Top 10 small college nonconference games of 2021

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Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine, conference Media Days, and Texas High School Coaches Association convention, oh my! Finally, the 2021 Fall football season is nearly upon us.

If you are reading this, you are most likely aware of the immense talent at the non-FBS levels in Texas. However, if you are unaware of the Lone Star State’s dominance, three schools have combined to win four national titles in the last five years over three separate divisions.

This year the state boasts the defending FCS champion in Sam Houston along with national title contenders Mary Hardin-Baylor, Texas A&M-Commerce, and a host of teams who will begin the season with a realistic title shot (looking at you UIW, West Texas A&M, Angelo State, and Hardin-Simmons).

Here is a look at the best ten games heading into the 2021 season. Every one of these games should be a bucket list item for small college football fans.

10. Texas A&M-Commerce at Midwestern State

Date: Sept. 11

Location: Globe Life Park in Arlington

This rivalry took a crazy turn in 2018 when the first half of the game was played in Wichita Falls, and the second half began the next day at the University of North Texas. This year’s competition will start at a neutral site, with the winner gaining an inside advantage in the Lone Star Conference race.

9. Prairie View A&M at Texas Southern

Date: Sept. 4

Location: BBVA Stadium in Houston

The Labor Day Classic returns to its rightful weekend in 2021. The Tigers nearly earned their first win in the series since 2014 before PVAMU escaped with a 20-19 victory. The Southwestern Athletic Conference announced this game would appear on the ESPN Networks adding to the drama around this rivalry.

8. Angelo State at West Texas A&M

Date: Oct. 9

Location: Buffalo Stadium in Canyon

This game could rise in the rankings if the rumors surrounding a significant injury to a key player from the LSC favorite are factual. If the rumors are true, this game could decide the conference’s automatic playoff bid. These teams split two games in 2020, and both teams will have most of their roster returning.

7. Trinity University at Berry

Date: Oct. 2

Location: Valhalla, Williams Field in Mount Berry, Ga.

The opening game in the Southern Athletic Association for both teams will provide an early favorite to win the conference title and automatic playoff berth. Berry plays perennial national power Wisconsin-Whitewater two weeks before meeting the Tigers. A win for Trinity could be essential if they need an at-large bid.

6. Southeastern La. at Incarnate Word

Date: Nov. 6

Location: Gayle & Tom Benson Stadium in San Antonio

This has become a sneaky good matchup, with the teams splitting their last eight games in the series. However, UIW has won three games in a row against the Lions, with the previous two Cardinals wins being in close games. This year’s game will have greater importance with fewer teams in the Southland Conference and fewer opportunities to impress the FCS selection committee if neither team earns the automatic bid.

5. Stephen F. Austin vs. Sam Houston

Date: Oct. 2

Location: NRG Stadium in Houston

The Battle of the Piney Woods. Need I say more? Ok, I will. The ‘Jacks are on a trajectory towards the top of the Western Athletic Conference and will only improve under Colby Carthel. However, their bitter rival just happens to be the team at the top of the conference and the defending national champion. This game will be fun on the field, and the Twitter war in the week leading to the game will be classic.

4. Nicholls at UIW

Date: Oct. 16 and Nov. 13

Location: San Antonio and Thibodaux, La.

That was not a misprint. The two teams expected to be at the top of the Southland Conference will meet twice this season. Both games will count in the conference standings, which only adds to the importance of both games. UIW will be seeking to end a five-game losing streak to the Colonels, with at least one win being crucial to a possible at-large bid to the playoffs.

3. West Florida at Texas A&M-Commerce

Date: Sept. 18

Location: Memorial Stadium in Commerce

The entire NCAA Division II will have their eyes on this rematch between the 2017 national finalists. In case you weren’t aware, that game belonged to the Lions. However, the Argonauts have continued to improve and enter as the defending national champs. Whether this game is a primer for a rematch in the title game in McKinney in December will significantly depend on the health of the Lions’ leading skill players.

2. Sam Houston at Central Arkansas

Date: Sept. 25

Location: Estes Stadium in Conway, Ark.

This is no doubt the biggest game of the one-year agreement between the WAC and ASUN. The winner will claim the inside track to earning an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. Unfortunately, the Bearkats have lost four of their last five visits to the beautiful purple and gray turf. Adding intrigue to this game is finding out if the 'Kats suffer any hangover effects from playing in the spring while UCA played nearly a full schedule last fall.

1. Hardin-Simmons at Mary Hardin-Baylor

Date: Sept. 25

Location: Crusader Stadium in Belton

Yes, the top two small college football games of the season will be played on the same day in September. Talk about a gut punch! But, as has been the case in 24 of the 25 years the American Southwest Conference has been in existence, this game determines who wins the ASC and an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs. This is an intense rivalry that any football fan should try and attend, especially after their meeting in 2019 ended with the Crusaders winning 15-14 in a game that ended in sheer controversy and uproar.

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