As good Ol’ J.R. says: “Business is about to pick up!”
There are several highly-ranked FCS matchups in October, and it starts this weekend. Let’s predict some scores.
2019-2021 record: 244-115
2022 record: 40-18
RELATED: Week 7 Viewing Guide
No. 14 Elon at No. 25 Rhode Island
I think Elon should be ranked way higher than No. 14. At No. 9 on my ballot, the Phoenix are 5-0 vs. the FCS with two ranked wins against Richmond and William & Mary, who just beat Top 10 Delaware. Sure, those two wins were close, 50/50 games. But they won, right?
Elon hosts Delaware in a few weeks. Before that, it has two road trips at two tough places to play — Rhody and UNH. Rhody has kinda randomly snuck back into the media poll after a bye week. That bye came after beating Brown 38-10. The Rams fell out of rankings mid-September after losing 42-21 at home to Delaware. I’m not sure what Rhody has done to deserve to get back into the Top 25, so it can prove it Saturday.
But Elon is playing too well right now. Montana State transfer Matthew McKay looks like a whole new QB this season, and he continues to deal the rock Saturday to add to his 14 TDs (to just two INT.).
Prediction: Elon 35-17
Idaho at No. 3 Montana
The Grizzlies are looking like legit title contenders. But with a current strength of schedule of 75th, they are gearing up to prove it down the stretch. Road trips are coming at three Top 6 teams — Sac State and Weber in back-to-back weeks, and Montana State to end the regular season. Montana can’t look past this week’s opponent, though.
Idaho is 3-2 overall, featuring a 3-0 record vs. the FCS and two competitive P5 losses. New head coach Jason Eck has brought immediate swagger to the program. And he’s doing it with mostly the same personnel. Gevani McCoy has been a breakout QB, ranking No. 6 in FCS passing efficiency. While the Vandals have made evident strides, it’s just not there yet to knock off Montana in Missoula. The Griz defense and the crowd will be too overwhelming. And Montana’s offense looks to have a sharp game coming off a bye, which came after a sloppy showing at Idaho State
Prediction: Montana 31-21
No. 2 South Dakota State at No. 1 North Dakota State
RELATED: What’s At Stake For NDSU vs. SDSU?
Why can NDSU win this massive showdown? 1) Its offense (minus the fumbles) played very well last week at Indiana State. Cam Miller had one of his better games, going 21/27 for 210 yards and one TD (and would have been even better if not for drops). 2) The game is in the Fargodome in front of a frenzied crowd. SDSU’s Gus Miller is in his first season as the starting center. He’s had some shaky performances with bad snaps earlier in the year. Can he get rattled and throw the offense out of rhythm? 3) This just seems like it can be a “remember who we are” message from the Bison to people who think they are vulnerable this year.
Why can SDSU win this massive showdown? Well, a lot of things on paper say the Jacks have the advantage. 1) SDSU is great at stopping the run and is a rare FCS program that can match NDSU in the trenches for all four quarters. 2) The secondary is much improved and opportunistic against an NDSU offense still looking for a consistent WR on the outside. Six-foot-6 Zach Mathis has shown potential to be that guy. 3) NDSU’s run defense hasn’t been great. The Bison have two new starting LBs and have lost seven key defensive linemen from last year through graduation or injury. The Bison are young depth-wise on the DL going up against an OL with two All-Americans. 4) NDSU has had tackling problems as a defense. SDSU’s Isaiah Davis is known for breaking tackles. 5) NDSU’s CBs and safeties are elite, but SDSU has three (maybe four if NFL Draft prospect TE Tucker Kraft plays) great pass-catchers in the Janke twins at WR and TE Zach Heins. It’s hard to load the box to stop the run when SDSU’s offense spreads you out, and the secondary can’t focus on limiting one guy or even two guys to take away the passing threat. It’s a balanced attack with little to exploit, just good on good. And whoever is better, is better.
So which way do I lean? To pick NDSU would put more faith in the Bison brand than to point at some edge on the field. Do I think NDSU, who is known for peaking in the playoffs, can have a really good front seven by December? Possibly. But they have a ways to go to get there. And while the Bison can fix its turnovers, mental mistakes, and missed run assignments, you can’t fix a DL physically in one week. NDSU won’t want to play the same 4-5 DL all game, so some redshirt freshmen will be playing key snaps. The Jacks should have enough success on the ground against the DL and should be able to scheme up some slant routes or target areas between the DL and safeties to pick on NDSU’s inexperienced LBs when they get sucked in to stop the run.
