All longtime college football fans remember where they were when a plucky FCS (formerly Division I-AA) squad called Appalachian State walked into the Big House at Michigan and became the first team from college football’s second division to ever beat a ranked opponent. On Saturday, the Mountaineers got some company.
Montana, ranked No. 9 in the preseason Stats Perform FCS Top 25 poll, walked out of Husky Stadium with a dramatic 13-7 win over No. 20 Washington. Montana defender Gavin Robertson had a monster day with two picks off of Washington quarterback Dylan Morris, while linebacker Patrick O’Connell added three tackles for loss and a pair of sacks in the defensive battle.
The win was a historic moment for the FCS, but was only one part of what has been a tremendous start to the 2021 season. East Tennessee State crushed SEC opponent Vanderbilt 23-3 in a tough debut for coach Clark Lea while Holy Cross beat UConn 38-28. On Friday night, Dan Hawkins’ UC Davis team upset Tulsa 19-17 and 2021 FCS runner-up South Dakota State crushed Colorado State 42-23. On Thursday, Eastern Washington beat UNLV, bringing the total number of FCS-over-FBS upsets to six.
Even more surprising, the numbers could have been even higher. Northern Iowa battled with No. 7 Iowa State and had one last chance to win the game, but fell just short 16-10. Montana State gave Wyoming everything it could handle before losing 19-16. Missouri State competed hard with Oklahoma State, especially as the Cowboys played without starting quarterback Spencer Sanders, but couldn’t quite pull off comeback. Even Gardner-Webb challenged Georgia Southern.
While FCS teams play with fewer scholarship players, plenty still come to the table with FBS-level talent. Fordham linebacker Ryan Greenhagen, for example, recorded more tackles than any player in FBS history against Nebraska. After a year away, the FCS appears ready to make a statement.