10 FBS Teams on Upset Alert vs. FCS Opponents in 2014

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistJuly 3, 2014

10 FBS Teams on Upset Alert vs. FCS Opponents in 2014

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    FCS upsets have long been a factor in college football—just ask the 2007 Michigan Wolverines—but they reached an apex in Week 1 of last season, when eight teams from the senior circuit were defeated by teams from the junior.

    Eight more FCS teams would beat FBS opponents over the course of the regular season, raising the total to 16. Of those 16 wins, three came against Georgia State, lowering the number of teams that were upset to 14. And of those 14 beaten parties, only seven came from non-power conferences. The other half came from leagues with automatic BCS berths…but still lost to an FCS team. Valar Morghulis!

    The headliners of that group included Florida—an SEC power that was one year removed from the Sugar Bowl—Kansas State and Oregon State. Three proud programs were not able to overcome Georgia Southern, North Dakota State and Eastern Washington, respectively.

    Which raises an important question: Who will fall victim to the FCS curse this season? It is not a matter of if it will happen but when, where and to whom. At least a few marquee programs will lose to "inferior" competition; we know this as an near-statistical fact.

    Here is a look at 10 candidates to fall in 2014.

    The list was based on the strength of the FCS team in question—major props to Athlon Sports for these thorough preseason FCS rankings—and where the game lies on the schedule. A good deal of these matchups stand out for their "trap game" potential.

    Chime in below, and let me know where you disagree.

Iowa

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    USA TODAY Sports

    When: Aug. 30 vs. Northern Iowa

    Iowa opens the season with Northern Iowa before traditionally challenging games against MAC stalwart Ball State and Big 12 rival Iowa State. There's a chance here for a look-ahead factor.

    But that would be unwise against Northern Iowa, another team from the Hawkeye State, which beat ISU just a season ago. Better health in 2014 should lead to a better overall season from the Panthers.

    Normally, the deciding factor between FBS and FCS teams is the size of the linemen, and Iowa is particularly set in that regard with an NFL prospect on offense (Brandon Scherff, 6'5", 320 lbs) and defense (Carl Davis, 6'5", 315 lbs).

    But UNI counters with 6'4", 311-pound senior defensive tackle Xavier Williams, so it's not like it's completely hapless up front.

Iowa State

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    When: Aug. 30 vs. North Dakota State

    Iowa State lost to FCS Northern Iowa in 2013 and now gets to face the three-time reigning FCS national champions, North Dakota State.

    Yes, the Bison lost a ton of seniors and (more importantly) new Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl, but they've developed talent at a rate typically reserved for FBS programs. They should be just fine.

    NDSU upset Kansas State in a true road game to open last season. The 2013 Wildcats were better than the 2014 Cyclones are projected to be, and Manhattan is a tougher place to play than Ames is.

    This team is not scared of anybody.

Michigan State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    When: Aug. 29 vs. Jacksonville State

    Wanna talk about a look-ahead scenario?

    Michigan State gets Jacksonville State—a team that made the FCS quarterfinals in 2013—to open the season before traveling to Autzen Stadium in Eugene to play Oregon the following week.

    What's more, the Spartans have a history of not coming strong out of the gates. Last year, for example, was the team's best season in recent memory, but the season-opener against Western Michigan was an ugly 26-13 win where the offense gained less than 300 total yards.

    Sparty cannot afford to overlook the Gamecocks.

Nebraska

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    When: Sept. 6 vs. McNeese State

    Nebraska is good for four losses—and exactly four losses—every season, and if it's not careful, one could come early in 2014.

    McNeese State has always been one of the better FCS teams and made the second round of the playoffs last season. The defense returns almost everyone from last year's team, which beat AAC foe South Florida 51-23, and also has former Mississippi State running back Derek Milton as part of a talented backfield tandem.

    There is no reason Nebraska should lose a home game against a team it is obviously more talented than, but with Fresno State and Miami looming the following two weeks, there is some look-ahead potential.

Syracuse

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    Phil Sears/Associated Press

    When: Aug. 29 vs. Villanova

    This old Big East basketball rivalry gets an updated look on the football field in 2014, and the game should be closer than folks expect.

    Syracuse has been a solid competitor these past few seasons but doesn't blow anyone away on paper. It is exactly the type of team that shouldn't—but could—let an FCS team hang around.

