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6 Surprise Teams in FCS College Football

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Austin Peay Defense

Surprise, surprise, autumn has turned to October and some surprise FCS teams have yet to “fall” from relevance.


Out of the half-dozen surprises below, only Monmouth hasn’t matched or bettered last year’s win total, and the Hawks need only one more victory to tie it. Elon and Western Carolina have even forged their way into the Athlon FCS Power Poll.

Austin Peay (3-2, 2-0 Ohio Valley)

They tore down the goal posts at Fortera Stadium when Austin Peay beat Morehead State on Sept. 16, ending a 29-game losing streak that was the fifth-longest in FCS history. Oops, nobody told second-year head coach Will Healy to end it there. With victories over Murray State and nationally ranked UT Martin, the Govs have their first three-game winning streak since 1986. 2016 Records: 0-11, 0-8.

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Columbia (3-0, 1-0 Ivy)

Columbia – yes, struggling Columbia! – is unbeaten going into another potential win Saturday at Marist. Head coach Al Bagnoli, who won nine Ivy League titles at Penn, is getting things done in his third season with the Lions. 2016 Records: 3-7, 2-5.

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Elon (4-1, 2-0 CAA)

Under first-year head coach Curt Cignetti, the Phoenix had a good road win over Furman and have since become the only FCS team to beat three ranked teams – Charleston Southern, Richmond and Albany. 2016 Records: 2-9, 1-7.

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Monmouth (4-1, 0-0 Big South)

None of the seven Patriot League teams have three wins, but head coach Kevin Callahan’s Hawks are 3-0 against them. But their upcoming stretch of Holy Cross (road), Liberty and Charleston Southern (road) is demanding. 2016 Records: 5-6, 1-4.

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UC Davis (3-2, 1-1 Big Sky)

The Aggies are mixing in some quality wins with strong academics under first-year head coach Dan Hawkins, the former Boise State and Colorado skipper who’s back at his alma mater. They’ve beaten two defending conference champs, San Diego (Pioneer) and North Dakota (Big Sky). 2016 Records: 3-8, 2-6.

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Western Carolina (4-1, 2-0 Southern)

The Catamounts have the Southern Conference’s strongest offense – led by quarterback Tyrie Adams and running back Detrez Newsome – as Samford and Chattanooga could attest to the last two weeks. That’s one more conference win than sixth-year head coach Mark Speir’s team had last season. 2016 Records: 2-9, 1-7.

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— 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 Austin Peay Athletics)