With 22 less scholarships, any FCS win should be considered an upset. But it's become clear that the top 10-15 FCS teams are superior to the bottom half of the FBS. Last season, 10 FCS teams notched wins over FBS opponents, highlighted by North Dakota State's 23-21 win at No. 11 Iowa.
The 2013 season saw a record 16 FCS vs. FBS wins. NDSU took down the defending Big 12 champions Kansas State, Eastern Washington defeated No. 25 Oregon State and Georgia Southern, who was transitioning to the FBS and ineligible for the FCS playoffs, went to Florida and won 26-20 in the regular season finale.
The FCS has a chance to reach double-digit wins again this season against the "big boys." Here are the five most winnable games and the five biggest possible upsets. [divider]
Five most winnable games
Eastern Washington @ Texas Tech (Sept. 2) – The Eagles have defeated FBS opponents two times since 2013 while coming within a touchdown in others. They'll have big holes to fill at receiver, but Gage Gubrud can shred any defense with his arm. Texas Tech went 5-7 last season and lose quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, who was drafted No. 10 overall, and top receiver Jonathan Giles, who transferred to LSU. The Red Raiders allowed 43.5 points per game and 315.8 passing yards per game in 2016.
Youngstown State @ Pittsburgh (Sept. 2) – Bo Pelini probably licks his chops when it comes to playing FBS opponents. His Penguins narrowly lost 45-37 to Pittsburgh in his first season as head coach in 2015. Now with players to fit his system, Pelini has skyrocketed the YSU program and made the FCS title game last season. Pittsburgh loses its starting quarterback, top running back and three of its top five tacklers after an 8-5 season.
Northern Iowa @ Iowa State (Sept. 2) – Can someone politely poke their head into the Iowa State athletic department offices and ask why they continue to schedule Missouri Valley Football Conference opponents? Actually, for the sake of the FCS, don't. The Cyclones have lost to MVFC opponents three times since 2013. Two of those came against UNI. They play the 2016 Valley co-champs South Dakota State in 2018, UNI again in 2019 and South Dakota in 2020. The Panthers look to get back to the playoffs this season while Iowa State is coming off back-to-back 3-9 seasons.
South Dakota @ Bowling Green (Sept. 9) – Bowling Green narrowly escaped with a 27-26 win against North Dakota last year in a 4-8 season. The Falcons lose 1,000-yard running back Fred Coppet, but should have an improved passing game. They gave up 38.3 points per game in 2016 and will be without Trenton Greene, who had 111 tackles. USD is looking to take that next step as an FCS program and pull out the close games. With Chris Streveler leading the way at quarterback, the Coyotes can make a statement Sept.9.
James Madison @ East Carolina (Sept. 2) – This is a rare game where the FCS team is favored. And the spread of 4.5 points is actually being generous to ECU, who went 3-9 last season. JMU is the defending FCS national champs and don't appear to be taking any steps back. This is an extremely winnable game for the Dukes. And oh by the way, ECU is paying them $300,000 to do it. [divider]
Five possible upsets
Northern Arizona @ Arizona (Sept. 2) – If you don't know the name Case Cookus, you better get familiar. The 2015 FCS Freshman of the Year played just four games last season before a shoulder injury sidelined him. As a freshman, Cookus threw for 3,117 yards with 37 touchdowns and five interceptions. He'll have the top three receivers from last season return. Arizona went 3-9 in 2016. The Wildcats gave up 38.3 points per game and 275.2 passing yards per game.
Cal Poly @ San Jose State (Sept. 2) – Cal Poly was on the wrong end of the biggest upset in last year's playoffs. The Mustangs lost to San Diego, a non-scholarship school they defeated 38-16 earlier in the season. With fullback Joe Protheroe (1,334 yards, 13 touchdowns) returning and a favorable conference schedule, Cal Poly is eyeing bigger things in 2017. San Jose State was 4-8 last season, allowing 244.6 rushing yards per game.
Villanova @ Temple (Sept. 9) – In his second game as head coach, Mark Ferrante can show the Villanova program remains in good hands. Ferrante takes over after coaching under Andy Talley for more than 30 years. The Wildcats should own one of the top defenses in the FCS this season with four of their top five tacklers returning. Temple won its final six games to go 10-4 in 2016. The Owls lose their No. 1 running back and quarterback and top two tacklers.
Jacksonville State @ Georgia Tech (Sept. 9) – Jacksonville State is a team littered with FBS talent. Mostly because a lot of its players were once on FBS teams. But taking the transfer route has led to three undefeated conference seasons and a national runner-up finish in 2015. The Gamecocks took Auburn to overtime in 2015 before losing 27-20. Last year, they lost 34-13 to LSU. Georgia Tech went 9-4 last season, but should be on upset alert against JSU, who has shown it can match up well with FBS teams.
Wofford @ South Carolina (Nov. 18) – Wofford can make the FCS playoffs real interesting with a huge upset in the final week of the regular season. The Terriers could very well have 0-1 losses heading into their game against South Carolina, who went 6-7 last season. The Gamecocks defeated Western Carolina, who is in the same conference as Wofford, 44-31. The Terriers defeated WCU 31-19. Take that how you wish, but Wofford returns a team that could be in the national title picture if it takes care of business in the Southern Conference. An upset here could greatly influence how the bracket is seeded.