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 3:
2021 Spring Predictions Record: 5-3
2019 Record: 100-42
No. 11 Wofford at Chattanooga
UTC’s season opener against VMI on Feb. 20 was postponed. The Mocs had to change their practice schedule due to COVID issues within the program, and Director of Athletics Mark Wharton said, “This delay slowed our preparation for the season and it is clear that we are not prepared to play on Feb. 20.”
Will one more week of preparation get UTC ready for a Wofford team that looked great last week in its 31-14 win against Mercer? The Terriers were fast and physical on defense, and it appears they have a legit passing attack now as Jimmy Weirick went 12-of-18 for 173 yards.
Chattanooga, who received votes in the Stats Perform Top 25, don’t have three-year starting quarterback Nick Tiano anymore and All-American wide receiver Bryce Nunnelly entered the transfer portal and committed to Western Michigan earlier this month. Those are two key players from 2019’s 6-6 season.
Prediction: Wofford 27-17
No. 3 South Dakota State at No. 14 North Dakota
UND manhandled SIU on both sides of the line of scrimmage last week, something not many of us expected. Saturday’s game against SDSU will tell us a lot more about this Fighting Hawks squad. SDSU’s strong defense from 2019 has carried over to this spring. Offensively, the Jacks will be a run-first team with true freshman QB Mark Gronowski starting.
The last time UND lost at the Alerus Center was Oct. 27, 2018, a 35-30 loss to No. 4 Weber State. SDSU will be tested on the road for the second straight week as the Jacks look to contend for a national title. UND isn’t quite at the title-contending level yet.
Prediction: SDSU 28-21
No. 12 Eastern Washington at Idaho
Available: Pluto TV Ch. 1060
EWU has had an interesting few weeks leading up to the spring season. Three assistant coaches resigned – special teams coordinator Heath Pulver, linebackers coach Josh Fetter, and defensive line coach Brian Strandley. EWU’s latest depth chart shows a few key starters missing, like top wide receiver Andrew Boston and captain/linebacker Jack Sendelbach, although that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t playing. And recently, it was announced head coach Aaron Best tested positive for COVID and will miss the game.
Even if none of the stuff mentioned above occurred, I still thought this would be an even matchup. But it tips the scales toward Idaho. The Vandals held a 28-7 lead on the Eagles in 2019 before winning 35-27. The Eagles went on to be red-hot to finish the regular season, and they have the top QB in the FCS in Eric Barriere.
Idaho has the players at the skilled positions offensively and perhaps has the best linebacking trio in the FCS. We’ll see if UConn transfer Mike Beaudry is the answer at quarterback.
Prediction: Idaho 31-24
No. 18 Southeastern Louisiana at No. 17 Sam Houston
There are six at-large bids for the playoffs this spring. Typically, there are seven multi-bid conferences – Big Sky, CAA, MVFC, Southland, SoCon, OVC, Big South. Will the six at-large bids being given out equally by a playoff committee made up of ADs from all the playoff-playing conferences? Will a league like the CAA or the MVFC take two at-large bids?
Those questions make games like this huge. While I believe the Southland is the fourth-best conference in the FCS (before five teams scatter to other leagues in the fall) and will get an at-large bid, you’re going to want to earn the auto-bid, or else you’re nervous on Selection Sunday. SHSU looks like it’s ready to get back into the playoff mix. SLU made the playoffs in 2019 and has enough pieces back to do it again.
The Bearkats will be strong on defense. With healthy QB play, this team is poised to be atop the Southland standings for one final season.
Prediction: SHSU 27-20
No. 23 Tennessee Tech at No. 16 Jacksonville State
Tennessee Tech shook up the OVC standings with last week’s statement win against 2019 champ Austin Peay. The Golden Eagles get a chance to do it again against JSU, the traditional heavyweight in the conference.
JSU brings in a great playoff resume already – a 3-1 record with an FBS win and a 2-0 record against the FCS. Zion Webb is the guy at QB with Zerrick Cooper out with an injury. The Gamecocks missed the playoffs in 2019 after six straight appearances. JSU doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to week-to-week consistency, but it showed in the fall that it’s ready to be back in the bracket. We’ll see if that carries over to this spring.
Prediction: JSU 24-17
Dixie State at No. 22 Tarleton State
A game between the two newest FCS teams. Dixie State hasn’t played a game yet, but Tarleton State has made an early splash. The Texans lost in double-overtime to McNeese State in their FCS debut and then hammered FBS New Mexico State 43-17 last week.
Tarleton was a legit D2 program before transitioning to the FCS, going a combined 23-2 in 2018 and 2019. Dixie State went 8-3 in 2019 and 7-4 in 2018. The Texans already look like a great addition to the subdivision. We’ll get an answer on how good Dixie State looks.
Prediction: Tarleton 35-17
No. 4 Weber State at Idaho State
Available: Pluto TV Ch. 1061
This is our first look at a Weber State team hoping to be in the national title hunt. All the pieces are in place except for quarterback, where the Wildcats will look to a new signal-caller. It’ll either be Middle Tennessee State transfer Randall Johnson, who was an elite JuCo QB to start his college career, or 21-year-old true freshman Bronson Barron, who signed with Weber in 2018 before serving a mission to Ghana.
Idaho State also has a new QB in Wyoming transfer Tyler Vander Waal. But it’ll be tough to find success against this Wildcats defense.
Prediction: Weber 28-7
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