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FCS vs. FBS: History of FCS Wins

The world of college football is a whirlwind of passion, rivalries, and fierce competition. College football I separated into two division ; the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). FBS schools are revered over FCS schools, so let’s examine the history of FCS wins and upsets.

Understanding the FBS vs. FCS Divide

The FBS, formerly known as Division I-A, is the pinnacle of college football. With a maximum of 85 full scholarships per team and a wealth of resources, these programs boast the highest level of competition and national exposure. On the other hand, the FCS, previously known as Division I-AA, operates with a cap of 63 scholarships and a more modest financial backdrop.

However, the differences between these divisions go beyond mere numbers. The FBS is structured around lucrative bowl games and a highly anticipated four-team playoff, while the FCS crowns its champion through a 24-team playoff system officially recognized by the NCAA. This contrast in postseason formats adds an extra layer of intrigue to the FBS vs. FCS rivalry.

FCS Upsets and the Power of the Underdog

While the FBS teams are typically considered a “higher caliber” of college football, the FCS has proven time and again that size and resources do not always dictate the outcome on the field. Throughout the years, FCS programs have pulled off remarkable upsets against their FBS counterparts.

One of the most memorable FCS upsets occurred in 2016 when North Dakota State, a perennial FCS powerhouse, defeated the No. 13 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes, an FBS team, by a score of 23-21. This victory not only shook the college football world but also solidified North Dakota State’s reputation as a formidable force, even against the highest levels of competition.

Which FCS Conference Wins the Most FBS Games?

Since the start of the 2012 season, the Big Sky Conference has garnered the most FCS upsets over FBS teams, with an impressive 21 victories to its name – more than any other FCS conference.

FCS vs. FBS Upsets: Full List of FCS Upsets Since 2012

DateFCS WinnerFBS LoserFinal Score
9/16/2023Sacramento StateStanford30-23
9/9/2023Southern IllinoisNorthern Illinois14-11
9/24/2022Sacramento StateColorado State41-10
9/17/2022Southern IllinoisNorthwestern31-24
9/10/2022Weber StateUtah State35-7
9/10/2022Holy CrossBuffalo37-31
9/10/2022Eastern KentuckyBowling Green59-57, 7OT
9/2/2022William & MaryCharlotte41-24
11/06/2021Rhode IslandUMass35-22
9/18/2021Northern ArizonaArizona21-19
9/18/2021UIWTexas State42-34
9/11/2021Jacksonville StateFlorida State20-17
9/4/2021East Tennessee StateVanderbilt23-3
9/4/2021MontanaNo. 20 Washington13-7
9/4/2021Holy CrossUConn38-28
9/3/2021South Dakota StateColorado State42-23
9/2/2021Eastern WashingtonUNLV35-33, 2OT
9/2/2021UC DavisTulsa19-17
2/21/2021Tarleton StateNew Mexico State43-17
10/23/2020Jacksonville StateFlorida International19-10
9/14/2019The CitadelGeorgia Tech27-24, OT
9/7/2019Southern IllinoisUMass45-20
8/29/2019Central ArkansasWestern Kentucky35-28
9/22/2018Illinois StateColorado State35-19
9/8/2018MaineWestern Kentucky31-28
9/2/2018North Carolina A&TEast Carolina28-23
9/1/2018Northern ArizonaUTEP30-10
9/1/2018Nicholls StateKansas26-23, OT
8/30/2018UC DavisSan Jose State44-38
9/23/2017Western IllinoisCoastal Carolina52-10
9/16/2017North Carolina A&TCharlotte35-31
9/16/2017Idaho StateNevada30-28
9/9/2017South DakotaBowling Green35-27
9/9/2017New HampshireGeorgia Southern22-12
9/2/2017James MadisonEast Carolina34-14
8/31/2017Tennessee StateGeorgia State17-10
9/24/2016Western IllinoisNorthern Illinois28-23
9/24/2016Central ArkansasArkansas State28-23
9/17/2016North Dakota StateIowa23-21
9/10/2016North Carolina A&TKent State39-36, 4OT
9/10/2016Illinois StateNorthwestern9-7
9/10/2016Eastern IllinoisMiami (OH)21-17
9/3/2016Northern IowaIowa State25-20
9/3/2016Eastern WashingtonWashington State45-42
11/21/2015The CitadelSouth Carolina23-22
10/10/2015Portland StateNorth Texas66-7
10/3/2015LibertyGeorgia State41-33
9/26/2015James MadisonSMU48-45
9/5/2015South Dakota StateKansas41-38
9/5/2015Portland StateWashington State24-17
9/5/2015North DakotaWyoming24-13
10/11/2014LibertyAppalachian State55-48, OT
9/27/2014YaleArmy49-43, OT
9/20/2014Northwestern StateLouisiana Tech30-27
9/13/2014Indiana StateBall State27-20
9/13/2014Abilene ChristianTroy38-35
9/6/2014Eastern KentuckyMiami (OH)17-10
8/30/2014North Dakota StateIowa State34-14
8/30/2014Bethune-CookmanFlorida International14-12
11/23/2013Georgia SouthernFlorida26-20
11/9/2013Old DominionIdaho59-38
9/21/2013Jacksonville StateGeorgia State32-26, OT
9/14/2013Bethune-CookmanFlorida International34-13
9/7/2013Nicholls StateWestern Michigan27-23
9/7/2013ChattanoogaGeorgia State42-14
8/31/2013Northern IowaIowa State28-20
8/31/2013McNeese StateSouth Florida53-21
8/31/2013Eastern WashingtonOregon State49-46
8/31/2013Eastern IllinoisSan Diego State40-19
8/30/2013SamfordGeorgia State31-21
8/30/2013North Dakota StateKansas State24-21
8/29/2013Southern UtahSouth Alabama22-21
9/29/2012Stony BrookArmy23-3
9/15/2012Cal PolyWyoming24-22
9/8/2012Sacramento StateColorado30-28
9/8/2012Northern ArizonaUNLV17-14
9/8/2012North Dakota StateColorado State22-7
9/8/2012Illinois StateEastern Michigan31-14
9/1/2012Youngstown StatePitt31-17
8/30/2012McNeese StateMiddle Tennessee27-21
8/30/2012Eastern WashingtonIdaho20-3

