All year, Senior FCS Analyst Sam Herder will give his thoughts and score predictions on the week’s biggest games. We’re down to one last week before Selection Sunday, and the list of games with big playoff implications is long.
Let’s predict some scores.
PredictionsRecord: 2021: 61-37 Spring 2021: 53-25 2019: 100-42
The only non-Saturday game in Week 12 should be an entertaining one on a Thursday night. Nicholls’ chance at a playoff bid is slim at 5-5. But if it beats SLU to finish 6-3 against the FCS, it will at least get considered. SLU, meanwhile, can finish 9-1 against the FCS with a win. That probably won’t be enough for a seed, especially with the recent loss to UIW, who can earn the Southland auto-bid if it beats HBU.
SLU QB Cole Kelley and UIW QB Cameron Ward get a lot of attention nationally. And deservedly so. But Nicholls’ Lindsey Scott Jr. has also been dynamic, throwing for 2,013 yards and 16 TDs this season along with 966 rushing yards and nine TDs.
SLU beat Nicholls 58-48 in October. The Lions get it done again, this time at home in the River Bell Classic.
Prediction: SLU 48-35
Western Carolina at VMI
After losing to Furman last week, VMI is in must-win mode to hit seven victories and have a shot at the bracket with wins over playoff-hopefuls UTC and Mercer. The Keydets keep getting off to slow starts, and if there isn’t a sense of urgency in this game, I don’t know what will get them off to a faster start.
WCU is 3-7 overall but gave ETSU hell last week with a 35-35 halftime score. ETSU pulled away for a 56-35 win, though. VMI should get plenty of points Saturday. Its defense needs to step up so this doesn’t turn into a track meet. VMI wins and is right on the bubble of getting in or getting left out.
Prediction: VMI 41-27
Sacred Heart at LIU
Sacred Heart is 5-1 in the NEC with the lone loss coming against Bryant, who is 4-2 in the standings. Sacred Heart just needs to handle business against LIU (2-7 overall, 2-4 in the NEC) to make it back to the postseason.
Star RB Julius Chestnut is back to go along with Malik Grant, who stepped up in Chestnut’s absence and has rushed for 1,161 yards so far this season. Sacred Heart runs wild to a win.
Prediction:Sacred Heart 35-14
No. 6 Villanova at Delaware
The Battle of the Blue won’t have as huge of implications as once thought. Delaware, without standout QB Nolan Henderson, has struggled. The Blue Hens lost 51-27 to Richmond last week, resulting in their fifth loss. Even with a win on Saturday, the chances of UD making the playoffs are slim.
Villanova is playing for a seed, so there’s extra motivation for the Wildcats outside of wanting to beat their rival. Since suffering their first FCS loss to William & Mary, they have outscored their two opponents 68-14. It’s on the road and a rivalry, so you never know what can happen if Nova comes out flat. But Nova will be too much offensively and defensively for Delaware to pull off the win.
No. 23 Florida A&M vs. Bethune-Cookman
FAMU should end the regular season with two decisive wins. Bethune-Cookman is struggling with a 2-8 record. A win gives FAMU its ninth overall victory and eighth against a D1 opponent.
The big question on Selection Sunday will be if an eight D1-win FAMU team with a strength of schedule in the 100s and a lack of quality wins will get an at-large bid? The Rattlers will want to see several six and seven-win teams lose Saturday. It would be fun to see FAMU in the bracket. But several bubble teams have ranked wins or wins against teams also on the bubble.
So style points certainly won’t hurt.
Prediction: FAMU 45-14
Monmouth at No. 9 Kennesaw State
The Big South title and AQ will be decided as the two 6-0 in conference teams square off. Monmouth has had the edge in the last two meetings, winning 45-21 in 2019 and 42-17 in the spring. With a lot of big names coming back, Monmouth had high expectations entering this season. The Hawks are 7-3 overall and 7-2 against the FCS, but those two losses in the non-conference could keep them out of the playoffs if they don’t get the AQ.
If Monmouth does win and get the AQ, Kennesaw will have a better shot at an at-large bid with a 9-2 overall record and an 8-1 record vs. the FCS.
Both teams have been hard to figure out at different times throughout this season. Kennesaw did not look great in last week’s 28-24 win at North Alabama. Perhaps that snaps the Owls into focus. It won’t be easy against Monmouth’s No. 17 rushing defense, but Xavier Shepherd is a special talent leading KSU’s option attack. I’ll take Kennesaw to win and be in the convo for a seed.
Drake at Davidson
Davidson suffered its first Pioneer Football League loss last week to Dayton. The Wildcats are now tied at 6-1 in the standings alongside San Diego, but they do own the head-to-head. Davidson has to avoid a big upset by Drake (2-7 overall, 1-6 in the PFL), and it will reach the bracket for the second straight season. I don’t see Drake pulling off the shocker here.
