FCS spring college football ramps up this weekend. Here's what you need to know.

Sam Cooper
·9 min read

We’re not even two weeks removed from the Super Bowl, but you’re in for a treat if you’re already itching for the return of football.

While the vast majority of the FBS plowed forward and played its season in the fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic, FCS football was pushed to the spring. FCS is the lower level of Division I football that was once known as Division I-AA. Now it’s the Football Championship Subdivision. Catchy, I know.

There were a handful of FCS teams that opted to schedule a bunch of non-conference games in the fall in lieu of playing this spring. But most schools stayed in lock-step with their respective conferences and will play shortened schedules throughout the spring.

The first FCS game of the season was played over the weekend, but the action will pick up significantly this coming weekend with several of the most prominent FCS conferences beginning their seasons. Other conferences won’t get going until March.

And because of the ongoing issues with COVID-19, there are several FCS programs that have decided not to participate this spring and aim to resume play next fall. But the large majority of teams are ready to roll.

Here’s what you need to know.

Who is playing?

Big Sky: Eight teams will play six conference games over an eight-week period, beginning Feb. 27 and concluding April 10. Montana, Montana State, Northern Colorado and Portland State will play smaller, non-conference schedules. Sacramento State will not play.

Big South: Five teams will play a four-game league schedule and up to four non-conference games. The conference schedule begins March 13 and concludes April 10. The five teams participating are Charleston Southern, Gardner-Webb, Kennesaw State, Monmouth and Robert Morris.

Colonial Athletic Association: Eleven of the conference’s 12 teams will play a six-game conference schedule with up to two non-conference games. The conference schedule begins March 6 using a two-division format: seven teams in the North Division, four teams in the South Division. Teams from the North will face each other once. To minimize travel, teams from the South will face each other twice (one home, one away). Conference play ends April 17.

Independents: Dixie State and Tarleton State will play as independents in 2021 before joining the Western Athletic Conference in 2022. The WAC is reinstating football in the fall of 2022, as reported by Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel. Both Tarleton State and Dixie State will play New Mexico State, an FBS independent, during the spring. NMSU did not participate in the fall FBS season, but will play home games against Tarleton on Feb. 20 and Dixie State on March 6. NMSU will also host D-II New Mexico Highlands on Feb. 27.

MEAC: The conference announced last week that it has suspended its spring schedule, which was scheduled to begin Feb. 20 and conclude April 17. Six of the conference’s nine members opted not to play. Delaware State, Howard and South Carolina State will attempt to play non-conference games.

Missouri Valley: The MVFC’s 11 members will each play an eight-game conference schedule that begins Friday, Feb. 19 and is slated to end April 10. April 17 is available as an open date for any games that need to be rescheduled. The schedule features games played on Thursday and Friday nights, as well as Saturdays and Sundays.

Northeast: Six NEC teams will play a four-game conference schedule during the month of March (7-28) with games played on Sundays. The conference is leaving two weeks open for makeup games and will hold its championship game some time in April. Central Connecticut State and St. Francis (PA) will not participate.

Ohio Valley: Eight OVC teams will play a round-robin seven-game conference schedule over an eight-week period. Games will be played on Sundays, except for Easter weekend (games will be played Saturday). OVC play will kick off on Feb. 21 and conclude April 11. March 7 will be an open date. Eastern Kentucky assembled a nine-game schedule during the fall and will not compete in the spring.

Patriot League: The six participating Patriot League programs will be split into two three-team divisions. Teams will play each divisional opponent once and have two crossover games for a total of four games apiece. The schedule begins March 13 and concludes with a title game on April 17 with April 10 set as a weekend for makeup games. Georgetown has elected not to participate.

Pioneer: The PFL will play a six-game conference schedule. The conference’s seven members will be joined by Presbyterian as part of a scheduling agreement for spring 2021. Dayton and Marist will not play. Conference play will take place during a March 13 through April 17 window with non-conference games played beforehand.

SoCon: The league’s nine teams will play eight-game conference schedules beginning Feb. 20 and concluding April 17. The SoCon allowed its members to play non-conference games during the fall. The Citadel played four games in the fall and three others played at least one non-conference game.

Southland: Seven of the Southland’s members will play a six-game round-robin conference schedule that begins Feb. 20 and runs through April 10. McNeese State played the first FCS game of the spring season over the weekend, defeating Tarleton State 40-37 in double overtime in a non-conference game.

