Three years ago, we reviewed the 2010s decade to determine which FCS programs could brand themselves as the modern “U” at different positions.

These days, a lot changes in college football over three weeks, let alone three years, so we’ve updated the modern FCS U.

While national power North Dakota State remains the standard at three positions (if not more), new FCS titlist South Dakota State has risen up to challenge the Bison in many ways plus 2016 national champ James Madison departed for the FBS last year and 2020 champ Sam Houston is headed there this year.  

“U” still want it, “U” still got it:

Quarterback U.: North Dakota State

Previous Pick: North Dakota State

Apologies to QB-heavy Eastern Washington, but there’s no need to roll out the individual statistics, what matters is five different Bison signal callers have directed nine FCS championship seasons since 2011. Brock Jensen set the subdivision record for career wins, later to be topped by Easton Stick’s 49, while Carson Wentz became the highest NFL Draft choice from an FCS school (No. 2 in 2016), Trey Lance was drafted No. 3 overall after becoming the first freshman to receive the Walter Payton Award, and Cam Miller directed the 2021 title-winning offense as well as this past season’s national runner-up attack.

Associated Press Photo

Running Back U.: North Dakota State

Previous Pick: North Dakota State

If Jalen Bussey hadn’t been injured during the 2022 season, he would have given the Bison five players over 1,000 career rushing yards at the same time – the kind of quintet that has only been achieved by three FCS teams in the last 25 years. The dynasty program’s backfield volume allows it to top others such as North Carolina A&T and Youngstown State for RB U. John Crockett, Sam Ojuri, Lance Dunn, Bruce Anderson III, King Frazier and Kobe Johnson were all over 2,500 career yards in the last 10 years, and Ty Brooks nearly was as well. Multi-dimensional fullback Hunter Luepke will be drafted in April.

Wide Receiver U.: Eastern Washington

Previous Pick: Eastern Washington

This selection comes from the “Duh!” department. Basically, you only have to know about Cooper Kupp, who holds FCS career records for receptions (428), receiving yards (6,464) and touchdown catches (73), but there are plenty more at WR U. In the last 10 years, the Eagles have had seven different wide receivers surpass 150 receptions. Kendrick Bourne (211-3,130-27) put up huge numbers over the same four seasons (2013-16) as Kupp and also has gone on to an NFL career – as did Nsimba Webster.

Associated Press Photo

Tight End U.: South Dakota State

Previous Pick: Drake (Harvard in mix)

The new national champion has gone from featuring the recent standard for FCS tight ends in Dallas Goedert to growing its depth. In FCS history, Goedert is one of the more productive (198 receptions for 2,988 yards and 21 touchdowns) and highest drafted (Philadelphia Eagles, 2018 second round) tight ends. Tucker Kraft is next up with the NFL after an All-America career and his 6-foot-7, 260-pound sidekick, Zach Heins, will play another season with the Jackrabbits. He’s ahead of Kraft in career TD catches and may also surpass him in receptions and receiving yards.

Offensive Line U.: North Dakota State

Previous Pick: North Dakota State

Shout out to the likes of Montana State and Tennessee State, but the No. 1 position group during NDSU’s FCS dynasty is surely found in the trenches, where the O-linemen have allowed Quarterback U. and Running Back U. to go to work. For 11 straight seasons, the unit has powered the FCS’ top non-option rushing attack and boasted a first-team Stats Perform All-American, including NFL draft picks Billy Turner, Joe Haeg and Cordell Volson twice each and Dillon Radunz. Left tackle Cody Mauch was the first-teamer this past season and may be the first FCS player selected in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Defensive Line U.: Chattanooga

Previous Pick: Northern Iowa

There are other possibilities such as UNI, NDSU and Montana State, but Chattanooga’s two-headed monster of Devonnsha Maxwell and Jay Person this past season solidified its annual dominance up front. Maxwell ended his career with 37.5 sacks, nipping former Mocs defensive end Davis Tull (2011-14 seasons) for the Southern Conference record. Person moved up to the edge and became a first-team All-American. Add in D-linemen such as Keionta Davis and Isaiah Mack, and the Mocs always have players being disruptive in an opponent’s offensive backfield.

Derek Daniel/Chattanooga Athletics Photo

Linebacker U.: Montana

Previous Pick: Montana

Patrick O’Connell, the 2021 Buck Buchanan Award third-place finisher, is the most recent example in Montana’s factory of standouts at the second level of defense. Kroy Biermann, the 2007 Buchanan recipient, rolled into fellow draft picks Caleb McSurdy and Jordan Tripp plus Brock Coyle, Josh Buss, Jace Lewis and 2019 Buchanan recipient Dante Olson. Note that while he was an outside linebacker in the NFL, Tyrone Holmes played defensive end at UM when he won the top FCS defensive honor.

Defensive Back U.: Weber State

Previous Pick: James Madison

This is the most competitive U., with recent champs NDSU and SDSU as well as UNI, Montana, Central Arkansas, Delaware, Southern Illinois and Southeastern Louisiana among those in the mix. The collective unit wins out, however, with Weber State usually among the FCS’ best against the pass in recent years. It’s not as though there aren’t stars, as Taron Johnson is one of the better NFL defensive backs from the FCS in the last decade, plus Eddie Heckard was a three-time first-team All-Big Sky choice, perhaps eventually joined in that distinction by junior-to-be Maxwell Anderson.

Special Teams U.: Montana

New Category

If you’re looking at the here and now, it’s hard to go beyond Montana’s special teams, which in their last three seasons have been working together at an elite level. Consider this: Brian Buschini transferred after being the Stats Perform first-team All-America punter in 2021, but Patrick Rohrbach stepped in this past year and was a second-team All-American, joined by kickoff returner Malik Flowers and punt returner Junior Bergen with the same accolade. Flowers also was the third-team choice in 2021, while long snapper Matthew O’Donoghue was both the first-team choice in 2019 and the second-team selection in 2021.