The new U. in FCS College Football

Three years ago, we reviewed the decade of the 2010s to see which FCS programs could brand themselves as the modern “U” in various positions.

A lot in college football these days changes over three weeks let alone three years, so we’ve updated the modern FCS U.

While national power North Dakota State remains the standard at three positions (if not more), new FCS titlist South Dakota State has risen to challenge the bison in more ways, with 2016 national champion James Madison exiting last year the FBS and the champion of 2020, Sam Houston is headed there this year.

“U” still wants it, “U” still has it:

Quarterback U.: State of North Dakota

Previous selection: State of North Dakota

Apologies to QB-heavy East Washington, but there’s no need to release the individual stats, what matters is that five different Bison signal-callers have officiated nine FCS championship seasons since 2011. Brock Jensen set the subdivision record for career wins that would later be surpassed by Easton Stick’s 49, while Carson Wentz became an FCS school’s top NFL draft pick (No. 2 in 2016), Trey Lance was ranked 3 overall after becoming the first freshman to receive the Walter Payton Award, and Cam Miller directed the title-winning 2021 offense as well as last season’s national runner-up.

ndsu bison qb title games
Associated press photo

Running Back U.: State of North Dakota

Previous selection: State of North Dakota

Had Jalen Bussey not been injured during the 2022 season, he would have given the Bison over 1,000 simultaneous career rushing yards to five players — a quintet only three FCS teams have equaled in the past 25 years. The Dynasty program’s backfield volume allows him to outperform others like North Carolina A&T and Youngstown State for RB U. John Crockett, Sam Ojuri, Lance Dunn, Bruce Anderson III, King Frazier and Kobe Johnson have all been for 2,500 career yards over the past 10 years, and Ty Brooks has been almost the same. Multidimensional full-back Hunter Luepke is drafted in April.

Wide Receiver U.: Eastern Washington

Previous selection: East Washington

This selection comes from the “Duh!” department. Basically, all you need to know is Cooper Kupp, who holds FCS career records for receptions (428), receiving yards (6,464), and touchdown catches (73), but there’s a lot more at WR U. Over the past 10 years, the Eagles have had seven different wide receivers that surpassed 150 receptions. Kendrick Bourne (211-3,130-27) has hit massive numbers in the same four seasons (2013-16) as Kupp and has also started an NFL career, as has Nsimba Webster.

c-oper-kupp-ewu-statistics
Associated press photo

Tight End U.: State of South Dakota

Previous pick: Drake (Harvard in the mix)

The new national champion has progressed from showcasing the recent standard for FCS tight ends at Dallas Goedert to an extension of its depth. In FCS history, Goedert is one of the most prolific (198 receptions for 2,988 yards and 21 touchdowns) and highest-drafted (Philadelphia Eagles, 2018 second round) tight ends. Tucker Kraft is the next player in the NFL after an All-America career, and his 6-foot-7, 260-pound sidekick Zach Heins will have another season with the Jackrabbits. He is Kraft ahead in career TD catches and can also outperform him in receptions and reception yards.

Offensive line U.: State of North Dakota

Previous selection: State of North Dakota

Call names like Montana State and Tennessee State, but the No. 1 positional group during NDSU’s FCS dynasty can certainly be found in the trenches where the O linemen allowed quarterback U. and running back U. to the to go to work. For 11 straight seasons, the unit has fueled FCS’ top-rushing offense with no options and has boasted a first-team Stats Perform All-American, including NFL draft picks Billy Turner, Joe Haeg and Cordell Volson twice each and Dillon Radunz. Left tackle Cody Mauch was the team’s first player last season and could be the first FCS player selected for the 2023 NFL Draft.

Line of Defense U.: Chattanooga

Previous selection: Northern Iowa

There are other options like UNI, NDSU and Montana State, but Chattanooga’s two-headed monster of Devonnsha Maxwell and Jay Person cemented their annual forward dominance last season. Maxwell finished his career with 37.5 sacks, edging out former Mocs defensive end Davis Tull (2011-14 season) for the Southern Conference record. Person rose to the brink and became a first-team All-American. Add in D-linemen like Keionta Davis and Isaiah Mack, and the Mocs always have players disrupting an opponent’s offensive backfield.

chattanooga-defensive-linemen
Derek Daniel/Chattanooga Athletics Photo

Linebacker U.: Montana

Previous choice: Montana

Patrick O’Connell, the third-place winner of the 2021 Buck Buchanan Award, is the latest example in Montana’s factory of second-layer defense excellence. Kroy Biermann, the 2007 Buchanan wide receiver, rolled into fellow draft picks Caleb McSurdy and Jordan Tripp, as well as Brock Coyle, Josh Buss, Jace Lewis and 2019 Buchanan wide receiver Dante Olson. Note that while Tyrone Holmes was an outside linebacker in the NFL, he was playing defensive end at UM when he won top FCS defensive honors.

Defense U.: Weber State

Previous choice: James Madison

This is the most competitive U., with recent champions NDSU and SDSU, as well as UNI, Montana, Central Arkansas, Delaware, Southern Illinois, and Southeastern Louisiana. Collective unity wins, however, with Weber State typically among FCS’ best against pass in recent years. It’s not like there aren’t any stars, because Taron Johnson is one of FCS’ better NFL defensemen in the last decade, and Eddie Heckard was an All-Big Sky first-team pick three times, maybe he came finally this award by the prospective junior Maxwell Anderson.

Special Teams U.: Montana

New category

When you look at the here and now, it’s difficult to move beyond Montana’s special teams, who have worked together at the elite level over their past three seasons. Consider this: Brian Buschini made a transition after being a Stats Perform first-team All-America punter in 2021, but Patrick Rohrbach stepped in last year and was a second-team All-American, along with kickoff returnees Malik Flowers and punt -Returnees Junior Bergen with the same award. Flowers was also the third-team choice in 2021, while Long Snapper Matthew O’Donoghue was both the first-team pick in 2019 and the second-team pick in 2021.


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