Spring games have passed and summer workouts are near as FCS programs look to prepare for what’s shaping up to be an exciting 2022 season. As teams await the first kickoff, many have the potential to break out and surprise many.
What is a breakout team? For this article, a breakout team is one that didn’t make last year’s playoffs or a playoff team that will make an impressive leap in 2022.
Here’s a look at the potential breakout FCS teams for next season:
Bryant finished 2021 with a 7-4 record, going 5-2 in the NEC. The Bulldogs were in the conference title hunt all season long, thanks to the emergence of quarterback Zevi Eckhaus. The Jerry Rice Award finalist was the first true freshman QB in NEC history to win Offensive Rookie of the Year and All-NEC First Team honors.
Now, Eckhaus and the Bulldogs head to a new conference, the Big South, in 2022. Regardless of conference, Eckhaus should be even better in 2022, thanks to a year of experience under his belt.
The Bulldogs might have the best quarterback in the Big South and a conference championship is in reach. Bryant could break out, making its first FCS playoff appearance in school history.
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Campbell should receive first place votes in the Big South preseason poll. The Big South has a new look after its top two teams, Kennesaw State and Monmouth, departed, leaving behind five returning sub-.500 programs.
Campbell returns conference defensive player of the year, Brevin Allen, while bringing in one of the top recruiting classes in the FCS. The time is now for the Camels to make a run at the conference title and their first playoff appearance ever.
Central Arkansas lost its dynamic wide receiver duo of Lujuan Winningham (NFL) and Tyler Hudson (FBS transfer), plus starting quarterback Breylin Smith (NFL). However, the Bears still have the potential to make the FCS playoffs after missing out last season.
Central Arkansas replaced Smith with quarterback transfer Will McElvain from Northern Iowa, providing experience under center. McElvain will hand the ball off to running back Darius Hale, a player coming off a breakout season of his own, gaining more than 1,000 rushing yards and scoring 17 touchdowns as a freshman.
Hale should star again in the purple and black as Central Arkansas heads to the revamped ASUN. The Bears should be in the at-large bid conversation at the least.
Can Delaware be a breakout team after making the FCS semifinals just two seasons ago?
Yes, the Blue Hens can after finishing 5-6 last year.
Delaware will enter the season with a new head coach, with alum Ryan Carty bringing experience from the 2020 title over from Sam Houston. Carty’s transition to head coach will be eased by the return of quarterback Nolan Henderson, who’s healthy after injuries bothered him much of 2021.
Elsewhere in the offensive backfield’s loss of running back Dejoun Lee should be eased with sixth-year running back Khory Spruill returning. Don’t forget that the defense still has All-American safety Kedrick Whitehead patrolling the secondary.
If Delaware’s returning talent wasn’t enough, the Blue Hens picked up freshman All-American wide receiver Jalyn Witcher and offensive lineman Josh Stevens out of the transfer portal.
The CAA appears to be wide open in 2022 after James Madison’s departure — and Delaware can take the crown.
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Holy Cross advanced to the second round of the 2021 FCS playoffs, but it can still have a breakout season this fall by advancing further.
Holy Cross will be going for its fourth straight Patriot League title this fall, with 16 all-conference players returning. The Crusaders have a chance to dominate the conference. Holy Cross plays two potential conference title winners out of its conference in Harvard and Bryant, which could have the Crusaders in a position to earn a seed come playoff time. That definitely would qualify as a breakout season.
Kennesaw State won its conference and won a playoff game in 2021. How can it be a breakout team? By being one of the best teams in the country.
With likely preseason All-American quarterback Xavier Shepherd under center, the sky’s the limit for Kennesaw State in the ASUN this year. The Owls have an easy out-of-conference schedule and could go undefeated against FCS opponents in the regular season for the second straight year.
The Owls could have the second overall seed by the season’s end. That’s important given that teams that have only played home games through the FCS semifinal round have been nine of the last 10 participants in the last five FCS championship games. Every one and two seed has this advantage.
Kennesaw State has a legitimate championship shot and a run to the title game would be a breakout season.
North Carolina A&T
North Carolina A&T struggled in its first year in Big South play, finishing 5-6 overall. Like Campbell and Bryant, the Aggies can now take advantage of a wide-open conference filled with losing teams.
The Aggies were a MEAC power before the conference switch, and talent remains throughout the roster. If North Carolina A&T can rediscover its winning ways, it could end its tenure in the Big South with a conference title.
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Richmond last made the FCS playoffs in 2016, but recent moves from the Spiders have them poised for a return.
Richmond reunited the elite 1-2 punch of QB Reece Udinski and WR Jakob Herres — the duo that lit the FCS on fire while previously at VMI — thanks to the transfer portal. The tandem adds explosiveness to Richmond’s offense, which will benefit an already stout defense. That combination should boost the Spider win total.
Texas A&M-Commerce will play its first year of FCS football in 2022 after moving up from Division II. The Lions could quickly leave their mark.
Look at Division III-mover St. Thomas last year for example; it finished 6-2 in the Pioneer League in its first year of FCS play.
Texas A&M-Commerce has the potential to do the same in its first FCS year. The Lions have a pedigree of success, winning the 2017 Division II title. They also return their starting quarterback, while adding multiple transfers from the FBS level. Don’t be surprised if the former DII power knocks off FCS opponents in its first year in the subdivision.