Week 0 of the 2022 FCS season is here.
All year, I will share my thoughts and score predictions on the week’s biggest games. The Week 0 slate is light, so we’ll predict them all even though I usually pass on predicting expected one-sided games. But Week 0 does involve some teams we could potentially see in the playoffs.
Let’s predict some scores.
2019-2021 record: 244-115
No. 10 Stephen F. Austin vs. Jacksonville State
It’s been quite the lead-up to this game for Jacksonville State, where first-year head coach Rich Rodriguez accused SFA of spying on their practices. That didn’t distract from the fact that JSU’s punter Jack Dawson was arrested on Monday after he allegedly assaulted a former teammate at Troy.
Not only does that cause the question of will this distract the team? But also the fact that it’s a team we don’t know a whole lot about. JSU lost eight players to the FBS this offseason. The Gamecocks also utilized the transfer portal, bringing in 11 FBS players, nine of who are from the Power Five. Plenty of familiar names are no longer on the roster, it’s a new-look coaching staff, and JSU is no longer eligible for the playoffs as it transitions to the FBS. It just seems like it’s going to be an odd year for a JSU team without an identity as it looks toward building a CUSA contender rather than playing for FCS rankings or a postseason bid this year. And the team hasn’t made national storylines for the right reasons so far this game week.
On the flip side, SFA is getting plenty of preseason hype with Top 10 votes. Coming off an 8-4 season where the Lumberjacks had the No. 12 scoring FCS offense and No. 17 scoring defense, they bring back eight of their top 11 tacklers and their All-American QB-WR duo in Trae Self and Xavier Gipson. I expect the experienced SFA team to have a well-played, crisp performance. I really don’t know what to expect from JSU, but the Gamecocks haven’t performed too well at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery with a 1-2 record.
Prediction: SFA 27-20
Morehead State at No. 23 Mercer
I expect Mercer to be a playoff-worthy team this season after being right on the bubble last year. The Bears finished 7-3 overall and 6-2 in the SoCon. Having zero FCS opponents in the non-conference wasn’t the best strategy, instead playing non-D1 Point and FBS power Alabama while not scheduling a third game before SoCon play.
This season, the schedule sets up better to build a playoff resume. Mercer has two very winnable games against FCS non-conference teams Morehead State and Gardner-Webb. The defense should be a tough unit leaned on to win many SoCon games, led by studs Isaac Dowling and Lance Wise. The Bears did lose Freshman All-American RB Fred Davis, who left the team late this summer. But Mercer will still want to establish the run this year and shouldn’t have a problem doing so against non-scholarship Morehead State.
Prediction: Mercer 34-14
Howard vs. Alabama State
While the SWAC is getting a ton of deserved attention off the field recently, the MEAC has had the upper hand on the field. It is 11-4 in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge, including last year’s 23-14 win via NC Central over Alcorn State, a game in which many predicted Alcorn to win. The MEAC’s SC State also beat the SWAC’s Jackson State by a few scores in the Celebration Bowl.
I think a big year is in store for the SWAC, and it’ll start with Alabama State beating Howard. Howard has eight returning All-MEAC players and should have a strong rushing attack with RBs Ian Wheeler and Jarett Hunter plus OL Anim Dankwah and Darius Fox. Alabama State loses a lot of production but brought in 15 D1 transfers, 12 from the FBS. Conventional wisdom would say to pick Howard here, as the Bison will likely be executing at a higher level early in the season. But something tells me the SWAC gets back on track, and Alabama State finds a way to win.
Prediction: Alabama State 24-21
Florida A&M at North Carolina
After a 9-2 regular season, but a 38-14 loss to SLU in the first round of the playoffs, FAMU continues to heighten its roster talent to take that next step. To accompany standouts like Isaiah Land, BJ Bohler, Jah’Marae Sheread, and Xavier Smith, the Rattlers brought in roughly 15 FBS transfers. One of those transfers is quarterback Jeremy Moussa from Vanderbilt. Moussa was recently named QB1, beating out last year’s starter Rasean McKay, who threw for 2,457 yards, 22 TDs, and 5 INT. McKay was viewed as one of the better returning FCS QBs, so it will be exciting to see what Moussa brings to the field.
Ahead of a massive Week 1 game against Jackson State, where the loser of that matchup will be put into the playoff conversation as the No. 2 team in the SWAC East, FAMU’s depth will be tested against an FBS opponent. Coming off a 6-7 year, UNC isn’t the most feared P5 team to be playing. But the Tarheels should slowly pull away in this one for a decisive win. Staying healthy will be important for FAMU, as playing P5 opponents hits a bit different than FCS teams. It’s also an important game for Land to put something special on tape since FBS games are the first film NFL scouts put on when trying to evaluate FCS prospects.
Prediction: UNC 35-10
Austin Peay at Western Kentucky
WKU’s offense had an FCS look to it last year with Houston Baptist transfers QB Bailey Zappe and WR Jerreth Sterns leading the offense as Zappe set the FBS single-season record for passing yards (5,967). WKU’s No. 2 rusher Adam Cofield came from North Dakota State. All three are gone, but WKU will still look to throw the ball all over the place.
It’s not an ideal matchup for Austin Peay, who lost three very talented DBs from last year’s team in Kordell Jackson, Koby Perry, and Johnathon Edwards. The Govs also lost some key players to the transfer portal, including Sophomore All-American QB Draylen Ellis. Austin Peay has the potential to challenge for a playoff spot, but I don’t see an FCS over FBS win here.
Prediction: WKU 38-17
Idaho State at UNLV
First-year head coach Charlie Ragle has a lot of work to do to get the Idaho State program into a Big Sky contender. UNLV is a gettable FBS opponent, going 2-10 last season. But even a struggling Mountain West program went into double-overtime against a top Big Sky team Eastern Washington last year, losing 35-33. Idaho State could keep this game interesting behind the arm of Tyler Vander Waal, who was a former player in the MWC at Wyoming. But I don’t think the Bengals are quite where they need to be to pull off this FBS upset, though.
Prediction: UNLV 38-24
Duquesne at Florida State
The Florida State Fighting Jeff Culhanes certainly won’t want to overlook FCS opponents after last season’s Hail Mary loss to Jacksonville State. Not to mention that Duquesne notched one of the 12 FCS over FBS wins last year, beating Ohio 28-26. But the scholarship and overall talent gap will be evident here. Duquesne will be happy to stay healthy in this game, collect the $400,000 payout, and move forward to try and win the NEC.
Prediction: Florida State 48-14