The 2022 college football season will feature a record number of FCS-FBS matchups with 119 games and that provides plenty of games with intrigue. As we did last year, we will provide our list of ten (or so) FCS-FBS games that we are looking forward to watching this season.
As a friendly reminder, this is not a list solely comprised of the best FCS-FBS matchups nor the most likely FCS over FBS wins this year. These are only the games we personally want to see even and will naturally have some crossover with potential FCS over FBS wins. This year’s list will rank the games in reverse order from 10 to 1 instead of the chronological list we had in 2021.
10. Norfolk State at James Madison – Saturday, September 10, 2022
We start this list with a sentimental choice as James Madison has moved up to the FBS this season to join the Sun Belt Conference. The second game of the season for James Madison will be against Norfolk State in a contest that the Dukes will likely win. It will be a strange sight to see JMU in the FBS ranks after being a perennial FCS Championship contender for much of the last decade. After many years of being a potential pitfall for FBS foes, they will likely know very well to Fear The FCS in future FCS-FBS matchups.
9. Elon at Vanderbilt – Saturday, September 3, 2022
In 2021, Vanderbilt suffered its first loss to an FCS opponent when they lost 23-3 against East Tennessee State at home as the 21-point favorites. This year, Elon will try to win its first game against an FBS foe, defeat Vanderbilt after losing to them 45-14 in 2011, and return to the FCS playoffs. The offense lost both its top quarterback and running back but the defense should be improved compared to 2021. The opening contest against a Vanderbilt program in a full rebuild should be a good barometer going forward for Elon even if they don’t win. However, if they’re lucky enough to pull the upset, they could have good momentum for the rest of the season as they try to reach the FCS Playoffs for the first time since 2018.
8. Nicholls at UL Monroe – Saturday, September 10, 2022
The in-state matchup between Nicholls and UL Monroe has been historically one-sided as UL Monroe is 23-3 all-time in the series since. Nicholls will be led by two top running backs in Collin Guggenheim and Julien Gums as the duo will have a chance to showcase their talents against a Warhawks defense that is returning only 4 starters. Overall, the offense should be a bright spot this season with pre-season Southland All-Conference at the skill positions. This game also represents a personal angle for Nicholls head coach Tim Rebowe as he was the cornerbacks coach from 2001 through 2003. He was also briefly named the interim head coach as they searched for a new coach following the 2003 season.
7. Austin Peay at Western Kentucky – Saturday, August 27, 2022
This game will mark the first FCS-FBS matchup for the 2022 season while also serving as the first game ever featuring an ASUN member. Those reasons alone are enough to merit a spot on this list as we welcome another season featuring the FCS-FBS matchup. This will also be the second time these two schools have met after Western Kentucky pummeled Austin Peay 49-10 in 2012.
The intriguing part about this game (and the next entry on our list) is that both squads have a lot of offensive pieces to replace. For Austin Peay, they lost Draylen Ellis to the transfer portal after he helped the offense put up 32.5 points per game. The Governors also lost top running back Ahmaad Tanner. The same is true for Western Kentucky, which lost former FCS standout at Houston Baptist Bailey Zappe. Zappe only threw for a Division 1 record 5,967 yards and 62 touchdowns last year but they also lost top running back Noah Whittington along with receivers Jerreth Sterns and Mitchell Tinsley. It feels like both offenses might take a leap backward but the pieces lost by WKU may see them fall further. This game will be worth watching simply because football will be back but how both offenses look without last year’s stars is interesting in its own right.
6. North Carolina A&T at Duke – Saturday, September 17, 2022
North Carolina A&T has been a thorn in the side of the FBS the last 6 years with wins over Kent State (2016), Charlotte (2017), and East Carolina (2018). One team they haven’t beaten yet is Duke despite playing them in 2019 and 2021. This year may be the best chance to defeat the Blue Devils as they have a first-year head coach in Mike Elko and are expected to struggle. The Aggies won’t be without challenges of their own as they have some missing pieces to replace on the offensive side.
Where NCAT should excel is on the defensive side of the ball and if they are to beat Duke, they will have to be fantastic. Duke lost its top passer, rusher, and receiver from 2021, which will help the Aggies in this contest. On offense, the Aggies should be buoyed by the thought of going up against a defense that allowed 40 points and over 500 yards per game in 2021 plus last year’s matchup was a 21-14 game at halftime. While this game will not be easy by any stretch, it should be worth watching to see if the NCAT offense has made strides beyond its first two games as well as give the defense a chance to impress against FBS opposition.
5. Sacramento State at Colorado State – Saturday, September 24, 2022
This matchup represents one of the better opportunities for the FCS to snag a win against FBS opposition as Sacramento State is looking to claim a share of the Big Sky title for the 3rd time in four seasons. It has a good chance at doing so with many offensive weapons returning like Jake Dunniway, Cameron Skattebo, Marshel Martin, Pierre Williams, and Asher O’Hara. Meanwhile, Colorado State is in a tough spot for 2022 as they have a new coaching staff under Jay Norvell, are coming off a 3-9 season last year, and haven’t had a winning season since 2018. On top of that, Colorado State has lost 2 of its last 3 games against FCS opposition (Illinois State in 2018 and South Dakota State in 2021). A lot of signs point to this being a possible FCS win, especially with the vast numbers of experienced players returning for the Hornets but facing any FBS opponent is a tall task.
