(Stats Perform) – The FCS level could sure use a North Dakota State matchup against an FBS program.
The Bison dynasty – a winner of eight of the last nine national titles – has beaten its last six FBS opponents, yet hasn’t played one since 2016. The Bison were supposed to face Oregon on Sept. 5, but the game was canceled when the Pac-12 decided not to play this fall.
North Dakota State has played the largest role in the FCS’ success against FBS programs in the last 10 years, but the lower half of Division I is no longer sneaking up on the upper half. After FCS teams averaged nine wins a season from 2010-18, they went just 3-111 (.027) last year and are off to an 0-14 start this season (Abilene Christian is a mere four-point underdog at UTEP late Saturday).
Is it just a slump for the FCS or something that’s here to stay?
Maybe a little of both, but FCS teams are going to have to do more with less. There’s a lot more at stake money-wise for FBS programs, whose scholarship maximum is 22 more than the FCS – 85 to 63.
“Give credit to the FBS schools, they’ve gotten smarter,” ESPN analyst Jay Walker said. “(They’re saying), ‘We’re going to play somebody, we’re going to pay them, we want to make sure that we get that victory even more so than before.’ That’s kind of been the key.”
Walker working the Troy game on Saturday had him thinking about the Sun Belt’s big day last weekend, when Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina and Louisiana beat Big 12 opponents on the road. Those are former FCS programs, and the FCS level that Walker starred on at Howard in the 1990s (then called Division I-AA) is not the same FCS today.
It’s one of the factors Walker and Colter Nuanez, the co-founder of Skyline Sports which covers the Big Sky Conference, identified as working against the FCS:
– Schools that used to produce FCS upsets, including Appalachian State with the biggest one of all – a 34-32 stunner at fifth-ranked Michigan in 2007 – have moved up to the FBS level. Liberty produced four FCS wins in the 2010s and Georgia Southern topped Florida, and both are now FBS members.
– A school such as North Dakota State is finding it harder to get FBS opponents and a Montana, which beat Idaho in four straight seasons from 2000-03, doesn’t necessary need the financial guarantee when having a sellout at home is lucrative as well.
– The scholarship difference is just a part of the huge resource advantage that FBS programs enjoy compared to the FCS.
– Players who could lead FCS upsets have been transferring to FBS programs, beginning with former Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams, who helped the Eagles topple No. 25 Oregon State in 2013.
“I think the No. 1 factor we are seeing in the stratification and fracturing of Division I football is the continued rapid rise of the blue bloods in the Power 5 and that stems from one thing: TV money,” said Nuanez, who saw Big Sky teams go 0-19 against the FBS last year.
“The rich are getting exponentially richer. When (Montana) played Oregon State in 1996 and won, many of the Griz players were from Oregon because head coach Don Read was from Oregon. Many of those Griz could’ve and likely should’ve played at Oregon State. Now even the Beavers, the bottom of the Pac-12, have exponentially more resources than any Big Sky school. Missing on recruits is much rarer. When the top teams in the Big Sky line up against the bottom teams in the Pac 12, it’s still an enormous talent mismatch, greater than ever before.”
Walker still believes the biggest FCS upsets will occur, such as James Madison over No. 13 Virginia Tech in 2010 and North Dakota State over No. 13 Iowa in 2016, but adds those opportunities are fading.
He also feels strongly in moral victories for the FCS, pointing toward Campbell’s 27-26 loss at Georgia Southern last Saturday.
“For a program like Campbell that only has scholarship football for three, four years now,” he said, “the coaches can say, ‘Hey, we can play with anybody.’ But when you go out there and you’ve played with a good program like Georgia Southern and you have a chance to beat them, although you didn’t win, you’ve proved you can play with them. I’m sure their coaching staff is hoping that carries them through the regular season when they play a step down versus competition.”