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FCS Football: 5 Teams That Could Go From Losing Seasons to the Playoffs in 2019

Brandon Rainey.jpg

The Citadel QB Brandon Rainey

The top FCS conferences are so deep with quality teams that they always have candidates which emerge from subpar seasons into playoff contenders.

CAA Football and the Big Sky, Missouri Valley and Southern conferences have recent playoff teams with designs on reversing last year’s losing records.

It wouldn’t be surprising if any of these five teams are contending for a playoff spot come November:

New Hampshire

2018 Record: 4-7, 3-5 CAA

Last Playoff Appearance: 2017

What to Know: Last year's drop was stunning considering the Wildcats were one of the top-ranked FCS teams in the preseason (and had a 14-year playoff streak). A healthier lineup will help, but much of this year's success revolves around the emergence of a starting quarterback from a young group, which includes sophomore Tommy Herion, redshirt freshman Bret Edwards, and true freshman Max Brosmer. Last year's breakthrough player was a rookie, running back Carlos Washington Jr. Sean McDonnell, the dean of CAA head coaches, will have to do another great job to get the Wildcats back in the postseason.

Northern Arizona

2018 Record: 4-6, 3-4 Big Sky

Last Playoff Appearance: 2017

What to Know: After 21 seasons under head coach Jerome Souers, the Lumberjacks have a new look behind Chris Ball, who served as the defensive coordinator at Memphis the last three seasons. OK, it's not an entirely new look because fifth-year quarterback Case Cookus (74 career touchdown passes) returns from his second season-ending injury in three years. All-Big Sky cornerback Khalil Dorsey will anchor a defense that returns nine starters. There are roadblocks ahead: away games at Arizona, Illinois State, Montana State, Weber State, Eastern Washington and Southern Utah.

South Dakota

2018 Record: 4-7, 3-5 Missouri Valley

Last Playoff Appearance: 2017

What to Know: USD did well last season to replace 2017 Missouri Valley offensive player of the year Chris Streveler with quarterback Austin Simmons, who as a junior ranked sixth in the FCS in total offense. The key for the Coyotes is fixing the run game — both offensively and defensively. Senior Darin Greenfield is one of the top defensive ends in the FCS, so improvement up front is likely. When it comes to potential at-large playoff bids in November, there are few more important season-opening matchups than Montana's visit on Aug. 31.

The Citadel

2018 Record: 5-6, 4-4 Southern

Last Playoff Appearance: 2016

What to Know: The Bulldogs' triple option should be fierce with quarterback Brandon Rainey coming off a strong finish to the 2018 season, Sam Houston State transfer Remus Bulmer taking on a leading role, and the offensive line returning four starters. The defense, which took a step backward, is switching schemes for head coach Brent Thompson’s fourth season. A strong non-conference schedule will prepare the Bulldogs for the Southern Conference race.

Youngstown State

2018 Record: 4-7, 3-5 Missouri Valley

Last Playoff Appearance: 2016

What to Know: With a win over Samford in the FCS Kickoff in Week Zero, the Penguins would have a good chance to go 4-0 in non-conference games before their Missouri Valley schedule begins. If they do that, the 'Guins would probably need to go .500 in the conference to get back to the playoffs following a two-year absence (they reached the national title game under head coach Bo Pelini in 2016). While they return only nine starters, they're also getting back quarterback Nathan Mays and defensive end Justus Reed from injuries.

— 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 He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.

(Photo courtesy of The Citadel Athletics)