No. 21 Mercer at No. 8 ETSU
ETSU and Mercer are 6-1 in the SoCon standings. The winner Saturday gets the conference title and the AQ. ETSU, at 9-1 overall with eight D1 wins including a P5 win, is already in the field. The Bucs can lose to Mercer and still get an at-large.
It will be interesting to see what happens if Mercer loses. The Bears would finish 7-3 but would have just six D1 wins. Is six D1 wins enough? On the surface, probably not. But Mercer did beat UTC this last week, and UTC could hit seven D1 wins this weekend. You can’t put UTC in the bracket and not Mercer. And at the same time, you can’t put UTC or Mercer in the bracket and not include VMI if it hits seven D1 wins this week, because VMI has head-to-head wins against UTC and Mercer.
So let’s say ETSU wins, UTC wins, and VMI wins. Do all four SoCon teams get in?
I have no clue. But what I do know (or think) is ETSU will beat Mercer this weekend. The Bucs have been strong all year and will be in the seed discussion if they win. Mercer’s defense has played tough in the last couple of weeks but stopping the two-headed monster of RBs Jacob Saylors and Quay Holmes requires a whole different level of play.
The Citadel at Chattanooga
As discussed right above, there may be a deserving SoCon team left out of the bracket, unless VMI or UTC loses and don’t hit seven D1 wins. Mercer’s six D1 wins (if it does indeed lose to ETSU) may be enough with its head-to-head on UTC.
I think ETSU will win. I think VMI will win. And I think UTC will beat The Citadel. However, I think UTC will be left out of the bracket, even with its win against ETSU, because it lost to VMI and it most recently lost to Mercer. There will be too many teams in the at-large pool for the SoCon to get four total teams in.
No. 3 Montana State at No. 7 Montana
The Brawl of the Wild has the biggest implications in years. If MSU wins, the Bobcats should be a Top 2 seed while Montana will play in the first round. If the Griz win, both teams end up somewhere in the seeds.
Montana is getting healthier, and having Cam Humphrey back at QB has led the offense to score 35 and 30 points in the last two games after a rough October. A concern for MSU is its All-American RB Isaiah Ifanse (1,208 rushing yards, eight TDs) is day-to-day this week and dealing with general soreness. It would be a surprise if Ifanse doesn’t play, but what percentage health is the star RB going to be at?
The good news is MSU is more balanced offensively compared to past seasons with QB Matthew McKay. The bad news is the Bobcats are going up against an elite defense with stars on all three levels. How much offensive success will MSU have? On the other hand, how much offensive success will Montana have? Montana State has a ferocious defensive front that will look to feast on an inexperienced and beat-up Montana o-line.
This will be a defensive battle. But I’ll take MSU with the slight edge in the trenches, which will lead to a win.
Prediction:Montana State 21-17
No. 25 Rhode Island at Elon
If Rhody wins, they are likely in the field at 8-3 overall with an FBS win (yes, even if it’s against UMass). If the Rams lose, I don’t think they will have a strong enough resume to get a bid. They looked better last week in a 28-3 win vs. UNH. But the three blowout FCS losses before the UMass win still has me doubting Rhody some.
Elon is 5-5 overall and 4-3 in the CAA, so this is no lay-up for the Rams. We’re in store for a fun game between two good QBs, but Rhody takes its momentum from the last two weeks into this game for a win.
North Dakota at No. 12 South Dakota State
SDSU was a second away at USD from being in a position to earn a seed. Now the Jacks have to beat a scrappy UND team to make the bracket. If they lose, they will have six D1 wins. UND would have six D1 wins. And UNI would have six D1 wins if it beats WIU, featuring three ranked victories with one being over SDSU. In my opinion, if the Jacks lose, they are out and UNI is in.
This season, UND has lost by seven to USD, by three to SIU, and by four to Mo State. All three have been on the road against playoff-bound teams. Add in a six-point home loss to NDSU, and the Fighting Hawks are almost a playoff team with close losses. But almost isn’t good enough. Just like SDSU almost beat USD and almost beat SIU. A couple of plays go the Jacks way, and they are a Top 5 seed.
There are plenty of “what ifs” for SDSU and UND this season. It’s all or nothing for SDSU on Saturday. The Jacks get it done and will be the most dangerous unseeded team in the bracket.
No. 16 South Dakota at No. 4 North Dakota State
Those of us that like to project the playoff field and discuss the Top 4 seeds have used the assumption that SHSU, JMU, and NDSU will win this week. But this game isn’t a gimme for the Bison. NDSU makes its money running the ball this season. If the Bison can’t run it consistently in a game, they are in trouble. USD is 12th in the FCS against the run, allowing 97.4 rushing yards per game. Linebackers Jack Cochrane and Brock Mogensen are as good as it gets in the MVFC.
The Coyotes are in the field even if they lose. But if they win, a seed is likely. However, NDSU is playing for a high seed and should know that is at stake. If the Bison want to play multiple home games in the playoffs, they need to come ready to play against a good USD team. While its defense has really improved, I don’t see USD’s offense having enough success against a stellar NDSU defense to get a win in the Fargodome.
Richmond at William & Mary
If W&M wins, the Tribe is 7-3 against the FCS with a win against Villanova that was much more dominant than the final score (31-18) indicates. A 24-3 loss a week later to Delaware, though, could be a killer. Rhody beating Elon this weekend gives it eight wins, one being against FBS UMass. That could get favored over a seven-win W&M team. The CAA getting four teams in is possible, but it’s not probable unless the at-large pool shallows up with certain results.
W&M can’t worry about what Rhody does, though. The Tribe has to deal with a Richmond team that is on a three-game winning streak with QB Joe Mancuso back and healthy. The Spiders just put up 51 on Delaware in a 51-27 win. Give me Richmond to spoil W&M’s chance at the playoffs.
Western Illinois at Northern Iowa
Two things need to happen for UNI to have a shot at the playoffs with six D1 wins. First, of course, the Panthers need to beat WIU. Then they need to hope UND beats SDSU. That would give UNI, SDSU, and UND all six D1 wins. If the committee chooses to have a fifth MVFC team in behind NDSU, USD, SIU, and Mo State, it will be one of those three. UNI should get the nod over SDSU and UND. It will have two wins over playoff teams (Sac State and SIU) and the head-to-head on SDSU.
Even with the head-to-head on SDSU, though, UNI would not get in over the Jacks if SDSU wins on Saturday to finish 8-3 with seven D1 wins, including victories against NDSU and FBS Colorado State. UNI shouldn’t have an issue beating WIU for a home win. The Panthers then need to hope other results go their way.
No. 5 Eastern Washington at Portland State
EWU got back in the win column by beating UC Davis. That’s now two Top 10 wins for the Eagles — Montana is now No. 7 and UC Davis is now No. 10. Add in an FBS win against UNLV, and the Eagles will get a decent seed if they beat PSU and finish 9-2 (eight D1 wins).
The Vikings are a competitive team, though, sitting at 5-5 overall and 4-3 in the Big Sky. They knocked Weber out of the playoff picture, a team that beat EWU. Davis Alexander is a solid QB for PSU and keeps them in a lot of games.
With voting for the major awards coming next week, this is Eric Barriere’s last chance to show voters he is the deserving winner. He goes off Saturday as the Eagles are heating up heading into the playoffs.
Prediction: EWU 42-24
No. 22 Stephen F. Austin at Lamar
SFA is a dark horse team to make the bracket. The Lumberjacks should beat Lamar, which means seven D1 wins and eight overall. There will be plenty of seven and even a couple of six D1-win teams battling it out for bids. Why not SFA?
The Lumberjacks have a 28-22 loss to Texas Tech, a 21-20 loss to No. 1 SHSU (without SHSU’s starting QB playing), and a 28-24 loss to Jacksonville State. SFA could find its way into the playoffs, but it needs other results to go its way. It may not have that one quality one that others on the bubble can point to. EKU and UCA are the best wins. Neither of those two teams have strong playoff arguments.
No. 11 Sacramento State at No. 10 UC Davis
The Causeway Classic will have a seed on the line. The winner gets a first-round bye, and the loser is playing on Thanksgiving weekend.
Sac State has yet to lose a Big Sky game. And while the Hornets have avoided EWU, Montana State, and Weber State, that doesn’t mean they aren’t a quality team propped up by an easier schedule. They are playing solid defense, ranking No. 21 with 19.8 points allowed per game. And the two-QB system has gotten better every game with Asher O’Hara the running QB and Jake Dunniway handling most of the passing.
UC Davis is also playing well defensively, allowing 19.0 PPG. But since losing QB Hunter Rodrigues as he’s battled injuries this season, the offense hasn’t been quite the same. Sac State is the more complete team.
Prediction: Sac State 28-20
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Sam’s coverage of the FCS began in 2012 as the sports editor and eventual editor-in-chief of NDSU’s The Spectrum. After graduating in 2015, he spent three years in the newspaper and magazine industry while starting his work for HERO Sports in the fall of 2016 as a freelancer. In May 2018, he joined the website full time as the Senior FCS Analyst.