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Minnesota Football: Will FCS Opponents Return to TCF Bank Stadium?

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Signs point to yes

Indiana State v Minnesota
FCS Indiana State was no match for the Gophers in 2016
Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

We all remember two years ago when the Big Ten decreed that the football teams in their conference needed to toughen up their schedules and stop scheduling FCS teams...right? They required that no new games against FCS opponents be scheduled, and required at least one non-conference game against a Power 5 Team (or approved substitution). Well, thanks to Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney’s Big Ten Media Days Press Conference, we now know that games against FCS teams are back on. In years where Big Ten teams play five conference road games, the Big Ten will allow teams to schedule a home game against an FCS opponent.

The Mothership has an article where it debates whether Big Ten teams should go back to scheduling FCS teams or not. Its an interesting article as its true there could be definite impacts on teams potentially making the College Football Playoff or not. While you wouldn’t expect to see an Ohio State or Michigan scheduling a FCS team, what happens when Indiana schedules Indiana State and that has strength of schedule ripples all across the Big Ten.

Or as Alex Kirchner of SB Nation discusses—it could make the difference the other way:

In Week 2, Penn State played a rivalry game at Pitt and lost, 42-39. The Nittany Lions would lose again two weeks later to Michigan. Then they rattled off nine wins in a row and won the Big Ten, putting themselves squarely in the Playoff picture.

That same week, Washington played Idaho (which is still an FBS team, but only for another year) and won, 59-14. A week later, the Huskies thrashed FCS Portland State, 41-3. They’d lose just once, to USC, en route to the No. 4 seed in the Playoff.

Penn State finished fifth. Had the Lions played an FCS team instead of Pitt, they’d have won. And if Washington had been playing a Power 5 road game, maybe the Huskies would’ve lost. PSU probably wonders about this. UW is probably glad it doesn’t have to.

Jim Delaney doesn’t appear to worry about that issue. he seems much more worried in Big Ten teams ability to actually book home games:

“Now after watching things play out over the last three years, we noted that we were the only conference to go totally in that direction (banning FCS games),” Delany said. “We have never really gotten there because we had long existing contracts. When we went to nine games, we did not anticipate the problems that some of our skills would have in years that they only had four conference games -- it was very difficult for them to get three FBS opponents on to their schedules if they were looking for seven home games.”

One school who is thrilled with this decision? Yep you guessed it. Our nemesis to the north.

The best part for us is with the Big Ten, it's the most geographical favorable footprint and they are the teams we would most prefer to play,” NDSU Athletic Director Matt Larsen said. There are a lot of Land Grant institutions and it gives our fan base more ability to travel."

JUST SAY NO!!!

But, this does open the possibility for Minnesota to find other FCS teams to add to the schedule in years where the Gophers need to play five road Big Ten games. Minnesota currently only has one FCS opponent on a future schedule—South Dakota State Jackrabbits is due to come to TCF Bank Stadium in 2019. This game was postponed from earlier in the decade when Minnesota needed to move their schedule around thanks to the removal of the series with North Carolina and the addition of the home and home with New Mexico State. Thanks for that AggieVision Jerry!

The new rule will not affect that 2019 game since it was previously contracted a long long time ago. Minnesota actually has five Big Ten home games in 2019—add in home games against SDSU and Georgia Southern and a road non-conference tilt at Fresno State and the schedule almost reminds you of a time long long ago when Glen Mason was baking cupcakes in the Bierman Building.

The one question we do not know going forward is what will be PJ Fleck’s scheduling philosophy. While Fleck does not seem like one to shy away from a high profile Power Five home and home series, it’s easy to see the Gophers adding the likes of a Northern Iowa Panthers or North Dakota Fighing Hawks in the year they have five road Big Ten games including trips to Lincoln and Madison. The Big Ten schedule is not known after the 2019 season, and Minnesota currently only has one non-conference game scheduled in each of 2020, 2021 and 2022 with home games against BYU and Colorado in the even years sandwiched around a road game against the Buffaloes in Boulder in 2021.

Only time will tell how the Fleck regime will use this new scheduling rule, but don’t be surprised to see some regional FCS opponents back on the home schedule in the early 2020’s.