FCS teams defeated FBS opponents just three times in 2019. The average number of wins per season from 2010-2018 was nine with 16 being the most in 2013.
The FCS, with at least 22 fewer scholarships, takes on the FBS 117 times in the 2021 season. There are several opportunities for upsets, though one could argue some of these wins wouldn’t be upsets. So many opportunities that it was hard to narrow down a top 15.
Here are the top matchups to keep an eye on for an FCS over FBS win.
UConn … just … is not good at football. It’s one of the first schools mentioned when talking about which FBS programs should move to the FCS. And even then, the Huskies would struggle to be competitive in this subdivision.
UConn last played a football game on Nov. 30, 2019, as part of a 2-10 season. The Huskies went 1-11 in 2018 and are now preseason ranked No. 103. Yale also hasn’t played a game since 2019, when the Bulldogs finished 9-1.
14. Murray State at Bowling Green
Murray State is coming off its best season in recent memory, starting 5-0 in the spring before losing its last two games. The Racers look to contend for the OVC title in 2021 and perhaps get their first FBS win since 1984.
Bowling Green is preseason ranked No. 129 out of 130 FBS teams. The Falcons went 0-5 in the fall after back-to-back 3-9 seasons. They return 69 percent of their overall production.
13. UIW at Texas State
Led by quarterback Cameron Ward, who was named the best FCS freshman in the spring, UIW will have one of the better FCS offenses this fall. The Cardinals take on a Texas State defense that allowed 38.2 points per game in 2020.
Texas State is preseason ranked No. 128 and has gone an ugly 2-10, 3-9, 3-9, 2-10, and 2-10 in the last five years.
12. Southeastern Louisiana at Louisiana Tech
Louisiana Tech has been a solid program lately, going 5-5, 10-3, and 8-5 in the last three seasons. The Bulldogs return only 56 percent of last year’s production, though, and are preseason ranked No. 96.
SLU will be able to match up talent-wise, especially offensively. Quarterback Cole Kelley was named the spring’s Walter Payton Award winner for the best offensive player in the FCS and he has several weapons to work with.
11. Montana State at Wyoming
This would be quite the juicy upset. First-year Montana State head coach Brent Vigen was Wyoming’s offensive coordinator from 2014-2020 and coached under former NDSU head coach and current Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl since 2003.
Wyoming has been solid under Bohl, but went 2-4 in 2020 and is preseason ranked No. 90. MSU has a talented roster and will be able to hold its own in the trenches. However, this will be MSU’s first game action since December of 2019 in the FCS semifinals, and it has new offensive and defensive schemes for the players to get comfortable with.
10. North Carolina A&T at Duke
Could this be another “Bring me my money” moment for NC A&T and head coach Sam Washington?
The Aggies had three straight FBS wins from 2016-2018 (Kent State, Charlotte, East Carolina). Taking down a Power 5 opponent is a different animal. But Duke struggled in 2020, going 2-9. Bringing back only 56 percent of its production, Duke is preseason ranked No. 93.
NC A&T has been one of the more successful FCS programs in recent years, winning four of the five Celebration Bowls (HBCU national championship). Now the Aggies are in the Big South Conference and will compete for an FCS national title. A P5 win is as good of a playoff resume booster as you can ask for.
9. South Carolina State at New Mexico State
New Mexico State did not take part in the 2020 season but did play two games in the spring. The Aggies scheduled games against the two newest teams in the FCS transitioning from D2, probably hoping for easy wins to prep for a full fall schedule. Instead, they lost 43-17 to Tarleton State, then battled and defeated Dixie State 36-29. This comes after a 2-10 season in 2019.
It’s a struggling program (preseason ranked No. 123) that will take on SC State, the top team in the MEAC. The Bulldogs went 3-1 in the spring and 8-3 in 2019.
8. Central Arkansas at Arkansas State
UCA was one of three FCS teams to score an FBS win in 2019, beating Western Kentucky 35-28. The Bears also beat an FBS team in 2016, which was Arkansas State by a score of 28-23. The two played again in the fall of 2020, with Arkansas State winning 50-27.
