With a short gap between FCS in the NFL Draft coverage and our 2022 season preview package, I took some Twitter questions for an oldie but a goodie weekly article we used to do.
Let’s dive into the FCS Mailbag.
Which FCS 2022 UDFAs do you see contributing the most?
There are about 70 FCS UDFAs who signed NFL contracts and another 65 who received rookie minicamp tryout invites vying to earn a contract for training camp to go along with the 24 draft picks. So that’s roughly 160 FCS players getting an NFL shot, which is excellent to see.
For the UDFAs, I think Florida A&M safety Markquese Bell (Cowboys) and Northern Iowa WR Isaiah Weston (Browns) have a great shot to make their respective final 53-man roster. Those are two guys I thought would get drafted. But sometimes it is better to be a UDFA than to get selected in the seventh round. Here’s why…
All UDFA contracts are different with varying guarantees. If you go undrafted and you are a high-priority free agent, you can pick the best contract and team situation to give you the best chance to make the roster or the practice squad. Another FCS UDFA I like to make a roster is Weber State WR and returner Rashid Shaheed (Saints). He’s a playmaker and will contribute on special teams after setting the FCS career record in kick return touchdowns (seven). He signed a UDFA deal that is $222K total guaranteed. Not bad for an undrafted guy.
If it’s not too long of an answer which teams are a dark horse for each conference’s auto bid?
Here’s my article predicting every 2022 FCS conference champ.
And here are my picks for dark horses to win each auto-bid (a team that isn’t considered a top favorite):
ASUN: Eastern Kentucky
Big Sky: Weber State
Big South: Campbell
MVFC: Missouri State
OVC: Murray State
The Big 3 term isn’t one that’s existed in the FCS history books. Going into 2022, most see it as the MVFC & the Big Sky with JMU’s exit. Is it the SoCon’s window to return to prominence & replace the CAA? ETSU, Mercer, Nooga, Furman & VMI all playoff conversation teams in 2021.
In this current landscape in the FCS, I don’t know if the SoCon can return to the national prominence it once had. One, because of the programs (App State and Georgia Southern) it lost to the FBS. And also because of the off-the-field stuff that leads to on-field success. Big Sky and MVFC programs are investing in football and putting up facilities that SoCon teams are going to have a hard time competing with. Some of those programs just have bigger budgets and/or don’t have to compete with regional FBS programs for attention, which leads to better fan engagement and more external support. If mostly all of the current FCS teams stay in this subdivision, it’s hard to draw out how programs like Mercer, Furman, VMI, or Wofford could win a national title.
But I do believe the SoCon is better than some give it credit for. ETSU is on the rise. Chattanooga has a strong tradition and has a talented team in 2022. Mercer was extremely competitive in the standings and was better than some of the teams in the 2021 bracket. From top to bottom, it’s as competitive of a conference as there is in the FCS. But overall strength-wise in 2022, I think it’s the MVFC and the Big Sky with the most teams good enough to make a semifinal run and beyond, and then a gap, and then the CAA and SoCon are about equal.
Do I see a legit national title threat emerging out of the SoCon in the coming years? Maybe ETSU or UTC, but I’m not confident either could reach an NDSU/JMU/SDSU level consistently. However, I do think the SoCon is stronger now than a few years ago and is to the point in 2022 where three teams will be playoff-worthy and one or two could reach the quarterfinals.
Which conference is most likely to move up to FBS with all their current members?
I know it’s been floated around about if it’s possible for an entire FCS conference to move up or a group of FCS programs to band together and move up. I don’t know how the bylaws would work for that since it’s never been done, plus new bylaws are being written with the NCAA constitutional reform. But I am very skeptical of this being realistic. I would imagine if a group of 6-8 FCS teams wants to all move up together, that would get blocked somehow someway by FBS commissioners or presidents or some group of people. That’s 6-8 more teams dipping more into the CFP revenue pot and taking away bowl opportunities, something G5 programs won’t like.
The next FCS-to-FBS move-ups (in my opinion) will be team by team. And that will be when C-USA decides to expand once there’s more clarity with the new constitution, or if the Sun Belt wants one more member. The top six most likely next move-ups (in my opinion and in no particular order) are Tarleton State, Eastern Kentucky, Missouri State, McNeese, Kennesaw State, and Central Arkansas.
Yes, NDSU is not in that top six. It should be clear by now that on-field football success is not near the top of the checklist when it comes to FCS-to-FBS move-ups.