Most All-Time FCS Wins Over FBS:

  1. Youngstown State: 20 wins (most recent: 31-17 over Pittsburgh in 2012)
  2. Delaware: 16 wins (14-7 over Navy in 2022)
  3. Boise State*: 14 wins (38-14 over Utah State in 1995)*
  4. Northwestern State: 13 wins (30-27 over Louisiana Tech in 2014)
  5. Nevada*: 12 wins (50-8 over UNLV in 1991)*
  6. North Dakota State: 9 wins (23-21 over No. 13 Iowa in 2016)

*Note: Boise State and Nevada were FCS programs at the time of these victories but have since transitioned to the FBS level.

Largest Margins of Victory

While close games and nail-biting finishes are often the hallmark of FCS upsets, some victories have been truly lopsided affairs. In 2015, Portland State demolished North Texas by a staggering score of 66-7, marking the largest margin of victory in an FCS upset over an FBS team. Similarly, Lehigh’s 58-0 thrashing of Penn in 1981 and Nevada’s 49-3 victory over Cal State Fullerton in 1986 (when both teams were FCS members) stand as testaments to the potential dominance of FCS programs on their best days.

Has an FCS Team Ever Changed to FBS?

While the competitive landscape between FBS and FCS teams is constantly evolving, it is rare for programs to make the transition from one division to the other. Financial difficulties, competitive balance, and institutional priorities all play a role in determining whether a team remains in its current division or seeks a change.

Requirement Changing for FCS to move to FBS ( effective October 2023):

  • Eliminate attendance requirements at FBS schools (effective immediately).
  • Increase the application fee for transitioning from FCS to FBS from $5,000 to $5 million (effective immediately).
  • Require all FBS programs to provide 90 percent of the total number of allowable scholarships over a two-year rolling period across 16 sports, including football. FBS schools will also be required to fund 210 scholarships each year, amounting to no less than $6 million annually (effective August 2027).
  • For schools that begin transitioning to FBS in 2024-25 or later, requirements must be met by the conclusion of the transition process.

In recent years, a handful of programs have made the leap from FCS to FBS, such as Coastal Carolina and Liberty, seeking the exposure and resources that come with the higher division. Conversely, the move from FBS to FCS is even rarer, as it often signifies a program’s struggle to maintain the financial and competitive demands of the top tier.

Formidable FCS

The FBS vs. FCS divide in college football represents more than just a difference in scholarship numbers and resources. It is a testament to the passion, determination, and unpredictability that make the sport so captivating. While FBS teams may hold the upper hand in terms of funding and exposure, the FCS has proven time and again that heart, grit, and a never-say-die attitude can overcome even the mightiest of opponents.