4. South Dakota State at Iowa – Saturday, September 3, 2022
If there’s one team in the FCS that is knocking on the door to break through for a National Championship, it’s South Dakota State. Over the last decade, they’ve been yearly FCS playoff participants with an appearance each season since 2012. However, the last 5 years have been incredible for the program as they’ve made 3 semifinals and a National Championship appearance in 2020. For 2022, they’ll be loaded on the offensive side with running back Isaiah Davis and the return of quarterback Mark Gronowski who missed all of the fall 2021 campaign due to injury.
Last year, South Dakota State went to Colorado State and won 42-23 in an impressive showing to start the season. This year, they’ll travel to Iowa City to play Iowa in the opening game and this should be a good one. The Jackrabbits have a chance to make a statement against the Hawkeyes if they can dominate the line of scrimmage with all the talent they have coming back and if the secondary doesn’t give up the big play. As with any FCS-FBS matchup, this game will be a challenge as Iowa returns 7 starters on both offense and defense. While the expectations for the Hawkeyes in 2022 are another Big Ten title run, which makes this challenge even more difficult for the Jackrabbits, this game is definitely one to watch on the first full Saturday of the season.
3. Southern at LSU – Saturday, September 10, 2022
We have this game on the list because it’s about time the HBCUs got some love from their in-state FBS brethren. LSU has this year’s game against Southern and a 2023 contest against Grambling on the books, which will mark the first time LSU has played either school. This is particularly surprising for LSU and Southern because the schools are separated by roughly 12 miles and both schools have fielded football programs for over a century. While Southern will probably struggle to win the game it will be great to see them get some exposure as the game is scheduled to be on the SEC Network for the country to see its loyal fanbase and renowned marching band. We can only hope that LSU and other Power 5 programs schedule HBCUs more often going forward.
2. Missouri State at Arkansas – Saturday, September 17, 2022
Bobby Petrino is starting to build a potential MVFC power based on his first two seasons in Springfield. He has guided Missouri State to back-to-back FCS playoff appearances in 2020 and 2021 for the first time since the Bears went to the playoffs in 1989 and 1990. While he has yet to win a playoff game in either appearance, this year’s squad is probably his most talented led by quarterback Jason Shelley as Petrino will look to break through the first playoff game roadblock.
Of course, it has to be mentioned that Petrio previously coached at Arkansas from 2008 through 2011. There are some similarities between Petrino’s reign at both schools, at least in terms of record. In 2008, he went 5-7 in his first season before improving to 8-5 in 2009. His third year was a 10-3 season including a Sugar Bowl appearance and he followed that up with an 11-2 season and a Cotton Bowl in his final season in 2011.
At Missouri State, he started with a 5-5 record over the fall 2020 and spring 2021 seasons with a playoff appearance. Last season, he went 8-4 and finished 2nd in the MVFC with another playoff appearance. If the trend holds up, Missouri State could be making noise come December. While past success is not a guarantee of future results, the Petrino-Arkansas storyline alongside the high expectations for Missouri State in 2022 makes this a game we want to see especially as Arkansas’ defense will have 3 new starters in the secondary.
1. North Dakota State at Arizona – Saturday, September 17, 2022
Was there ever a doubt that this game wouldn’t be #1? The are a plethora of storylines to choose from starting with the obvious:
- The FCS’ best program since 2010 is taking on a Power 5 opponent.
- North Dakota State is sporting a 6-game winning streak against FBS foes dating back to 2010 and 9-3 all-time against the FBS.
- This will be the first matchup between NDSU and a Pac-12 opponent.
- Arizona is coming off a rough 1-11 season while NDSU is returning what feels like its entire offense including a deep offensive line.
- This game represents a chance for both NDSU – and the FCS by proxy – to make a statement and provide national exposure.
On the flip side, if NDSU pulls off the win, we’ll be subjected to the never-ending debate of whether NDSU will move up to the FBS (as noted here, here, here, here, and here). Overall, it would be a small price to pay for the FCS to get some love from the national media.
Having said all that, Arizona will be a tough matchup as always for any FCS school playing against the FBS. Arizona has a total of 15 starters back this year with 7 on offense and 8 on defense and head coach Jedd Fisch will be in year two, which means that noticeable improvements are expected. The Bison blueprint (dominate the line of scrimmage, run the ball effectively, win the possession battle, limit and create turnovers, etc.) will have to be utilized to maximum effect in this game to give them the best chance at winning. This is the top-ranked FCS versus FBS game we want to watch in 2022.
While these are the 10 matchups we look forward to, there is no shortage of quality games that could have made this list. Let us know which games you are looking forward to and enjoy all the FCS-FBS matchups this season.
Photo courtesy of Missouri State University Athletics