The introduction of football by the Big South Conference helped thin out the number of I-AA independent teams.
2002 FCS Over FBS Victories (8)
- Lehigh @ Buffalo, 37-26
- Villanova @ Rutgers, 37-19
- Holy Cross @ Army, 30-21
- Northeastern @ Ohio, 31-0
- McNeese @ Louisiana-Monroe, 24-19
- Western Illinois @ Northern Illinois, 29-26
- Southeast Missouri State @ Middle Tennessee, 24-14
- Montana @ Idaho, 38-31
Western Kentucky (12-3 Overall, 6-1 Gateway Conference) won their first and only I-AA/FCS Championship by defeating McNeese (13-2 Overall, 6-0 Southland Conference). The Hilltoppers won 34-14 and exacted revenge after a 38-13 regular-season loss at McNeese. It was the second loss for McNeese in the I-AA/FCS Championship game in the span of six seasons.
The Big South Conference started sponsoring football in 2002 with four teams.
Four teams moved from I-AA independent status into the Big South Conference. Those four teams were Charleston Southern, Elon, Gardner-Webb, and Liberty.
Saint John’s (NY) decided to move from the Northeast Conference back to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). Cal State Northridge decided to end its football program after the 2001 season. Florida International started its football program and was classified as an I-AA independent.
The NCAA kept the same format from the 2001 season of only seeding the top four teams and the use of campus sites through the semifinals. The National Championship was played on December 20 at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tennessee for the sixth consecutive season.