Greatest FCS National Champions, Ranked
In 1978, after over 70 years of doing absolutely nothing, the NCAA decided it might be a good idea to officially differentiate between its various levels of football — most notably, it split its two largest divisions into Division I-A and Division I-AA, which eventually became the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).
Here's a look at the greatest FCS/Division I-AA teams of all time. The rules? Only national champions from 1978 on were considered and only one school for one spot with the exception of North Dakota State — whose nine national championships are more than double the next closest school.
15. Eastern Washington (2010)
Head coach: Beau Baldwin
All-Americans: LB J.C. Sherritt, OL Chris Powers, S Matt Johnson, DT Renard Williams, WR Brandon Kaufman, RB Taiwan Jones
Bottom line: Eastern Washington fell as No. 18 in the national polls in the first month of the season before climbing its way back up to No. 1 in the final regular-season poll, despite sharing the Big Sky Conference regular-season title with Montana State.
Eastern Washington's run to the national championships was an edge-of-your-seat thriller that included a 38-31 overtime win over North Dakota State in the national quarterfinals. In the national championship game, Eastern Washington trailed 19-0 with 7:14 left in the third quarter before rallying for a 20-19 win.
Linebacker J.C. Sherritt was named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year and won the Buck Buchanan Award as the nation's top FCS defensive player.
14. Montana State (1984)
Head coach: Dave Arnold
All-Americans: DE Mark Fellows, P Dirk Nelson, OT Bill Schmidt
Bottom line: One of the most amazing turnarounds in college football history belongs to Montana State's 1984 Division I-AA national championship squad, which won it all after going 1-11 in 1983. This team is usually remembered for one spectacular play: cornerback Joe Roberts' 97-yard interception return for a touchdown with 4:01 left in the fourth quarter and trailing Rhode Island 20-18 in the national semifinals.
Second-year head coach Dave Arnold had just one winning season in four years at Montana State — he actually didn't even come close to going .500 in his other three seasons and finished his career 18-29 overall.
13. Idaho State (1981)
Head coach: Dave Kragthorpe
All-Americans: QB Mike Machurek
Bottom line: Idaho State was probably one illness away from going unbeaten — quarterback Mike Machurek had mononucleosis and couldn't travel to play in the Bengals' lone loss of the season, 24-21 at Montana. Idaho State hit a scheduling jackpot down the stretch, with five of their last six games in Pocatello, including two playoff wins, before defeating Eastern Kentucky 34-23 in the I-AA national championship game in Wichita Falls, Texas.
Machurek went on to play three seasons in the NFL. His backup, Dirk Koetter, became the head coach for Boise State, Arizona State and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
12. Northeast Louisiana (1987)
Head coach: Pat Collins
All-Americans: QB Stan Humphries
Bottom line: Northeast Louisiana — now known as Louisiana-Monroe — rode the talents of a pair of future NFL stars to the national championship with quarterback Stan Humphries and tight end Jackie Harris.
Humphries, who started his career at LSU, led the greatest comeback in school history in the 1987 national championship game against Marshall. Trailing 42-28 heading into the fourth quarter, Humphries rallied Northeast Louisiana to a 43-42 win.
11. Villanova (2009)
Head coach: Andy Talley
Key players: ATH Matt Szczur, OL Ben Ijalana
Bottom line: Future MLB outfielder Matt Szczur did a little bit of everything for Villanova's football team in 2009, starring as a wide receiver, running back, wildcat quarterback and return specialist on the way to being named CAA Offensive Player of the Year and All-American.
Szczur was never better for Villanova than in a 23-21 win over No. 1 Montana in the national championship game, when he racked up 270 all-purpose yards and scored two touchdowns.
10. Delaware (2003)
Head coach: K.C. Keeler
All-Americans: OL Jason Nerys, QB Andy Hall, DE Shawn Johnson, RB Germaine Bennett
Bottom line: Once the playoffs began, Delaware turned into one of the most formidable I-AA champions of all time, defeating No. 4 Southern Illinois 48-7 in the first round, No. 7 Northern Iowa 37-7 in the quarterfinals and setting an NCAA record with a 40-0 win over No. 6 Colgate in the national championship game. It was the first national championship for Delaware after finishing as national runner-up in 1982.
9. Montana (2001)
Head coach: Joe Glenn
All-Americans: OL Thatcher Szalay, WR Etu Molden, DB Vince Huntsberger
Bottom line: Montana's only loss in 2001 was on the road against Division I-A Hawaii, which went on to go 9-3 that season.
The Grizzlies were coming off a national runner-up finish in 2000 and were at their best in close games. Montana won two double-overtime contests during the regular season and grinded out a 13-6 win over Furman in the national championship game.
This was the second program in a row Montana head coach Joe Glenn led to a national championship after he led Northern Colorado to back-to-back NCAA Division II national championships in 1996 and 1997.
8. Youngstown State (1994)
Head coach: Jim Tressel
All-Americans: LB Leon Jones, OL Chris Sammarone, FS Lester Weaver, DB/KR Randy Smith, OT Ray Miller
Bottom line: This was the third of four national championships for Youngstown State under head coach Jim Tressel and the fourth year in a row the Penguins played in the I-AA championship game.
Youngstown State tied fellow I-AA power Stephen F. Austin in the season opener before reeling off 14 straight wins. The Penguins won in their lone matchup with an FBS team in 1994, defeating Kent State 28-14, and played three playoff games at home before facing Boise State in the national championship game in Huntington, West Virginia.
