With so many sports colliding at once, FCS college football teams generally work in anonymity as they advance through spring practice.
It’s especially the case with some teams coming off disappointing seasons. However, they won’t necessarily remain under the radar later this year.
Following are seven FCS teams – all but one that finished with a losing record – that deserve a deeper look given their returning talent and offseason additions:
Top 10 Contender
2022 Record: 6-5, 5-3 Big Sky
What to Know: With a less-difficult schedule than last season, the Aggies appear primed for national prominence again. All-Big Sky first-team quarterback Miles Hastings passed for over 3,000 yards, and all-purpose back Lan Larison will fill some of the production lost in Ulonzo Gilliam Jr.’s graduation. Defensive end Zach Kennedy and safety Rex Connors will be even better with a full season out of linebacker Teddye Buchanan. Offensive tackle Jake Parks returns from injury.
Pivotal Matchup: Oct. 7 vs. Montana
Conference Title Contender
2022 Record: 5-6, 3-2 ASUN
What to Know: This is one of coach Nathan Brown’s more talented teams, but the schedule is rugged as the Bears seek their first playoff appearance since 2019. Quarterback Will McElvain has a bunch of offensive weapons, including Darius Hale and North Alabama transfer Shunderrick Powell, who have both been 1,000-yard rushers and All-Americans. Opposing offenses will be disrupted up front by defensive ends David Walker and Logan Jessup, and on the back end by Tamaurian Wilson and Cameron Godfrey.
Pivotal Matchup: Nov. 11 vs. Eastern Kentucky
At-Large Playoff Contenders
2022 Record: 5-6, 3-5 CAA
What to Know: The biggest FCS conference ever – the CAA will be 15 teams – is worthy of several surprises, and the Hawks could be one in their second season in the league. They return seven starters on each side of the ball. A new starting quarterback – either Sacred Hart transfer Marquez McCray or sophomore Enzo Arjona – will get the ball to game-breaker Jaden Shirden, the FCS’ 2022 rushing leader. Cornerback Eddie Morales III and linebacker Da’Quan Grimes are decorated veterans, and the defense will have a new look in the front secen.
Pivotal Matchup: Oct. 21 at Elon
2022 Record: 5-6, 4-4 MVFC
What to Know: While the Salukis are replacing a number of key seniors, there are 14 returning starters, none bigger than quarterback Nic Baker (6,663 career passing yards, 50 touchdowns). The tradition of excellence in the secondary continues with safety PJ Jules. Five of last year’s six losses were by seven or fewer points, so the Salukis weren’t far off from having a much better record as they tied for sixth in the rugged MVFC. Plus, they beat Northwestern for the only FCS win over a Power-Five opponent.
Pivotal Matchup: Sept. 2 vs. Austin Peay
2022 Record: 3-8, 2-6 CAA
What to Know: The Great Danes being improved starts with lifting a 2-12 record during the 2020s in games decided by eight or fewer points. They have stability in quarterback Reece Poffenbarger, the CAA offensive rookie of the year and Jerry Rice Award runner-up, who was one passing yard shy of 3,000, and had 24 TD passes against only four interceptions. Leading tackler Dylan Lewis is back at linebacker, and transfers DaSean Winston (Temple) and Aamir Hall (Richmond) are much-needed help in the secondary.
Pivotal Matchup: Sept. 30 vs. Villanova
2022 Record: 4-7, 2-4 Big South
What to Know: Defending Big South champ Gardner-Webb and Ohio Valley co-champs Southeast Missouri and UT Martin will claim much of the preseason attention as those two conferences embark on a joint league, but Bryant is lurking in the background. Behind Levi Eckhaus, the Bulldogs ranked fourth in the FCS in passing yards per game, and his key receivers also are back. The signing class was filled with transfers and Ethan Gettman is one of the FCS’ better place-kickers.
Pivotal Matchup: Nov. 4 vs. Gardner-Webb
2022 Record: 4-7, 4-4 Pioneer
What to Know: The Red Foxes sat outside a logjam of PFL title contenders entering November, but that may change this season. The offensive returnees include quarterback Brock Bagozzi and last year’s leading rushers – Amin Woods and Glenmour Leonard-Osbourne – and receivers – Brett Landis, Will Downes and Matt Stianche. The defense is filling more key holes, but sixth-year linebackers Mike Arrington and Arthur Pinckney disrupt opposing offenses.
Pivotal Game: Oct. 14 vs. San Diego
2022 Record: 4-7, 2-4 Southland
What to Know: The Cowboys ended the last decade with a then-FCS-leading 15th straight winning season, so three in a row below .500 is startling. But they ended coach Gary Goff’s first season with a one-point loss to Southland co-champ Southeastern Louisiana and three straight wins, so the first steps have been taken already. Transfer quarterbacks Nate Glantz (Iowa State) and Tre Simmons (Tusculum) seek to bring improvement at football’s most important position.
Pivotal Matchup: Oct. 21 vs. UIW