Week 10 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 features five ranked vs. ranked games, and we’re going to slim our game predictions list down to those five.
Let’s predict some scores.
Spring 2021: 53-25
No. 17 Missouri State at No. 7 Southern Illinois
SIU suffered its first FCS loss last week at UNI. The Salukis are now 6-2 overall and 6-1 against the FCS. If they win out against Mo State, Indiana State, and YSU, they are likely a seed.
Mo State is 5-3 overall and 5-2 versus the FCS. The Bears play ranked SIU, ranked UNI, and Dixie State. They need to go at least 2-1 to have a good shot at the playoffs, meaning a ranked win this week or next week and taking care of business at Dixie State.
The talent on Missouri State’s roster is legit. But the Bears are flirting with fire that could cost them a playoff spot. They were upset by YSU in early October. They battled NDSU tough in the Fargodome before losing by 27-20. And they scored a TD with 15 seconds left last week to beat unranked UND 32-28. The Bears need a full four-quarter effort to beat SIU. Even eight minutes of bad football could see them fall behind two quick scores against an explosive SIU offense.
The Salukis are equally as talented. But after three straight wins of three points or less, they were brought back down to earth with last week’s 23-16 loss at UNI.
I think both offenses are going to have big days. Expect a crazy fourth quarter with a wild finish. It just seems to be in both teams’ DNA. Give me SIU, who I think can be a dangerous team in the postseason as a seed.
Prediction: SIU 42-41
No. 6 SLU at No. 22 UIW
SLU is looking to continue its climb into the playoff seed discussion as its only loss this season is to an FBS opponent. UIW is 6-2 overall with an FBS win and is 4-1 in the Southland after a loss a couple of weeks ago to McNeese. The Cardinals are building a nice at-large bid resume but certainly want to grab the auto-bid and conference title.
When these two met in the spring, it resulted in a 56-45 UIW win. SLU makes the trip to San Antonio for the second time this calendar year.
The Lions are scoring 47.2 points per game (No. 2 in the FCS). UIW has the No. 7 scoring offense at 37.4 PPG.
SLU’s Cole Kelley has the second-most passing yards in the subdivision with 2,987. UIW’s Cameron Ward is No. 4 with 2,807. Kelley’s 28 TD passes rank No. 2. Ward’s 26 TD passes rank No. 4.
Kelley won the spring’s Walter Payton Award for best FCS offensive player. Ward won the Jerry Rice Award for the best FCS freshman.
SLU has the 65th scoring defense this season (28.0 PPG), and UIW has the 38th (23.0 PPG).
In other words, expect a high-octane game.
SLU had a gutsy performance last week, slugging it out with McNeese for a 23-20 win to beat the Cowboys for the second time this fall, something UIW was unable to do. The Lions’ defense has stepped up, allowing 24, 14, and 20 points to Houston Baptist, Northwestern State, and McNeese. Those offenses aren’t quite on the level of UIW’s, but I think SLU has raised its level of defense compared to the spring.
Prediction: SLU 45-35
No. 18 VMI at No. 14 ETSU
RELATED: The SoCon’s Path To Playoff Bids
A key game in the SoCon title race, and it should be another entertaining one.
ETSU knocked off then-ranked No. 10 VMI 24-20 on the road in the spring, although VMI still went on to win the SoCon and reach the FCS playoffs for the first time in program history. In 2019, VMI went to ETSU and won in overtime 31-24. Due to weather delays, the game didn’t end until after 1 a.m local time.
With both teams currently having one loss in the SoCon standings along with Mercer and Chattanooga, the loser is on an uphill climb to win the conference title. And with the conference likely getting two or three total playoff bids, one or two of these Top 4 teams will get left out.
This is a fun matchup of offenses. ETSU is balanced statistically, but the Bucs want to run the ball. They rank No. 8 in rushing offense (221.9 yards per game). Quay Holmes is a special talent, already rushing for 926 yards and 10 TDs in eight games. Jacob Saylors doesn’t get enough love, though, as he’s solid out of the backfield too with 581 yards and seven TDs.
VMI’s offense is more geared to slicing a defense through the air, passing for 238.5 yards per game. QB Seth Morgan battled injuries early, but he’s been fantastic lately and threw for 472 yards and three TDs last week in a comeback win against Samford.
It’s a 50/50 game, like most SoCon games, really. VMI has one-score wins against Wofford, UTC, and Samford while losing by 11 points to The Citadel. ETSU has one-score wins against Samford, Wofford, and Furman with a five-point loss to UTC. The Bucs beat The Citadel 48-21.
The key stat in this one is VMI’s dead-last FCS rushing defense. The Keydets allow 237.5 rushing yards per game. Granted they have played some run-heavy teams like Davidson and The Citadel. But still, the VMI defense is a concern for me. I’ll take ETSU at home as it owns the time of possession battle.
Prediction: ETSU 31-28
No. 2 North Dakota State at No. 9 South Dakota State
RELATED: What’s At Stake For NDSU vs. SDSU?