Youngstown State was led by running back Shawn Patton, who led his team with 1,626 rushing yards for the season and had 140 rushing yards in the championship game, including a 55-yard touchdown run with 7:14 left in the fourth quarter to seal the 28-14 win.
7. Georgia Southern (1989)
Head coach: Erk Russell
All-Americans: SS Randell Boone, FS Taz Dixon, OL Sean Gainey, FB Joe Ross, DE Giff Smith
Bottom line: Georgia Southern won four national titles in six seasons from 1985 to 1990 and played in the championship game five times. This was the third title team and the only one to go undefeated.
Georgia Southern had the advantage of playing its last six games in its home stadium, Paulson Stadium in Statesboro. They got to use the stadium for playoff games and the national championship game against Stephen F. Austin.
In a game that featured nine ties or lead changes, Georgia Southern kicker Mike Dowis proved to be the difference in the championship game — Dowis kicked five field goals, including two from 53 yards and the game-winner from 20 yards out with 1:41 left to play. Dowis also went 4-for-4 on PATs.
6. Appalachian State (2007)
Head coach: Jerry Moore
All-Americans: OL Kerry Brown, DB Corey Lynch, DL Gary Tharrington
Bottom line: Appalachian State won three consecutive national championships from 2005 to 2007 — and they saved the best for last.
This was the same Appalachian State team that pulled off arguably the biggest regular-season upset in college football history when it traveled to Michigan Stadium and defeated No. 5 Michigan 34-32 in the season opener for both teams. It was the first win by an FCS (I-AA) team over a ranked FBS (I-A) team since the NCAA split into divisions in 1978.
Appalachian State took down Delaware and future Pro Bowl quarterback Joe Flacco in the national championship game, 49-21.
5. James Madison (2016)
Head coach: Mike Houston
All-Americans: OL Mitchell Kirsch, RB Khalid Abdullah, ATH Rashard Davis
Bottom line: James Madison's only loss in 2016 came to an FBS school, North Carolina, in the third week of the season.
The Dukes closed the regular season with two wins over Top 10 teams over its final three games before going on a dominant playoff run. James Madison won all four of its playoff games by double digits, including a 65-7 win over No. 1 Sam Houston State in the quarterfinals and a 28-14 win over No. 13 Youngstown State in the national championship game.
4. North Dakota State (2019)
Head coach: Matt Entz
All-Americans: QB Trey Lance, OL Dillon Radunz, OL Zack Johnson, DL Derrek Tuszka, LB Jabril Cox
Bottom line: First-year head coach Matt Entz became the third head coach in a decade to lead North Dakota State to a national championship. This was the eighth of nine national championships for the Bison since 2011.
North Dakota State's 2019 championship team is the only college football team in the modern era to go 16-0. It's also one of only two teams in college football history to go 16-0 alongside Yale's 1894 squad.
The Bison were led by a breakout star in quarterback Trey Lance, who won the Jerry Rice Award as the nation's outstanding freshman on the FCS level and was also named Most Outstanding Player of North Dakota State's 28-20 win over No. 2 James Madison in the national championship game.
3. Florida A&M (1978)
Head coach: Rudy Hubbard
All-Americans: QB Albert Chester, RB Ike Williams, K Vince Coleman
Bottom line: Division I-AA became official in 1979 and Florida A&M and head coach Rudy Hubbard was its first national champion. The Rattlers drew big crowds and were featured on national television three times — their last two regular-season games against Bethune-Cookman at Tampa Stadium and Grambling State at the Orange Bowl drew 35,000 and 41,000 fans.
Florida A&M had zero passing yards and 470 rushing yards in a 35-28 win over UMass in the I-AA national championship game. All-American kicker Vince Coleman was a two-time MLB All-Star and the National League Rookie of the Year in 1985.
2. Marshall (1996)
Head coach: Bob Pruett
All-Americans: WR Randy Moss, QB Eric Kresser, DL B.J. Cohen, DB Melvin Cunningham, OL Aaron Ferguson, DL Billy Lyon, LB Jermaine Swafford, P Chris Hanson, LB Larry McCloud, PK Tim Openlander
Bottom line: Marshall struck gold when wide receiver and West Virginia native Randy Moss landed on its doorstep after failed attempts to play at Notre Dame and Florida State. Playing as a redshirt freshman, Moss set NCAA Division I-AA records for most receiving yards for a freshman (1,709), most touchdown receptions (28), most consecutive games with a touchdown reception (13) and also led the nation in kickoff returns with 612 yards — an average of 34 yards per return.
Moss was at his best in a 49-29 win over Montana in the I-AA championship game, when he had nine receptions for 220 yards and four touchdowns.
1. North Dakota State (2013)
Head coach: Craig Bohl
All-Americans: OL Billy Turner, DB Marcus Williams, QB Brock Jensen, DT Ryan Drevlow, LB Grant Olson, SS Colton Heagle
Bottom line: North Dakota State started off its season with a shock to college football's system by beating Kansas State 24-21 in front of the second-largest crowd in school history — the game was on the same day a statue to legendary head coach Bill Snyder was unveiled in Manhattan.
North Dakota State not only went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the nation, they only had one close game — a 24-23 win over No. 4 Northern Iowa. The Bison allowed 14 points or less in 11 of 15 games and won four playoff games by an average of 32.7 points, including a 35-7 win over Towson in the FCS championship game.