Ranking Best Games of 2023 FCS College Football Season (But the More, the Merrier)
We’re rooting for The Analyst’s selections of the best games of the 2023 FCS college football season to come to fruition exactly that way.
If they don’t, there’s solace in how great games come from all directions week after week in the FCS (just reference last year’s 15 most memorable games).
Make no mistake, though, we anticipate our top-five selections for FCS vs. FBS, conference, non-conference, rivalry and best overall games to be quite satisfying in 2023.
But the more, the merrier in the 128-program Division I FCS subdivision.
Top 5 FCS vs. FBS Matchups
1. Tennessee State at Notre Dame (Sept. 2) – FCS college football teams taking on FBS opponents are as much about the storyline as a potential upset, and this is the first time Notre Dame will face both an HBCU and FCS program. In TSU coach Eddie George’s 1995 Heisman Trophy season at Ohio State, he rushed for 207 yards and two touchdowns against the Irish.
2. Sacramento State at Stanford (Sept. 16) – Sac State faces new Stanford coach Troy Taylor, the 2019 Eddie Robinson Award recipient (FCS college football coach of the year) and architect of the Hornets’ amazing run (Big Sky titles in each of his three seasons).
3. Holy Cross at Army (Nov. 11) – Two tough programs will slug it out at scenic Michie Stadium. Holy Cross, the four-time defending Patriot League champion, has defeated an FBS opponent in each of the last two seasons (UConn in 2021 and Buffalo last year).
4. Jackson State at Texas State (Sept. 16) – The visiting Tigers talk the talk, but will they produce the SWAC’s first FBS win since 1985 in the season after coach Deion Sanders’ departure? Unless, of course, Florida A&M beats the Tigers to it at USF on Sept. 9.
5. William & Mary at Virginia (Oct. 7) – W&M coach Mike London not only guided the Tribe to an FBS win over Charlotte last season, he once guided the UVa program (2010-15).
(Here’s more: 2023 FCS vs. FBS college football schedule with 10 potential upsets to watch for)
Top 5 FCS Conference Games
1. North Dakota State at South Dakota State (Nov. 4) – Incredibly, South Dakota State has won five of the last seven Dakota Marker Trophy matchups and it hammered the Bison’s FCS dynasty program in the 2022 national championship game.
(SDSU’s Jimmy Rogers part of the 2022-23 head coaching changes in FCS college football)
2. Furman at Samford (Oct. 14) – A combined 15-1 in the Southern Conference last season, Samford won the head-to-head matchup 34-27 in a role reversal – the Bulldogs had more rushing yards and Furman more passing yards. Both teams went on to post FCS playoff wins.
3. Florida A&M vs. Jackson State in Miami (Sept. 3) – This season-opening SWAC game has meant everything with determining the East title in the last two seasons because neither team lost to a conference opponent over the remainder of the schedule. Jackson State has won 19 straight games against SWAC opponents.
4. Montana State at Sacramento State (Oct. 21) – These powers didn’t face each other last season while sweeping to share of the Big Sky title. This will be the fourth conference game for a Sac State program (now under first-year coach Andy Thompson) that enters the campaign on a 19-game Big Sky winning streak.
5.(tie) Southeastern Louisiana at UIW (Oct. 7) – UIW earned a share of the Southland title and advanced to the national semifinals, but Southeastern won the head-to-head matchup on Eli Sawyer’s 59-yard, walk-off (better yet, race-off) touchdown pass.
5.(tie) Southeast Missouri at UT Martin (Nov. 11) – See, these two teams meet in conference play. No coin flip necessary.
Top 5 FCS Non-Conference Games
1. Montana State at South Dakota State (Sept. 9) – They’ve split in the last two FCS semifinal rounds, with the home team winning each time. A lot of talent particularly returns on offense from teams that finished No. 1 and 4, respectively, in the final FCS Top 25 rankings.
2. Eastern Washington vs. North Dakota State in Minneapolis (Sept. 2) – With EWU’s streak of 15 straight winning seasons ending last season, the Eagles turned the longest active run in FCS college football over to NDSU (13). They’ll be inside U.S. Bank Stadium, not the Fargodome, so it will still be noisy for the Eagles’ expected new quarterback Kekoa Visperas.
3. South Carolina State vs. Jackson State (Aug. 26) – The MEAC-SWAC Challenge is the FCS highlight in Week 0. JSU coach T.C. Taylor makes his debut against the FCS’ winningest active HBCU coach, Buddy Pough (146 wins in 21 seasons).
4. UT Martin at Samford (Nov. 18) – Conference games on the final Saturday of the FCS regular season often determine playoff bids. How about if a big, late non-conference game decides one.
5.(tie) Weber State at Northern Iowa (Sept. 9) – This year’s five Big Sky-MVFC Challenge matchups are a series low, but it’s a solid schedule of matchups given this is the third one on the list of best non-conference games. The home team has won every time while WSU and UNI have split the first four meetings.
5.(tie) Central Arkansas at North Dakota State (Sept. 16) – The visiting Bears have one of their more talented teams under coach Nathan Brown, whose program gave NDSU all it could handle in their only previous meeting on Oct. 3, 2020 – the Trey Lance spotlight game for NFL scouts.
Top 5 FCS College Football Rivalry Games
1. Grambling State vs. Southern in New Orleans (Nov. 25) – Strike up the Battle of the Bands as the Bayou Classic turns 50. Southern’s 34-17 win before 62,337 at the Caesars Superdome last season – the second-biggest 2022 crowd in FCS college football – inched the Jaguars ahead 25-24 since the Classic portion of the series originated in 1974.
2. Montana State at Montana (Nov. 18) – “The Brawl of the Wild” is the fiercest rivalry in the FCS. With wins in five of the last six matchups, Montana State is enjoying its best run in the series in over 40 years.
3. Harvard at Yale (Nov. 18) – Will Yale be seeking to complete a perfect season? “The Game” is so big in the Ivy League that the school presidents surely like the season to end here instead of sending a champion off to a playoff game over Thanksgiving weekend.
4. Lafayette at Lehigh (Nov. 18) – College football’s most-played series turns 159, with Lafayette holding an 81-72-5 all-time lead. Defense has ruled in the last four meetings (three Lafayette wins) with no team scoring more than 20 points and each game decided by seven or fewer points.
5. Richmond at William & Mary (Nov. 18) – The Capital Cup winner will inch ahead in a series that is tied 64-64-5. The road team has won four of the last five meetings.