10 FCS Matchups We’re Looking Forward to in the 2023 Season

Welcome to the All-FCS version of our annual FCS versus FBS article. Each year, we list 10 games that we like featuring FCS teams taking on the FBS and for this year we decided to look at FCS versus FCS matchups as well. We will not be using any FCS-FBS matchups in this article. In addition, we won’t include games where the matchup is unknown like the Celebration Bowl or the FCS National Championship. Of course, we are excited about those games but it’s difficult to give an analysis of the game without the teams being known. We could try and predict the matchups but there’s no use when we’ll be spectacularly wrong.

Without further ado, here at 10 or so games that we are looking forward to in this FCS season. We’ve also provided a table below for a summarized version if you want to skip to a specific game.

RankFCS TeamFCS Opponent(s)Date
10DavidsonSan Diego
September 30
November 18
9Abilene ChristianCentral ArkansasSeptember 23
8YaleIvy LeagueMultiple Dates
7North Carolina CentralNorth Carolina A&TSeptember 9
6Southeastern LouisianaIncarnate WordOctober 7
5Holy CrossMerrimack
September 2
September 16
4Eastern WashingtonNorth Dakota State
Southeastern Louisiana
UC Davis
September 2
September 16
September 23
September 30
3Florida A&MJackson State
Texas Southern
September 3
October 21
2North DakotaNorth Dakota StateOctober 14
1MercerFurmanSeptember 23

10. Davidson vs San Diego (9/30) and Dayton (11/18)

If St. Thomas and Davidson were squaring off this season, it would definitely have made this list. However, these two games will have an impact on the Pioneer Football League race if the preseason predictions are correct. Davidson is the 2nd choice in the PFL’s preseason coaches poll but with the Tommies ineligible for the FCS Playoffs, that makes Davidson the favorite for the automatic qualifying bid and a 3rd straight trip to the playoffs. The two key games that might trip them up come against San Diego on September 30 and Dayton on November 18.

Davidson will have both of those games at home but they have holes on offense to fill. Quarterback Jayden Waddell (889 yards and 7 TDs passing; 494 yards and 3 TDs rushing) is gone along with the top two running backs Dylan Sparks (823 yards and 5 TDs) and Coy Williams (791 yards and 11 TDs). They return some key pieces on the offensive line and the non-conference schedule is favorable for the offense to get comfortable before facing San Diego.

Dayton went 8-3 last year but lost the top two rushers from last season and also welcomes a new head coach in Trevor Andrews. They have 11 starters back from 2022 and the second and third games are against non-D1 opponents. It’s a similar theme for San Diego with Brandon Moore in his first season. The Toreros went 5-5 last year and return 10 starters although they don’t have two non-D1 opponents early in the season like Davidson and Dayton. San Diego will break in a new quarterback and lose their top two receivers. We’ll know whether San Diego is a legit PFL contender by the end of September as they face Dayton (9/23) and Davidson (9/30) in back-to-back weeks. The race may ultimately come down to the final regular season game between Davidson and Dayton.

9. Abilene Christian vs Central Arkansas (9/23)

The first year of the United Athletic Conference looks wide open and there were a lot of games to choose from. We went with the early season clash of Abilene Christian at Central Arkansas on September 23. ACU had a solid 2022 season going 7-4 in Keith Patterson’s first year but they return a lot players on offense. Quarterback Maverick McIvor (2,212 yards with 16 TDs and 9 interceptions) and the running back duo of Jermiah Dobbins (741 yards and 7 TDs) and Rovaughn Banks (473 yards and 5 TDs) should at least match last year’s output of 28.2 points and 398 yards per game. There are some key losses on the defensive line that are worrisome considering the Wildcats only gave up 116 yards per game on the ground in 2022. The linebackers and secondary will have to step up early and the season begins with games against Northern Colorado, at Prairie View, and home against Incarnate Word before the Central Arkansas matchup.

Central Arkansas had a 2nd straight losing season in 2022 going 5-6. This year, the majority of the big names from last year return including quarterback Will McElvain (2,592 yards with 18 TDs and 8 interceptions) and one star at each level of the defense. Defensive lineman David Walker (66 tackles, 12 sacks, and 9 tackles-for-loss), linebacker Demetrias Charles (87 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 3 TFLs), and defensive back TaMuarion Wilson (104 tackles, 2 sacks, 4.5 TFLs, and 2 picks) should help the defense improve from last year’s 31.9 points and 421 yards allowed per game. They have a tough start to the season with games against Oklahoma State on the road, at home to Texas College, and at North Dakota State before the ACU game. It will be interesting to see how each team comes into this conference clash after their respective non-conference games to start the season and it might just determine the UAC’s inaugural champion.

