Only two years ago, we saw Sam Houston break through and win its first FCS national championship in school history. What team could be next to win its first title?
Here are five FCS teams that could be the next first-time national champion.
South Dakota State | Preseason Rank: No. 3 | 2021 Record: 11-4, lost in semifinals
It's no secret that South Dakota State is a talented team entering 2022, with elite players at the skill positions and in the trenches. The Jackrabbits may be the most talented team in the entire FCS. Yet, talent alone won't get South Dakota State its first-ever FCS title.
It will take talent plus the lessons learned from recent playoff failures to finally get over the hump. A string of recent deep playoff runs gives South Dakota State the playoff experience necessary to win a title. If everything can finally come together, the Jackrabbits may finally lift the trophy.
RANKINGS: Check out the latest FCS rankings
Kennesaw State | Preseason Rank: No. 6 | 2021 Record: 11-2, lost in second round
The last time we saw Kennesaw State on the gridiron, it was on the wrong end of a thrilling 32-31 second-round playoff game. That loss marked the first time the Owls lost to an FCS opponent all season. Despite finishing the regular season undefeated against FCS opponents and as a conference champion, Kennesaw State didn't receive a seed and was forced to play on the road in the second round. That could change in 2022.
This year Kennesaw State enters the season ranked No. 6 compared to 2021's No. 20 preseason ranking. If the Owls repeat with another undefeated regular season against FCS foes, it'll be easier for them to be at or near the top of the rankings come season's end. That bodes well for Kennesaw State's chances at a seed and possibly a bye. All of that could translate to better matchups and an easier playoff run in 2022 for the Owls, placing a national title within reach.
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Sacramento State | Preseason Rank: No. 7 | 2021 Record: 9-3, lost in second round
In the last two full FCS seasons, Sacramento State has won the Big Sky, one of the toughest conferences in the FCS. Sacramento State's regular season success in 2019 and 2021 earned them a first-round bye, but Sacramento State was eliminated in the second round both times, failing to win a playoff game.
Eventually, Sacramento State will figure out how to win in the postseason. The Hornets compete year in and year out in a premier FCS conference, so they know how to play against the best of the best. If Sacramento State can transfer its regular season success to the postseason, it could make a run to the championship.
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Missouri State | Preseason Rank: No. 8 | 2021 Record: 8-4, lost in first round
Missouri State has lost back-to-back first-round FCS playoff games. But last year's defeat came by only one point. In 2022, Missouri State has what it takes to bounce back and finally advance beyond the first round. The Bears have arguably the best returning quarterback in the FCS in Jason Shelley. An elite signal-caller can go a long way in the postseason.
Missouri State also plays in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, one of the toughest in the nation to make it out of. If the Bears find conference success, playoff success may soon follow.
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ETSU | Preseason Rank: No. 11 | 2021 Record: 11-2, lost in quarterfinals
ETSU got a chance last year to see what a championship-winning team looks like firsthand in its loss to eventual champion North Dakota State in the FCS quarterfinals. ETSU may enter 2022 with a new head coach and without a Walter Payton Award finalist at running back, but the Buccaneers still have plenty of talent from last year's SoCon championship team.
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With the SoCon expected to be more competitive in 2022, ETSU should be more battle-tested if it makes the playoffs. A tougher regular season combined with the salt of last year's playoff defeat could push ETSU atop the podium.