Will we get more @JDWilliams23 & Sam Herder duo Podcast episodes this season? That was a fun listen.
I’ve been enjoying the offseason guest series on the FCS Football Talk podcast. I did solo episodes during the season just because it was easier on the schedule to find a random window to blabber for 45 minutes and call it good and publish. But for the 2022 season, I may take a Twitter poll to see what format people enjoy the most, whether it’s solo, weekly guests, or a combo platter of the two.
Which player just drafted landed in the best fit for a successful NFL career?
Twenty-four draft picks is a great number for the FCS. But remember that the average is 18 a year dating back to 1994, so this isn’t a massively shocking number and the six picks in 2020 and 2021 are COVID anomalies.
Chattanooga IOL Cole Strange going in the first round was a surprise, but him landing in a great organization like New England gives me confidence he’ll have a successful career because the Patriots obviously see something in him to take him No. 29 overall. The same can be said for South Dakota State RB Pierre Strong Jr. and Houston Baptist/Western Kentucky QB Bailey Zappe going to the Patriots in the fourth round. Zappe can have a long career as an NFL backup. And I believe Strong is going to have a rookie season similar to Illinois State’s James Robinsons’ rookie year in 2020.
North Dakota State WR Christian Watson landed at a great spot with the Packers, too. If he gains Aaron Rodgers’ trust and confidence, Rodgers is good enough to make anyone a standout if he targets them enough. Watson has all the physical tools to be Rodgers’ go-to guy.
I know this might sound like a broken record by now, but do you think that HBCUs such as Jackson State could honestly compete with blue blood teams from the MVFC and Big Sky?
No, not right now. If a team like Jackson State continues to bring in tremendous HS recruiting classes and P5 transfers, maybe in 2024 it will be a different discussion. But past and more recent history show that SWAC and MEAC teams have not been able to hold up at all in the trenches in the playoffs. FAMU, a team I liked getting an at-large bid, got run off the field by SLU in the first round last year after going 9-2 in the regular season with a strength of schedule in the 100s. The next week, SLU got crushed by JMU. Jackson State had such a talented roster in 2021. Yet SC State won 31-10 in the Celebration Bowl because it out-physicaled the Tigers. NC A&T was the class of the HBCUs, winning multiple Celebration Bowls. In its first season in the Big South last year, the Aggies went 5-6. Jah-Maine Martin went from a top FCS running back in 2019 by rushing for 1,446 yards and 23 TDs on 187 carries to rushing for 522 yards and four TDs on 134 carries in 2021. And the Big South isn’t even a Top 4 FCS conference.
Very recent numbers and in-game examples are not on the side if someone wants to make an argument a top SWAC team like Jackson State could go toe-to-toe with a top team from the MVFC or Big Sky. The level of play is just not close right now on the offensive and defensive lines. Now, again, in a couple of years? We’ll see. I would absolutely love for the SWAC to continue riding its awesome momentum and have legit Top 10 FCS teams. If we ever get to a point where SWAC teams are having success in the playoffs, hosting postseason games with their great crowds, and making deep runs, that would be terrific and something I genuinely hope happens (although I understand it makes way more sense financially for the SWAC and MEAC to continue playing in the Celebration Bowl compared to sending its top teams to the playoffs).
Is Kylor Neale’s favorite preseason team.
What is going on at Northern Colorado with the mass exodus of players?
I know there have been concerns about the culture established at UNC. Any issues there certainly would play a role in these transfers. But so many programs are seeing a lot of players enter the transfer portal. Are there more players leaving teams now than ever before? Yes. Is it a massive increase compared to past years? Probably not. Right now, though, it’s just publicized so much more with the portal and social media. If seven players on one team all tweet they are entering the portal at once, the initial reaction is “Holy crap, what is going on??” When in reality, several players leaving a program in one day was happening in the 2000s, too.
Multiple players leaving in the offseason or after spring practice has happened for years. Most teams have honest conversations with their players and where they stand on the depth chart after the season and after spring practices. Every portal entry is different. It’s not always a pouty player and a pissed-off coach. In fact, sometimes it comes after a coach and a player have a heart-to-heart, the player decides he wants to find a different opportunity where he could see more playing time for his junior and senior seasons, and the coach actually helps that player by reaching out to contacts and advocating for him to get a good landing spot.
The portal is chaotic and needs more guardrails. But overall, it’s good for the players and makes it a more transparent process. And not every portal entry should come with an assumption that something is wrong.
