Week 1, September 1
Kennesaw State @ Georgia State: For a school just entering its fourth year of football, Kennesaw State is pretty scary. The Owls have depth and experience from a team that made the final eight in last year’s playoffs. Georgia State is not so high up in the FBS hierarchy that many pundits would see this as an upset by normal standards. In fact, Kennesaw State might even be favored.
James Madison @ North Carolina State: Speaking of favored, last year, James Madison WAS favored in Week 1 over FBS East Carolina. This year will be dramatically different than last for the Dukes. QB Bryan Schor isn’t around to stabilize the offense anymore and most of the defense will be replaced. Still, for a FCS program, this outfit has done a very good job of promoting the ‘next man up’ mentality. It will definitely not be easy, but James Madison has earned the respect towards an upset being possible.
Villanova @ Temple: The Wildcats were one of the most injury-plague teams in all of football last year. And that might be at any level. QB Zach Bednarczyk needs to stay healthy, obviously. If he does, he should get plenty of opportunities from quite possibly the nation’s stingiest defense, giving him the ball in advantageous areas. Add the fact that this road game is in Villanova’s hometown, Temple should be on high alert.
North Carolina A&T @ East Carolina: East Carolina fell in their opener to James Madison last year, so that should put them on notice right away. Add the fact that A&T has beaten FBS teams in two consecutive seasons and red flags are waving. The upset might be a bit tougher this time around as A&T has almost an entire offensive line to replace. The weapons are there but the protection might not be, and that makes things interesting. But if they get that together, the defense should be solid enough to make this a game.
South Dakota State @ Iowa State: Despite losing All-American talent weapons, QB Taryn Christion is an ultra dangerous, multi-tooled threat. Don’t fool yourself, the cupboards are not completely bare in Brookings; they’ll still be tough. Going to Ames has been a place where the MVFC has come in and had success over the years. However, these aren’t you mommy and daddy’s Cyclones. The Jackrabbits will need a complete, top notch effort to pull this one out.
Central Connecticut State @ Ball State: The Blue Devils are a good NEC team. That probably sounds like a slight, but the conference isn’t yet on par with other FCS conferences. Still, Ball State is a below average Mid-American, FBS team. And that should sound like a slight too. The offense of CCSU will be their strength, so if they get into a shootout, which many FCS teams do with FBS when pulling the upset, they’ll have a shot.
Nicholls @ Kansas: Nicholls has a lot of pieces back from a team that made the playoffs last year. The thought is that the offense in particular will be even better, provided Chase Fourcade takes another step forward. Week 1 at Kansas is a great place to start. The Jayhawks are known more for basketball and not shaking Baker Mayfield’s hand in pre-game, setting him off.
Week 2, September 8
Northern Arizona @ Texas-El Paso: Junior QB Case Cookus might be the most high-profile passer in the FCS this season. If this game happened to be in Flagstaff, the Lumberjacks would almost definitely be favored. In El-Paso, who knows how hot it will be? Will the 22 less scholarship players have an effect on the outcome? Or will NAU lure UTEP into a scoreboard fireworks display? UTEP didn’t win a game last year and you know they’re not going to want to start off with a loss to the FCS again.
Southern Utah @ Oregon State: The defending Big Sky co-champion Thunderbirds will have their hands full, as they will be looking for a new quarterback to steer the ship. If they’re comfortable with the heir apparent in Week 2, Oregon State isn’t a terrible option to try and pull the upset on. Corvallis is a tough place to play, but the Beavers there aren’t as angry as the ones in those underwear commercials.
Sacramento State @ San Diego State: With a lower class opponent appearing on their schedule, a win over San Diego State would go a long ways towards impressing the Selection Committee. With seven or more returning on each side of the ball, the Hornets are banking on improving on their 7-4 record. QB Kevin Thomson will burden a lot of that responsibility.
Western Illinois @ Illinois: The Leathernecks will rely on their McDuo, QB Sean McGuire and RB Steve McShane. You would figure the offense should be just fine considering those two. The defense should be okay also, except the middle might have the biggest void for any one team. LB Brett Taylor, the tackling machine is no longer around and should be playing professionally somewhere. Illinois is far from a power, even as a Big Ten team. WIU pulled off upsets in recent years, so you know they won’t be intimidated.
Nicholls @ Tulane: See the Week 1 note above for Nicholls. If they do pull that upset, they would have a chance to get the very rare double upset. Ironically, Nicholls came very close to pulling that off last year, losing two such games by a total of four points. And Tulane is not the FBS powerhouse an in-state rival is going to be afraid of. A very realistic shot here.
Week 3, September 15
Eastern Washington @ Washington State: The fact that the Eagles return as a team that was 7-4 and probably should have made the playoffs last season, makes this a potential upset. QB Gage Gubrud leads an offense that has almost every piece returning. The only parts missing from the defense are in the secondary, which is concerning against a pass happy outfit like Washington State. Would be a higher chance of an upset if it were Week 1.
Campbell @ Coastal Carolina: Campbell is possibly the least likely of all the candidates on this list, but Coastal Carolina was absolutely roasted last year by FCS Western Illinois, so who knows? It’s ironic that Campbell is a team that moves into the Big South this year, helping replace Coastal Carolina, who left the year before last.
Northern Iowa @ Iowa: Ideally, the time for an upset of a Big Ten team would be as soon as possible. Unfortunately, Northern Iowa doesn’t have that luxury. Fortunately, they play a tough game before that, then get a week off before traveling to Iowa City. The Panthers have to replace some important pieces on defense and their top receiver. But the Hawkeyes are replacing their two best defenders also. If the Panthers can get a few breaks, they’ve got as good of a shot as anybody to pull an upset of the FBS.
Week 4, September 22
McNeese @ Brigham Young: The offense is going to have to carry the load for the Cowboys initially, as they have to replace most of the defense. Luckily, the offense has almost everybody back, including QB James Tabary. If the offense can keep the ball, anything is possible. Brigham Young struggled last year and this is a program that doesn’t have back-to-back bad years very often, so this will be an uphill climb regardless.
Seven others, just off the radar…
Idaho @ Fresno State
Monmouth @ Eastern Michigan
Elon @ South Florida
Howard @ Kent State
South Dakota @ Kansas State
Samford @ Florida State
Grambling State @ Louisiana