CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The 2016 college football season kicked off two weeks ago and seven FCS programs have already notched wins over FBS opponents. North Carolina, which is playing two FCS opponents for the second time in as many seasons, opens its home slate against No. 11 James Madison on Saturday.
North Carolina A&T. Illinois State. Eastern Illinois. Eastern Washington. Richmond. Northern Iowa. Albany. All FCS teams, many of whom received significant payouts to travel to FBS stadiums, continuing a trend of blurring the line that separates the haves and have-nots, at least as it applies to Division I college football.
Only nine FCS teams claimed victories over FBS opponents in 2015, two years after the FCS set an all-time record with 16 wins against the FBS. That record appears in danger after two weeks of play. No. 9 Georgia avoided the nation’s biggest upset of 2016 by squeaking past unranked FCS foe Nicholls State, 26-24, in Athens on Saturday.
The Tar Heels are well aware of those results.
“It doesn’t matter who we play, what time we play, where we play, what the weather’s like, all of those things,” head coach Larry Fedora said on Monday. “It’s really us playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played, no matter who we play. We won’t look at this team any differently. We won’t prepare for this team any differently than we did for Georgia or for Illinois. I’ll be very disappointed in my team if they don’t take that same approach.”
If that sounds like coach speak, there’s a good reason. That’s a stock answer for coaches across the country entering games against FCS and lesser FBS opponents. It’s likely most, if not all, of the aforementioned FCS teams that have claimed FBS wins this year heard those words from the opposing head coach during game week.
For Fedora, however, there’s strong evidence supporting the authenticity of his words.
In eight games against FCS opponents during his nine years as a head coach, Fedora’s average margin of victory is 42.5 points per game. The smallest margin of victory in any of those games was 27 points (three different times).
“We take everybody seriously,” Fedora said when asked about that success. “It’s the next game. It’s the most important game. If you don’t do it, and you fall and you don’t win, it became a really important game. I know the fans and everybody outside thinks that it’s not a big game. Well, it’s a big game to me. It’s a big game to our football team.”
That mindset has filtered down to his players. Saturday’s game is not an opportunity to coast against a lesser opponent; it’s an opportunity to improve on the first two weeks of the season and take another step forward before Pittsburgh comes to town to open ACC play on Sept. 24.
“I’m going to practice and play this week like I’ve got a chip on my shoulder because I haven’t played to the standard that I want to play at,” junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. “I’m going to try to influence my guys in that way as well. Just come out and play hard. I mean, we’re at Kenan Stadium, we’re defending our home turf and we don’t want to lose at home. So regardless of who is out there, we want to go out there and dominate. The preparation is no different.”
The Tar Heels were 7-0 at home in 2015, marking their first undefeated home season since 1996. The Citadel, which is ranked No. 15 in the STATS FCS Top-25, visits Kenan Stadium on Nov. 19.