Curious your take on membership status/potential conference realignment involving ASUN Conference
I think the ASUN is having a real hard time finding more football members. At six members this season, it will drop to five in 2023 after Jacksonville State heads to the FBS and C-USA. Then the ASUN gets a two-year grace period to find a sixth member, which is the minimum requirement to maintain auto-bid status. Had there been legit mutual interest somewhere, we’d be seeing ASUN additions by now.
Honestly, the ASUN and WAC forming FCS conferences back in January of 2021 was exciting. They both had high aspirations, no doubt. But I think it’s safe to say it hasn’t quite gone to plan since. The ASUN has struggled to add members. JSU is bolting. The WAC is losing Sam Houston to C-USA in 2023, and Lamar is going back to the Southland in 2023. So the WAC is down to six members after this season and the ASUN will have five (as of now).
Just like the Big South and OVC formed an association for one football-playing league and one conference auto-bid starting in 2023, it wouldn’t be surprising if the ASUN forms a similar association with the Southland or the ASUN and WAC combine again like in 2021 for the AQ7.
Which, in the big-picture, could mean the idea of expanding the FCS playoff bracket is off the table if we see more conference football mergers. Commissioners from the bigger and more powerful conferences would like to see the playoffs expand because the AQs have gone up to 12 this season, reducing the chance of a fourth or fifth-place Big Sky, MVFC, or CAA team from getting in as an at-large bid. But the AQs go down to 11 next year as the Big South-OVC combine. And if, let’s say the WAC and ASUN combine again for one auto-bid, then we’re back to 10 AQs and 14 at-large bids, which is what it was from 2013-2019, making the need to expand the bracket even more unnecessary.
Sam, why should @adamwilley21 and I [@punny_penguin27] both go up to Fargo for the marker this year so I can finally have a good NDSU fan experience?
That is definitely the game to go to this season to experience the Fargodome. As has been talked about many times before, the Fargodome doesn’t quite have the juice it once did in the early to mid-2010s. But it still can have one of the best home-field advantages in all of college football for some games, and SDSU certainly gets the juices going in that building.
Is a Preferred Walk-On anything more than a fancy way of saying “Walk-On”? I feel like the term is used loosely and maybe means different things for each different school. Isn’t it really nothing more that a guaranteed roster spot w/ no real guarantees afterwards? 2nd question: my son is a junior up here in Montana. He was 1st team all state and his HS (Missoula Sentinel) has won back-to-back state titles. Because of the portal, I feel like by the end of summer my son will have a Preferred Walk-On offer from the Montana St. Bobcats and Montana Grizzlies, but no money. Would you advise him to: A) choose one of those 2 schools and take that offer before his senior season. You’re getting a roster spot, but no scholarship $$. OR B) let the season play out, bet on yourself, and if you have another great season, maybe then he may earn something more than a Preferred Walk-On? As a father, I don’t want him to settle, but I don’t want the 2 schools to feel disrespected and now my son may have missed his chance…even if it’s only a Preferred Walk-On?
I didn’t expect this to be an advice column, but I do appreciate this question that was DMed to me.
A preferred walk-on typically means a team doesn’t have a scholarship available right now, but they really want that player on the roster and a scholarship down the road could be available if that player develops into a contributor. I know Bobby Hauck takes Montana’s walk-on program very seriously. And Brent Vigen has taken some elements of the NDSU title-winning program and implemented it at MSU. The Bison have a strong history of turning walk-ons into starters and even All-Americans. So Vigen is also going to treat walk-ons just like full-scholarship players, develop them, getting them plenty of practice reps in the double-rep system.
There are a lot of other factors to consider for your son. Does he have really close friends on one of the rosters? That could make the college football transition easier. Does he feel a stronger connection with one of the coaching staffs? Does he know what he wants to do after football and which school has a program to help him get to that profession.? Those are things to consider if his two options are PWO opportunities at both schools. If he has a good gut feeling about a school, he can make a commitment when the offers come. Contrary to popular social belief, it is OK to decommit if you get a better opportunity. If he commits to Montana School A in the summer and has a really strong season, maybe Montana School B ups their offer to a partial scholarship, and Montana School A then matches or exceeds that offer. I’ve also heard committing before your senior year eases your mind and takes some stress off.
I think it is possible to commit as a PWO and still get to a point if you have a good season where you’re officially signing as a scholarship player. So I guess I’d say if he feels really good about a team this summer and has a PWO opportunity, then commit. There’s always the chance a better offer comes. And with these two programs, going from a walk-on to a scholarship player is a very attainable thing if you earn it.