In the FCS Huddle: Must-see FCS matchups

Philadelphia, PA ( - So long, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern. Goodbye, North Dakota State senior class.

Hello, parity.

College football is still a sport in which each game matters a little more than it does in so many others, and the 2014 FCS season figures to have deep title races in many of the 13 conferences, likely on the national scene as well.

The season will kick off with the first game of the entire college football calendar (Sam Houston State at Eastern Washington, Aug. 23) and end with one of the last (FCS championship game in Frisco, Texas, Jan. 10).

NDSU, Eastern Washington and Southeastern Louisiana are expected to be among the last teams standing, but the field should widen with candidates.

And there's nothing wrong with a team making an upset of an FBS team or winning a conference crown as the highlight of its season.

With preseason camps drawing nearer - yes, it's true - here are the must-see FCS matchups of the year:


5. South Carolina State at Coastal Carolina (Sept. 13)/Furman at South Carolina State (Sept. 20)/Coastal Carolina at Furman (Oct. 4) - We'll group all the Palmetto State fun together. All three teams made the FCS playoffs last season.

4. Eastern Washington at Montana State (Sept. 20) - OK, we're cheating a little on this one, but, seriously, this terrific matchup doesn't count toward the Big Sky standings.

3. Fordham at Villanova (Sept. 6) - Villanova wants revenge for an upset loss to the Rams last year. This game features one of the better quarterback matchups of the season: Fordham's Michael Nebrich versus the Wildcats' John Robertson.

2. Sam Houston State at Eastern Washington (Aug. 23) - The host Eagles are winless through three explosive all-time meetings with Sam Houston, but quarterback Vernon Adams clearly wants to take advantage of the national spotlight of college football's first game. National championship-winning coach K.C. Keeler will make his debut with Sam Houston.

1. Montana at North Dakota State (Sept. 20) - This bragging-rights matchup almost happened in the playoffs last year. NDSU has won the last three national championships and Montana has appeared in more title games (seven) than any current FCS program.

Too good not to mention: Jacksonville State at Chattanooga (Sept. 6), Southern Illinois at Eastern Illinois (Sept. 6), South Dakota State at Southern Utah (Sept. 13) and Richmond at Liberty (Oct. 4).


5. Richmond at Virginia (Sept. 6) - Richmond quarterbacks Michael Strauss and Michael Rocco began their careers at Virginia. Mike London turned a 2008 FCS national title at Richmond into the head coaching job at Virginia.

4. Montana at Wyoming (Aug. 30) - New Wyoming coach Craig Bohl, who won three straight FCS titles at North Dakota State, still gets the matchup against the Grizzlies that he anticipated all along.

3. Northern Iowa at Iowa (Aug. 30) - UNI always gets up for the intrastate FBS teams, including a win at Iowa State last season.

2. North Dakota State at Iowa State (Aug. 30) - That same Iowa State program is trying to avoid being the fifth straight FBS team to lose to the Bison, whose new coach, Chris Klieman, will be making his debut.

1. Eastern Washington at Washington (Sept. 6) - The EWU upperclassmen will remember a three-point loss at Washington to open the 2011 season. The Eagles figure to make this an offensive slugfest.

Too good not to mention: New Hampshire at Toledo (Aug. 30), Southeastern Louisiana at Tulane (Sept. 13) and Fordham at Army (Nov. 22).


(One game per conference)

13. San Diego at Jacksonville, Pioneer (Sept. 13) - Is it possible the first game of the PFL season is its biggest? The visiting Toreros need to put last year's disappointment (PFL title ineligibility) behind them.

12. Southern at Alcorn State, SWAC (Sept. 27) - Southern's Dawson Odoms and Alcorn's Jay Hopson have completely changed the outlook of their teams. Both squads won nine games last season.

11. Sacred Heart at Duquesne, Northeast (Oct. 18) - Sacred Heart is sitting on a monster team within the NEC, but the Dukes and their defense have the best chance of spoiling the Pioneers' season.

10. Harvard at Princeton, Ivy (Oct. 25) - Defenses, take cover. Princeton has won the last two matchups by 39-34 (2012) and 51-48 (2013, triple overtime) scores after Harvard won the 2011 matchup, 56-39.

9. Bethune-Cookman at South Carolina State, MEAC (Oct. 25). Offense (B-CU) versus defense (SCSU).

8. Chattanooga at Furman (Nov. 22) - The Southern Conference's automatic playoff bid may well be on the line on the final day of the regular season. Oh, how the visiting Mocs can taste their first postseason bid since 1984.

7. William Mary at New Hampshire, CAA (Oct. 11) - If it's William & Mary, it's a struggle for UNH. Again, it's offense (UNH) versus defense (William & Mary).

6. Eastern Illinois at Jacksonville State, OVC (Nov. 15) - Both teams reached the national quarterfinals last season and have rosters full of talent. Of course, Jimmy Garoppolo is not one of the names.

5. Montana at Eastern Washington, Big Sky (Nov. 8) - The visiting Grizzlies actually have an offense that can keep up with Eastern.

4. McNeese State at Southeastern Louisiana, Southland (Nov. 15) - Quarterback Bryan Bennett and Southeastern turned last year's meeting into a dud. The visiting Cowboys believe this one will be different.

3. Liberty at Coastal Carolina, Big South (Nov. 22) - The pre-eminent powers in the Big South figure to have everything on the line. Liberty has won at least a share of six of the last seven conference titles yet is still trying to make the FCS playoffs for the first time.

2. Lehigh vs. Lafayette, Patriot (Nov. 22) - Appropriately, the 150th meeting of college football's most-played series gets special treatment at Yankee Stadium. Over 40,000 fans are expected.

1. North Dakota State at Northern Iowa, Missouri Valley (Nov. 8) - UNI blew a late lead against NDSU last year and its season unraveled from there. Both teams could be unbeaten in conference play for this November matchup.

Too good not to mention: Lafayette at Fordham (Oct. 3), Jacksonville State at Tennessee State (Oct. 11), Tennessee State at Eastern Illinois (Oct. 25), Wofford at Chattanooga (Nov. 8) and Towson at Villanova (Nov. 8).


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5. The Citadel at VMI (Nov. 22) - "The Military Classic of the South" is a Southern Conference game again. The sights off the field are as special as what is on the field.

4. New Hampshire at Maine (Nov. 22) - Maine may be the defending champion in CAA Football, but it lost twice to UNH last season. It's the annual Battle of the Brice-Cowell Musket.

3. Yale at Harvard (Nov. 22) - The Game dates to 1875. No, that's not the year of Yale's last win in the series. But Harvard has claimed seven straight meetings and 12 of the last 13 against its Ivy League rival.

2. South Dakota State vs. North Dakota State (Nov. 1) - For South Dakota State senior Zach Zenner to rush for 2,000 yards for the third straight season, he might need better numbers against NDSU in this year's Dakota Marker game.

1. Montana State at Montana (Nov. 22) - This bitter rivalry within the Treasure State is good enough for the entire FCS to share in.

Too good not to mention: Alabama A&M-Alabama State (Oct. 25) at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., Richmond at William & Mary (Nov. 22), Sam Houston State vs. Stephen F. Austin (Nov. 1) at Reliant Stadium in Houston and Villanova at Delaware (Nov. 22).