The FCS spring season has been an entertaining one, to say the least. Eleven of the 13 conferences and 70 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 10:
2021 Spring Predictions Record: 37-19
2019 Record: 100-42
No. 5 Sam Houston at No. 25 Incarnate Word
UIW’s loss last weekend to Northwestern State was a killer. The second loss significantly diminishes the chance at an at-large bid, even with an upset win versus SHSU.
I don’t see that upset happening anyway. UIW has the No. 3 scoring offense (47.6) but the No. 93 scoring defense (41.8). SHSU has the No. 4 scoring offense (45.4) and the No. 20 scoring defense (18.2). SHSU has learned it’s a bad formula to win Southland games 52-45 and expect to have national success. SHSU will score big this game and is good enough defensively to not make this a track meet.
Prediction: SHSU 49-28
No. 23 Mercer at Samford
Mercer’s hope for the SoCon AQ is alive, but it needs to beat Samford and have The Citadel beat VMI. If VMI and Mercer win, Mercer is right on the bubble to get the sixth at-large bid. The Bears would be 6-2 in the SoCon (6-5 overall) with five straight wins, three of which came against ranked opponents at the time of the game.
Samford may be 3-3, but it’s been a pesky program this spring. All three of its losses were one-possession games, including a 38-37 overtime loss to VMI. Mercer is tough defensively and will need to replicate its performance from the last two games where the Bears allowed 14 and 13 points. Samford’s offense is explosive and fun to watch, scoring nearly 40 points a game. But the Bears get it done Saturday and will have a quality resume for the playoff committee to analyze.
Prediction: Mercer 24-21
No. 7 Delaware at No. 10 Villanova
Historically, all signs point to Nova getting a home win. The Wildcats have won the Battle of the Blue trophy eight straight times. And in a wild spring season, it would make sense for Nova to beat Delaware because it would create a wild playoff bubble scenario.
But this is the best Delaware team in years. The defense is tremendous and the offense, which has been the weak spot of the team in recent seasons, has scored more than 30 points in all four wins with a healthy dose of rushing and passing. The Blue Hens are favored by a touchdown, which is saying something since this game is on the road.
Villanova shot back into the playoff discussion with its April 3 44-17 win at Maine. Nova needs another win to get an at-large bid. If Delaware wins, it could earn the AQ, and possibly even a seed depending on the Richmond-JMU outcome.
Prediction: Delaware 28-20
No. 17 Southeastern Louisiana at No. 18 Southern Illinois
Massive kudos to both programs for getting this game scheduled. SLU would finish 5-2 with two straight ranked wins if the Lions pull this one out. SIU, though, is not likely at all to get an at-large bid with a win. The Salukis would finish 5-3 overall and is 3-3 in the MVFC.
The MVFC will be lucky to get four teams in. It certainly won’t get five teams in. So who would SIU jump to be that fourth team? Not a one-loss UND team. Not a one or two-loss NDSU team, even if the Salukis have the head-head-to-head win. Not a one-loss Missouri State team that beat SIU. And not a one or two-loss SDSU team that also beat SIU.
The future is bright for SIU. The program showed it takes football seriously and invests in the sport, which not a lot of FCS teams can confidently say. It battled injuries this spring, or else this would have been a playoff team. SIU hasn’t played since March 27, so we’ll see who all may be back in the starting lineup. But the Lions are a dang good team with a tough offense to slow down, led by QB Cole Kelley and his 2,244 yards passing and 16 touchdowns. This is a big opportunity for SLU and the Southland Conference.
Prediction: SLU 31-28
The Citadel at No. 15 VMI
VMI can clinch the SoCon’s auto-bid with a win in the Military Classic. The Keydets missed their opportunity to clinch it two weeks ago with a loss to ETSU. Now they have had plenty of time to prepare and right the ship.
Give The Citadel credit, despite an 0-5 start to this spring season and enduring some injuries, the Bulldogs stuck with it and are now winners of two straight games. Expect The Citadel to give VMI all it can handle, but VMI’s historic season continues by securing its first-ever FCS playoff appearance.
Prediction: VMI 31-21
Holy Cross @ Bucknell
The Patriot League AQ will be decided in this conference championship game. Holy Cross had its last two games canceled, one being against Bucknell. So the Crusaders are just 2-0 while Bucknell is 2-1. The Bison lost 31-17 last week to Fordham but already had its spot in the championship game locked up.
Holy Cross has been my favorite in the Patriot League since the preseason, and there’s no reason to change my mind now. The Crusaders have key players back from the 2019 playoff squad.
Prediction: Holy Cross 27-24
No. 11 Richmond at No. 1 James Madison
This is the first true test of the season for the top-ranked Dukes, who currently have the 74th-best strength of schedule. We still don’t really know how good this team is. Is JMU the best team in the FCS? Or is it a team that loses early in the playoffs? The last impression the Dukes gave us was a positive one, a 38-10 win against William & Mary on March 27. But there’s still that 20-17 narrow win against Elon, a team Richmond has beaten twice by scores of 38-14 and 31-17, that makes me pause.
This is a prove-it game for JMU to show it deserves the No. 1 seed. But this Richmond team is going to present some challenges. The Spiders give up just 55 rushing yards a game, a key stat as it faces the best group of running backs in the FCS. The offense has good balance with Joe Mancuso leading the way (6 TDs, 0 INT). Buckle up, the result of this game has a big influence on the playoff bracket. Give me the Dukes at home.
Prediction: JMU 28-24
No. 4 South Dakota State at No. 2 North Dakota State
There’s a whole lot on the line in this one, which is all broken down in the link below. Say what you want about the spring season, but there’s a strong argument on this being the biggest Dakota Marker game ever. The popular saying is that if the Bison are going to get knocked off of their national throne, you need to get them out of the Fargodome in the playoffs. SDSU can knock the Bison out of a seed with a win Saturday.
Can the Jacks get the job done, though? On paper, they look like a better and more balanced team. SDSU has the best RB in the FCS in Pierre Strong Jr., its best offensive line in years, and has a good passing attack with freshman QB Mark Gronowski and the Janke twins at WR. The defense is No. 12 in the FCS, allowing 15.6 PPG. And even more than previous years due to NDSU’s struggling passing attack, the key to beating the Bison is stopping the run. SDSU’s front seven is its strength.
But as I often do with these predictions, I go with my gut rather than filling my brain with numbers and statistics. At the end of the day, this is the type of game NDSU historically wins and SDSU historically loses. The Bison get a win in the Fargodome and earn the No. 1 or No. 2 national seed.
Prediction: NDSU 21-20
RELATED: What’s At Stake For SDSU vs. NDSU?