10 FCS Versus FBS Games We Are Looking Forward to Watching for the 2023 Season

The 2023 college football season will feature 118 FCS versus FBS games, which means many potentially exciting matchups. As done in 2021 and 2022, we will provide our list of ten (or so) FCS-FBS games we look forward to watching this season.

As a friendly reminder, this list is not solely comprised of the best FCS-FBS matchups or the most likely FCS over FBS wins this year. These are only the games we want to see, and they 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, which maintains the same format from last year’s edition of this article. We’ve also provided a table below summarizing the games and links for each one.

RankFCS TeamFBS Opponent(s)Date
10Kennesaw StateSam Houston StateNovember 4
9Western Illinois
Eastern Illinois
Southern Illinois
New Mexico State
Bowling Green
Northern Illinois
September 2
September 9
September 9
8Northwestern StateLouisiana
Louisiana Tech
September 2
September 9
7Rhode IslandGeorgia StateAugust 31
6Incarnate WordUTEPSeptember 2
5Tennessee StateNotre DameSeptember 2
4Texas A&M-Commerce
Sacred Heart
Old Dominion
September 23
November 4
November 18
3IdahoNevadaSeptember 9
2New HampshireCentral MichiganSeptember 9
1Holy CrossBoston College
September 9
November 11

10. Kennesaw State at Sam Houston State – November 4

The list starts with a sentimental send-off for two well-known FCS schools. Kennesaw State will play its final FCS-FBS game when it travels to the newly FBS-minted Sam Houston State. The Owls will play as an FCS independent for 2023 and are headed to Conference USA in 2024 to join former FCS teams Sam Houston State and Jacksonville State. This game is a rematch of the 2017 FCS Quarterfinal won by the Bearkats 34-27 and the Owls can exact a measure of revenge in its final game as the FCS side in the FCS-FBS matchup.

9. Directional Illinois Schools at FBS Opponents – Multiple Dates

Our first “bonus” entry is three games for the price of one. We’ll start with the earliest one – Western Illinois at New Mexico State on September 2. Normally, this game wouldn’t be included with WIU coming off an 0-11 season in 2022 but this is the final year the Leathernecks will play in the MVFC. They will join the OVC for football in 2024 and this is a chance to make some noise before doing so. On top of that, NMSU has had some close calls with FCS teams over the last five years including two one-possession wins (Utah Tech in 2020-21 and South Carolina State in 2022) and a 43-17 loss to Tarleton State (2020-21 season).

The other two games to watch are Eastern Illinois at Bowling Green and Southern Illinois at Northern Illinois on September 9. No FBS conference has more losses to FCS teams than the MAC (FBS independents are not included). Despite going 2-9 last year, EIU came within a touchdown of beating Northern Illinois (34-27) and will face a Bowling Green team that lost to Eastern Kentucky 59-57 last season. EIU’s game at Bowling Green is winnable because the Falcons struggled on both sides of the ball in 2022 and the Panther should improve under second-year head coach Chris Wilkerson.

Southern Illinois probably has the best chance of the three schools to pull off the win. The aforementioned EIU-NIU game was separated by only 7 points and SIU is a better squad than the Panthers were last year. NIU ended up going 3-9 last season while SIU went 5-6 but the expectations are higher with Nic Baker returning at QB. Oh, and Southern Illinois defeated Northwestern 31-24 in 2022 making this a prime spot for more Saluki magic.

8. Northwestern State at Louisiana – September 2; at Louisiana Tech September 9

No team has played more FBS opponents according to our data than Northwestern State. The Demons will add to their total of 72 – two more than Indiana State at 70, which is also playing two FBS opponents this year. NSU will open the season with two in-state opponents: Louisiana and Louisiana Tech. While the Demons aren’t expected to win either game, 2023 feels like a big season for the program and head coach Brad Laird. Laird is entering his 6th season at the helm and has yet to produce a winning record but there are some reasons for optimism this season. NSU is coming off its best conference finish under Laird (4-2 in the Southland and 3rd in the standings) and both coordinators are entering their second seasons meaning players should be more familiar with the systems. Will that translate into wins? We’ll see but the first two games against FBS competition might show a glimpse if they’ll be contending for the Southland or facing another losing campaign.

7. Rhode Island at Georgia State – August 31

Rhode Island hasn’t reached the FCS Playoffs since 1985 and is coming off back-to-back 7-4 seasons in 2021 and 2022. Is this the year they finally break a nearly four decades long drought? Quite possibly with Kasim Hill back again for his 7th year of eligibility. Hill has led the Rams the last two seasons with 4,762 yards, 37 passing touchdowns, and 13 rushing touchdowns. Hill will be throwing against a Georgia State defense that was in the bottom half of passing defense in 2022 and has a new defensive coordinator in Chad Staggs. A win over Georgia State to start the 2023 season would go a long way for the Rams although as we’ve seen in the past, it’s far from a guarantee it will be the deciding factor if they’re on the playoff bubble.

6. Incarnate Word at UTEP – September 2

This game lands on the list solely because we don’t know what to expect from Incarnate Word. 2022 was a phenomenal season with the Cardinals reaching the FCS Semifinals but coming up just short in a 35-32 loss to North Dakota State at the Fargodome. Last year’s offense put up 51 points and 581 yards of offense per game but this year’s version will look completely different after head coach G.J. Kinne left to coach Texas State and tons of talent graduated. The offense will need to replace Lindsey Scott (4,686 yards and 60 TDs passing; 712 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing), Marcus Cooper (1,436 yards and 12 TDs rushing), and the top two receivers Darion Chafin and Taylor Grimes (combined 153 catches for 2,465 yards and 33 TDs). Did we say the offense lost some significant pieces?