The best way to beat NDSU is to spread its defense out while still emphasizing a physical rushing attack, having multiple dangerous pass-catchers, and having a mobile QB. Couple that with a stout run defense, and the Jacks are built to beat the Bison for the third time in a row.
Prediction: SDSU 28-24
No. 17 Villanova at No. 21 Richmond
The CAA has been one of the more fun conferences to watch this season. (Yes, I have FloSports. We don’t mess around during our FCS viewing Saturdays). A lot of ranked matchups going down to the wire have highlighted the year so far, with more to come.
I haven’t been there on Nova compared to other voters. Maybe I’m looking too much into the Monmouth loss, but the wins haven’t been super inspiring either. New starting QB Connor Watkins has been mostly solid, but he is prone to interceptions. I think Richmond’s defense can take advantage of that, a unit that has totaled six picks.
And the Spiders can also take advantage of a more gettable Nova defense compared to past years. The Wildcats are allowing more than 30 points per game. Richmond has been a tough offense to slow down with its quick passing strikes. VMI/Maryland transfer QB Reece Udinski has been terrific, throwing for 1,501 yards, 13 TDs, and one interception.
Prediction: Richmond 38-27
ETSU at No. 12 Mercer
ETSU has quickly fallen out of high preseason rankings. Meanwhile, Mercer is surging. I have the Bears No. 7. They are 5-0 vs. the FCS and crushing their opponents. I love how Fred Payton is playing (16 TDs to zero INT). Ty James and Devron Harper are legit targets. James Madison transfer RB Austin Douglas is averaging 7.4 yards per carry. And the defense is allowing 13.7 points per game.
ETSU’s offense had success last week, scoring 44 points at VMI. RB Jacob Saylors is looking great again, but the passing game just isn’t there. I question how many points the Bucs can score on Mercer. And the Mercer offense is just rolling right now.
Prediction: Mercer 38-17
No. 5 Sacramento State at Eastern Washington
If EWU wants any hope for the playoffs, it needs to win out. Which means beating Top 5 opponents Sac State and Montana. Starting 1-0 down the stretch doesn’t seem likely, frankly.
The Hornets own one of the FCS’ most dangerous and balanced offenses. EWU hasn’t shown the ability to stop anyone, allowing 46.8 PPG. Take out the two P5 opponents, and the Eagles are allowing 37.3 PPG. After a tough showing in a 45-21 loss last week at Weber, taking on a hot Sac State team spells trouble.
Prediction: Sac State 42-21
Stony Brook at No. 22 Fordham
Fordham has an electric offense to watch, sitting at 5-1 overall with a 59-52 loss at FBS Ohio. The Rams may give the playoff committee a reason to put two Patriot League teams in the playoffs, accompanying Top 10-ranked Holy Cross. The two clash in a couple of weeks.
The offense is scoring an FCS-high 49.8 points per game. The passing attack also tops the FCS at 442.0 yards per game. The numbers are wild through six games. Tim DeMorat is completing 67.3% of his passes for 2,652 yards, 30 TDs, and four interceptions. Fotis Kokosioulis has 52 catches for 768 yards and eight TDs. MJ Wright has 33 receptions for 685 yards and six scores. Dequece Carter has nearly 500 receiving yards. He and Garrett Cody both have four receiving TDs.
Fordham already has two CAA wins vs. Monmouth and UAlbany. It should add a third against an 0-5 Stony Brook team. The Seawolves have yet to score more than 14 points in a game. We’ll at least give them that in a blowout loss.
Prediction: Fordham 45-21
Stonehill at Sacred Heart
New NEC member Stonehill has had an interesting schedule. It beat two non-D1 teams, then took two weeks off. The Skyhawks then got their first D1 win, beating Duquense 24-20. They then took another week off. Three byes in a month is something, but it’s sure been a fun debut season for the program.
But perhaps it’s set for a rude awakening. Sacred Heart has become the standard in the NEC. This team wants to run the football. Star RB Malik Grant has over 400 rushing yards and five TDs in five games, plus 102 receiving yards. The trenches are usually where new D1 members take the longest to catch up. Sacred Heart should have plenty of success on the ground for a win in front of an expected great home crowd.
Prediction: Sacred Heart 31-14