If you watch tomorrow’s episode of FCS ALL-IN on YouTube, you will hear me say I think the Bison are going to win. My reason being I thought NDSU will win in the trenches. The Bison are playing much better on the offensive and defensive lines than the spring when they were out-physicaled by the Jacks. SDSU’s o-line was the best in the FCS in the spring, but even with all five starters back, it hasn’t played at that elite level consistently. And the Jacks have lost some bodies on the defensive line. NDSU, SDSU, and JMU are rare FCS teams that can play 8-10 guys on the d-line with little to no dropoff.
However, we record that show on Tuesdays. And I’ve since changed my mind on this game.
To get ahead of the “the national media always picks against the Bison in these games” narrative (I know you so well, NDSU online community), I don’t remember the last time I picked SDSU to beat NDSU. It wasn’t in the spring. It wasn’t in 2019 when College GameDay was in Brookings. It wasn’t in the 2018 semifinals when people were worried about Chris Klieman’s departure to K-State being a distraction. I don’t believe it was in the 2018 regular season either. And if I’m remembering correctly, I don’t think it was in 2017. Maybe I’ve never picked the Jacks to beat NDSU now that I think of it.
But I have a late-week feeling about this one that tells me the Jacks win it.
SDSU is getting or has gotten standout players back from injury. And when fully healthy, this is one of the best teams in the FCS. To me, the difference Saturday is going to be QB. The battle in the trenches will be a stalemate with NDSU getting the edge on some possessions and SDSU on others. The Bison have typically had the QB advantage in this matchup (maybe not in some past regular-season games, but in the playoffs those seasons when Stick outplayed Christion). They did not in the spring, and it showed.
To be fair, Cam Miller has looked much better in the 1.5 games this season since he’s taken over for Quincy Patterson. But the jury is still out. Providing a second-half spark against Missouri State and then looking sharp against Indiana State isn’t a good gauge. Playing one of the better defenses in the FCS in SDSU is a legit test. On SDSU’s side, Chris Oladokun is having an All-Conference type of season. He did throw two interceptions in the loss to SIU and went just 24-of-53 in the L against UNI, but overall he has thrown for 16 TDs and three interceptions. This is also a prove-it game for Oladokun to show he can get it done against a top FCS team.
Lastly, I don’t always love the “they wanted it more” thought process. But the Jacks need this win or else their path to a return to Frisco gets that much harder as an unseeded playoff team. The Bison losing doesn’t set them back too much, although it could result in them having to go on the road in the semifinals. I think the Jacks pour absolutely everything into this game and play a spirited, complete game. I believe SDSU limits what NDSU can do offensively. And I think Pierre Strong Jr. busts one long play, coupled with some big play-action connections to the Janke twins, and tight end Tucker Kraft comes up with some big catches to move the chains on third down for SDSU to get the win.
Prediction: SDSU 21-17
No. 4 Montana State at No. 5 Eastern Washington
RELATED: What’s At Stake For MSU vs. EWU?
It’s crazy how different the directions of this season can go for both teams, as discussed in the link above. EWU can go anywhere from a Top 2 seed to playing in the first round of the playoffs. The same can be said for MSU.
It will be interesting to see what type of game plan the Bobcats have to slow down EWU’s offense. The Eagles have scored 60 or more points in four games this year. In their first loss to Weber two weeks ago, the Wildcats utilized their talented defensive backs and made Eric Barriere try and pick them apart. He went 19-of-39 for 245 yards, two TDs, and one interception, which is still a decent day but nowhere close to the standard he has set. Weber didn’t heavily pressure Barriere, only getting two QB hurries and zero sacks.
Does MSU employ the same strategy? The cornerbacks for the Bobcats are more unproven compared to Weber’s. What MSU does have is a disruptive d-line and some serious skill at linebacker, led by Troy Andersen. The Bobcats have the 20th most sacks per game (2.75) and the 19th most TFLs per game (6.9). They are No. 3 in pass defense (154.6 YPG) compared to Weber at No. 9 (165.4).
Do the Bobcats try and get home with four? Or do they throw different blitzes at EWU to try and confuse Barriere and the o-line, which is No. 73 with 2.25 sacks allowed per game?
It’s unlikely anyone in the FCS can completely shut down the Eagles on offense, but you can limit them. EWU has the No. 1 scoring offense (51.5 PPG) and the No. 1 passing offense (428.9 YPG).
The Bobcats haven’t been too bad on offense either, though, scoring 33.5 PPG to rank 21st to go along with their No. 2 scoring defense (10.4 PPG).
The numbers that most stick out to me are EWU’s No. 66 scoring defense (28.1 PPG) and No. 68 rushing defense (161.4). The Eagles allowed 34 points in the loss to Weber a week after MSU beat Weber 13-7.
The Eagles have gotten better on the o-line and d-line this fall. But I think MSU’s front seven can generate enough pressure to not let EWU go off on offense. And with the threat to move the ball through the air behind Matthew McKay at QB, defenses can’t sell out to stop MSU’s run. I expect Isaiah Ifanse to have himself a day in an All-American-level season.
Prediction: Montana State 38-35
NEXT: FCS Bracketology
Check out the latest episode of the FCS Football Talk podcast, which is also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart, Stitcher, and Spreaker.
SUBSCRIBE: FCS Football Talk