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Stan Becton | NCAA.com | August 23, 2022

7 storylines to know heading into the 2022 FCS football season

FCS football season preview: Players to watch, potential upsets and more

Seven-plus months, 33 weeks, 230 days. That's how much time separates the end of the 2021 FCS season and the start of the 2022 FCS season. However, that time is nearly up and football is almost back. Here's what you need to know ahead of the season.

Should you pick North Dakota State or the field?

North Dakota State has won nine of the last 11 FCS championships in the most dominant stretch in FCS history. The Bison enter 2022 as the title favorites, with plenty of talent returning.

Will North Dakota State be challenged by the rest of the title field?

Teams like Montana and Montana State will be coming for the crown out of the Big Sky, while the Missouri Valley Football Conference will be among the best in America again in 2022. North Dakota State's southern rival South Dakota State handed the Bison their only conference loss in 2021 and enter the new year as a top challenger.

As reigning champions, North Dakota State has a Bison-sized target on its back, a position it's been in — and won in — multiple times before.

BIG NAMES: 44 players to know for 44 years of FCS football history

Can South Dakota State finally win the big one?

Spring 2021. Runner-up.

Fall 2021. Semifinalist.

What happens in 2022? 

That's the question everyone at South Dakota State wants to know after the Jackrabbits have come so close to winning it all the last two years. Stretch the history back to 2017 and you'll find that South Dakota State has advanced to the FCS playoff semifinals in four of the last five years.

The Jackrabbits have never won the FCS national title. Could this be the year?

South Dakota State returns six preseason All-Americans in 2022 and gets back quarterback Mark Gronowski from injury. This could be the year the Jackrabbits win the big one.

🔮: Way-too-early 2022 FCS playoff bracket predictions

Who emerges in a wide-open Walter Payton Award race?

Gone are the days of Eric Barriere and Cole Kelley, the last two Walter Payton Award winners and top two finishers, respectively.

In comes... anyone?

The 2022 Walter Payton Award race is wide open entering the year. The top six finishers from last year are gone and only three players who finished in the top 11 remain.

Quarterbacks have dominated the award winners in recent history, as the position has taken home 17 of the last 18 — see Kupp, Cooper — trophies. 

Could Kennesaw State's Xavier Shepherd or Missouri State's Jason Shelley be next? Maybe Montana State's Tommy Mellott or Jackson State's Shedeur Sanders take a leap to the top of the sport after impressive freshman seasons?

Or maybe the award goes back to its running back roots? Nine running backs have won the trophy named after the all-time great running back after all.

This year's running back crop is loaded with talents like South Dakota State's Isaiah Davis, Montana State's Isaiah Ifanse, Sacred Heart's Malik Grant and more. 

The 2022 Walter Payton Award could go anywhere by the season's end.

TOP RETURNERS: Quarterbacks | Running backs | Wide Receivers | Defensive Players

Is this the year Jackson State gets over the hump?

After going undefeated in FCS regular season play and winning the SWAC Championship in 2021, Jackson State laid an egg in the Celebration Bowl, missing out on an undisputed HBCU national championship.

The Tigers return most of the talent from that championship team, adding impact transfers and freshmen across the board. Yet, all the talent in the world means nothing without a Celebration Bowl title to show for it.

Led by head coach Deion Sanders, the spotlight and high expectations are on Jackson State football. All eyes will be watching to see if they can end the SWAC's four-year Celebration Bowl losing streak.

2022 HBCU: Follow everything that happens in the 2022 HBCU football season

What FCS team will land the next big FBS upset?

Last year 12 FCS teams upset FBS opponents, including Montana knocking off a ranked opponent in No. 20 Washington.

In the last 10 full seasons, FCS teams averaged 9.0 wins over FBS opponents. With 41 FCS-vs.-FBS games scheduled across Week 0 and Week 1, another upset is likely lurking.

FCS-vs.-FBS: Here is every FCS against FBS game scheduled for 2022

How does conference realignment shake up the FCS?

Realignment impacted almost every FCS conference this offseason, giving the subdivision a new look. The new teams in new places create an interesting storyline to follow all season long and plenty of questions.

Will realignment impact conference strength when it comes to at-large playoff bids? Possibly. Even from an automatic bid perspective, we don't know how the ASUN-WAC auto-bid will be determined and we're less than two weeks from the first game of the season.

Furthermore, three recent FCS powers — James Madison, Jacksonville State and Sam Houston — are all moving up, creating an opportunity for another program to join the elite ranks.

MOVEMENT: Making sense of FCS conference realignment

Who wins the CAA?

The CAA added two football teams in 2022, bringing its total number of football programs to 13. Missing from that bunch is James Madison, a perennial power in the conference.

James Madison's departure from the CAA makes the race for the conference title more interesting at the top. Returning champion Villanova enters the year as the favorite, but Delaware, William & Mary and Elon also received first-place votes in the preseason conference poll. Rhode Island and Richmond are also lurking as teams that have a title on their mind.

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