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Best FCS Games of the 2016 Season

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Coaches and players try to say every game on their schedule is meaningful and counts the same as any other.

FCS

That’s true mathematically, but college football lives in the real world and there are specific games teams get up for even more just like the rest of us.

With the countdown on for the approaching college football season, here are the most anticipated conference matchups, non-conference matchups and FBS matchups for many of the top FCS programs in the nation:

Top 5 Conference Matchups

5. (tie) Colgate at Fordham (Nov. 5)

Pity the defenses in this explosive matchup between the last two Patriot League champions, which return veteran offenses. Last meeting: Fordham, 31-29 (2015)

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5. (tie) Montana at Eastern Washington (Oct. 29)

There are many good matchups in the largest FCS conference, but these Big Sky rivals always highlight the date on their calendars. Last meeting: Montana, 57-16 (2015)

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4. Chattanooga at The Citadel (Oct. 15)

Last year’s Southern Conference co-champs meet again. The Citadel got a look at the Mocs’ new starting quarterback a year early when Alejandro Bennifield threw a 75-yard touchdown pass on a game-opening trick play. Last meeting: Chattanooga, 31-23 (2015)

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3. McNeese State at Sam Houston State (Nov. 5)

Defending Southland Conference champion McNeese State’s only loss last season occurred against Sam Houston State in the FCS playoffs. Last meeting: Sam Houston State, 34-29 (2015 playoffs)

2. Richmond at William & Mary (Nov. 19)

Last season, Richmond prevented rival William & Mary from winning an outright CAA Football title and knocked the Tribe from the playoffs in a two-week span. Last meeting: Richmond, 48-13 (2015 playoffs)

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1. North Dakota State at Northern Iowa (Oct. 29)

The line of scrimmage will not be a place for the faint of heart. UNI ended the FCS dynasty’s record 33-game winning streak when they last squared off inside the UNI-Dome two years ago. Last meeting: North Dakota State, 23-13 (2015 playoffs)

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Top 5 Non-Conference Matchups

5. Northern Iowa at Eastern Washington (Sept. 17)

UNI won last season’s game in Cedar Falls, extending its series lead to 6-0. Both teams will be playing their third tough opponent to open the season. Last meeting: Northern Iowa, 38-35 (2015)

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4. Coastal Carolina at Jacksonville State (Sept. 17)

The first meeting between the FCS powers also is their last on the level because Coastal is moving up to the FBS next season. First meeting

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3. Charleston Southern at North Dakota State (Aug. 27)

With Coastal Carolina gone from the Big South, the conference gets the national spotlight with the FCS Kickoff. The five-time national champion Bison are a little more accustomed to the bright lights. First meeting

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2. Montana at Northern Iowa (Sept. 10)

Montana quarterback Brady Gustafson will pass against an entirely new UNI secondary. UNI’s two 1,000-yard rushers, quarterback Aaron Bailey and running back Tyvis Smith, will attack a Grizzlies defense that will have two returning starters. Last meeting: Montana, 48-10 (2011 playoffs)

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1. Eastern Washington at North Dakota State (Sept. 10)

NDSU hasn’t lost a playoff game since the 2010 quarterfinals at Eastern Washington. The big problem for the visiting Eagles is they’re replacing their entire starting offensive line. Last meeting: Eastern Washington, 38-31 in overtime (2010 playoffs)

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Related: Best Non-Conference Games in the FCS in 2016

Top 5 FCS-FBS Matchups

5. Richmond at Virginia (Sept. 3)

The Spiders will attempt to ruin the debut of new Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall. They haven’t had a lot of luck in the series (2-28-2) as they’ve lost four times to the Cavaliers since 2008. Last meeting: Virginia, 45-13 (2014)

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4. Northern Iowa at Iowa State (Sept. 3)

Familiar foes meet for the 30th time. The Panthers suffered a one-point loss in 2011 and beat Iowa State, 28-20, in ‘13 before falling again last season. Last meeting: Iowa State, 31-7 (2015)

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3. Jacksonville State at LSU (Sept. 10)

Maybe the national runner-up Gamecocks figure a visit to Death Valley can’t get any harder than playing North Dakota State. First meeting

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2. Eastern Washington at Washington State (Sept. 3)

EWU All-America wide receiver Cooper Kupp has played three career games against Pac-12 teams and totaled 28 receptions, 510 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Sun Bowl champion Washington State lost to another Big Sky squad, Portland State, last September. Last meeting: Washington State, 24-20 (2012)

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1. North Dakota State at Iowa (Sept. 17)

The Bison hope to extend a five-game winning streak against FBS competition (Kansas, Minnesota, Colorado State, Kansas State and Iowa State). Iowa isn’t as strong as last year’s squad that started the season 12-0. Last meeting: Iowa, 59-0 (1947)

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Related: 15 Best FBS vs. FCS Football Games in 2016

— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.

(Top photo by University of Northern Iowa Athletics)