In the spirit of March Madness, let’s look at the “Bluebloods” of FCS football. Basketball has its teams in Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, UCLA and more, but what about FCS teams?
While some of the easy blueblood picks — Appalachian State and Georgia Southern come to mind — are no longer in the subdivision, teams remain worthy of blueblood designation thanks to name-brand recognition and on-field success.
However, the FCS (or Division I-AA) wasn’t created until 1978. That means only FCS seasons will be factored into blueblood consideration, even with schools having history beyond FCS years.
That said, here are the “Bluebloods” of FCS football.
Delaware Blue Hens
Delaware has a long, successful history in the FCS. The Blue Hens won the 2003 title and are the seventh-winningest program in FCS history. Delaware has 18 playoff appearances from 1981-2022 and have plenty of deep tournament runs. Quarterbacks Andy Hall, Rich Gannon, Matt Nagy and Joe Flacco were all standouts for the Blue Hens, giving Delaware one of the best quartet of signal-callers in FCS history.
Eastern Washington Eagles
Arguably the greatest FCS wide receiver in history, Cooper Kupp, played at Eastern Washington. Kupp won the 2013 Jerry Rice Award and the 2015 Walter Payton Award. Eastern Washington as a program has won four Payton Awards, while also adding two Buck Buchanan Awards. That makes Eastern Washington one of two programs to win all three major FCS awards in history.
The Eagles also won the 2010 FCS title, further solidifying themselves as one of the premier FCS programs. Eastern Washington is well known for its high-scoring offenses on its signature red turf, both qualities that etch the Eagles into the minds of fans whenever they play. Throw in a rare ranked FCS-over-FBS upset and you have a blueblood program
Grambling State Tigers
Grambling State is the premier HBCU program in FCS history. The Tigers have 14 conference titles since the formation of the FCS in 1978 and won the 2016 Celebration Bowl, considered by many to be the HBCU national championship. The Tigers are the most successful HBCU program since the formation of the FCS and were the first HBCU to win the Walter Payton Award when running back Walter Dean took home the award in 1990.
Harvard is the second-most winningest team in the FCS and it has a storied history. The Crimson play in a stadium that’s designated a national historic landmark after all.
While Harvard has played football long before the formation of the FCS, the program has still had great success since moving down to the subdivision in 1982. Although the Crimson don’t get the opportunity to play in the FCS playoffs, they have won 12 of its 17 Ivy League football titles as an FCS program, sending numerous players to the NFL along the way. Harvard also plays annually in arguably the most historic FCS rivalry, “The Game”, against Yale that further boosts its status as a blueblood.
Montana is a program that you can’t forget when describing the history of FCS football. The Grizzlies have been making the playoffs since the 1980s and have seven championship game appearances. Montana won the 1995 and 2001 titles, making it one of four active FCS teams with multiple titles. The Grizzlies are tied for the most Buchanan Award wins (3) and are one of six FCS teams with a ranked FBS upset.
Montana State Bobcats
Montana State does not have the resume of its in-state rival, but the Bobcats remain a blueblood nonetheless. The Brawl of the Wild rivalry helps Montana State’s case, as do back-to-back Buchanan Award winners in 2012-13. Montana State’s 1984 title and resurgence to the elite in the 21st century keep the Bobcats among the FCS elite.
North Dakota State Bison
North Dakota State might’ve only joined the FCS in 2004, but the Bison are a blueblood with less than 20 years of FCS play. North Dakota State has won nine FCS titles since joining the subdivision, already the most of any FCS program in history. The Bison are the fifth-winningest team in FCS history, with one of those wins being a ranked FCS over FBS upset. If that wasn’t enough, NDSU has won the FCS award trifecta, winning the 2014 Buchanan Award and the 2019 Rice and Payton Awards.
South Dakota State Jackrabbits
Duke has North Carolina in basketball and North Dakota State has South Dakota State in FCS football. Having a great blueblood rivalry is a part of what makes every sport special and the Dakota Marker is no different. While South Dakota State may not have had the same level of championship-level success as its northern counterpart, the Jackrabbits have made the playoffs in 12 of its 18 FCS years with plenty of deep runs. South Dakota State’s 2022 FCS title win solidified its blueblood status.
Villanova’s football program joins its men’s basketball program as a blueblood of its sport. On the gridiron, the Wildcats won three Walter Payton Awards in 1997, 2001, and 2014 and a Jerry Rice Award in 2012. The 2001 win came from one of the best FCS players of all time, running back Brian Westbrook. He’s one of many great players to don the Villanova blue since the Wildcats joined the FCS in 1985.
Villanova’s resume also includes the 2009 FCS title. It’s a win that puts the Wildcats over the top as one of the premier programs in the FCS.
Youngstown State Penguins
Youngstown State is an FCS blueblood despite recent down years after a dominant stretch in the 1990s where it won four titles in six appearances.
Why? Because Indiana is considered a blueblood in men’s basketball, even though its last of five titles came in 1987.
The Penguins have been just as successful as the Hoosiers since both teams last won their titles, with YSU advancing to two title games and one semifinal to IU’s one title game and one semifinal.