The 2004 season observed a little bit of everything: teams disbanding, teams entering I-AA, and the creation of a new conference.
2004 FCS Over FBS Victories (8)
- New Hampshire @ Rutgers, 35-24
- Maine @ Mississippi State, 9-7
- Eastern Illinois @ Eastern Michigan, 31-28
- Nicholls @ Florida A&M, 42-25
- McNeese @ Florida International, 30-27
- Georgia Southern @ Florida International, 53-32
- Florida A&M @ Bethune-Cookman, 58-32
- Western Kentucky @ Florida International, 35-14
James Madison (13-2 Overall, 7-1 Atlantic 10 Conference) won their first I-AA/FCS title by defeating Montana (12-3 Overall, 6-1 Big Sky Conference) who made their fourth appearance. The Dukes won 31-21 over the Grizzlies.
The Great West Conference was started as a football-only conference and helped thin out the number of I-AA independents as well as house some of the newcomers from Division II.
Three teams ended their program after the 2003 season: East Tennessee State from the Southern Conference, Saint Mary’s (CA) as an I-AA independent, and Siena out of the MAAC.
I-AA independents Cal Poly, Northern Colorado, Southern Utah, and UC Davis joined the newly created Great West Conference. They were joined by North Dakota State and South Dakota State who both left the Division II North Central Conference.
Towson left the Patriot League to go to the Atlantic 10 Conference. Florida A&M (MEAC), Florida Atlantic (I-AA independent), and Florida International (I-AA independent) all moved up to the I-A level.
The NCAA does not list North Dakota State, Northern Colorado, South Dakota State, and UC Davis as fully eligible for the 2004 season. Thus, they were not counted as official teams but we do list them since they were all in their transition to I-AA.
Florida A&M actually attempted to move up from I-AA to I-A starting with the 2003 season, but they played a typical I-AA schedule. In 2004, they had a mixed schedule of I-A and I-AA teams as they were set on completing the move. Interestingly, the NCAA Handbook does not have them as leaving I-AA for the 2004 season.
The Rattlers present a difficult case as to whether they should be included as I-A or I-AA for 2004 due to the circumstances and abrupt turnaround back to I-AA. We opted to include Florida A&M as I-A for 2004 because they began the transition process.
Florida Atlantic is another curious case as the NCAA Handbook has its last I-AA season in 2004. However, the NCAA also has FAU listed as in transition from I-AA to I-A on their list of I-AA/FCS upsets. Complicating the issue further is that FAU’s schedule for 2004 was had six I-A opponents (up to 8 if you count Florida A&M and Florida International as I-A opponents).
Florida International was in the same boat as FAU. They were in the process of moving up from I-AA to I-A and both were headed for the Sun Belt Conference. FIU played a 10 game schedule with only three I-A teams (5 if you count FAMU and FAU) though the Panthers are listed on the NCAA Handbook through the 2005 season.
The I-AA playoff format remained the same for the fourth consecutive season with the seeding of only the top four teams and the use of campus sites through the semifinals. The National Championship was played on December 17 at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tennessee for the eighth season in a row.