If you’re looking for one must-see matchup each week in the upcoming FCS college football season, or perhaps, um, 100 this fall, the possibilities seem endless.
The season feels so anticipated because of the short turnaround from the unprecedented spring season, with some schools returning from a two-year absence and everybody seeking a return to normalcy amid the pandemic.
Rosters are loaded with experienced players, so conference title races and the national title picture are chock full of contenders.
That’s why the must-see FCS matchup of each regular-season week basically needs to be plural.
WEEK 0 (AUG. 28)
North Carolina Central vs. Alcorn State (in Atlanta) – The annual MEAC-SWAC Challenge moves up from Labor Day weekend and spotlights two teams that didn’t participate in the 2020-21 season. Alcorn has won all five previous meetings, most recently in 1976. The winner will claim its first victory in the Challenge, which debuted in 2005.
WEEK 1 (SEPT. 1-5)
Eastern Washington at UNLV (Sept. 2) – Eastern Washington is the FCS high roller with scheduling road opponents, willing to play anybody, anytime, anywhere, so why not a first-ever meeting with the Runnin’ Rebels at shiny Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas? Of course, it’s good to be armed with quarterback Eric Barriere. The Eagles lost at Nevada in their most recent game against a Mountain West opponent in 2010 – the season in which they went on to capture the FCS title.
Can’t Overlook – Sept. 1: UAB vs. Jacksonville State (in Montgomery, Alabama). Sept. 2: Austin Peay at Chattanooga; Delaware at Maine; Sam Houston at Northern Arizona; Southern Illinois at Southeast Missouri. Sept. 3: South Dakota State at Colorado State. Sept. 4: Montana State at Wyoming; UAlbany at North Dakota State; Davidson at VMI; North Carolina A&T at Furman. Sept. 5: Jackson State vs. Florida A&M (in Miami Gardens, Florida).
WEEK 2 (SEPT. 10-11)
Northern Iowa at Sacramento State (Sept. 11) – The Big Sky-MVFC Challenge is a backdrop for this first-ever meeting. Sac State, which didn’t play in the 2020-21 season, posted the biggest turnaround in the FCS in 2019 while advancing to the national playoffs for the first time. UNI won 10 games and reached the quarterfinals that season, but its spring campaign was sabotaged by key players lost to grad transfers or training for the NFL Draft.
Can’t Overlook – Sept. 10: North Carolina A&T at Duke. Sept. 11: Charleston Southern at The Citadel; Rhode Island at UAlbany; Central Arkansas at Missouri State.
WEEK 3 (SEPT. 18)
James Madison at Weber State – Purple reigns in this intersectional matchup of FCS powers who met in the 2017 national quarterfinals and the 2019 semifinals – both JMU victories. The visiting Dukes have defeated 32 consecutive FCS nonconference opponents in the regular season since 2006.
Can’t Overlook – North Dakota State at Towson; McNeese at Southern; Kennesaw State at Wofford; Hampton at Howard; Richmond at Villanova; Holy Cross at Yale.
WEEK 4 (SEPT. 25)
Sam Houston at Central Arkansas – The one-year WAC-ASUN Challenge opens with a gem between two programs that split 14 matchups in their old Southland rivalry. While Sam Houston is the reigning FCS champion, the Bearkats are only 2-5 in trips to Central Arkansas.
Can’t Overlook – North Carolina Central at North Carolina A&T; UC Davis at Weber State; Alcorn State at Arkansas-Pine Bluff; San Diego at Davidson; Butler at St. Thomas (the Tommies’ first Pioneer Football League game).
WEEK 5 (OCT. 2)
North Dakota State at North Dakota – Even though they’ve met only three times since 2004 (each an NDSU home win), the rivalry is tied for the fourth-most meetings between two FCS programs outside the Ivy League. UND has a 62-48-3 series lead and won the last three meetings in Grand Forks, most recently in 2003.
Can’t Overlook – Montana at Eastern Washington; VMI at The Citadel; Sam Houston vs. Stephen F. Austin (in Houston); Jacksonville State at Kennesaw State; James Madison at New Hampshire.
WEEK 6 (OCT. 9)
Chattanooga at VMI – After the standings went upside down in the spring season, the Southern Conference title race is as deep as it’s ever been. VMI is the one being chased after Eddie Robinson Award-winning coach Scott Wachenheim led the Keydets to their first title since 1977. Chattanooga’s last 10 conference games have been one-score affairs in the fourth quarter, with most of them ending that way.
