Welcome to Upset City: FCS Teams to Take Best Shot at FBS
With FCS college football teams playing in 117 matchups against FBS opponents this season, there are plenty of opportunities for upsets.
Southern Utah had the first chance, falling at San Jose State this past Saturday night, but there are many more ahead with 97 of the 128 FCS programs taking aim at the FBS.
Some notable FBS powerhouses are included in the list of FCS opponents, such as Alabama (Mercer), Clemson (South Carolina State), LSU (McNeese), Georgia (Charleston Southern), Oklahoma (Western Carolina) and Auburn (Alabama State).
Following is a conference-by-conference look at the FCS vs. FBS games this season:
AQ7 (7 matchups)
Schools Playing an FBS Opponent: 6 of 7 (all but Sam Houston)
Marquee Matchup: Jacksonville State vs. UAB (Sept. 1) – The Montgomery Kickoff at famed Cramton Bowl in Montgomery is one of two FCS vs. FBS matchups that won’t be played at an FBS home site (also Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs. Arkansas on Oct. 23 in Little Rock). Jacksonville State and UAB have met five times since 1994, with the Gamecocks winning the first two matchups before UAB rebounded to win the next three, most recently 35-28 in 2005.
Upset to Watch For: Central Arkansas at Arkansas State (Sept. 4) – UCA fell 50-27 in Jonesboro last October despite Lujuan Winningham’s three touchdown receptions. The Bears still lead the all-time series 13-11-2, including a 28-23 victory in 2016.
Big Sky Conference (17 matchups)
Schools Playing an FBS Opponent: 13 of 13
Marquee Matchup: Montana at Washington (Sept. 4) – Montana’s last win over an FBS opponent was in 2003 (Idaho). The long-time FCS power is just 1-17-1 against UW.
Upset to Watch For: Eastern Washington at UNLV (Sept. 2) – Eastern Washington averaged almost 38 points per game behind All-America quarterback Eric Barriere while going 5-2 this past spring. Conversely, UNLV went 0-6 last fall while giving up 38 points per game.
Big South Conference (10 matchups)
Schools Playing an FBS Opponent: 8 of 9 (all but North Alabama)
Marquee Matchup: Charleston Southern at Georgia (Nov. 20) – SEC power Georgia has never lost to an FCS team, which includes a 55-9 rout of the Buccaneers in 2014.
Upset to Watch For: Gardner-Webb at Georgia Southern (Sept 4) – Gardner-Webb seeks to finish off what Campbell nearly did last fall against the eventual New Orleans Bowl champ (GSU held on for a 27-26 win). Speaking of one-point triumphs, the Runnin’ Bulldogs posted a 38-37 FBS win at Akron in 2010.
CAA Football (12 matchups)
Schools Playing an FBS Opponent: 11 of 12 (all but James Madison)
Marquee Matchup: Villanova at Penn State (Sept. 25) – This will be the first meeting between the Pennsylvania schools (located about 180 miles apart) in 70 years. Villanova has defeated four FBS teams in the past 20 years, and as recently as 2018 (Temple). Penn State, however, hasn’t lost to an FCS team since falling to Cincinnati in 1983.
Upset to Watch For: Rhode Island at UMass (Nov. 6) – Rhode Island hasn’t beaten an FBS team since 2000 (UConn), but the Rams’ former CAA rival UMass has lost twice to FCS teams in the last decade, including by 25 points to Southern Illinois in 2019.
Ivy League (1 matchup)
Schools Playing an FBS Opponent: 1 of 8 (only Yale)
Marquee Matchup: Yale at UConn (Oct. 16) – An Ivy League team hasn’t faced an FBS opponent since Yale upset Army 49-43 in overtime in 2014. UConn, which didn’t play in the 2020 season – like Yale – fell to Towson in 2013.
Upset to Watch For: Yale at UConn (Oct. 16)
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (7 matchups)
Schools Playing an FBS Opponent: 5 of 6 (all but Delaware State)
Marquee Matchup: South Carolina State at Clemson (Sept. 11) – Clemson enters the 2021 season having never lost to an FCS team and will be overwhelming favorite over the 15-time MEAC champ, which has never beaten an FBS program.
Upset to Watch For: Howard at Maryland (Sept. 11) – Howard was a 45.5-point underdog when it stunned UNLV 43-40 in 2017 for the biggest point-spread upset in college football history. Maryland, though, has never lost to an FCS team.
Missouri Valley Football Conference (10 matchups)
Schools Playing an FBS Opponent: 10 of 11 (all but North Dakota State)
Marquee Matchup: Northern Iowa at Iowa State (Sept. 4) – UNI has a strong history against FBS teams, posting 12 victories since 1985, including four since 2000. The Panthers pushed Iowa State to three overtimes in 2019 and won in Ames as recently as 2016.
