Kentucky football’s history against the Football Championship Subdivision


Isabel McSwain

Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops high fives a fan during Cat Walk before the Kentucky vs. Miami Ohio football game on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Isabel McSwain | Kentucky Kernel

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

With UK’s matchup against Youngstown State scheduled for Saturday, many casual college football fans may have had the same question: Youngstown State has a football team?

Matter of fact it does, and it’s far from the only Division-1 school to boast a football program that is not able to compete for the College Football Playoffs.

Unlike any other category of college athletics, Division-1 football is divided into two groups, the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), which is what most are familiar with that includes Kentucky and Alabama down to Marshall and Louisiana Monroe, and the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), that many are less familiar with that features the likes of Youngstown State.

This division stems from athletic budgets, facilities and other eligibility requirements, with certain FCS schools like Davidson not offering any form of football scholarships despite fielding a squad, whereas a school like Alabama at the FBS level boasts 89 players on scholarship.

As such, the divide sees two Division-1 national champions be crowned in football every year, though most only recognize the FBS winner as the “true” champion.
Despite the divide, FCS schools are able to schedule and compete against FBS schools and do so yearly, with both sides benefitting from the games, unless the FCS team upsets the FBS team in which only one side benefits.

Assuming that doesn’t happen, FCS opponents provide a breather game for FBS coaches to figure out their teams and try things out before moving into conference play and competing for what really matters.

For the FCS schools, these games are a critical lifeline.

Much like how it works in college basketball, bigger schools pay to host smaller opponents, with the revenue from scheduling these games being vital to the continuation of the athletic programs in smaller schools.

Even at the FBS level, schools like Marshall and Appalachian State earned $1.2 and $1.5 million dollars respectively to play games in which both ended up winning over then Notre Dame and Texas A&M.

Despite the potential embarrassment that comes with losing, scheduling FCS and lower FBS opponents is integral to the growth of a college football program, especially one with a lot of youth players, and Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops recognizes this, scheduling an FCS opponent in every season at the helm of the Wildcats minus the 2020 conference-only season.

In his first year at Kentucky Stoops led his team to a 48-14 win over the Alabama State Hornets, one of only two wins the team would earn that year.
The following year, in 2014, Stoops led his team to a 59-14 win over the Tennessee Martin Skyhawks to start the season.

This would not be the final time Stoops would schedule UT Martin though, with the duo clashing once again in 2019, a year that saw Kentucky secure a Belk Bowl trophy, with UK winning 50-7.

Jumping back to 2015, Stoops faced one of Kentucky’s most famous FCS opponents, Eastern Kentucky, for the first time.

EKU and Kentucky have a storied past, mainly due to their proximity, with the Colonels hailing from Richmond, Kentucky, with the distance between the downtowns of each being just 36 minutes (27 miles) down Interstate-75.

Just as they are in football, Kentucky partakes in “rivalry” games with the Colonels with most of its athletic programs, though these are usually one-sided in favor of UK.

While the games were closer than usual, this would be no different in football under Stoops, 34-27 in 2015 and 27-16 in 2017.

Continuing its theme of smaller nearby schools, Kentucky hosted Austin Peay in 2016, with the Wildcats coming out on top 49-13 and 48-10 over Murray State in 2018.

Most recently Kentucky hosted Chattanooga in 2021, with the Mocs very nearly getting the better of UK in a trap game predating a road matchup with South Carolina, though the Wildcats ultimately came out on top 28-23.

Now into 2022 Youngstown State, a smaller school hailing out of northeastern Ohio, right near the Pennsylvania border, will join the list of FCS opponents from the surrounding states to travel to Lexington.

Though it follows the pattern, the matchup with Youngstown is not random, though it may initially seem as such, as both Stoops and associate head coach Vince Marrow both hail from the town, leading to the week three matchup acting as more of a reunion than a standard FCS squash.

While it is to be seen whether or not the Penguins of Youngstown State can build upon what Chattanooga built before them, win or lose the payment Youngstown will receive to play the game will be vital to an athletic program with a budget over eight times smaller than that of Kentucky.

Youngstown State and Kentucky are slated to kick off at noon EST on Saturday, Sept. 17, at Kroger Field in Lexington, with the game also airing live on the SEC Network.