SWAC: The SWAC announced a six-game conference schedule — four division opponents, two crossover division opponents — for its 10 members back in August, but there is some uncertainty now after defending conference champion Alcorn State opted out of the season last week. The season is scheduled to begin Feb. 27 and conclude April 17 with April 24 as an open date.

North Dakota State head coach Matt Entz watches his team play against Central Arkansas at an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, in Fargo, N.D. North Dakota State won 39-28. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
North Dakota State head coach Matt Entz watches his team play against Central Arkansas at an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, in Fargo, N.D. North Dakota State won 39-28. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

Who is not playing?

Big Sky: Sacramento State

Big South: Campbell, Hampton, North Alabama

CAA: Towson

MEAC: Bethune-Cookman, Florida A&M, Morgan State, Norfolk State, North Carolina A&T, NC Central

NEC: Central Connecticut State, St. Francis (PA)

Patriot: Georgetown

Pioneer: Dayton, Marist

Southland: Abilene Christian, Central Arkansas, Houston Baptist, Stephen F. Austin

SWAC: Alcorn State

The Ivy League, the first conference to call off football in the fall, will not play football in the spring either. The conference’s eight members — Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale — are slated to return to the field in fall 2021.

When does the season start?

The first FCS game of the season was played Saturday, Feb. 13 when Tarleton State hosted McNeese State. McNeese State, with LSU coach Ed Orgeron’s son Cody starting at quarterback, emerged with a 40-37 double-overtime win.

Conference play across the country will begin this coming weekend, with the Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley, Southern and Southland conferences all kicking off. Other leagues like the Big Sky and SWAC will begin Feb. 27 with others not beginning to play until March.

In the Missouri Valley, Northern Iowa will host South Dakota State as one of two Friday night games. Northern Iowa and South Dakota State were ranked in the top 10 of the preseason FCS top 25.

There are then 10 games scheduled for Saturday and six more on tap for Sunday.

Who are the best teams?

Everybody knows about North Dakota State’s dynasty. The Bison have won eight of the last nine FCS national championships and most notably produced quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Trey Lance, a projected first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

Lance will not play for the Bison this season, opening the door for Iowa State transfer Zeb Noland to play quarterback for NDSU. NDSU opens up its season at home against Youngstown State on Sunday. NDSU’s top competition in the Missouri Valley includes Northern Iowa, South Dakota State and Illinois State.

Other projected top teams planning to play the spring FCS season include James Madison, Weber State, Villanova, Kennesaw State, Austin Peay, Wofford, Sam Houston State and Eastern Washington.

Also of note is Jackson State, which now has Hall of Famer Deion Sanders as its head coach. Sanders has made plenty of noise by beating out FBS programs for recruits, as well as adding ex-FBS players as transfers. Sanders has said that players who played in high school or at another college in the fall will not be eligible to play this spring.

Jackson State football coach Deion Sanders speaks with players following an NCAA college football scrimmage in Jackson, Miss., Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. This is Sanders' first college head coaching position. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Jackson State football coach Deion Sanders speaks with players following an NCAA college football scrimmage in Jackson, Miss., Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. This is Sanders' first college head coaching position. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

What is the postseason format?

The FCS ordinarily utilizes a 24-team playoff during its fall seasons. For the spring, it will use a 16-team bracket with 10 automatic bids going to conference champions and a selection committee choosing the remaining slots in the field.

The FCS playoff field will be announced on Sunday, April 18 with the first round beginning the following Saturday on April 24. The quarterfinals will follow on May 1 with the semifinals slated for May 8. The FCS title game is scheduled for either Saturday, May 15 or Sunday, May 16 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

How can I watch?

ESPN+ will be the key resource if you’re looking to watch some spring FCS football. Thanks to the Deion Sanders factor, there are currently a few Jackson State games set for broadcast on ESPNU. Other than that, you will mostly have to rely on ESPN3 and ESPN+ to get your spring football fix. Other services like FloFootball and Pluto TV also have arrangements with specific conferences.

Most FCS playoff games in the fall make their way onto one of the ESPN networks, like ESPN2 or ESPNU. It’s safe to assume that the same will be true in the spring.

The best resource to stay up to date on the FCS schedule is FBSchedules.com, which has a weekly rundown of FCS games and where to watch the games.

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