AQ7 in 2021: Two FCS Conferences Better as One
By season’s end, fans may be clamoring for more of the AQ7 – the one-year FCS football alliance between the ASUN and the Western Athletic Conference.
Both conferences held separate media days on Wednesday, but the two together are better in the 2021 season.
Neither new conference had the NCAA postseason minimum of six eligible teams to receive an automatic qualifier for its champion, so ASUN members Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State and WAC members Abilene Christian, Lamar, Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston, which won the FCS championship this past spring, have formed the AQ7, or WAC-ASUN Challenge. WAC members Dixie State and Tarleton are involved in the joint schedule, but aren’t eligible for the postseason in their second year of NCAA reclassification.
The two groups of schools will go separate ways in 2022, joining some FCS programs that this fall are committed to one last season in other conferences.
“I think first and foremost,” Eastern Kentucky coach Walt Wells said, “it will probably be remembered as a year that two conferences put down their pride and came together for the betterment of student-athletes because neither one of us was ready to have a qualifier, we didn’t have enough teams.”
“I think you can put it up there with the Missouri Valley and CAA – that’s the measuring stick, we all know that,” Jacksonville State coach John Grass said. “Proud of Sam Houston for winning the national championship. Take them coming off their national championship year and put them in there with the rest of us, and I think it’s going to be a great conference from top to bottom. I think it’s going to be remembered for some great football games – I think you’re going to see some wars.”
The depth of tradition-rich programs in the AQ7 is high. Eastern Kentucky, a two-time FCS champ, Sam Houston, Jacksonville State and Stephen F. Austin have combined for a trio of national titles and six runner-up finishes in the subdivision. Since 2010, the membership has combined for three Walter Payton Awards (FCS offensive player of the year), a Buck Buchanan Award (FCS defensive player of the year) and an Eddie Robinson Award (FCS coach of the year).
Sam Houston, Central Arkansas and Jacksonville State figure to enter the season in the top 15 of FCS programs. Including at-large bids, multiple teams should advance to the playoffs out of the AQ7.
“My hope is that it’s remembered as a really good football season that was very, very competitive,” Abilene Christian coach Adam Dorrel said. “The other thing I hope people realize is the amount of communication and give and take. Both conferences had to come together – presidents, athletic directors. I think they did a really good job.”
Reflecting on conference expansion and super conferences in the news, Grass joked the ASUN and the WAC should combine on East and West divisions in the future.
Actually, he may be on to something.
AQ7 (WAC-ASUN CHALLENGE)
Preseason Poll (with fall 2020/spring 2021 record)
1. Sam Houston (10-0, 6-0 Southland), 49 points (7 first-place votes)
2. Central Arkansas (5-4, 0-0 Southland), 40
3. Jacksonville State (10-3, 6-1 OVC), 37
4. Stephen F. Austin (6-4, 0-0 Southland), 27
5. Eastern Kentucky (3-6, 0-0 OVC), 20
6. Abilene Christian (1-5, 0-0 Southland), 15
7. Lamar (2-4, 2-4 Southland), 8
Ineligible WAC Members: Dixie State (2-3 Independent) and Tarleton (5-3 Independent)
ASUN Preseason Offensive Player of the Year – Central Arkansas WR Tyler Hudson
ASUN Preseason Defensive Player of the Year – Jacksonville State S Nicario Harper
WAC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year – Sam Houston QB Eric Schmid
WAC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year – Sam Houston DE Jahari Kay