8. Yale vs. the Ivy League (Multiple Dates)

When looking at the Ivy League this year, it’s difficult to see anyone topping Yale. They have the fewest questions surrounding the team and tons of experience returning. All the skill positions return on offense led by the quarterback Nolan Grooms (1,660 yards with 14 TDs and 10 interceptions; 745 yards and 6 TDs passing). Tre Peterson (724 yards and 6 TDs) and Joshua Pitsenberger (667 yards and 7 TDs) also return in the backfield. The top receivers from 2022 also return including David Pantelis (39 catches for 518 yards and 2 TDs) and Mason Tipton (29 catches for 386 yards and 2 TDs). They did lose a couple of starters on the offensive line but it wouldn’t be surprising if the offense topped last year’s numbers of 30.5 points and 413 yards per game.

On defense, 7 starters are back including defensive lineman Clay Patterson (25 tackles and 6.5 sacks), linebacker Hamilton Moore (63 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 4 interceptions), and defensive back Wande Owens (63 tackles and 1 sack). They gave up 19.5 points and 339 yards per game in 2022 but should put up similar numbers with the returning players they have.

Some of the key contenders don’t appear as strong. Princeton went 8-2 last year but lost their top rusher and top two receivers. The defense was excellent as well giving up 13.5 points and 300 yards per game but lost some big pieces on that side of the ball. The Tigers will play Yale at home on November 11, which is enough time to fill the holes. Penn also went 8-2 last year and lost the top receiver and top two rushers. The defense returns most of the starters from 2022 after giving up 13.5 points and 298 yards per game, which will be a great boon to the Quakers. They play at Yale on October 21.

Harvard went 6-4 in 2022 but will return only a handful of starters on each side of the ball. They’ll need to replace the top quarterback, running back, and receiver from last year along with 6 of the top 9 tacklers from 2022. They’ll play the regular season finale on the road at Yale. Columbia and Dartmouth had an unfortunate turn of events with their respective coaches stepping away. Columbia’s Al Bagnoli retired abruptly following surgery earlier in 2023 while Dartmouth’s Buddy Teevens won’t coach in 2023 to recover from his serious accident. While two veteran coaches will take over in each case, it’s hard to ignore the changes.

Then again, this is the Ivy League and it seems like there’s destined to be multiple upsets each year that alter the Ivy League race. Yale may be the favorite but anything can happen in college football.

7. North Carolina Central vs North Carolina A&T (9/9)

This should be an intriguing early-season North Carolina, HBCU battle. North Carolina Central is coming off a big 2022 season winning the Celebration Bowl over undefeated Jackson State and claiming its first HBCU National Title as a member of the FCS (the Eagles have won HBCU National Titles as members of Division 2). They have loads of talent back in 2023 including quarterback Davius Richard who accounted for 3,449 yards and 40 TDs passing and rushing in 2022. Richard was the MEAC offensive player of the year as was defensive back Khalil Baker who recorded 61 tackles and 4 interceptions to lead a stingy NCCU defense.

As for North Carolina A&T, change is afoot. 2023 will be the school’s first year in the CAA for football and the first year of Vinson Brown’s tenure as head coach. The Aggies went 7-4 last year but lost some important weapons on both sides of the ball. The starting quarterback, running back, and top three receivers have departed from the offense. On defense, the linebacking group was crushed with the losses of Tyquan King, Jacob Roberts, and Joseph Stuckey, who were the top three tacklers in 2022. NCAT looks to be in rebuilding mode and the early season tussle against a strong NCCU team will shine some light on what they need to do to compete in the CAA this year and beyond. At the same time, it will be important for NCCU to play well from the start of the season if they want to repeat as HBCU National champs.

6. Southeastern Louisiana vs Incarnate Word (10/7)

Incarnate Word is one of the more difficult teams to forecast in 2023. As noted in our 2023 FCS-FBS games to watch, the offense lost a ton of production at every position and head coach G.J. Kinne is gone as well. The offense put up 51.5 points and 581 yards of offense per game in 2022 but it wouldn’t be shocking to see that number halved with the massive losses. The defense lost big names too making it even tougher to get a handle on how UIW might perform this year.

The schedule is not easy to start the season. They open at UTEP, Northern Colorado, and Abilene Christian before playing their first home game on September 23 against the NAIA’s North American University. The Cardinals do have a bye week to end September and the first conference game is against Southeastern Louisiana at home. That bye week might be helpful because SELA plays five straight games to open the season before the UIW matchup. It’s cliche to say this game could determine the Southland Conference winner but it really could given these schools were the top 2 preseason choices by a wide margin. This will be an interesting game to watch to see how UIW looks as it begins conference play with a much different squad than 2022’s version.