The Bears are making great strides as a program, going 9-4 in 2019 and earning the No. 8 playoff seed. They will have a dynamic passing attack this fall with quarterback Breylin Smith and wide receivers Lujuan Winningham and Tyler Hudson.
Arkansas State returns 61 percent of its production after a 4-7 season. The Red Wolves are preseason ranked No. 110.
7. Eastern Washington at UNLV
Here are some numbers to make EWU fans salivate: UNLV allowed 38 PPG in 2020 while going 0-6, allowed 33 PPG in 2019 while going 4-8, and allowed 37 PPG in 2018 while going 4-8.
EWU QB Eric Barriere and company should have a monster day. And with only 46 percent of its offensive production coming back, UNLV may not have the horsepower to make up for a bad defense. The Rebels are ranked No. 119 heading into the season.
6. Delaware at Rutgers
Rutgers is the second-lowest preseason ranked Power 5 program at No. 108. Kansas, who plays South Dakota, is No. 117. The Scarlet Knights have gone 3-6, 2-10, and 1-11 in their last three seasons.
Delaware is coming off of a breakout spring season, going 7-1 and reaching the semifinals. The Blue Hens nearly beat FBS Pitt in 2019, losing 17-14. Pitt went on to finish 8-5 and 4-4 in the ACC. The 2021 Delaware squad will be much better than that 2019 team.
5. Florida A&M at USF
FAMU went 9-2 overall and 7-1 in the MEAC in 2019. Now a member of the SWAC, the Rattlers look to prove it’s the top HBCU team in the country. They look primed for their first FBS/Division I-A win since 1979.
USF has only 59 percent of its production returning from a 1-8 season. The Bulls are preseason ranked No. 114.
4. Alcorn State at South Alabama
Alcorn State may be the favorite to win the Celebration Bowl after two straight losses in the HBCU national championship game to NC A&T, who is off to the Big South. The Braves, who did not play in the 2020-21 season, bring back a ton of offensive firepower.
South Alabama comes into this season ranked No. 122. It’s been a tough stretch for the program, going 3-9, 2-10, and 4-7 in the last three years.
3. Jackson State at Louisiana-Monroe
All of the national media outlets that rarely cover the FCS are absolutely drooling over the idea of Deion Sanders beating an FBS program. The ratio of headlines after this potential win that includes “Deion Sanders” and not “Jackson State” will probably be 3:1. All shots aside, Jackson State is going to have a loaded roster between its recent recruiting class and transfers coming in.
There may be a talent gap in this game, but it’s flipped around this time with the FCS team having more talent. Louisiana-Monroe is preseason ranked No. 127 after going 0-10 in 2020.
2. South Dakota State at Colorado State
SDSU has a top roster coming back in the FCS after nearly winning the spring national title. The lone question mark is at quarterback with All-American Mark Gronowski set to miss this season with a knee injury suffered during the championship game. The Jackrabbits brought in grad transfer Chris Oladokun to fill the one-year gap without Gronowski.
Colorado State has not been good lately. The Rams have gone 3-9, 4-8, and 1-3 in the last three seasons and are preseason ranked No. 98. SDSU nearly knocked off Minnesota in 2019, a team that went on to finish 11-2. The Jacks will be stronger than their 2019 squad. Unless the QB play is bad for SDSU, this is a very winnable game.
1. Monmouth at Middle Tennessee
Monmouth is poised for a special season after turning heads with its near first-round win over eventual national champs Sam Houston. Quarterback Tony Muskett (freshman All-American) and running back Juwon Farri (sophomore All-American) lead an explosive offense.
The Hawks can begin the 2021 season with a bang. An FBS win puts them in a great position for a playoff seed. Middle Tennessee is preseason ranked No. 121 out of 130 FBS teams. The Blue Raiders return only 63 percent of their production after going 3-6 in 2020. They finished 4-8 in 2019 and were 8-6 in 2018. This is a golden opportunity for a Monmouth program that’s never beaten an FBS team.
Sam’s coverage of the FCS began in 2012 as the sports editor and eventual editor-in-chief of NDSU’s The Spectrum. After graduating in 2015, he spent three years in the newspaper and magazine industry while starting his work for HERO Sports in the fall of 2016 as a freelancer. In May 2018, he joined the website full time as the Senior FCS Analyst.