Over 42 seasons of FCS college football, there have been a high number of dynasties or programs making regular appearances in the national championship game:
- North Dakota State has been the most impressive, with eight titles in the last nine seasons.
- Appalachian State was the first program to claim a title three-peat from 2005-07.
- Montana played in the title game seven times, winning twice, from 1995-2009.
- Georgia Southern won two straight titles three different times and reached two other finals from 1985-2000.
- Marshall won its second title in 1996 with arguably FCS' greatest all-time team, capping a 10-year period with six finals appearances.
- Youngstown State captured four titles and was the runner-up twice in the 1990s.
Before all of them, however, there was Eastern Kentucky — the first FCS dynasty.
The FCS formed in 1978 as Division I-AA after the top tier of college football made its split (I-A is now the FBS). There were only 34 I-AA programs between five conferences and independents — just over a quarter of the 127 FCS programs that will compete this year. Eastern Kentucky finished as the Ohio Valley Conference runner-up and with an 8-2 record.
A year later, Eastern Kentucky began a four-year run in which it was the 1979 and 1982 I-AA champ and lost in the championship game in the two seasons in between. Granted, only four schools participated in the playoffs through 1980 before they doubled to eight a year later, but the Colonels reached double-figure wins in all four seasons, going 46-7 overall under legendary coach Roy Kidd.
The 1979 season was the first of EKU's 21 playoff appearances, which are tied for the second-most in FCS history. The Colonels played the season in memory of offensive lineman Don McKinnon, who died from meningitis in March.
They beat two I-A teams, Kent State and Cal State Fullerton, as well as second-ranked Jackson State during the regular season. In the national semifinals, they edged No. 1 Nevada-Reno, 33-30, on David Flores' 17-yard field goal in the second overtime, but only after nose guard Joe Richard blocked an extra point in the final minute to force the extra time. Tailback Alvin Miller then led the way as the MVP of a 30-7 thrashing of Lehigh in the championship game in Orlando, Fla.
EKU made It back to the final a year later, only to lose to Boise State 31-29 on a touchdown in the closing seconds in Sacramento, California. The Colonels again settled for national runners-up in 1981, falling to Idaho State 34-23 in the title game in Wichita Falls, Texas.
In 1982, though, the Colonels left no doubt in I-AA, going 13-0. A 21-20 win over Murray State highlighted the regular season and they beat Idaho, 38-30, and Tennessee State, 13-7, in their first two playoff games, extending their winning streak at Hanger Field to 31 games. Back in Wichita Falls for the final, they built a 17-0 lead on Delaware, including Richard Bell's 77-yard touchdown return off Gus Parks' sixth blocked kick of the season, and held on for a 17-14 triumph.
"The 1982 season was simply amazing," said wide receiver Steve Bird, who went on to play in the NFL and CFL. "Everybody on that team brought something to the table, and we all believed in each other. We went into that huddle. There was no funny business. We each had a job to do and we went out and did it, and I'm talking about all 11 guys on every play."
Kidd posted a 314-128-8 record at Eastern Kentucky, including a record 223 FCS wins, during his Hall of Fame career that spanned the 1964 to 2002 seasons.
— 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.
(Photo courtesy of Eastern Kentucky Athletics)