Can’t Overlook – Yale at Dartmouth; Delaware at Rhode Island; Villanova at James Madison; Southeastern Louisiana at Nicholls; Furman at Wofford; Southern Illinois at South Dakota State; Northern Iowa at North Dakota State; Jackson State at Alabama A&M.
WEEK 7 (OCT. 16)
North Carolina A&T at Kennesaw State – A&T has become the top HBCU program, winning the Celebration Bowl in four of the game’s first five years, but it’s moving on from the MEAC to a stronger Big South, hoping to find its way to the playoffs behind All-America running back Jah-Maine Martin. The Aggies’ first road assignment in their new conference is a first-time matchup against a Kennesaw program that leads the FCS in rushing yards per game (nearly 325) since its 2015 start-up season.
Can’t Overlook – Central Connecticut State at Sacred Heart; ETSU at Chattanooga; North Dakota at Southern Illinois; Idaho at Eastern Washington; Montana State at Weber State; Nicholls at UIW; James Madison at Richmond; North Dakota State at Illinois State.
WEEK 8 (OCT. 23)
James Madison at Delaware – The two spring national semifinalists that fell short of traveling to Frisco, Texas, meet in the CAA. Like its nonconference streak listed above, JMU generally beats up conference competition, having won 38 of its last 40 matchups (including three playoff wins, with one against the Blue Hens in 2018).
Can’t Overlook – Duquesne at Sacred Heart; Austin Peay at Murray State; Jacksonville State at Sam Houston;Northern Iowa at South Dakota State; Harvard at Princeton; Montana at Idaho; Weber State at Eastern Washington; Chattanooga at Samford.
WEEK 9 (OCT. 30)
Alabama A&M vs. Alabama State (in Birmingham, Alabama) – A crowd under 60,000 at Legion Stadium is surprising with the Magic City Classic. While Alabama A&M, the defending SWAC champ, has won 16 of the last 25 meetings, it has been outscored by Alabama State by 24 points over that span.
Can’t Overlook – Monmouth at North Carolina A&T; Furman at Chattanooga; Central Arkansas at Jacksonville State; Alcorn State at Southern; Southern Illinois at Northern Iowa; Grambling State at Florida A&M; South Carolina State at North Carolina Central.
WEEK 10 (NOV. 6)
North Dakota State at South Dakota State – South Dakota State is the only program to defeat North Dakota State more than once since 2011 – the first of the Bison’s eight FCS championship seasons – and this spring, the national runner-up Jackrabbits made it three wins in the last five regular-season meetings.
Can’t Overlook – Southeastern Louisiana at UIW; VMI at ETSU; Montana State at Eastern Washington; Florida A&M at Southern; New Hampshire at UAlbany.
WEEK 11 (NOV. 13)
UIW at Nicholls – Sam Houston won the national title and Southeastern Louisiana quarterback Cole Kelley collected the Walter Payton Award, but the highest-scoring offenses in the spring season resided in the Southland at Nicholls and UIW, which averaged 48.7 and 42 points per game, respectively. This will be the second meeting between these two teams because the smaller conference will employ some home-and-home series. Nicholls enters the fall with a five-game winning streak over UIW.
Can’t Overlook – North Carolina A&T at South Carolina State; Eastern Washington at UC Davis; Central Connecticut State at Duquesne; Holy Cross at Fordham; South Dakota State at South Dakota; Yale at Princeton.
WEEK 12 (NOV. 18-20)
Montana State at Montana (Nov. 20) – While Montana holds a big lead in the all-time series, it’s tied 9-9 since the Great Divide Trophy was introduced in 2001, and the school with the most wins in the trophy period is scheduled to take permanent possession at the end of the 21st century. Talk about pressure on the recruits in the 2090s.
Can’t Overlook – Nov. 18: Nicholls at Southeastern Louisiana. Nov. 20: North Dakota at South Dakota State; Sacramento State at UC Davis; Jacksonville State at Eastern Kentucky;Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Alabama A&M; Villanova at Delaware; Monmouth at Kennesaw State; Harvard at Yale; Towson at James Madison; Lafayette at Lehigh; Florida A&M vs. Bethune-Cookman (in Orlando, Florida); Maine at New Hampshire; Richmond at William & Mary.
WEEK 13 (NOV. 25-27)
Southern vs. Grambling State (Nov. 27 in New Orleans) – The 24-team FCS playoffs will get underway this same day over Thanksgiving weekend, but the premier HBCU “classic” always grabs the spotlight as well. In the last full fall campaign in 2019, an FCS season-high 68,314 attended the SWAC rivalry matchup at the Mercedes Superdome.