The game against UTEP is the first of the season for Incarnate Word but the second for the Miners. That extra game for UTEP combined with the reshuffling of UIW’s offense makes this a tougher task than last year. Nevertheless, the Cardinals are still highly regarded this year with the Southland Conference preseason poll pegging them 2nd right behind Southeastern Louisiana.

5. Tennessee State at Notre Dame – September 2

Last year, we were looking forward to Southern’s trip to LSU on September 10 because it represented an HBCU program playing a Power 5 team. While Southern was thoroughly dispatched 65-17, it was great to see a program with great tradition play in Baton Rouge. This year, it’s a different HBCU playing in a historic place: Tennessee State will play at Notre Dame Stadium. The contest will mark the first FCS opponent for Notre Dame in program history. The Tigers have played four Power 5 teams in the past (Mississippi State once and Vanderbilt three times) but none of those come close to the atmosphere they will see in South Bend. Maybe Eddie George can give some pointers from his Ohio State playing days about playing in front of large crowds. We hope to see more of these types of games going forward.

4. First FCS-FBS Games – Multiple Dates

Three FCS teams will play their first FBS opponent in 2023. Texas A&M-Commerce will play at Old Dominion on September 23, Merrimack will play at Massachusetts on November 4, and Sacred Heart play at Connecticut on November 18. All three could be tough outs too as Old Dominion is coming off a 3-9 season while Texas A&M-Commerce was 5-6 in its first FCS season. Merrimack has the best chance of the three because UMass has faced an eternal struggle since it left the FCS in 2012. Merrimack is coming off an 8-3 campaign and has key starters returning at most skill positions only gives them an even better chance against the Minutemen. Sacred Heart had a down year in 2022 with a 5-6 record and they’re facing an improved UConn program under Jim Mora. Two advantages for Sacred Heart are the Huskies are the last opponent of the regular season and SHU has a bye week before the game giving them extra time to prepare. We wouldn’t be surprised to see a win or two from this group of teams.

3. Idaho at Nevada – September 9

The final three games all feature a common theme: high expectations for the 2023 season, including the games versus FBS teams. For Idaho, they went from 4-7 in 2021 to 7-5 and an FCS Playoff berth in 2022 and that was with first-year head coach Jason Eck. Combine the improvement expected in year two with all the offensive firepower returning in the form of QB Gevani McCoy (2,719 yards and 27 TDs passing), RB Anthony Woods (872 yards and 3 TDs rushing), and wideouts Hayden Hatten (1,209 yards and 16 TDs receiving) and Jermaine Jackson (1,409 yards and 5 TDs). It’s no surprise they’re near the top of the FCS preseason polls. That powerful offense will go up against a 2-10 Nevada team that was shredded by Incarnate Word last season. We’re looking forward to a good game between these two and a serious chance for Idaho to claim its first FCS over FBS since 1994.

2. New Hampshire at Central Michigan – September 9

In 2022, New Hampshire returned to the playoffs for the first time in 5 years as an at-large team. They started with a 52-42 first-round win at home against Fordham but couldn’t get past the #7 national seed Holy Cross in the second round (35-19 loss). This season they return QB Max Brosmer (3,154 yards and 27 TDs passing), RB Dylan Laube (1,205 yards and 15 TDs rushing), the top three receivers from 2022, and the defensive line duo of Dylan Ruiz (12 sacks) and Josiah Silver (8.5 sacks). As a whole, 19 starters are back and 2023 will be the second season with Rick Santos as head coach with the schemes should be fully entrenched.

What makes this game more interesting is that Central Michigan is coming off a 4-8 season and the CMU offense has a lot of work to do with only four starters back from a team that averaged 24.8 points and 367 yards per game. On top of that, CAA teams have played Central Michigan four times since 2013 and have an average margin of defeat in the single digits (9 points). One of those games? New Hampshire’s 3-point 24-21 loss in 2013. This year’s New Hampshire squad looks poised to upset the Chippewas and make a run in the FCS Playoffs.

1. Holy Cross at Boston College – September 9; at Army on November 11

It’s a recurring theme in this article but it’s been true every time: expectations are high for Holy Cross. The 2022 season was one of the best in school history as the Crusaders went 12-1 and made it to the FCS Quarterfinals for the second time in school history (the other being 1983 when only 12 teams were selected to the bracket). They lost to the eventual FCS National Champions South Dakota State 49-21 but the electric Matthew Sluka is back. Sluka threw for 2,489 yards with 26 touchdowns against only 4 interceptions but his legs were just as crucial with 1,234 yards and 11 TDs on the ground. The game against Boston College is in a tough spot between Merrimack at home (NEC runner-p in 2022) and Yale on the road (Ivy League Champs in 2022). The game at BC is a matchup of two historic rivals but the first since 2018 when BC won 62-14. It will be intriguing to see how Sluka fares against a defense that allowed 30 points per game last year.

The other Holy Cross vs. FBS game is at Army. The two schools haven’t met since 2002 when Holy Cross won 30-21. This year will feature a decent shot a pulling an upset as Army provided a few angles: Sluka being as good or better than last year, Army’s offense struggling in a new scheme that moves it away from the option, and when the game is played. The last one is crucial because Army will play in Denver against Air Force the week before Holy Cross comes to town. We expect Holy Cross to give Army a big fight and a win over an FBS school for the third straight season is well within reach for the Crusaders.

Photo courtesy of Idaho Athletics

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