For years, FBS teams have scheduled early-season matchups against FCS opponents to start their season with an easy win.
Or, what should be an easy win. Sometimes, these FCS teams walk out of the clash with a nice paycheck and a stunning victory.
This year, those wins have come at a historic rate. In Week 1 alone, six FCS teams have beaten FBS teams, including a 13-7 shocker by Montana over No. 20 Washington on Saturday night.
Montana holds on to defeat No. 20 Washington, 13-7.
The Grizzlies are the 5th FCS team to beat an AP-ranked FBS opponent since D-I split in 1978. pic.twitter.com/7UCOzlMtY4
— Jason Starrett (@starrettjason) September 5, 2021
“This is the Washington Huskies. OK. This is App State over Michigan,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck, a former Washington assistant, told reporters, per The Associated Press.
In addition to the wins, FCS teams came close in several other matchups. Northern Iowa lost to No. 7 Iowa State 16-10. Missouri State lost to Oklahoma State 23-16. Western Illinois lost to Ball State 31-21. South Dakota lost to Kansas 17-14, a result that had Jayhawks fans spilling onto the field.
But let’s focus on the FCS’s wins. The final scores:
- UC Davis 19, Tulsa 17 (Thursday)
- Eastern Washington 35, UNLV 33 (Thursday)
- South Dakota State 42, Colorado State 23 (Friday)
- Holy Cross 38, UConn 28 (Saturday)
- ETSU 23, Vanderbilt 3 (Saturday)
- Montana 13, No. 20 Washington 7 (Saturday)
According to longtime FCS observer Brian McLaughlin, that is already the most in a season since 2018. And this is just after the first week.
So, the FCS just won its 100th game over an FBS team — and 27th over a P5 — since 2008. ETSU did it.
Tnite, Montana got 5th FCS win over ranked FBS since ’07.
FCS players & recruits … don’t let ANYBODY tell you this isn’t “real ball” when you pick this level.
6 down … pic.twitter.com/FOPoCgN5Bh
— Brian McLaughlin (@BrianMacWriter) September 5, 2021
It’s impressive enough that these teams picked up the wins, not to mention that all of them were home games for the FBS schools. But let’s dive into how this happened.
It starts with defense. The six FBS teams were held to an average of 18.5 points per game, a figure that was inflated by the 13 points UNLV scored in its double-overtime game vs. Eastern Washington. They averaged 359.3 total yards, with Washington and UConn both posting fewer than 300 yards in their losses. The FCS teams averaged 374.2 yards per game.
The FCS defenses did more than limit the yardage; they also forced mistakes. FCS teams were a combined plus-12 in turnover margin (16-4), forcing 11 interceptions and five lost fumbles. FCS offenses lost just two fumbles and threw just two interceptions — both interceptions and one of the lost fumbles came from Eastern Washington.
Of course, these teams also had to get it done on offense, and they did, especially early. FCS teams struck first more often than not. UC Davis, Eastern Washington, South Dakota State and Holy Cross all scored first to put their FBS counterparts on their heels. ETSU, Holy Cross and South Dakota State each took leads into halftime, while Eastern Washington joined that trio in leading after three quarters.
FCS teams also found more success converting on third down. They were successful on 35 of 88 attempts compared to 32 of 92 by FBS teams.
What could be some of the other reasons? Overlooking the opponent? Lack of preparation coming into the matchup? Just simply being outplayed on a given day?
Those are questions only those in the programs can answer. But for now, college football fans can enjoy true underdog victory moments like this one: