The FCS Playoff picture is a packed one with two weeks of games to go. Several results this week will shift how the bracket is formed.
Let’s predict some scores.
2022 record: 63-31
2019-2021 record: 244-115
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Villanova at No. 8 William & Mary
Villanova has not lived up to expectations this year, although it’s technically not out of playoff contention just yet. At 5-4 overall, Nova could make the playoffs at 7-4 since that would mean defeating No. 8 W&M and No. 17 Delaware to finish the season.
It’s hard to see that happening, especially after last week’s 27-3 loss at Towson. The rushing defense is allowing nearly 200 yards per game. That won’t go well against W&M’s No. 3 FCS rushing offense (266.6 YPG). The Tribe is 8-1 overall with an FBS win and is in a position to earn a playoff seed.
Prediction: William & Mary 28-14
No. 12 Richmond at No. 17 Delaware
Both teams are 7-2 overall looking to hit eight D1 wins, a key number to stick out in an at-large pool filled with 7-4 teams if neither wins the CAA AQ.
Delaware’s Nolan Henderson is throwing for 265.7 yards per game, and Richmond’s Reece Udinski is passing for 286.0 yards per game. However, Udinski is dealing with a lower-body injury suffered last week. He’s expected to play, but likely won’t be at full strength.
Richmond likes to get the ball out quick, which will help prevent Udinski from taking shots. But Delaware’s defense has been fantastic this year, ranking third nationally with 14.3 points allowed per game and is No. 2 in passing defense (116.9 YPG). The Blue Hens have dominated opponents at home, and they improve their home record to 6-0 behind its strong defense and Henderson’s play-making abilities.
Prediction: Delaware 35-28
No. 22 Rhode Island at No. 21 New Hampshire
A matchup between two 6-3 squads, this is a huge game to hit seven D1 wins. UNH should like its ability to win at Maine in Week 12 while Rhody should win vs. UAlbany. There will be a lot of 7-4 teams on the bubble, so the winner here is in a good spot to be an eight-win team in the at-large pool.
Rhody has been tested in its last four games, beating Elon, Monmouth, and Maine by one score and losing to W&M by one point. The Rams trailed Maine (2-7) for a good chunk of last week’s matchup. UNH also had a questionable start to last week’s game, trailing Richmond 24-0 before slowly climbing back but losing 40-34. The Wildcats can hit on big plays quickly, especially with all-purpose king Dylan Laube.
UNH is not an easy place to get a road W. Expect a back-and-forth battle here with another wild finish in store.
Prediction: UNH 31-28
No. 10 Samford at No. 11 Chattanooga
Four ranked teams have separated themselves from the rest of the SoCon pack. We get to see those four teams square off this weekend.
This is a chance for Samford to prove how strong it is. At 8-0 vs. the FCS, the Bulldogs have played and beaten one now-ranked team (Furman). They end the regular season playing two ranked opponents in UTC and Mercer. Chattanooga lost to Furman 24-20 a couple of weeks ago, a game that saw standout RB Ailym Ford not play. He returned last week to run for 130 yards and two TDs in a 10-point win over The Citadel.
Samford’s defense has improved from last year, going from 39.5 points allowed per game to 21.6. The offense has kept its explosiveness, thanks to transfer QB Michael Hiers (2,483 yards, 27 TDs, three INT). I like Samford’s combination of being able to stop the run and being able to hit on some big plays in this one.
Prediction: Samford 28-24
No. 4 North Dakota State at Southern Illinois
This could be a sneaky close game to pay attention to. SIU needs to win out to have a shot at the playoffs. With it being at home and coming off of a bye week, the Salukis will give the Bison all they can. It could also be a Bison blowout win as they are starting to look like last year post-SDSU loss, although competition improves in the final two weeks. Not only the result of this game, but the score will be fascinating.
A heavy dose of Javon Williams Jr. out of the Wildcat formation to attack the middle of NDSU’s defense may be the way to go with some deep shots over the top to SIU’s standout WRs. But NDSU also knows what’s at stake. The Bison really haven’t had any needle-moving wins yet this year. This is a chance to build momentum into the playoffs, as it did last season. The memory of its FCS-record 39-game win streak ending at SIU in the spring in a rough performance could provide some added motivation.
Prediction: NDSU 31-20
Illinois State at No. 1 South Dakota State
Illinois State needs to win out to hit seven D1 wins and have a shot at the playoffs. The task will be tough, going to top-ranked SDSU, who can secure a top-two seed and home-field playoff advantage with a win. SDSU has a Week 12 bye, allowing for plenty of rest to get healthy before a playoff run. The Jacks have been playing without arguably the best FCS linebacker Adam Bock for the last few games.
ISU starting QB Zack Annexstad is out again. He missed last week’s game, a last-second loss to YSU where Illinois State passed for 103 yards and scored 17 points. It may be a long day for ISU’s offense against an impressive SDSU defense.
Prediction: SDSU 28-3
No. 13 Furman at No. 14 Mercer
Both squads are 7-2 overall, although Furman has six D1 wins. This is a big resume-boosting game. Furman wants to add a second ranked win this week and then hit eight D1 wins by beating Wofford. Mercer does not have any ranked wins yet but plays two to end the regular season.
Furman’s defense has been solid this season, allowing under 20 points per game. Its passing defense is gettable, though, allowing 246 YPG (No. 92 in the FCS). This could be a big day for QB Fred Payton and Mercer’s offense averaging 259.1 passing yards a game. Mercer’s No. 15 rushing defense (108.8 YPG) will need to contain Dominic Roberto (811 yards, 6.4 YPC, 8 TDs).
Prediction: Mercer 38-35
UC Davis at No. 15 Idaho
UC Davis isn’t out of the playoff picture yet. At 5-4, it has lost to FBS Cal, by two to No. 1 South Dakota State, by five to No. 7 Weber State, and by 17 to No. 3 Montana State. The Aggies have dominated their five lesser opponents for wins. To make the playoffs, two road wins are needed at No. 15 Idaho and No. 2 Sac State.
Idaho, meanwhile, is looking for its first playoff appearance since coming back to the FCS. At six D1 wins, including winning at ranked Montana, the Vandals don’t want to mess around with seven wins in the selection process. Beating UC Davis and winning at Idaho State gets Idaho in at 8-1 vs. the FCS, and the potential is there for a seed, especially if Montana beats Montana State. Idaho is looking like a complete team this year, and home-field advantage will make a difference Saturday.
Prediction: Idaho 31-24
Northwestern State at No. 25 Southeastern Louisiana University
The Southland has two ranked teams in No. 25 Southeastern and No. 6 UIW. Yet it is NW State who sits in first place. The Demons are 4-0 in the standings while having an 0-5 non-conference record. Southeastern and UIW have one loss in conference play. NW State plays both to end the regular season.
NW State looked pretty dang good in a 41-14 win last week over Texas A&M Commerce, who is the lone Southland team to beat Southeastern. SLU was without starting QB Cephus Johnson III in that game, though.
With how packed the playoff bubble is, it’s doubtful the Southland would get three teams in if NW State got the auto-bid (keep in mind that NW State lost 47-0 at Montana, who may be a bubble team), making this an even more important game. The Lions get it done at home, but a much-improved NW State squad will compete well.
Prediction: Southeastern 35-31