A Look Back on FCS-Power 5 Upsets from 2021

Photo credit: Dakota Hamilton/East Tennessee State athletics

It’s the offseason, so we are prime for various types of discussions.

There has been no known major push from college football, but fans seem to like the idea of schools playing against other schools as the spring game instead of intrasquad scrimmages. Some might even suggest scheduling a FCS team for the spring, so it doesn’t have to happen in the fall.

There are two sides to every argument. This author falls on the side of FCS teams scheduling FBS teams in the fall as a good thing for college football.

For one, it is a major payday for these FCS teams to travel to face an FBS program. The second reason is that some of the best upsets of all-time happen when an FCS team conquers a bigger FBS foe. The last is that the FCS kids deserve an opportunity to compete with those at the FBS level. They also deserve the chance to play at some of college football’s most pristine venues, which happen to belong almost exclusively to Power 5 schools.

So let’s look back on last season’s upsets involving FCS teams topping Power 5 programs:

Montana 13, (20) Washington 7

Sept. 4, 2021
Coming into the 2021 season, Washington was seen as a team that could compete for the Pac-12, a spot in the Rose Bowl and perhaps be a sleeper for the College Football Playoff. This dream was squashed immediately by Montana. The Grizzlies held Washington scoreless in the second, third and fourth quarters. Washington would end up going 4-8 and firing head coach Jimmy Lake. Montana finished with a No. 6 FCS ranking and made a run in the FCS Playoffs. To add insult to injury, Washington paid Montana $675,000 to come to Seattle and ruin its season opener.

East Tennessee State 23, Vanderbilt 3

Sept. 4, 2021
It’s no secret that Vanderbilt is a traditional bottom dweller in the SEC. But many do not realize how significant of a win this was for East Tennessee State. In 2003, East Tennessee State discontinued football. It didn’t return to Johnson City until 2015. In six years, the Buccaneers managed to build back enough to defeat a SEC program — simply amazing. To take the loss, Vanderbilt paid East Tennessee State a total of $415,000. 

Jacksonville State 20, Florida State 17

Sept. 11, 2021
Jacksonville State is no strangers to defeating FBS opponents, and often giving them a run for their money. Thankfully for the Gamecocks, the Florida State coaching staff didn’t put its defensive backs deep enough. On the game’s final play, Zerrick Cooper found Damond Philyaw-Johnson for a walk-off 59-yard touchdown to stun the Doak Campbell Stadium faithful and hand the Seminoles their first-ever loss to an FCS foe. In 2022, FSU opens with Duquesne, who defeated FBS Ohio in 2021, so it better be ready. Florida State’s loss to Jacksonville State came at a price of $400,000.

Northern Arizona 21, Arizona 19

Sept. 18, 2021
As far as Power 5 teams go, Arizona is near the bottom of the barrel. In 2021, the Wildcats finished at 1-11. As a program, they have lost 22 of their last 23 games. Even with reading all of this, could you believe that Arizona came into the contest against Northern Arizona as a 26.5-point favorite? The Lumberjacks had a 210-mile trip to beat an instate opponent and made $500,000 for doing it. A failed game-tying 2-point conversion attempt with less than three minutes to play was the difference.