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FCS Football: Ranking the 15 Schools Playing This Fall

All but North Dakota State has at least one FBS matchup

Apologies to college freshmen everywhere, but FCS college football is happy to put on 15 this fall.

 

The 15 FCS programs in action — about 12 percent of the 127 overall — are only be playing limited non-conference schedules, starting this past Saturday night with Central Arkansas' 24-17 win over Austin Peay in the annual FCS Kickoff.

 

North Dakota State, the three-time reigning national champion, leads just about every FCS ranking imaginable, but here’s another one: a ranking of the 15 FCS programs playing this fall.

 

1. North Dakota State (Missouri Valley)

2019 Record: 16-0

Schedule: Central Arkansas (Oct. 3)

Notable: The lone game versus UCA might be Walter Payton Award-winning quarterback Trey Lance’s final one at NDSU. The redshirt sophomore is generally projected with a first-round grade for the 2021 NFL Draft.

 

2. Central Arkansas (Southland)

2019 Record: 9-4

Schedule: 24-17 win over Austin Peay in Montgomery, Ala. (Aug. 29); at UAB (Sept. 3); at Arkansas State (Sept. 19); Missouri State (Sept. 26); at North Dakota State (Oct. 3); at Eastern Kentucky (Oct. 10); at Missouri State (Oct. 17); Eastern Kentucky (Oct. 31); at Louisiana (Nov. 21)

Notable: The Bears have the largest fall schedule, which began with the FCS Kickoff, where QB Breylin Smith threw a 10-yard, game-winning TD pass to WR Lujuan Winningham with 34 seconds remaining.

 

3. Austin Peay (Ohio Valley)

2019 Record: 11-4

Schedule: 24-17 loss to Central Arkansas in Montgomery, Ala. (Aug. 29); at Pittsburgh (Sept. 12); at Cincinnati (Sept. 19)

Notable: The tight loss to UCA was interim head coach Marquase Lovings' first game. All-America WR DeAngelo Wilson did not make the trip to Montgomery.

 

4. The Citadel (Southern)

2019 Record: 6-6

Schedule: at USF (Sept. 12); at Clemson (Sept. 19); Eastern Kentucky (Sept. 26); at Army West Point (Oct. 10)

Notable: Not only did the Bulldogs beat Georgia Tech last season, but they were tied with Alabama in their previous FBS game in 2018.

 

5. Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley)

2019 Record: 6-6

Schedule: at Florida State (Oct. 3); Mercer (Oct. 10); at North Alabama (Oct. 17)

Notable: The recently added game at Florida State comes 11 months before one previously planned against the Seminoles in September 2021.

 

6. Chattanooga (Southern)

2019 Record: 6-6

Schedule: at Western Kentucky (Oct. 24)

Notable: The injury bug plagued head coach Rusty Wright's first season: 15 players on the season-opening, 44 player two-deep were unavailable for the final game.

 

7. Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley)

2019 Record: 7-5

Schedule: at Marshall (Sept. 5); at West Virginia (Sept. 12); at The Citadel (Sept. 26); Central Arkansas (Oct. 10); at Troy (Oct. 17); at Central Arkansas (Oct. 31); Stephen F. Austin (Nov. 7); Western Carolina (Nov. 21)

Notable: A founding member of the OVC, EKU plans to forsake a spring season by playing eight fall games under first-year coach Walt Wells.

 

8. Abilene Christian (Southland)

2019 Record: 5-7

Schedule: at UTEP (Sept. 19); at Army West Point (Oct. 3); West Texas A&M (Oct. 17)

Notable: The Wildcats' game at West Point will mark their first trip to the East Coast since 1995 at New Haven.

 

9. Campbell (Big South)

2019 Record: 6-5

Schedule: at Georgia Southern (Sept. 12); at Coastal Carolina (Sept. 19); at Appalachian State (Sept. 26); at Wake Forest (Oct. 9)

Notable: Head coach Mike Minter's squad has an all-FBS schedule. To date, the Camels have played only two full FBS members and two transitioning FBS programs.

 

10. Houston Baptist (Southland)

2019 Record: 5-7

Schedule: at North Texas (Sept. 5); at Texas Tech (Sept. 12); at Louisiana Tech (Sept. 26)

Notable: QB Bailey Zappe has faced FBS opponents three times, going a combined 75-for-120 for 725 yards and four touchdowns with only one interception.

 

11. Mercer (Southern)

2019 Record: 4-8

Schedule: at Jacksonville State (Oct. 10); at Army West Point (Oct. 24)

Notable: Last year's four wins were the Bears’ fewest since returning to football in 2013. New head coach Drew Cronic had a 47-6 record at Reinhardt and Lenoir-Rhyne.

 

12. North Alabama (Big South)

2019 Record: 4-7

Schedule: at Liberty (Oct. 3); Jacksonville State (Oct. 17); at Southern Miss (Nov. 7); at BYU (Nov. 21)

Notable: Junior wide receivers Dexter Boykin, Jakobi Byrd, Cortez Hall and Andre Little have combined for 298 receptions, 4,336 receiving yards and 29 TD catches in UNA's first two FCS seasons.

 

13. Stephen F. Austin (Southland)

2019 Record: 3-9

Schedule: at UTEP (Sept. 5); at UTSA (Sept. 19); at SMU (Sept. 26); West Texas A&M (Oct. 3); at Eastern Kentucky (Nov. 7)

Notable: Sophomore Xavier Gipson was SFA's only selection on the Southland preseason team, named to the second team at both wide receiver and kickoff return.

 

14. Missouri State (Missouri Valley)

2019 Record: 1-10

Schedule: at Oklahoma (Sept. 12); at Central Arkansas (Sept. 26); Central Arkansas (Oct. 17)

Notable: Coach Bobby Petrino may have a redshirt freshman quarterback, Southern Miss transfer Jaden Johnson, line up behind center when the Bears open at Oklahoma.

 

15. Western Carolina (Southern)

2019 Record: 3-9

Schedule: at Liberty (Nov. 14); at Eastern Kentucky (Nov. 21)

Notable: The Catamounts would be the last FCS program to play this fall, but it should be worth the wait with a veteran lineup returning.

 

— 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 Missouri State Athletics)

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