The unprecedented FCS spring season is underway. Eleven of the 13 conferences and 75 percent of the teams are playing with a reduced 16-team playoff bracket to cap off what will be an unorthodox season.
Every week, Senior FCS Analyst Sam Herder will predict the scores of the week’s top games.
Here are his picks for Week 2:
2021 Spring Predictions Record: 1-0
No. 2 South Dakota State at No. 6 Northern Iowa
This is one of the top games this spring when it comes to playoff implications. The loser is already fighting an uphill battle to make a slimmed-down playoff bracket. Both teams have lost key All-American or All-Conference players to the transfer portal or the NFL Draft. But there are still plenty of standouts coming back, especially defensively.
This one shouldn’t be a high-scoring game. UNI is always strong defensively, and SDSU returns nine starters from a 2019 defense that was its best in years. I see SDSU as NDSU’s top contender for the national title. A win here is crucial to reach Frisco.
Prediction: SDSU 24-17
Mercer at No. 23 Wofford
The race for the SoCon title and auto-bid will be a wild ride. It’ll get started with the first upset of the season. Wofford loses its starting QB, top RB, a couple of standout offensive linemen to the FBS, and six of its 11 top tacklers from 2019.
Despite going 0-3 during the fall, Mercer looked solid in a 34-28 loss to Jacksonville State, who defeated FBS FIU two weeks later. The Bears can back up the statement that playing a few games in the fall will prove beneficial this spring.
Prediction: Mercer 17-14
Morehead State at James Madison
Normally, a predictable blowout wouldn’t make this list of games to predict. But this one is notable as it’s the first glimpse we’ll have of a new-look JMU team and quarterback Cole Johnson. Will a 40-point win tell us if JMU is the No. 2, No. 5, or No. 10 team in the country? No, but it still should have the interest of FCS fans.
Prediction: JMU 49-7
No. 16 Southern Illinois at North Dakota
The MVFC will get two, possibly three teams in the spring playoff bracket. It’ll be a tall task for either of these two teams to jump NDSU, SDSU, UNI, or Illinois State to be a top-three team in the conference. But both have playoff expectations. UND made the 2019 postseason in its last year as an independent. SIU was one of the first teams left out after finishing 7-5 with an FBS win.
UND has a lot of question marks on offense. The Salukis lacked offensive explosion in 2019 but do possess a strong rushing attack. Stopping the run is something the Fighting Hawks pride themselves on. Expect another low-scoring game. SIU gets the edge as it appears to be a more well-rounded team than UND right now.
Prediction: SIU 21-17
Western Carolina at No. 8 Furman
Furman was a young team in 2019. The Paladins showed a lot of promise early in the season, losing by one score to FBS opponents Georgia State and Virginia Tech. But the season ended in the playoffs with an embarrassing performance in a 42-6 loss to Austin Peay. That was certainly a learning experience for the underclassmen.
Furman is our favorite in the SoCon this spring. Despite losing quarterback Darren Grainger to the transfer portal, there’s a ton of talent coming back, like RB Devin Wynn and DE/LB Adrian Hope. WCU struggled in 2019, finishing 2-6 in conference play.
Prediction: Furman 31-14
No. 11 Austin Peay at Tennessee Tech
Coming off of a 2019 quarterfinal appearance, Austin Peay didn’t exactly look impressive in its three games last fall: an 0-3 record with a 24-17 loss to Central Arkansas and a 55-0 and 55-20 loss to FBS opponents.
How much stock you can put in that is up for debate. The Govs should still be considered the team to beat in the OVC with All-American level talent coming back. But I think this will be a closer game than some think. Tennessee Tech had its best season in years in 2019, finishing 6-6. And QB Bailey Fisher is legit, breaking several program passing records as a sophomore.
Prediction: Austin Peay 24-21
Youngstown State at No. 1 North Dakota State
The Zeb Noland QB era is underway at NDSU. There are some decently-sized shoes to fill after the previous three Bison quarterbacks have been/will be drafted. YSU traditionally plays NDSU tough, although that wasn’t the case in 2019.
Doug Phillips is in his first season as head coach, and it’s a mystery how exactly the Penguins will look offensively and defensively. I don’t expect a dominating NDSU win, but the type of game where the Bison are in control the whole way.
Prediction: NDSU 28-3