FCS upsets of FBS opponents contribute to the annual drama that is college football season. FCS upsets of Power Five Conference foes are especially exciting.
Appalachian State and Armanti Edwards vaulted into public consciousness in 2007, christening the Big Ten Network with their upset of Michigan. In seasons since, Jacksonville State has taken down Ole Miss; James Madison upset nationally ranked Virginia Tech; and Vernon Adams perhaps offered Oregon fans a preview of the 2015 Civil War when he led Eastern Washington past Oregon State.
No Power Five teams need worry about stopping the FCS juggernaut that is North Dakota State. The subdivision’s four-time defending national champion, which beat the Big 12’s Kansas State and Iowa State in the last two season openers, is taking a break from FBS competition in 2015.
Still, there are plenty of potential FCS upsets of Power Five opponents on next autumn’s docket. Below are the five that catch my eye.
The top resource for FCS football news, The Sports Network, published the complete list of FCS vs. FBS matchups in 2015 on Wednesday. Give it a read here.
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE AT KANSAS
A hypothetical South Dakota State defeat of Kansas would be labeled among the FCS upsets of 2015, though I’m not entirely convinced the 2014 FCS Playoff participating Jackrabbits won’t be Las Vegas favorites when they visit Lawrence.
South Dakota State is replacing running back Zach Zenner, whose 2,019 yards were second-most among all FCS ball-carriers in 2014. However, the Jacks return quarterback Zach Lujan, who gained starting experience filling in for injured Austin Sumner. Lujan will be passing to one of, if not the best wide receiver in FCS, 6-foot-4 Jake Wieneke.
The onus on beating the Jackrabbits likely rests with the Kansas defense. Despite inheriting a program that operated with Charlie Weis’ decided schematic advantage, first-year head Jayhawk David Beaty could be hard-pressed to conjure up any of the offensive firepower former colleague Kevin Sumlin had at Texas A&M.
Kansas was the nation’s No. 118 scoring offense in 2014.
RICHMOND AT MARYLAND
A spider bite occurs when you least expect it. Most go unnoticed until well after they’ve occurred, leaving behind a painful bump. The Richmond Spiders were adept at sneaking up on FBS competition in the last half-decade, particularly teams from the ACC.
Maryland is no longer an ACC member, though this matchup was brokered before the Terps’ move to the Big Ten. No matter; Richmond’s capable of adding a Big Ten victim to its web…last spider pun. Promise.
No, wait, I lied: Richmond’s wide-receiver tandem of Reggie Diggs and Brian Brown combine to form an eight-limb menace Maryland’s 80th-ranked pass defense might struggle to contain. Diggs and Brown each surpassed 1,000 yards receiving and combined for 11 scores.
ILLINOIS STATE AT IOWA
The coming season is a critical one for Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. A season-opening loss to an FCS opponent is the exact opposite kind of start Ferentz needs, but a real possibility with the Hawkeyes welcoming arguably the best team in the subdivision to Iowa City.
Illinois State came a possession away from ending North Dakota State’s reign atop the FCS. The Bison escaped for national championship No. 4, capping a season that opened with a dominant win over Iowa State, which beat Iowa. Hmm…
Alright, so the transitive property never applies, and certainly not with a season of separation. Nevertheless, Iowa is going to get all it can handle from a veteran-laden Redbirds roster.
A Big Ten stage won’t phase Illinois State quarterback Tre Roberson, a transfer from Indiana, who passed for more than 3,200 yards in 2014. Lest you assume Roberson is operating in a pass-happy attack, he shared the backfield with the No. 1 overall rusher in FCS, Marshaun Coprich, who racked up 2,274 yards.
Should Iowa escape a hotly contested battle with the Redbirds, fear not, Hawkeyes faithful. Iowa’s run to the 2010 Orange Bowl was nearly derailed by Illinois State’s Missouri Valley counterpart Northern Iowa.
Speaking of Northern Iowa…
NORTHERN IOWA AT IOWA STATE
The last time the Panthers went to Ames (2013), they left with a 28-20 win. That wasn’t even one of the better teams in head coach Mark Farley’s tenure, either.
Northern Iowa is typically among the best defensive teams in FCS. Last year, the Panthers held opponents to an average below 20 points per game, including completely shutting down North Dakota State in the Bison’s only loss of the year, 23-3.
Even without NFL-bound Xavier Williams, the UNI defense should be formidable in 2015. Linebacker Brett McMakin’s 9.5 sacks led the Panthers, with returning defensive end Isaac Ales right behind at nine.
UNI also has playmakers in the secondary. Defensive backs Deiondre’ Hall and Tim Kilfoy combined for nine interceptions in 2014. Given Iowa State’s offensive ineptitude — the Cyclones averaged just 23.2 points per game a season ago — points could come at a premium in the season opener.
SAM HOUSTON STATE AT TEXAS TECH
Kliff Kingsbury returns the most veteran starting lineup in the Big 12 for his third season at the helm of Texas Tech; that’s the good news for the Red Raiders. The bad news is the returners are back from a 4-8 team that conceded more points per game in 2014 than everyone in FBS, save SMU and Georgia State. Among the Red Raiders’ struggles was a narrow escape against Sam Houston State’s Southland Conference counterpart Central Arkansas, 42-35 in the 2014 season opener.
Texas Tech will need to make considerable strides in the offseason, particularly on defense, in preparation for Sam Houston State. The perennial playoff participants roll into Lubbock with one of the most prolific offenses in the FCS.
The Bearkats adjusted well to first-year head coach K.C. Keeler’s offensive philosophy, largely because Keeler tailored his vision to Sam Houston State’s strengths. Keeler employed a more traditional offense at Delaware, but threw in a dash more passing into the spread attack that powered SHSU in Willie Fritz’s tenure.
Quarterback Jared Johnson is a dual-threat superstar, coming off a campaign in which he passed for over 3,000 yards and rushed for 999. The Tech defense will get acquainted with Johnson intimately very early into September’s contest, but the Red Raiders already know Johnson’s top receiving weapon.
LaDarius Brown landed at Sam Houston State following his dismissal from TCU, and Brown thrived in his first season at the FCS level. He caught seven touchdown passes and a team-high 17.9 — which is only half of Brown’s yard-per-catch average in the epic 2012 TCU-Texas Tech encounter. He scored a touchdown in that game meeting.