FCS College Football: What Teams are Playing the Most Preseason Ranked Opponents?

Missouri State, North Dakota lead the way in 2019

It's part of the perils of playing in the strongest FCS conferences — there are always going to be more ranked opponents on most teams' schedules.

 

All of but one of the teams that play at least five opponents that were ranked in Athlon Sports' 2019 FCS Preseason Top 25 are from the Big Sky Conference, CAA Football and Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC). The exception is North Dakota, which is an FCS independent, but is fulfilling contract obligations to the Big Sky while it heads toward the Missouri Valley next year.

 

All of the teams can look at it this way: To be the best, you have to face the best.

 

Here are the teams doing it the most in the FCS:

 

Six Ranked Opponents

 

Missouri State (MVFC)

Top 25 Opponents: Sept. 21 vs. No. 14 Kennesaw State; Oct. 19 vs. No. 1 North Dakota State; Oct. 26 vs. No. 17 Northern Iowa; Nov. 2 vs. No. 3 South Dakota State; Nov. 16 at No. 12 Illinois State; Nov. 23 vs. Indiana State

The Skinny: If there is a silver lining, the struggling Bears face four of the six opponents in Springfield.

 

North Dakota (FCS Independent)

Top 25 Opponents: Sept. 7 at No. 1 North Dakota State; Sept. 14 vs. No. 20 Sam Houston State; Sept. 28 at No. 4 Eastern Washington; Oct. 5 vs. No. 5 UC Davis; Oct. 26 vs. No. 8 Montana State; Nov. 9 at No. 9 Weber State

The Skinny: They're no longer a part of the Big Sky, but the Fighting Hawks still get last season's four Big Sky playoff opponents. Oh yes, it won't any easier next year.

 

Five Ranked Opponents

 

No. 21 Elon (CAA)

Top 25 Opponents: Aug. 31 at No. 25 North Carolina A&T; Sept. 28 vs. No. 2 James Madison; Oct. 12 vs. No. 24 Delaware; Nov. 9 vs. No. 6 Maine; Nov. 23 at No. 11 Towson

The Skinny: With the CAA schedule and a trip to Wake Forest, first-year head coach Tony Trisciani’s squad doesn't have much margin for error.

 

No. 1 North Dakota State (MVFC)

Top 25 Opponents: Sept. 14 at No. 24 Delaware; Sept. 21 vs. No. 5 UC Davis; Oct. 5 at No. 12 Illinois State; Oct. 12 vs. No. 17 Northern Iowa; Oct. 26 at No. 3 South Dakota State

The Skinny: All five opponents come within six-game stretch for the two-time defending FCS champion.

 

No. 17 Northern Iowa (MVFC)

Top 25 Opponents: Sept. 28 at No. 9 Weber State; Oct. 12 at No. 1 North Dakota State; Nov. 2 at No. 12 Illinois State; Nov. 9 vs. No. 15 Indiana State; Nov. 16 at No. 3 South Dakota State

The Skinny: The Panthers' inclusion here is expected because they annually play one of the most difficult schedules in the FCS.

 

Sacramento State (Big Sky)

Top 25 Opponents: Oct. 5 vs. No. 4 Eastern Washington; Oct. 12 at No. 8 Montana State; Oct. 19 vs. No. 23 Montana; Nov. 2 vs. No. 9 Weber State; Nov. 23 vs. No. 5 UC Davis

The Skinny: Four of the five games are at home, but first-year head coach Troy Taylor's team also is facing two FBS opponents (Arizona State and Fresno State).

 

South Dakota (MVFC)

Top 25 Opponents: Aug. 31 vs. No. 23 Montana; Oct. 5 vs. No. 15 Indiana State; Oct. 19 at No. 17 Northern Iowa; Nov. 16 at No. 1 North Dakota State; Nov. 23 vs. No. 3 South Dakota State

The Skinny: If the Coyotes are in contention for a playoff bid, they face a tough finish in North Dakota State and South Dakota State.

 

Southern Illinois (MVFC)

Top 25 Opponents: Aug. 29 at No. 19 Southeast Missouri; Oct. 5 at No. 3 South Dakota State; Oct. 12 vs. No. 12 Illinois State; Nov. 2 at No. 15 Indiana State; Nov. 23 vs. No. 1 North Dakota State

The Skinny: Expected to be improved, the Salukis haven't had a winning conference record since 2013, so having four preseason-ranked MVFC opponents hurts.

 

Southern Utah (Big Sky)

Top 25 Opponents: Sept. 7 at No. 17 Northern Iowa; Sept. 21 at No. 3 South Dakota State; Oct. 12 at No. 9 Weber State; Oct. 19 vs. No. 5 UC Davis; Nov. 2 at No. 8 Montana State

The Skinny: The Thunderbirds are only two years removed from winning a co-Big Sky title, but their road schedule includes UNLV and North Dakota as well as the four preseason-ranked opponents.

 

Villanova (CAA)

Top 25 Opponents: Aug. 24 at No. 18 Colgate; Sept. 21 at No. 11 Towson; Sept. 28 vs. No. 6 Maine; Oct. 12 at No. 2 James Madison; Nov. 23 vs. No. 23 Delaware

The Skinny: A win in the first game of the FCS season (at Colgate) would go a long way for a squad trying to rebound from two straight 5-6 seasons.

 

Western Illinois (MVFC)

Top 25 Opponents: Sept. 14 vs. No. 8 Montana State; Oct. 12 at No. 15 Indiana State; Oct. 19 vs. No. 12 Illinois State; Nov. 9 at No. 1 North Dakota State; Nov. 23 at No. 17 Northern Iowa

The Skinny: The Leathernecks were 1-4 against the same five teams last season, beating UNI.

 

William & Mary (CAA)

Top 25 Opponents: Sept. 14 vs. No. 18 Colgate; Oct. 19 vs. No. 2 James Madison; Oct. 26 at No. 6 Maine; Nov. 2 at No. 21 Elon; Nov. 16 vs. No. 11 Towson

The Skinny: In Mike London's first season, the Tribe also face a pair of FBS opponents (Virginia and East Carolina).

 

Youngstown State (MVFC)

Top 25 Opponents: Oct. 5 at No. 17 Northern Iowa; Oct. 12 vs. No. 3 South Dakota State; Nov. 2 vs. No. 1 North Dakota State; Nov. 16 at No. 15 Indiana State; Nov. 23 vs. No. 12 Illinois State

The Skinny: The Penguins have a manageable non-conference schedule before jumping into the gauntlet of MVFC opponents.

 

— 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 Russell Hons/North Dakota Athletics)

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