UND looked great last week with a 35-14 road win at Idaho State. The Fighting Hawks head west again on a short week with this game at FBS Utah State a Friday night matchup.
The Aggies went 7-6 in 2019, 1-5 last year, and last week defeated P5 Washington State 26-23. Washington State finished 1-3 in 2019.
Utah State struggled all-around in 2020, averaging 15.5 points per game and allowing 35 PPG. Its offense looked improved in Week 1, but it will have to contend with a UND defense that held Idaho State’s explosive offense in check.
The Fighting Hawks have a balanced offensive attack instead of needing All-American running back Otis Weah to carry the load. Quarterback Tommy Schuster had a 181.5 quarterback rating against Idaho State, going 14-of-18 for 183 yards and a TD.
UND has one FBS win, beating Wyoming 24-13 in 2015. The program has grown into being an FCS contender since then. In what looks to be a loaded playoff picture and a stacked group of teams vying for seeds, this is a key opportunity for the Fighting Hawks.
SEMO is in danger of falling to 0-3 with a game at Missouri coming next week. The Redhawks lost 47-21 last week at home versus Southern Illinois. For a team that was picked to finished second in the OVC, any chance of an at-large bid if it cannot earn the conference’s auto-bid is dwindling.
SHSU’s solid win last week flew under the radar compared to SDSU and Montana getting FBS victories. Its stout defense and explosive offense were on display again to open this season. The defending national champs took it to Northern Arizona on the road, winning 42-16 in a game many of us thought would be competitive.
I expect another impressive win. While the Bearkats don’t have the toughest non-conference slate, beating up on NAU and SEMO would show the strength of this team as it returns every starter from the spring.
I ranked Maine No. 21 in my Top 25 ballot this week, but the Black Bears didn’t get much voting love otherwise. I think the team is loaded with talent, especially offensively. Andre Miller is one of the top WRs in the FCS and is an NFL prospect. Maine was down 17-0 last week against No. 5 Delaware, then came back to tie it 24-24 before allowing the last 10 points to lose 34-24.
It will be a great test for JMU’s secondary, which allowed some big plays in a blowout win against Morehead State in Week 1. Mark Pappas threw for 243 yards (and three interceptions) and BJ Byrd caught nine passes for 127 yards. Granted how the game played out resulted in Morehead State throwing it 44 times.
This begins a key stretch for JMU — vs. Maine, at No. 10 Weber State, at UNH, vs. No. 12 Villanova, at No. 25 Richmond, at No. 6 Delaware.
In past seasons, the Dukes could probably afford one FCS slip-up and still get a Top 2 playoff seed and home-field advantage. A 10-1 JMU team used to be a slamdunk Top 2 seed. But this year, there may be multiple teams that go undefeated or have one loss with an FBS win. It’s possible a 10-1 JMU team could be seeded No. 4 this year behind undefeated SHSU and Montana teams and a 10-1 SDSU team with an FBS win.
We’ll see how it shakes out. It’s only Week 2, but the playoff positioning already begins for JMU.
The only ranked vs. ranked FCS matchup this weekend. And it’s a good one. Mo State nearly knocked off Oklahoma State last week, losing 23-16. UCA was up 7-6 at halftime at Arkansas State, but the defense had a tough second-half showing and UCA lost 40-21.
Tyler Hudson and Lujuan Winningham are two of the best WRs in the FCS for Central Arkansas. But quarterback Breylin Smith has been lacking consistency since his 2019 Sophomore All-American season. If he’s at his best, UCA is a team capable of winning games in the playoffs.
Mo State continued to bring in a lot of FBS transfers since making the playoffs in the spring season. The Bears were down 20-0 against Oklahoma State before rallying and making it a good game in the fourth quarter. Mo State has improved its level of athletes on the roster since Bobby Petrino took over as head coach.
This is one of those games we point to when figuring out the playoff field. Does a fifth team from the MVFC deserve to get in over the third team from the AQ7, or vice versa? UCA went 2-0 against Mo State in the fall of 2020, winning 27-20 and 33-24. The Bears of Mo State were a different team in the spring, and are even different this fall.
WIU may have been picked to finish last in the MVFC, but this isn’t Bemidji State rolling into Missoula on Saturday.
In fact, the Leathernecks look to be better than their preseason expectations. They were tied 14-14 with FBS Ball State (who went 7-1 overall in 2020 and won the MAC) in the third quarter before losing 31-21.
Meanwhile, Montana is coming off of a historic win, beating No. 20 Washington 13-7. Past Griz teams suffered emotional letdowns after monster wins. This particular squad seems to be built a bit different, though, with legit national title aspirations.
I’m excited to see Montana’s defense against WIU’s passing attack after the Leathernecks threw for 367 yards last week. WIU is not strong defensively, so Montana can answer some questions on how good its offense is going to be this season. The Griz pull away in the second half.
Sac State is four spots out of the Top 25 rankings. The Hornets were the 2019 co-Big Sky champs and did not play in 2020-21. They have a talented roster with standout individual players, but I don’t know if they answered their QB question just yet after beating Dixie State 19-7, at least in terms of being in the national discussion. Asher O’Hara went 13-of-21 for 119 yards and two TDs while running for 65 yards. Jake Dunniway also got snaps and threw for 74 yards, completing 6-of-9 passes.
UNI reminded us last week how tough of a program it is by nearly knocking off No. 7 Iowa State, losing 16-10. The Panthers are just incredible on defense, which is a concern for Sac State after scoring only 19 points against D1-transitioning Dixie State.
UNI’s offense has been its question mark for multiple seasons now. It’s hard to judge the 2021 fall unit against Iowa State. Playing Sac State will be a better gauge on if there are any improvements.
UNI certainly doesn’t want to start 0-2. And with Sac State playing Cal next week, a 1-2 start isn’t ideal either. This is a key game for both teams and their playoff outlook. UNI’s outstanding defense leads to a win.
Prediction: UNI 17-10
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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.