The FCS spring season has been an entertaining one, to say the least. 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 6:
2021 Spring Predictions Record: 20-10
2019 Record: 100-42
No. 11 Chattanooga at No. 13 Furman
With Furman 3-1 in the conference behind 3-0 VMI and 2-0 UTC, the Paladins can’t afford a second loss, or else the odds are stacked against them to make the playoffs. The question is which Furman offense will show up? Will it be the unit that scored 44 against Samford? Or the offense that scored less than 18 points against VMI and ETSU.
Drayton Arnold has stepped up for the Mocs at QB, throwing for over 220 yards in both games with two total TDs and one interception. While UTC’s offense hasn’t been overly explosive, scoring 24 and 25 points, its defense has made up for that by allowing an average of 18.5 points per game. Give me the Mocs for their second straight road win.
Prediction: Chattanooga 24-17
No. 6 South Dakota State at No. 5 Southern Illinois
Two big injuries to pay attention to entering this game — SDSU’s elite RB Pierre Strong Jr. suffered a leg injury last Saturday, and SIU’s emerging QB Nic Baker had a foot injury on the same day. Both appear to be doubtful. While it’s crazy to say this considering how highly-ranked the teams are, the loser of this game is on the playoff bubble with a second loss.
If Baker can’t go, it makes the Salukis less balanced offensively. They would rely more on the run, which isn’t a bad option with Javon Williams Jr. and Romeir Elliott. But SDSU’s defensive front seven is stout, allowing 122 rushing yards per game and 18.8 PPG. I still believe the Jacks are national title contenders. They need a win here, or else their goal of winning a national championship will turn to just hoping to get into the playoffs.
Prediction: SDSU 28-27
Rhode Island at No. 18 Albany
Transfers Kevin Brown Jr. and Kasim Hill were terrific in URI’s 40-37 win against then-No. 6 Villanova last week. Despite the monstrous win, the Rams only received the 28th most votes in the Stats Perform Top 25 poll.
They have another shot to prove they belong on more people’s ballots with a win against No. 18 Albany. The Great Danes suffered another surprising CAA result, losing 38-34 to Maine a week after Maine lost 37-0 to Delaware. This should be a fun game with both offenses showing the ability to hit explosive plays and both defenses showing the ability to, well, allow explosive plays.
Prediction: Rhode Island 38-35
No. 16 Southeastern Louisiana at No. 22 Incarnate Word
This is a huge showdown for playoff positioning. If SHSU continues its hot play, the Bearkats may not be slowed down on their way to the Southland’s auto-bid. I believe the Southland will get one at-large bid. Right now, it looks like that second-place spot is between 2-0 UIW and 2-1 SLU. You can’t count out Nicholls just yet either at 2-1, but that 71-17 loss last week to SHSU was ugly. SLU played an entertaining game against the Bearkats in its season-opener, losing 43-38.
UIW and the Lions feature new starting QBs who are lighting it up. Watching the senior Cole Kelley battle the true freshman Cameron Ward is going to result in a classic Southland shootout. I’ll take the Cardinals in this one. They are 2-0 despite playing two road games, a 48-20 win against McNeese and a 42-20 victory against Lamar. While SLU hung with an impressive SHSU squad, the Lions barely got by McNeese (25-20) and Northwestern State (27-24) with both of those games being at home.
Prediction: UIW 41-31
No. 2 North Dakota at No. 4 North Dakota State
To predict an NDSU win means you’re putting your faith in the program rather than the team. And that’s a fair argument. The Bison have proved over the last 10 years they can overcome the odds (injuries to standout players, early losses, new HC, replacing a huge senior class, etc.) and make a run to Frisco. However, I don’t sense that aura or mystique around this particular squad. The Bison are a young team that will be ready to win another title in the fall or in 2022, but they haven’t looked like a championship team so far this spring.
Through four games, NDSU has looked average, terrible, above average, and average. Meanwhile, through four games, UND has looked fantastic, fantastic, above average, and good. There’s no doubt the Fighting Hawks have been the better team to start this season. But all that matters is who the better team is on this given Saturday.
I don’t expect an exciting game in a half-filled Fargodome. I have a hard time seeing UND scoring a lot of points on a still very good Bison defense, no matter how solid RB Otis Weah (who will have a chip on his shoulder as a Moorhead native), QB Tommy Schuster, and the OL have been. And I also have a hard time seeing NDSU figure out its offensive struggles against a good Fighting Hawks defense, even if true freshman QB Cam Miller provided a boost last week.
Overall, I see UND as the more balanced team, so I’ll pick against the Bison for the first time since Jan. 6, 2018. The Fighting Hawks look like a legit national title favorite, as legit as any other team. After Saturday, they have games at YSU, against Missouri State, and at Illinois State. If UND gets the W in Fargo, it is well on its way to a No. 1 seed.
Prediction: UND 21-15