Week 1 of the 2021 FCS season is here.
All year, Senior FCS Analyst Sam Herder will give his thoughts and score predictions on the week’s biggest games. This week is loaded with games on different days, so this article will look at the top games for Thursday and Friday with a second article coming later predicting Saturday/Sunday games.
Let’s predict some scores.
Spring 2021: 53-25
UConn is one of the worst FBS programs, going 2-10 in 2019, 1-11 in 2018, and 3-9 in 2017 and 2016. UConn is an FBS independent and opted out of the 2020 season due to the COVID pandemic. Holy Cross has developed into a quality FCS team. The Crusaders are the back-to-back Patriot League champs and are bringing in great talent. Their 2019 recruiting class was ranked No. 20 in the FCS in Brian McLaughlin’s rankings.
If Holy Cross has a bit more offensive firepower, I would put this as an FCS over FBS lock. It’s a 50/50 game in my opinion. Holy Cross plays strong defense led by stud linebacker Jacob Dobbs. If its offense can get to 17 points, Holy Cross wins.
Prediction: Holy Cross 17-14
No. 25 North Carolina A&T at Furman
There should be plenty of NFL scouts in attendance watching two guys who may touch the ball a combined 60 times. Four FCS running backs were named on the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl Watchlist, and two of them are in this matchup: Furman’s Devin Wynn and NC A&T’s Jah-Maine Martin.
While Furman is unranked, this is still an opportunity for NC A&T to make a statement. The Aggies are no longer in the HBCU national championship conversation and are now in the FCS playoff conversation as a new member in the Big South. Furman is a good program out of the SoCon, reaching the playoffs in 2017 and 2019, going a combined 1-2. The Paladins did not meet high expectations last season, though. Ranked No. 10 at one point early in the spring season, they lost their last three games to finish 3-4.
NC A&T prides itself on having a strong defense. And with Martin leading the way on offense, the Aggies get a win today.
Prediction: NC A&T 31-17
No. 8 North Dakota at Idaho State
Idaho State has had UND’s number the last couple of matchups.
After beating No. 12 UC Davis 38-36 for a huge Homecoming victory in 2019, the Fighting Hawks went to Pocatello and were handed a 55-20 loss by the Bengals. In 2018, UND got a monstrous 24-23 road win at No. 5 Sam Houston. The next week, Idaho State spoiled UND’s Homecoming with a 25-21 win, a result that likely cost the Fighting Hawks a playoff bid as they finished 6-5.
UND has taken another step as a program since those losses. The Fighting Hawks won a share of the MVFC title and reached the quarterfinals during the spring season. Despite its No. 8 preseason ranking, some may wonder if UND can duplicate that success. The Fighting Hawks can erase some doubts with a win at Idaho State, who is considered a sleeper team in the Big Sky.
Idaho State has weapons offensively. Tyler Vander Waal had a solid debut season in the spring after transferring from Wyoming, throwing for 1,843 yards, 12 TDs, and 10 interceptions. Tanner Conner is one of the more athletic WRs in the FCS. But Idaho State has been suspect on defense, and UND running back Otis Weah should have a big day as the Fighting Hawks gel on the interior of the offensive line.
Prediction: UND 31-21
UAlbany at No. 4 North Dakota State
Albany battled injuries in the spring, notably to 2021 preseason All-American quarterback Jeff Undercuffler, and finished 1-3. The Great Danes had a breakout season in 2019, though, finishing 9-5 and reaching the second round of the playoffs before losing 47-21 at Montana State. This isn’t an easy, rest the starters in the third quarter non-conference game for the Bison. UAlbany has some dudes.
I’m interested to see what kind of pressure NDSU’s defensive line, which needs to show improvement, gets on a pocket-passer like Undercuffler. And on the other side, many eyes around the country will be on new NDSU starting QB Quincy Patterson.
I get the sense the Bison offense won’t be clicking on all cylinders early in the season, but it has a chance to be a really good unit by November. UAlbany may not threaten to beat NDSU in The Fargodome, but it is good enough to keep the score within a reasonable margin.
Prediction: NDSU 28-10
Brent Vigen makes his head coaching debut against the team he was most recently the offensive coordinator for and against Craig Bohl, who he coached under for nearly two decades. It will be the first time MSU has taken the field since losing to NDSU in the semifinals in December 2019.
The Bobcats have been searching for a quarterback the last few seasons as they climbed the national ranks. If NC State transfer QB Matthew McKay plays well, the Bobcats have the running game and defense to push deeper into the playoffs.
Today is a great first test. But with no game action in nearly two years and a new system for the players to adapt to, I don’t see this as an FCS over FBS upset. What I am looking for is how well the Bobcats compete. If they get blown out, the No. 12 preseason ranking that MSU fans didn’t like may be warranted.
Prediction: Wyoming 24-14
South Carolina State at Alabama A&M
Perhaps a preview of the Celebration Bowl?
Duane Nash ranks this game as the best HBCU matchup in 2021. SC State was picked in the preseason to win the MEAC and Alabama A&M was voted No. 1 in a stacked SWAC Eastern Division. There will be many NFL scouts with their eyes on Alabama A&M quarterback Aqeel Glass this season. He leads an explosive offense that can put up points in a hurry.
The SWAC gets revenge on the MEAC after the MEAC took bragging rights in Week 0 when NC Central beat Alcorn State.
Prediction: Alabama A&M 31-27
Monmouth is poised for a special season after turning heads with its near first-round win at eventual national champs Sam Houston. Quarterback Tony Muskett, running back Juwon Farri, and standout weapons at wide receiver in Terrance Greene Jr. and Lonnie Moore IV lead an explosive offense. The defense is disciplined and strong for a balanced team.
The Hawks may have an argument for a playoff seed come November. And this game could be the reason they get a first-round bye. Middle Tennessee went 3-6 in 2020 and 4-8 in 2019.
Prediction: Monmouth 28-21
Jackson State vs. Florida A&M
What a Week 1 game for the SWAC.
Jackson State has brought in loads of talent through recruiting and transfers. From a pure roster perspective, the Tigers resemble an FBS team. But how well do they gel and execute early? Are the big-time freshmen starters ready to win a game of this magnitude right now?
FAMU is one of the best HBCU teams in 2021. Defensive back Markquese Bell, wide receiver Xavier Smith, offensive lineman Keenan Forbes, and punter Chris Faddoul are All-American players. After coming from the MEAC this offseason, the Rattlers are right there in the discussion as Celebration Bowl winner favorites. I think this will be a high-scoring game, but I’m not 100 percent sold on JSU’s defense just yet to get a stop when it matters most late in the game.
Prediction: FAMU 38-35
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