    Villanova has explosive dual-threat quarterback John Robertson, who has the potential to be the best player on the field against the Orange, and a pair of talented running backs behind him. The Wildcats will not be scared to head into the Carrier Dome.

    At the very least, this game is worth watching for nostalgia's sake.

Toledo

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    USA TODAY Sports

    When: Aug. 30 vs. New Hampshire

    As a general rule, teams in the "group of five" are less likely to look ahead than teams in the power conferences. They know, by virtue of their league, that they are in no position to take a game for granted.

    Regardless, it would be difficult for Toledo not to peek ahead on its schedule. The Rockets follow their season-opener against New Hampshire with nonconference games against Missouri and Cincinnati, and a pivotal conference showdown against Ball State.

    Toledo is a very good football team. Despite not being picked for a bowl game last season, I listed it as my favorite to win the MAC. Its offensive line is legitimately one of the best in college football.

    But if it lets its guard down against New Hampshire, the Wildcats will bury it. They were ranked No. 4 in the Athlon Sports FCS rankings and return a lot of talent from a team that made the semifinals in 2013.

    Matt Campbell needs to make sure his team wakes up for this one.

Tulane

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    USA TODAY Sports

    When: Sept. 13 vs. Southeastern Louisiana

    Tulane's final season in Conference USA was successful, as the school transitions to the AAC on the heels of a surprising bowl campaign.

    But getting back to six wins will be difficult.

    That holds doubly true considering the strength and placement of its lone FCS opponent, Southeastern Louisiana. The Lions went 7-0 in the Southland Conference last season, made it to the quarterfinals of the playoffs and are led by former Oregon quarterback Bryan Bennett (the reigning conference Player of the Year).

    What's more, Tulane has to play SE Louisiana between the two hardest games on its schedule, a home date with Georgia Tech and a road trip to Duke. Depending on how the Green Wave fare against the Yellow Jackets, this could be a letdown, look-ahead sandwich.

    Nick "Son of Joe" Montana had better be on point.

Virginia Tech

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    USA TODAY Sports

    When: Aug. 30 vs. William & Mary

    Williams & Mary is the FCS analogue of Virginia Tech: questionable on offense but solid enough on defense to compete with anyone.

    The Tribe will ugly up this game with their in-state non-rival, and with the Hokies breaking in a new quarterback among an offense that looked so hapless in 2013, this could turn into a low-scoring affair.

    Virginia Tech is better equipped to win a game of that nature and probably will. But if it's even a one-score game in the fourth quarter, William & Mary has done its job.

    From there, almost anything can happen.

Washington

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    When: Sept. 6 vs. Eastern Washington

    New Washington head coach Chris Petersen played the part of the scrappy underdog to perfection during his time at Boise State. He knows what to look for and will not be caught off guard when his team hosts Eastern Washington in Week 2 next season.

    And yet, that might not be enough.

    The Eagles were ranked the No. 1 team in FCS football by Athlon Sports, and it's easy to understand why. They laid 49 points and 625 yards on Oregon State in a season-opening upset last season, and they return star quarterback Vernon Adams from that squad.

    "It's just having swagger," Adams said after the victory, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "Coming out here and not being nervous. Just come out here and play your game."

    "That's a good football team with good players," added Oregon State head coach Mike Riley. "They've been good for a long time."

    Consider yourself alerted, Husky fans.

West Virginia

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    USA TODAY Sports

    When: Sept. 6 vs. Towson

    There is something in college football known as the "body-blow theory" that Fox Sports writer Bruce Feldman helped develop during his time at CBS Sports. In its simplest, most understandable form, the theory goes something like this: Teams struggle to play well one week after playing a notoriously physical opponent.

    Now, let's look at the West Virginia schedule.

    WVU opens the season against Alabama, a notoriously physical—if not downright dominant—opponent. Although bodies are ostensibly fresher at the start of the schedule, the body-blow theory still applies.

    The following week, Dana Holgorsen's team hosts Towson. When scheduled, this game against a historically weak FCS opponent was supposed to be a rollover after playing the Crimson Tide. But then Towson football decided, out of nowhere, to wake up.

    The Tigers made the FCS Championship Game last season and should be competitive again in 2014—despite the loss of star running back Terrance West. They have this circled as their big chance to beat a superior opponent, whereas West Virginia might be licking its wounds from the Alabama game and looking ahead to Maryland in Week 3.

    But that would be a massive mistake.