The 2021 season has plenty of opportunities to watch our beloved FCS teams square off against FBS foes. In fact, there are 117 such games scheduled for the upcoming season. We’re excited to see these games back on the docket so let’s take a look at 10 of the FCS versus FBS games that we are looking forward to watching for 2021.
Please note that the list below is NOT what we think are the 10 best FCS-FBS games before the season or simply a list of possible FCS over FBS wins. This is a list of games we will be keeping an eye on in (mostly) chronological order.
1. Long Island at Florida International – Thursday, September 2, 2021
There’s no better way to kick off the first full week of FCS-FBS games than to see an FCS team play its first FBS opponent. Long Island will be playing Florida International on Thursday evening to start its season. LIU is jumping right into the FCS-FBS matchup with three straight games against FBS foes to start 2021. They will also play at West Virginia on September 11 and at Miami (OH) on September 18.
Can LIU post the upset? Going for them is that Florida International has one of the worst records against FCS opponents among teams to have played at least 10 FCS opponents at 9-6. FIU also lost to Jacksonville State last season 19-10 in the first of two FCS wins over FBS teams.
Related honorable mentions: Saint Francis (at Eastern Michigan on 9/3) and Bryant (at Akron on 9/18) are also playing their first FBS opponents in the 2021 season.
2. Tennessee Martin at Western Kentucky – Thursday, September 2, 2021
This is strictly a sentimental choice as we get to see Bailey Zappe in his first game as an FBS quarterback. Zappe shined in his time at Houston Baptist throwing for over 10,000 yards with 78 touchdowns in three seasons with the Huskies. Zappe transferred to Western Kentucky in December 2020 after a stellar 4 game stretch in the fall of 2020. He parlayed that into a chance in the FBS and who could blame him?
Joining Zappe in Bowling Green will be several familiar targets from HBU. Jerreth and Josh Sterns both transferred to WKU as did Ben Ratzlaff, which will give some consistency to the Hilltoppers offense. Another piece that left HBU for WKU was offensive coordinator Zach Kittley, which makes WKU a potentially dangerous team in C-USA. We just wish they weren’t facing UT Martin or any FCS team this season. Nevertheless, we look forward to this matchup and following Zappe/WKU for the 2021 season.
3. Eastern Washington at UNLV – Thursday, September 2, 2021
Here is a tantalizing game on paper because the high-powered Eastern Washington offense can surely give the UNLV defense plenty of fits. Eric Barriere will be slinging the ball all around the field as he averaged 369 yards per game in a shortened spring season over 7 games. He is also a serious threat to run the ball too with 8 rushing touchdowns in each of the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
As for UNLV, they went 0-6 last season being outscored by an average of 38 to 17 points per game. They will probably be better on the offensive side but the defense still looks vulnerable. Where UNLV can hurt the Eagles is with a strong rushing attack that controls the clock and they have a backfield capable of doing just that.
UNLV also has a recent history of losing to FCS teams. They lost to Howard 43-40 in 2017 as 45-point favorites and also lost to current Big Sky members Northern Arizona in 2012 (17-14) and Southern Utah in 2011 (41-16.). Eastern Washington has a good chance at replicating those wins here in 2021.
4. South Dakota and South Dakota State Games – Friday, September 3, 2021
Here’s a two-for-one special because we like the chances of both South Dakota teams on Friday, September 3. We start with South Dakota at Kansas because the Jayhawks are going through a lot of change. Kansas let go of Les Miles in March due to misconduct allegations, however, the Kansas football team in 2020 was not very good. They allowed 46 points and 459 yards of offense per game while finishing 0-9 overall.
South Dakota showed glimpses of a good 2021 spring season starting with a 27-20 win on the road against Illinois State and a close loss at home to Missouri State in week 3. They opted out after four games but some of the pieces are in place to give opponents trouble. Combine that with Kansas having a new coaching staff and implementing a new offensive system and we are looking at the potential for the FCS to steal a game against an FBS foe.
The second game we want to see on Friday, September 3 is South Dakota State at Colorado State. The FCS runners up from this past spring return nearly every offensive starter except quarterback Mark Gronowksi, whose status is in doubt after an injury in the FCS Championship game. A strong rushing attack boasting Pierre Strong and Isaiah Davis that can control the ball and wear down defenses will be key. They also face a Colorado State team that went 1-3 in an abbreviated 2020 season with those 3 losses coming by double-digits. This is a big opportunity for the Jackrabbits to pull their second FBS upset in school history.
5. FCS Teams Versus Connecticut (Multiple Dates)
Another two-for-one deal for our readers as Connecticut will take on two FCS teams this season. The first game will be against Holy Cross on Saturday, September 4 at home. Holy Cross is coming off a 3-1 spring campaign, which resulted in an FCS Playoff appearance. Despite a short 4 game season, the Crusaders can leverage that against a team in Connecticut that has not played since late 2019. The other FCS game that UConn will play is against Yale on October 16. Neither team has played a competitive game since 2019 but Yale had an impressive team that season going 9-1 overall while losing out on the Ivy League title due to a loss against Dartmouth.
What both Holy Cross and Yale have going in their favor is history. Since 2013, Connecticut has not defeated an FCS opponent by more than 7 points in that stretch. It should be noted that UConn has done quite well in those one-score games with a 6-1 record. The lone loss came to Towson in 2013 and they defeated Holy Cross by a touchdown in 2017. We think both teams stand a solid chance at pulling the upset.
