Part of The Analyst’s FCS series called “By the Numbers,” which analyzes data to help tell the story of FCS college football.

FCS fans, we’ve had the appetizer portion of the college football schedule, and now it’s time for the main course – conference play.

The dessert-like reward? The 24-team national playoffs.

But you know the rules: You can’t have dessert unless you take care of business with the main course first.

That’s right, conference play cranks up en masse beginning this week. Yes, there were a few conference games trickled here and there in the opening weeks of the 2023 season, but they really shift into high gear starting now.

Our “By the Numbers” series is taking a look at all of the FCS conferences and which programs have won the most all-time titles within this diverse group of leagues. Some conferences date back nearly a century or more, others are relatively new. But we’ll take a quick look at all of them and what the trends have been. (Note the year founded indicates when football began being played in the conference)

Big Sky Conference (Founded 1963)

Current Title Leaders: Montana with 18 (second – Montana State – 16)

All-Time Leader: Same

The Breakdown: The Big Sky has been around for 60 years, and the Montana schools have dominated it – kind of fitting considering Montana is also dubbed Big Sky Country. Eastern Washington is third with 10 all-time titles, and Idaho comes in with eight.

Defending Champions: Sacramento State and Montana State (both 8-0)

Big South Conference (2002)

Current Title Leader: Gardner Webb with three

All-Time Leader: Liberty (eight)

The Breakdown: This league has changed a ton over the past 20-plus years of football. The overall dominance in this category are former FCS programs Liberty and Coastal Carolina, both now in the FBS. The Big South and the Ohio Valley have since formed a combo conference.

Defending Champion: Gardner-Webb (5-0)

CAA Football (1947)

Current Title Leaders: New Hampshire with 14 (second – Maine – 13) 

All-Time Leader: UMass (21) 

The Breakdown: The CAA, previously known as the Yankee Conference, has seen its share of history. Since the rebranding of the conference name, current members New Hampshire, William & Mary, Richmond, Delaware, Maine, Towson and Villanova have all won CAA titles – either outright or shared – and former James Madison won the most with five. Richmond has won four since 2007. 

Defending Champions: New Hampshire and William & Mary (both 7-1)

Ivy League (1956)

Current Title Leaders: Dartmouth with 20 (second – Penn – 18)

All-Time Leader: Same

The Breakdown: This is the only FCS conference in which every school has won a conference title. After Dartmouth and Penn, Harvard and Yale are right behind with 17 titles each, and Princeton has 13. Brown has four titles and Cornell three, while Columbia’s lone championship season occurred in 1961.

Defending Champion: Yale (6-1)

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (1971)

Current Title Leaders: South Carolina State with 18 (second – North Carolina Central – six)

All-Time Leader: Same

The Breakdown: North Carolina A&T (11 titles), Bethune-Cookman (eight) and Florida A&M (eight) have moved on from the MEAC, but South Carolina State remains as a definitive No. 1.

Defending Champions: North Carolina Central and Howard (both 4-1)

Missouri Valley Football Conference (1985)

Current Title Leaders: Northern Iowa with 16  (second – North Dakota State – 10)

All-Time Leader: Same

The Breakdown: Once known as the Gateway Football Conference, this league was rebranded as the MVFC in 2009, but many of the schools are the same. Obviously, the additions of all four Dakota schools in the last two decades has changed this league drastically.

Defending Champion: South Dakota State (8-0)

Here are the school conference championship leaders only during their FCS era. Northern Iowa, the leader, won three titles in the Association of Mid-Continent Universities prior to the Gateway/MVFC membership.

Northeast Conference (1996)

Current Title Leaders: Central Connecticut State with six (second – Sacred Heart and Duquesne – five each)

All-Time Leader: Albany, CCSU and Robert Morris (six each)

The Breakdown: Albany and Robert Morris both left the NEC in the last decade after a lot of success in their time. Saint Francis won its first outright title last year after sharing one with Duquesne in 2016.

Defending Champion: Saint Francis (7-0)

Ohio Valley Conference (1948)

Current Title Leaders: Tennessee Tech with 10 (second – Eastern Illinois – seven)

All-Time Leader: Eastern Kentucky with 21

The Breakdown: As mentioned above, the OVC has combined with the Big South to create a new football association. Eastern Kentucky left the OVC in 2021 and claimed a record 21 titles between 1954 and 2011.

Defending Champions: Southeast Missouri and UT Martin (both 5-0)

Patriot League (1986)

Current Title Leaders: Lehigh with 12 (second – Colgate and Holy Cross – 10 each)

All-Time Leader: Same

The Breakdown: Holy Cross has won four straight Patriot League titles after winning just one title between 1991 and 2019. This has been a relatively well-balanced conference as far as who has won championships.

Defending Champion: Holy Cross (6-0)

FCS programs that began the 2023 season with an active streak of two or more consecutive conference titles.

Pioneer Football League (1993)

Current Title Leaders: Dayton and San Diego with 12 each

All-Time Leader: Same

The Breakdown: Until last year, when St. Thomas won the title (but wasn’t eligible for the FCS playoffs because of the transitional rule coming up from Division III), San Diego had captured at least a share of seven of the previous eight PFL championships. Dayton last won a title in 2015 in a share with USD.

Defending Champion: St. Thomas (8-0)

Southern Conference (1933)

Current Title Leaders: Furman with 14 (second – VMI – eight)

All-Time Leader: Same

The Breakdown: The SoCon officially recognizes the championships since 1933, but the league actually has played since 1921, and was the predecessor of the SEC and ACC. In fact, VMI, Furman and The Citadel are holdovers since those early years. The present-day look of the conference really came together during the 1970s when Chattanooga, Western Carolina and the first-phase of ETSU football (before its hiatus from football) joined up. Furman’s heyday came from 1978 to 1990 when the Paladins won nine of their 14 SoCon titles.

Defending Champion: Samford (8-0)

Southland Conference (1964)

Current Title Leaders: McNeese with 14 (second – Lamar – four)

All-Time Leader: Same

The Breakdown: Talk about balance. Six schools have won at least a partial Southland title since 2015, but the long-term dominance belongs to McNeese. The Cowboys’ last title was in 2015, when they went undefeated in the regular season and made the FCS playoffs.

Defending Champions: Southeastern Louisiana and Incarnate Word (both 5-1)

Southwestern Athletic Conference (1921)

Current Title Leaders: Grambling State with 25 (second – Southern – 20)

All-Time Leader: Same

The Breakdown: In the century the SWAC has been around, five current members have won at least 10 SWAC championships, starting with Grambling and Southern. Next up are Jackson State (19), Alcorn State (13) and Prairie View A&M (11).

Defending Champion: Jackson State (won the SWAC championship game)

United Athletic Conference (2023)

The Breakdown: In 2021 and ‘22, this combo league was known as the ASUN-WAC, as programs were transitioning from other conferences and to the FBS and up from the Division II ranks. This is the first year the conference is known as the UAC.

Defending Champions: Austin Peay, Eastern Kentucky and Central Arkansas (each 3-2)