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2021 Season

Ranking Big 12 vs FCS games for 2021 by Upset Potential

Should any Big 12 teams be on upset alert against their FCS opponent this season? We break down the most interesting match-ups for 2021.



DB Anthony Johnson of the Iowa State Cyclones blocks a pass by QB Will McElvain of the Northern Iowa Panthers - Getty Images - David Purdy
Getty Images - David Purdy

There’s always so much talk about about the best games for the upcoming college football seasons between Power-5 teams, and for good reason. Meanwhile, we often dog and ignore the games on the schedule between the giants of the P5 and the poor little lower-division FCS teams.

But, there are plenty of reasons to pay attention to the games when the lower level rises up to face the supposedly superior Power 5.

Since the most famous FCS over Power 5 win ever — Appalachian State beating No. 5 Michigan in the Big House — back in week one of the 2007 season, there have been 26 more occurrences of David over Goliath. That includes right in our backyard, the Big 12.

So with that in mind, let’s look at all of the Big 12 vs. FCS match-ups on the 2021 schedule and rank them based on which ones might be scarier than the others.

No. 9 – Oklahoma vs. Western Carolina

The Big 12 favorites will face off against a Western Carolina team that finished 1-8 last season, including 1-5 in the Southern Conference. The Catamounts replaced their head coach this off-season, hiring Kerwin Bell.

There’s a good chance we’ll see the Sooners’ third string in this one by mid-third quarter. Last season, Western Carolina ranked 91st out of 97 in total defense, and 84th in total offense. In their eight losses they were outscored by an average of 27 points.

This is one even OU fans might not finish watching.

No. 8 – West Virginia vs. Long Island University

Yes, LIU went 2-2 in the Northest Conference last year, better than a few teams ranked higher in here. But here’s the problem; they ranked 80th in total offense, 67th in scoring offense, and their strength on offense was running the ball (144 ypg rushing vs. 136 ypg passing). While West Virginia’s defense is sure to take a slight step back, I highly doubt a rushing defense that ranked 28th last year should have too much of a problem here.

No. 7 – TCU vs. Duquesne

Look, there are a decent number of question marks about TCU heading into this season. On top of that, this was a good Duquesne team last season, who finished 4-1 in the Northeast Conference and was one of the teams receiving votes in the final poll.

But, the NEC is one of the worst conferences in the FCS, so don’t let that 4-1 record fool you. This is a team that could be ranked between 25-35 this season so I expect TCU to handle them.

No. 6 – Texas Tech vs. Stephen F. Austin

Don’t let Texas Tech nearly losing to Houston Baptist last season fool you into thinking that might happen again in 2021.

Also, be sure not to confuse Stephen F. Austin with Sam Houston. Yes, both are Texas schools named after famous Texans, but Sam Houston won the FCS National Championship this past spring. Stephen F. Austin went 6-4 and missed the playoffs.

No. 5 – Baylor vs. Texas Southern

Texas Southern was picked 4th in the preseason SWAC poll. That’s a SWAC conference that’s not one of the better FCS conferences.

Last season, the Tigers went 0-2 and had their other four spring games canceled. Baylor shouldn’t have any trouble stopping a team that couldn’t score more than 23 points this past season.

No. 4 – Oklahoma State vs Missouri State

We’re starting to get into the more interesting match-ups. Not that I expect Oklahoma State to lose to Missouri State, but this one could at least be interesting.

In Bobby Petrino’s (yes, that Bobby Petrino) first season the Bears went 5-4 in route to their first playoff appearance in a LONG time. They lost North Dakota (handily), but showed potential. Petrino is bringing in a lot of transfers to bolster the roster which should make them even better this season. Both Sam Herder of Hero Sports and Athlon have the Bears ranked in their preseason Top-25.

Will Missouri State win? No, but they’ll probably put up more points than Oklahoma State fans would like.

No. 3 – Iowa State vs Northern Iowa

Northern Iowa has been one of the better FCS teams for a long time. Not only has Northern Iowa beaten Iowa State before (2007, 2013, 2016), it took the Cyclones three overtimes to put the in-state “rivals” away back in 2019.

Northern Iowa is a little down these days, so I don’t expect them to give Iowa State the fight they have in the past, but under Matt Campbell, the Cyclones aren’t known for starting seasons fast. So, this has the potential to be another “closer than it should be” game no matter what ISU is ranked in the preseason.

No. 2 – Kansas vs. South Dakota

Not to be confused with South Dakota State who is ranked in the top-5 of multiple preseason Top-25 FCS polls, South Dakota is not quite as good.

This has more to do with Kansas than the opponent. That’s not a shot at the Jayhawks, it’s a dose of reality. There’s the new coaching staff that didn’t get hired until after Spring ball, the numerous starters and depth pieces that transferred out, and the numerous players who transferred in that are expected to make an impact. Combine all of that and it would be understandable if Kansas stumbled a bit out of the gate.

While I actually expect Kansas to win this game, I don’t believe it will be convincingly.

No. 1 – Kansas State vs. Southern Illinois

This is less of a commentary on Kansas State and more of a commentary on a Southern Illinois team that’s ranked in the top-10 of the majority of the FCS preseason polls.

This is a good Salukis team and one that could give Kansas State some trouble. I think this is a good Kansas State team, but a week after playing a physical Stanford and before playing a sneaky good Nevada team, the Wildcats will have to face an FCS opponent that will give them more of a challenge than the fans likely expect.

Now, I fully expect Kansas State to win this game, but if you told me it was a one-score game in the fourth quarter, I wouldn’t be surprised.

We discuss these match-ups with Sam Herder of Hero Sports on the Ten12 Podcast. Take a listen, and be sure to subscribe!