5. Holy Cross vs Merrimack (9/2) and Yale (9/16)

The impetus for this entire article came about from looking at Holy Cross‘ 2023 schedule in our FCS versus FBS post. We already knew they had a tough slate with two FBS matchups but then we saw their FCS non-conference games. Yeah, it won’t be easy for the Crusaders this season. The season opener against Merrimack will be a good one to watch. The Warriors are eligible for the 2023 FCS Playoffs for the first time and were picked to finish 2nd in the NEC this season. Merrimack will be looking to pick up quality wins in the non-conference schedule if they can’t win the NEC and a win over Holy Cross on the road would do wonders for the playoff resume. The Warriors should be very good on defense with 9 starters back from last year’s group that allowed 22.8 points and 361 yards per game. They’ll also know how good Holy Cross quarterback Matthew Sluka is so they’ll need to be at their best to slow him down.

Following the Merrimack game, Holy Cross will play at Boston College and then travel to Yale for a big non-conference game. As noted above, Yale appears to be the class of the Ivy League this season with all the experience returning, particularly on offense. The battle between two preseason conference favorites will be exciting to watch especially with both offenses going up against the respective defenses. Holy Cross lost some pieces on defense and they’ll be challenged for the opening three games. One thing to keep in mind is that Yale will be the third game of the season for Holy Cross but that will be Yale’s first game. Will conditioning come into play or will it be a non-factor?

Given the expectations around Holy Cross this year after the FCS Quarterfinals, we’re looking forward to seeing them against not only the FBS foes but Merrimack and Yale. Both games against Merrimack and Yale should be fun to watch.

4. Eastern Washington’s September Schedule (Multiple Dates)

A 3-8 record is objectively bad but by Eastern Washington’s standards, that’s about as bad as it gets. It was the first losing season for the school since 2006 when they went… 3-8. EWU has historically been a tough team in the Big Sky as well as in the FCS Playoffs. To drive the point home a bit more, the 2022 offense put up 24.6 points and 389 yards per game while the defense surrendered 42.4 points and 504 yards per game. Those are numbers you’d expected to be flipped in terms of production.

This year, quarterback Gunner Talkington (2,257 yards with 22 TDs and 8 interceptions) and top wide receiver Freddie Roberson (45 catches for 797 yards and 7 TDs) both depart. Beyond that, EWU returns a lot of depth on offense including Efton Chism (62 catches for 607 yards and 6 TDs) and a good offensive line that can help out the new QB. On defense, they simply can’t be worse than last year, right? Even an improvement to 2019’s numbers of 34.6 points and 445 yards per game would flip one or two games into the win column.

The schedule for Eastern Washington is tough. They open with the neutral site game in Minneapolis against North Dakota State, which will likely be more of a de-facto home game for the Bison. After that, they play at Fresno State before returning to play their first home game on September 16. The Eagles will welcome Southeastern Louisiana to the Red Inferno in what is expected to be a good matchup. It certainly won’t be easy for EWU considering SELA is the preseason Southland favorite this year.

Next up is the start of the Big Sky Conference schedule and it’s not any easier. They will play at UC Davis on September 23 and play Idaho at home to end the month and those two are expected to conted for the Big Sky title. Eastern Washington will play against four preseason FCS top-25 teams in a month! The Eagles will be thrown in the fire early in the season and how well they perform is worth watching after a poor 2022 campaign.

3. Florida A&M vs Jackson State (9/3) and Texas Southern (10/21)

The opening game of the season may tell us a lot about Florida A&M and Jackson State. FAMU is the preseason pick for the SWAC East after a minor controversy regarding a rap video being shot in the locker room. Jackson State had a more adventurous offseason with Deion Sanders leaving for Colorado and taking a lot of big names with him. FAMU is expected to be excellent on offense with quarterback Jeremy Moussa back (2,732 yards with 21 TDs and 10 interceptions) along with several key receivers. However, not among those is wide receiver Xavier Smith who caught 87 passes for 1,021 yards and 11 TDs and running back Jaylen McCloud (381 yards and 5 TDs). The Rattlers only averaged 95 yards per game on the ground and, with multiple starters back on the offensive line, they should improve.

Jackson State is bereft of talent compared to the 2022 squad. The top three rushers, top two quarterbacks, top four receivers, and top eight tacklers from 2022 are gone. Shedeur Sanders threw for 3,752 yards with 40 TDs and 6 interceptions but no one on the roster can match his performance. One of the positive influences of Sanders’ passing ability was the receivers benefited greatly from this accuracy. The production on offense will plummet. The defense gave up 13.5 points and 253 yards per game in 2022 but those numbers will go up with the loss of players like Aubrey Miller, Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig, Baron Hopson, and Jeremiah Brown. We’ll see how good Jackson State is in the opening game but it’s also a chance for FAMU to reclaim the SWAC East crown.

