non-conference opponents as UIW joins the WAC this year. The Cardinals will be a Top 3 team in their new conference coming off of a second-round playoff exit. Nicholls should contend for the Southland title alongside SLU after last season’s 5-3 league finish.
This matchup gets juicer roster-wise. After UIW’s starting QB Cameron Ward transferred to Washington State, the Cardinals went to the transfer portal and grabbed Nicholls’ Lindsey Scott Jr. Scott was a 2021 All-Southland Honorable Mention selection after passing for 2,083 yards, 16 TDs, and 11 interceptions and rushing for 990 yards and nine TDs.
5. UT Martin at Missouri State (Sept. 8)
UT Martin beat Missouri State 32-31 in the first round of the 2021 playoffs in a game many predicted Mo State to win. The rematch should be just as exciting.
UT Martin QB Dresser Winn returns after stepping in for 2021 OVC Offensive Player of the Year Keon Howard and leading the Skyhawks to its playoff win, throwing for 272 yards and two TDs. And Missouri State’s Jason Shelley will be one of the top quarterbacks in the FCS after throwing for 3,088 yards, 20 TDs, and six interceptions.
4. Southern Illinois at UIW (Sept. 3)
SIU and UIW will be playoff-worthy teams in 2022 but aren’t considered the preseason favorites in their conferences. So non-conference games like these play a big role in at-large considerations.
The Salukis vs. the Cardinals will be an exciting contest between two high-scoring offenses. A Nic Baker vs. Lindsey Scott Jr. quarterback battle should result in plenty of points on the board.
3. Sacramento State at Northern Iowa (Sept. 17)
A third Big Sky vs. MVFC game between two playoff teams. UNI got into the bracket last season at 6-5. A key resume-booster for the Panthers was their 34-16 win at Sac State, who went on to finish 8-0 in the Big Sky and get the No. 4 playoff seed.
This is a big game for both. Sac State is facing doubts after losing right away in the postseason as the No. 4 seed in back-to-back fall seasons. An early ranked win is key for the Hornets to position themselves in the polls. UNI will want a winning record heading into conference play with FBS Air Force also on the September slate.
2. Florida A&M at SC State (Oct. 8)
SC State is the defending Celebration Bowl champs out of the MEAC, beating Jackson State 31-10. FAMU finished 7-1 in the SWAC East, missing out on the conference championship game but getting an at-large bid into the playoffs at 9-2 overall before losing 38-14 in the first round to SLU.
This could potentially be a preview of the 2022 Celebration Bowl. SC State is the favorite out of the MEAC, returning a majority of its starters. And FAMU is a top contender out of the SWAC. If Jackson State wins the SWAC East again, though, FAMU will be in contention for another playoff spot. But a loss at SC State coupled with last season’s first-round performance could make it tough to get in. A win at SC State is a solid victory, and the Rattlers will probably have to hit nine wins for playoff consideration if they don’t reach the SWAC title game.
1. Kennesaw State at UT Martin (Nov. 5)
With this game being late in the season, the playoff implications will be big. UT Martin has a great shot to win the OVC auto-bid. If the Skyhawks run the table in conference play and beat KSU and Missouri State in the non-conference, a playoff seed is on the table. Especially since the Owls and Bears should be playoff squads.
For Kennesaw, the ASUN auto-bid race looks to be tight with EKU, UCA, and Austin Peay as solid contenders. A seed could also be in play in this matchup for the Owls if they get the ASUN AQ and beat the OVC champs. If KSU does not get the AQ, though, will the ASUN be considered a two-bid league? If KSU finishes second, but beats UT Martin and hits eight wins, an at-large bid is probably deserved. By this time during the season, the result here will definitely impact playoff bracketology in some manner.