The storylines are always countless in FCS college football, but here are our top-five selections for the biggest in 2022 (with five bonus favorites).
That the two teams predicted in the preseason to be playing for the FCS national championship will be squaring off brings back some stability in FCS college football.
Otherwise, 2022 was all over the FCS map.
From North Dakota State defeating Montana State in Frisco, Texas, to basically open the year, to the musical chairs being played everywhere to the all-time high 130 programs this past fall to the Bison and rival South Dakota State creating a much-anticipated championship matchup, it’s been memorable.
With best wishes to all in the new year, here’s a look back to the biggest FCS stories in 2022:
1. Who Isn’t on the Move?
If the FCS is playing the game “Red Light, Green Light,” the red bulb needs replacing. Everybody remains on the move. The effects of conference realignment for the 2022 season: James Madison departed for the FBS, Jacksonville State and Sam Houston played their final FCS seasons and eight programs switched leagues, with Lindenwood, Stonehill and Texas A&M-Commerce also arriving from Division II. The NCAA transfer portal is spinning out of control, with well over 800 FCS players entering it and over 100 making transfers since August, according to Mike Farrell Sports. In addition, five FCS programs gained new head coaches to complete the changes after the 2021 season, and to date, a whopping 25 FCS head coaches who began the 2022 season are no longer at the same schools.
2. Coach Prime’s World
Win, lose or depart, Deion Sanders was an even bigger story in 2022 than in 2021, and that’s saying a lot because a year ago he turned Jackson State around and into the SWAC champion before receiving the Eddie Robinson Award as the national coach of the year. This year, the spotlight Coach Prime helped put on HBCU programs grew, ESPN’s “College GameDay” broadcast from the Mississippi school and the Tigers remained unbeaten through a second consecutive conference title. After he accepted the Colorado coaching position, Sanders stayed on through the Celebration Bowl, where the Tigers’ perfect season ended with an overtime loss to North Carolina Central. The combined attendance at their 13 games surpassed 500,000.
3. Finally Together in Frisco
That the 2022 FCS title will be decided by a North Dakota State vs. South Dakota State matchup is appropriate. They’re the only two teams to be top-ranked this season, and South Dakota State’s 23-21 win at the Fargodome on Oct. 15 marked just the second No. 1-vs.-No. 2 regular-season matchup in FCS history. Eight days into 2022, NDSU captured its ninth FCS title in an 11-season span – a first in college football. SDSU has advanced to the semifinals in five of the last six years and is in the final for a second time in the last three seasons. Heading into their 114th all-time meeting on Jan. 8, the Bison’s FCS dynasty is very much alive, but the Jackrabbits are healthier and a slight favorite.
4. The FCS Strikes Back in the NFL Draft
The number of draft picks from the FCS dropped to their lowest levels in 2020 and ’21, but the “small schools” bounced back in a big way, totaling 24 selections, the most since the same number was drafted in 2008 and tied for the sixth-most since the draft was reduced to seven rounds in 1994. The FCS also had two first-round selections for the first time since 2008 with Northern Iowa offensive tackle Trevor Penning (New Orleans Saint, No. 19) and Chattanooga offensive guard Cole Strange (New England Patriots, No. 29).
5. ‘We’re No. 1!’ Not So Fast, My Friend
The preseason favorites in the 15 conference polls clearly weren’t written in chalk, which reflects how the FCS is so unpredictable, competitive and often wild with results. Only five preseason favorites went on to win their conference championship, with Holy Cross (Patriot League), Jackson State (SWAC) and Stephen F. Austin (WAC) the only outright winners, and UT Martin (Ohio Valley) and Southeastern Louisiana (Southland) a part of shared titles. Among the surprises, Samford went unbeaten in the SoCon after being picked sixth in the preseason poll, and New Hampshire claimed a share of the CAA title after being voted 10th before the season.
- In addition to “GameDay” visiting Jackson State before the Oct. 29 game against Southern, Montana State hosted the iconic pregame show before an iconic rivalry game – the Brawl of the Wild” against Montana on Nov. 19. It marked the second time there were two “GameDay” broadcasts at FCS sites in the same year (2014 was the first).
- Former Eastern Washington All-American Cooper Kupp capped off his memorizing 2021 season by claiming Super Bowl 56 MVP honors in the Los Angeles Rams’ 23-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Feb. 13. Kupp caught two touchdowns, including the game-winner with 1:25 remaining.
- South Dakota State coach John Stiegelmeier (Eddie Robinson Award), Idaho redshirt freshman quarterback Gevani McCoy (Jerry Rice Award) and Dayton senior running back Jake Chisholm (FedEx Ground Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete Award) are headed to the FCS National Awards banquet in Frisco. The Walter Payton Award is down to national passing leaders Tim DeMorat (Fordham) and Lindsey Scott Jr. (UIW) and rushing leader Jaden Shirden (Monmouth), while linebackers John Pius (William & Mary) and Zeke Vandenburgh (Illinois State) and defensive end David Walker (Central Arkansas) are up for the Buck Buchanan Award after a season of camping out in opposing backfields.
(A look back at the Stats Perform FCS All-America, Freshman Teams)
- In many seasons, a number of FCS teams that knock off FBS opponents don’t necessarily keep the momentum going. Not so in 2022 as seven of the eight teams with wins qualified for the FCS playoffs (all but Southern Illinois).
- Give extra credit to those in the Eastern time zone who stayed up for UIW’s 66-63 quarterfinal-round playoff win at Sacramento State. The Cardinals won the FCS’ highest-scoring game postseason game, which also featured 1,317 offensive yards, on Scott’s 21-yard TD pass to Taylor Grimes with 27 seconds left. Sac State’s “Hail Mary” attempt on the game’s final play fell incomplete in the UIW end zone at 11:46 p.m. local time, or 2:46 a.m. in the East.
(FCS senior editor Craig Haley ranks his 15 most memorable games of 2022 season)