FCS Football: 10 Filling Some of the Biggest Shoes in 2023
There are irreplaceable losses in FCS college football this year, such as Jacksonville State and Sam Houston moving to the FBS a year after James Madison.
Some losses just feel irreplaceable.
Spring practice is a time for getting to work on filling the void – even the biggest ones.
As practices continue across the FCS, here are 10 of the biggest shoes that teams, even a conference, seek to fill in 2023:
Trevor Andrews, Dayton
A Flyers defensive back during the 1990s under then-defensive coordinator Rick Chamberlin, Andrews is now a first-time head coach, replacing the Dayton legend. Chamberlin spent 48 years in the program, including the last 14 as head coach.
Stat to Know: Dayton is tied with San Diego for the most all-time Pioneer Football League titles with 12, but the Flyers have finished atop the standings only once in the last 12 years (2015).
Big South Conference
It’s fortunate the Big South is beginning a four-year partner league with the Ohio Valley Conference because it will drop to four football programs after Campbell and North Carolina A&T depart to the Colonial Athletic Association this summer. The first 21 seasons of Big South football have included significant restructuring under commissioner Kyle Kallander, so the loss of his leadership following an upcoming retirement after 27 years at the helm will add to the conference’s challenge.
Stat to Know: The Big South’s four football programs will be the fewest for an FCS conference since there were four in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s final season in 2007.
Zach Calzada, UIW
The 2022 FCS semifinalist, under first-year coach Clint Killough, seeks to replace 2022 Walter Payton Award-winning quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr. The strong-armed Calzada, a transfer who in 2021 led Texas A&M to a win over Alabama, figures to thrive in the Cardinals’ high-octane offense, but Scott set a high precedent with FCS single-season records of 60 touchdown passes and 71 total TDs.
Stat to Know: UIW’s 51.5-point average last season ranks second in FCS history (since 1978).
Their programs have never played each other, but Fordham quarterback Tim DeMorat seemed to have a weekly competition with UIW’s Scott last season, ultimately finishing second in the Payton voting and claiming a third consecutive Patriot League offensive player of the year award. DeMorat’s successor, presumably New Mexico transfer CJ Montes or true freshman Dante Torres, comes in untested.
Stat to Know: Fordham’s average yards per game last season (609.7) ranks second in FCS history.
Illinois State Outside Linebacker
All Zeke Vandenburgh’s successor has to do is replace the 2022 Buck Buchanan Award recipient and FCS sacks leader at the Redbirds’ strong-side linebacker spot. Yeah, yikes. The replacement could come from another potential transfer signing, but within the program, there is rising senior Jalan Gaines, who backed up Vandenburgh late last season, and untested Zion Granville (listed as 6-foot-6, 225 pounds). Either way, coach Brock Spack will have a retooled defense.
Stat to Know: The Redbirds tied for the FCS high with seven games decided by seven or fewer points, going 5-2 in those games.
North Dakota State Offensive Line
The standard of FCS offensive lines retools, not rebuilds, but the national runner-up is tasked with replacing two All-Americans on the left side, tackle Cody Mauch, who’s expected to be the first FCS selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, and left guard Nash Jensen, who made 55 career starts. Either right tackle Mason Miller or center Jalen Sundell, whose 2022 seasons ended early by injury, could return at left tackle, and Grey Zabel, who replaced Miller over the final five games, is a candidate for left guard.
Stat to Know: The Bison have ranked in the top 15 of FCS rushing offense for the last 10 seasons.
Jimmy Rogers South Dakota State
Life is good for the Jackrabbits’ new coach considering he is inheriting the national championship-winning program that returns 16 starters (nine offense, seven defense). But Rogers, who was the defensive coordinator, is replacing the most successful coach in program history as John Stiegelmeier guided 199 victories and winning records in 22 of his 26 seasons, receiving the 2022 Eddie Robinson Award as the FCS coach of the year.
Stat to Know: Only SDSU has posted a four-game winning streak against North Dakota State since both programs moved into Division I in 2004.
T.C. Taylor, Jackson State
Taylor is replacing Deion Sanders as the Tigers’ head coach – yes, enough said, it’s hard to do. But while the JSU alum’s coaching style may be more understated than his predecessor, he actually preceded Coach Prime on staff, and contributed to and experienced their back-to-back SWAC titles and got accustomed to the significant national attention. He secured a strong first recruiting class.
Stat to Know: Included with over a half-million fans at Jackson State’s 13 games, the 44,390 per-game average across five home games marked the FCS single-season high.
Andy Thompson, Sacramento State
Five Big Sky programs have new head coaches, and Thompson replaces Troy Taylor – now Stanford’s head coach – with the bull’s-eye of two straight Big Sky titles and three since 2019 (the Hornets didn’t compete in 2020 due to the pandemic). The first-year head coach, who’s been a part of the Big Sky in every season but one since 1999, has a history of guiding some of the better defenses in the conference.
Stat to Know: Sac State will enter the season on a 19-game Big Sky winning streak, which is the second-longest in the conference’s history.
Youngstown State Running Back
Production by committee seems wise in the Penguins’ backfield, but there’s a disclaimer – very few teams could capably replace tailback Jaleel McLaughlin, who averaged over 122 rushing yards per game in three seasons with the Penguins. First up is Dra Rushton, who rushed for 329 yards and two touchdowns as a junior.
Stat to Know: McLaughlin’s 8,166 career rushing yards, with well over half in two seasons at Division II Notre Dame (Ohio), are recognized as the NCAA all-divisions record. Former Georgia Southern running back Adrian Peterson had 9,161 yards in his career, but the NCAA only includes regular-season games in its records prior to 2003, so his FCS-high total sits at 6,559.