Photo courtesy of Jacksonville State athletics
With the American Athletic Conference adding six Conference USA schools, conference expansion at the Group of 5 level is here.
Whether it is the Sun Belt or Conference-USA, there is going to be some shakeups.
In the case these conferences turn to FCS schools — a real possibility — here are five to watch out for:
1. James Madison
There have been three teams to win a national championship at the FCS level over the past 10 years. Those three are North Dakota State, Sam Houston State, and James Madison. Granted, James Madison has only won one of those, while North Dakota State has eight.
Since 2015, James Madison has dominated the Colonial Athletic Association. The Duke have won the conference in all but one season, but still advanced to the second round of the playoffs that year.
The Dukes have had plenty of success, but there is reason to believe that their best football is ahead of them. When you look at the fan support and national attention, this is not a normal FCS team. This is a program that has plenty to like if you are an FBS conference.
They may have been approached about making the jump before.
They’ve already been mentioned among teams that could make the jump. James Madison could probably jump in and compete in multiple FBS conferences.
That is how good the Dukes are.
2. Kennesaw State
The Owls have only fielded a football team for seven seasons, but they have had plenty of success.
The Owls have compiled a 57-17 record over the course of those seven years, and have advanced to the FCS playoffs three times. Two of those playoff appearances culminated in runs to the quarterfinals.
The newfound success that Kennesaw State has found is understandable. After all, it is a large university planted in a major metropolitan area.
With over 41,000 students, Kennesaw State is the second-largest school in Georgia. With that comes tons of financial and political ability.
Should some conference want to go after a young and upcoming program, it is hard to find a better option than Kennesaw State.
3. Jacksonville State
We talked about Kennesaw State. Now, it is time to talk about one of its rivals.
In their long history, the Gamecocks have had plenty of success across the board. Dating back to the 1960s, Jacksonville State has won 24 conference champions.
Since arriving at the FCS level, the Gamecocks have appeared in the playoffs 15 different times. In 2015, they came just short of winning a national championship.
This is a program that has had to take on giants before, and they have found a way to make statements. This year, the Gamecocks knocked off Florida State on a Hail Mary. In previous years, they have taken Auburn and Ole Miss down to the wire, and even beat the Rebels in overtime.
Even with its long history, this is a program that has its best days ahead. The Gamecocks have shown that they can compete with and beat some of the best that the FBS has to offer.
4. Jackson State
If you were told three years ago that Jackson State could be on its way to becoming the most talented FCS team, you would probably call that crazy. You can thank Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders for making this a reality. He has pulled off some incredible wins on the recruiting trail and in the transfer portal.
HBCUs are starting to become more and more popular. In fact, recruits have started weighing HBCU offers more than ever before. The difference here is that Sanders and Jackson State have actually managed to pull some of these recruits.
Sanders has brought the Tigers new fame. Could a jump to the FBS prove beneficial? Wishful thinking? Maybe, but it would be fun to say the least.
5. Eastern Washington
Do not think we forgot about the west. Should the Mountain West need another member soon, Eastern Washington could be a solid fit.
Since 2010, the Eagles have appeared in two national championships at the FCS level, winning one.
Eastern Washington could be perfect for a conference that could soon lose Boise State.
New head coach Aaron Best has the Eagles on the right track. Should the Eagles get the call, maybe they would be willing to take a long-awaited jump forward.