Every college football season, a few teams suffer embarrassing losses to their lower-subdivision counterparts. FCS teams are usually scheduled as easy wins. For some FBS programs, though, beating an FCS team isn’t so easy. Of course sometimes–most famously when Appalachian State shocked Michigan in 2007–even top-tier FBS teams lose to FCS teams. Usually, however, it’s a Group of 5 team that suffers the ignominious loss.
As rare as they are, FCS over FBS upsets are not as unheard-of as you might think. Every single season since Division I restructuring in 1978 has seen at least two such upsets. 2008 saw the fewest, with only two. In each season from 2009 until 2013, at least two current Power 5 teams suffered an upset to an FCS team.
When looking at the opening week’s schedule, it was easy to peg Georgia State vs Kennesaw State as the likeliest first chance at an FCS over FBS upset. Georgia State is coming off the best season in program history, but it lost a lot of production and is still a very young program–the Panthers first fielded a football team in 2010. Kennesaw State, meanwhile, is currently one of the best programs in the FCS. The Owls ended last season in the FCS Top 5, and are ranked No. 5 in the preseason poll.
For most of the game, in fact, it looked as if that would be the case. Kennesaw State controlled the game, but a huge sequence before the half gave Georgia State 14 points, and the Panthers added a touchdown with under a minute left to win the game.
Georgia State’s benefit, of course, came at San Jose State’s expense. Instead of the Panthers earning the ignominy of the season’s first upset to a lower-tier school, that (dis)honor went to the Aztecs.
The final game on Thursday night, this one also seemed to have upset potential. UC Davis is not a particularly strong FCS squad, but San Jose State has been consistently one of the worst teams in FBS for years now. Anything can happen in a game that the Aztecs are playing. UC Davis opened up the scoring by taking the ball 75 yards–in 12 plays–on the game’s opening drive.
San Jose State took a brief 14-7 lead, but the Aggies responded by scoring 21 straight points over their next three drives, and they never looked back from there. UC Davis took a 14-point lead into halftime, and opened up the second half by forcing a safety on the first play from scrimmage. San Jose State cut it to within one score with 1:24 remaining, but the Aztecs could not recover the onside kick, and UC Davis ran out the clock from there.
This was actually the fourth game of the season in which an FCS team held the lead over an FBS team in the fourth quarter. Last Saturday, during the “Week 0” games, Prairie View A&M led Rice 28-19 entering the final quarter, before the Owls scored a touchdown, tied the game up with a safety, and kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired. On Thursday night, as mentioned, Georgia State defeated Kennesaw State by scoring a touchdown with 41 seconds remaining. A little over an hour later, Louisiana-Monroe did the same to Southeastern Louisiana, shutting down the upset bid by scoring the game-winning touchdown with 37 seconds remaining.
Given those three results–especially the other two on Thursday night–it might have been expected that San Jose State would complete the miraculous comeback as well. The Aztecs couldn’t quite do it, though, so they will be remembered as the first FBS team to lose to an FCS team this season. If history is any indication, they won’t be the last.