Everyone loves an underdog. That's why the recent trend of smaller Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) teams beating big conference Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams is so entertaining. Games that used to be simple tune-ups in which Division I juggernauts steamrolled teams from what used to be known as Division I-AA have now become tightly contested battles, which often come down to the final play.
The modern phenomenon began in 2007, when Appalachian State went to Ann Arbor and knocked off a nationally ranked Michigan team on its home turf. The trend has since been accelerated. Last season, eight FCS teams beat FBS opponents in Week 1. Even Florida has been felled by a small school foe.
The NCAA allows FCS teams to spend as much time on football activities as FBS teams, meaning they work just as long and hard. Plus, FCS teams often consist of players who narrowly missed playing at an FBS school (and may have chips on their shoulders about it.) This year, another major program is bound to find out the hard way that FCS schools are not to be taken lightly.
Who will it be? Here are three Week 1 FCS vs. FBS match-ups where a small school might emerge victorious.
Eastern Illinois vs. Minnesota
The Golden Gophers were a solid Big Ten team last year, posting an 8-5 record and making a bowl game. This season, they'll have to come out of the gate strong to beat a very good Eastern Illinois team.
The Panthers crushed FBS San Diego State in Week 1 last season and nearly beat the eventual MAC powerhouse Northern Illinois three weeks later. EIU no longer has Jimmy Garoppolo, the record-breaking QB who was taken in the second round of the NFL Draft by the New England Patriots; but the two QBs in line to replace him both transferred to EIU from FBS programs.
Add the fact that in recent years Minnesota has lost to other FCS opponents, including South Dakota and North Dakota State, and this one has all the ingredients for an upset.
William & Mary vs. Virginia Tech
Could this be the season that William & Mary finally takes down an FBS opponent? In 2012, the Tribe lost by a single point to Maryland, 7-6. In 2013, they lost to West Virginia by only a touchdown.
These two teams have quite a history. As former interstate rivals, they have previously met 62 times; but this year's game will be only their second meeting since 1985.
It has all the makings of a defensive duel. William & Mary's strength is its stout defense, as it held opponents to only 12.33 ppg last season. It just so happens that Virginia Tech's offense is one of the weakest in the FBS. The Hokies were 101st overall in points per game last season, and they're now without QB Logan Thomas. VT has a strong defense as well, so this one could be a low-scoring affair that comes down to a final field goal.
North Dakota State vs. Iowa State
If everyone thinks it's going to happen, will it still count as an upset?
FCS powerhouse North Dakota State has run roughshod over FCS opponents in recent years, winning three straight FCS Championships by a combined score of 91 to 26.
They can hang with the big boys too. They beat Kansas in 2010, Minnesota in 2011, Colorado State in 2012 and Kansas State in 2013. Why are these guys not in the Big 12? It is hard to overstate how dominant NDSU has been the last few years; and against a mediocre Iowa State team, NDSU should continue to prove it deserves a place in one of college football's elite conferences, regardless of division. If this game were being played in the raucous FargoDome, it might be a blowout.
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