Upset to Watch For: South Dakota State at Colorado State (Sept. 3) – The Jackrabbits, the national runner-up last season, have the highest preseason ranking (No. 3) among FCS teams facing an FBS opponent. Colorado State played just four games last season, finishing 1-3 while surrendering 36 points per game.
Northeast Conference (10 matchups)
Schools Playing an FBS Opponent: 6 of 8 (all but Merrimack and Sacred Heart)
Marquee Matchup: Central Connecticut State at Miami-Fla. (Sept. 25) – A trip to The U brings national exposure, but CCSU has not beaten an FBS opponent, which is true for all NEC teams that are a combined 0-19.
Upset to Watch For: Duquesne at Ohio (Sept. 11) – Ohio hasn’t lost to an FCS team since 2002 (Northeastern), but NEC power Duquesne has finished in first place six times since 2010. The Dukes return conference passing leader Joe Mischler and the team’s leading rusher (Garrett Owens) and pass catcher (Cyrus Holder).
Ohio Valley Conference (8 matchups)
Schools Playing an FBS Opponent: 7 of 7
Marquee Matchup: Austin Peay at Ole Miss (Sept. 11) – Austin Peay has beaten an FBS team once in its program’s history (26-22 over Kansas State in 1987). Ole Miss’ only FCS loss came against a former OVC team, Jacksonville State (49-48 in two OTs in 2010).
Upset to Watch For: Murray State at Bowling Green (Sept. 18) – The OVC preseason favorite’s last win against an FBS opponent occurred in 1984 (26-23 over Louisville), but the Racers also tied Memphis 10-10 a year later. Bowling Green has lost twice to FCS teams, most recently to South Dakota in 2017.
Patriot League (6 matchups)
Schools Playing an FBS Opponent: 5 of 7 (all except Georgetown and Lehigh)
Marquee Matchup: Colgate at Boston College (Sept. 4) – In this first-time meeting, Colgate’s upset bid will rely greatly on quarterback Grant Breneman, who’s in his fifth season as the starter. The Raiders’ 2020 season amounted to just two spring games, losses by a combined 64-18.
Upset to Watch For: Fordham at Florida Atlantic (Sept. 18) – The Rams posted FBS wins in 2013 (Temple) and 2015 (Army), and have the most-explosive offense in the Patriot League. FAU’s first four games of 2020 were canceled or postponed, but it went on to finish 5-4 in coach Willie Taggart’s first season.
Southern Conference (9 matchups)
Schools Playing an FBS Opponent: 9 of 9
Marquee Matchup: Mercer at Alabama (Sept. 11) – For the 11th season in the last 13 years, an FBS program will play the reigning FBS champion. Alabama’s 56-0 win over Mercer in 2017 was the first meeting between the two programs since the 1940s (the Tide own the all-time series 4-0).
Upset to Watch For: VMI at Kent State (Sept. 11) – VMI returns a number of key players from its SoCon championship squad in the spring. Keydets quarterback Seth Morgan could help make this a track meet, and he may have to considering Kent State averaged almost 50 points in a four-game 2020 season (3-1 record).
Southland Conference (7 matchups)
Schools Playing an FBS Opponent: 6 of 6
Marquee Matchup: McNeese at LSU (Sept. 11) – Third-year McNeese quarterback Cody Orgeron, the son of LSU coach Ed Orgeron, will lead McNeese into Death Valley. This will be the second meeting in the series, with LSU winning 32-10 in 2010.
Upset to Watch For: UIW at Texas State (Sept. 18) – UIW quarterback Cameron Ward received the Stats Perform FCS Jerry Rice Award this past spring as the national freshman of the year (Watch the FCS National Awards). Texas State struggled immensely in going 2-10 last season, but it won the only previous meeting in this series, 48-17 in 2016.
Southwestern Athletic Conference (13 matchups)
Schools Playing an FBS Opponent: 10 of 12 (all but Alabama A&M and Mississippi Valley State)
Marquee Matchup: Alabama State at Auburn (Sept. 11) – Despite the schools being separated by about 60 miles, Alabama State and Auburn have met just one time – a 63-9 Tigers’ win in 2018.
Upset to Watch For: Alcorn State at South Alabama (Sept. 18) – FBS upsets have been hard to come by for SWAC programs, with Grambling State producing the most recent one against Oregon State in 1985. For Alcorn State, it was a 24-16 victory over Central Michigan in 1978 – the first year of the Division I split. The Braves were SWAC champs in 2018 and ’19, but opted out of the pandemic-delayed 2000 season.