6. North Dakota at Utah State – September 10, 2021
The 2020-21 North Dakota season was very good for the Fighting Hawks. They started the spring season 4-0 and then were hammered 34-13 to rival North Dakota State. They then had to contend with a 5-week break between games due to cancellations but were selected for the FCS Playoffs. They won their first FCS playoff game in the opening round with a 44-10 destruction of Missouri State but fell in the Quarterfinals to James Madison. That sets them up well for the 2021 season with high expectations.
The game against Utah State will be a measuring stick but also present an outside opportunity to pull off the FCS-FBS upset. The Aggies went 1-5 in a shortened season but were woeful on both sides of the ball. They totaled only 15.5 points and 276 yards per game while allowing 35.2 points and 485 yards per game. Utah Still will also have a new head coach this year in Blake Anderson though it must be noted that Anderson never had a losing record at Arkansas State and went 1-6 against FCS foes.
Still, this game is sandwiched in between two road games for Utah State as they open at Washington State in week one and then have the Mountain West opener at Air Force in week three. We’re not forecasting a win for North Dakota but we aren’t ruling it out and we expect a pretty good showing from the Fighting Hawks who have a lot of experience returning this season.
7. Kennesaw State at Georgia Tech – September 11, 2021
This is the second game featuring an FCS team against a Power 5 opponent on the list. What makes this game interesting is some of the connections between the schools but also some potential implications for the rest of the 2021 season. Kennesaw State head coach Brian Bohannon was a quarterback and running back coach at Georgia Tech from 2008 through 2012. While he learned under Paul Johnson he won’t be out of his element in Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Another storyline here is Georgia Tech will be Kennesaw State’s first Division 1 opponent on the season as the Owls will play NAIA foe Reinhardt the opening week. Georgia Tech will take on Northern Illinois in week one by comparison. This game matters for the Owls because it will be a good measuring stick to see how much they need to improve going forward. They’re going to have a tough fight for the Big South crown on their hands with Monmouth returning a very good roster. A win here would be a good signal that missing the playoffs in 2020-21 was an aberration.
8. Jacksonville State at Florida State – September 11, 2021
Jacksonville State has two games in 2021 against FBS foes. One is against UAB on Wednesday, September 1 while the other is against Florida State 10 days later. We chose this game over the UAB contest because these two teams have met twice in recent history and both times Jacksonville State gave the Seminoles a fit.
In 2009, Jacksonville State led for much of the game and they held a slim 9-7 margin late into the fourth quarter. After failing to convert a 4th and 1 at the FSU 31, they traded punts to give the ball back to the Seminoles with less than 3 minutes left. FSU scored the go-ahead touchdown with 35 seconds remaining and added a recovered fumble for a score to end the game at 19-9. Last season, Jacksonville State held 14-0 and 21-7 leads in the first half before Florida State woke up. The Seminoles outscored Jacksonville State 27-3 over the final 31 minutes to win the game 41-24.
There’s also this weird pattern involving Jacksonville State and FBS opponents from Florida. Dating back to the 2000 season, JSU has played 5 FBS teams from Florida and went 1-4 over those games. Guess what happened after each loss to the FBS team from Florida? The Gamecocks won their next game against an FBS team.
|Year||Opponent||Result||Next Game Versus FBS||Result|
|2000||South Florida||Loss, 40-0||2001 vs. Louisiana||Win, 28-14|
|2009||Florida State||Loss, 19-9||2010 vs. Ole Miss||Win, 49-48|
|2012||Florida||Loss, 23-0||2013 vs. Georgia State||Win, 32-26|
|2020||Florida State||Loss, 41-24||2020 vs FIU||Win, 19-10|
So if Jacksonville State doesn’t win against Florida State, Tulsa would officially be on FCS Upset Alert as the next FBS opponent for Jacksonville State when the two teams meet next season.
9. South Carolina State at New Mexico State – September 18, 2021
South Carolina State has never beaten an FBS team in its time in the FCS sporting an 0-18 record but this year represents their best chance to date. The Bulldogs are returning a lot of talent from a 2019 team that went 8-3 overall and finished just a game off the MEAC title. They also went 3-1 in a short 2021 spring slate, which featured two strong defensive performances against Delaware State and Alabama State.
Then there’s New Mexico State who played only two games in 2020 and 2021. They were plastered by Tarleton State 43-17 and survived Dixie State 36-29 earlier this spring as both of those schools were in their first season as Division 1 teams. This is an excellent chance for South Carolina State to make an early statement in the 2021 season.
10. Maine vs. FBS (Multiple Dates)
Our third two-for-one pick is Maine out of the Colonial Athletic as they have two FBS opponents scheduled. They face Northern Illinois on Saturday, September 25 and Massachusetts on Saturday, November 13 with both games on the road.
2021 represents a chance for Maine to move out of the average and into an above-average level. They finished 6-6 in 2019 and then 2-2 in the spring season of 2020-21. The fall of 2021 represents the best chance for Nick Charlton’s team to breakout given they’re in the third year of his system.
It’s not often we get to see two FCS-FBS games spaced out in this manner as we will see with Maine. We are interested in these two games because they can give us two separate glimpses into the progress shown by an FCS school. The NIU matchup is the fourth contest for the Black Bears after games against Delaware, James Madison on the road, and Merrimack. By this point, we’ll know how tough of a stretch Maine will have in the CAA standings.
The second FBS opponent for Maine is the penultimate contest of the regular season at UMass. Here, we’ll know if Maine is close to an FCS Playoff berth or not as they will have only New Hampshire remaining in the season finale. This might be a game that solidifies Maine’s playoff chances, a chance to salvage the season, or provide momentum going in 2022. It also allows us to see how the team has improved (or not) since the previous FBS game versus NIU.
That wraps up the ten… well, 13 FCS versus FBS games we are looking forward to this season
Photo courtesy of Yale University Athletics.