Then there’s Texas Southern out of the SWAC West. They’re not one of the top two favorites and are viewed as a team battling for 3rd place in the division. One of the things going in TSU’s favor is the amount of experience they have returning with 17 starters. The offense averaged 25.5 points and 341 points in 2022 but all the key pieces are back including quarterback Andrew Body (1,799 yards passing with 13 TDs and 6 interceptions; 576 yards and 4 TDs rushing). The defense has 7 starters back from a group that allowed 25.9 points and 405 yards per game. Texas Southern hasn’t had a winning record since 2010 when they won the SWAC title and Clarence McKinney clearly has this team going in the right direction. The game on October 21 at home against Florida A&M will help determine if the Tigers are ready to compete against the best SWAC teams or have further to go.

2. North Dakota State vs North Dakota (10/14)

The focus of this game isn’t towards the Bison for change. The North Dakota Fighting Hawks haven’t beaten North Dakota State in 20 years and this season might be their best chance since then. UND went 7-5 last year and made its third FCS Playoff appearance in four seasons but suffered a 38-31 loss in the first round at Weber State. Quarterback Tommy Schuster is back (2,730 yards with 20 TDs and 5 interceptions) as is top receiver Bo Belquist (63 catches for 811 yards and 6 TDs). Top running back Tyler Hoosman (1,023 yards with 12 TDs) has departed but Isaiah Smith looks set to carry the load (447 yards and 4 TDs rushing in 2022). Add in the entire offensive line returning and last year’s numbers of 30.3 points and 376 yards per game look well within reach again.

The letdown for UND last year was defense, which surrendered 30.8 points and 400 yards per game. There is a ton of experience returning at all three levels but the biggest improvement should be in the secondary. They gave up 227 passing yards per game and allowed 66% of the opponents’ passes to be completed. This year, they have three starters returning as well as Sammy Fort who missed almost all of last season after getting injured in the opener. It would be surprising if the defense didn’t improve in 2023.

The real challenge is beating North Dakota State but this year’s contest is at home in Grand Forks. In 2021, UND played a very close game at home against NDSU holding the Bison to three field goals in the first three quarters. A late touchdown put the game out of reach as the Bison won 16-10 but UND did outgain the Bison in total yards and held NDSU’s passing game in check. With a much more experienced team this year and some question marks around NDSU’s secondary, this is a great chance to conquer the Bison but it’s never easy with the program NDSU has built. Beyond that, a win against NDSU would help North Dakota’s playoff resume and possibly springboard them to a deep playoff run.

1. Mercer vs Furman (9/23)

Like the UAC, the SoCon was a tough conference to pick a single game from. We went with Mercer at Furman on September 23 because this is an early-season battle that pits two teams with high expectations against one another. Mercer has been knocking on the door of the FCS Playoffs the last two years coming up short both times but this year’s defense should be fantastic. They gave up 22.1 points and 338 yards per game in 2022 and return 10 starters this year. Linebackers Isaac Dowling (99 tackles and 8 TFLs) and Ken Standley (85 tackles and 5 TFLs) look to lead the way again.

On offense, Mercer loses quarterback Fred Payton (3,019 yards with 32 TDs and 8 interceptions) and he helped guide the squad to 38.2 points and 471 yards per game. Payton is a big loss but a complementary duo at wide receiver return to help the new starter. Ty James led the Bears in receiving yardage and yards-per-catch (52 receptions for 1,105 yards, 13 TDs, and 21.3 YPC) but Devron Harper was the go-to with 78 receptions for 987 yards and 10 TDs.

Furman is the clear favorite in the SoCon and for good reason. Like Mercer, the Paladins return almost every starter on defense from a group that allowed 20.2 points and 389 yards per game. Quarterback Tyler Huff threw for 2,199 yards with 15 TDs against 8 interceptions while he also ran for 694 yards and 8 TDs. Star running back Dominic Roberto is back after running for 1,120 yards and 11 TDs in 2022. The only big loss for Furman is wide receiver Ryan Miller who caught 72 passes for 762 yards and 12 TDs but the second, third, and fourth leading receivers all return. We haven’t mentioned that Furman went 10-3 last year and made the FCS Playoffs as an at-large team (they lost in the 2nd round to Incarnate Word).

Last year’s matchup saw Furman win 23-13 on the road and the defense was very good in that game for the Paladins. They gave up 313 yards (160 yards below Mercer’s 2022 average), held the Bears to 50 yards rushing on 30 attempts, and recorded 5 sacks. This year’s game should be excellent and play a vital role in not one but possibly two FCS Playoff bids (maybe more if neither Furman nor Mercer wins the SoCon?).

We hope you enjoyed reading about some of the exciting FCS-FCS matchups before the games kickoff but there will always be more to develop as the season wears on. Be sure to check out the 2023 FCS versus FBS matchups as well as our 10 FCS-FBS matchups we look forward to watching this season. Enjoy the start of the 2023 FCS season!

Photo courtesy of the University of North Dakota Athletics

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