We’re going to learn a lot from a fantastic Week 4 of the 2022 FCS season.
All year, I will share my thoughts and score predictions on the week’s biggest games. Week 4 features some great ranked matchups that will impact future playoff seed discussions.
Let’s predict some scores.
2019-2021 record: 244-115
2022 record: 26-8
RELATED: Notable Games And How To Watch
No. 19 North Dakota at No. 24 Southern Illinois
“Bah gawd, King, is that SIU’s music?”
After an atrocious 0-2 start, SIU beat the Big Ten’s Northwestern last week to remind us why the Salukis were in the preseason Top 10. Talent was never the question for the Salukis, even after falling out of the polls. To truly get back onto the playoff radar, though, the Salukis need to beat UND. The Fighting Hawks are 2-1 with two quality FCS wins against UNI and NAU. Getting back-to-back road wins will be tough for UND.
Both secondaries allow big plays, so expect some points in this one. UND is playing with more consistency and is finding a way to win close games, something the Hawks didn’t do last year while losing several games to ranked opponents by one score. Tommy Schuster has taken the next step at QB for UND, and I think UND has the run defense to make SIU one-dimensional and force Nic Baker into a key fourth-quarter turnover for the road win.
Prediction: UND 35-28
No. 2 South Dakota State at No. 6 Missouri State
One of the biggest matchups of the season.
If the Jacks want to solidify themselves as a top team in the country, this is a game they need to win. With road trips remaining to NDSU, UND, and UNI, falling to 2-2 (close P5 loss at Iowa) results in a tough outlook to gain a high playoff seed. And frankly, SDSU was good enough to be playing in Frisco last year if not for regular-season slipups costing the team a more favorable path.
I do believe SDSU has the best chance to knock off NDSU in the playoffs. The Jacks match up well against the Bison. It’s just a matter of putting yourself in a position to meet NDSU in the national title game.
Speaking of matchups, SDSU doesn’t match up as well against Missouri State.
Mo State nearly beat FBS No. 10 Arkansas last week, raising eyebrows across the country. But the Bears also almost beat Oklahoma State last season (who finished No. 7 in the final AP poll) and then ended the season by losing in the first round. So nearly defeating Arkansas doesn’t tell us everything. Beating SDSU will tell us a ton, though.
The Jacks are down some starters, and QB Mark Gronowski is working through some rust. But SDSU shouldn’t have a problem scoring against the Bears. Slowing Mo State down is the challenge. SDSU’s d-line, led by DT Caleb Sanders, can take advantage of a struggling Mo State offensive line that has allowed 17 sacks already. But Jason Shelley is still operating at an elite level and looking like the best QB in the FCS (62.9%, 920 yards, 7 TDs, 0 INT). If anything, Shelley looks just as comfortable throwing on the run if the opposing DL gets him off his spot. SDSU’s front seven is its defensive strength. And while its secondary looks improved from last year, it is an area one can point to when the Jacks have lost.
I think Mo State hits on enough big plays, and an expected near-sellout crowd is too much for SDSU to overcome.
Prediction: Missouri State 38-35
No. 4 Montana State at No. 15 Eastern Washington
The middle of MSU’s defense looks gettable without all-world LB Troy Andersen. Oregon State did whatever it wanted through the air attacking that middle and nearly had a 70-burger. The Bobcats don’t have much time to figure things out, heading to EWU to face standout WRs Freddie Roberson and Efton Chism III and new QB Gunner Talkington. The Eagles, meanwhile, had two weeks to prep for arguably a must-win when looking at its brutal schedule.
MSU went to EWU last year and limited one of the best passing attacks in the FCS. The Bobcats do return good experience from that secondary. WRs in the slot may have more success this year, something the Eagles will surely try to exploit.
I still think MSU is a good defense overall, though. Last week may have just been one of those games. It’s just a matter of players getting comfortable in new-look roles. I don’t trust EWU’s defense as much, even against an MSU team without its top four RBs. Despite the running back injuries, the young and inexperienced MSU o-line is playing better than expected, and its dual-QB run game should possess the ball long enough to keep EWU’s offense sidelined for much more than half of the game.
Prediction: Montana State 31-17
Elon (received votes) at No. 14 William & Mary
Elon has looked pretty good in the non-conference, losing 42-31 to FBS Vanderbilt before beating Wofford 26-0 and Gardner-Webb 30-24. The Phoenix allow just 97.0 rushing yards a game. That defense will be put to the test against William & Mary’s No. 3 FCS rushing offense (287.7 yards per game).
The Tribe is 3-0, featuring a 41-24 win against FBS Charlotte. This team looks playoff-worthy, outscoring its opponents 37.3 to 17.3. It’s not all rushing either, as Darius Wilson is completing 65% of his passes for 535 yards, four TDs, and one interception. W&M is balanced and appears to be a top-three team in the CAA. The Tribe proves it Saturday with a double-digit victory.
Prediction: William & Mary 28-14
No. 16 EKU at Austin Peay (received votes)
This is a great test for two teams on my Top 25 ballot.
EKU is 2-1 with a close FBS loss to Eastern Michigan, a seven-OT FBS win over Bowling Green, and a blowout FCS win over Charleston Southern. Austin Peay is 3-1 with a close FBS loss to WKU, and then three dominant wins over inferior FCS opponents (Presbyterian, Mississippi Valley State, and Alabama A&M).
Middle Tennessee transfer QB Mike DiLiello has been fantastic for APSU, throwing for 860 yards, 13 TDs, and two interceptions. On the other side is EKU veteran QB Parker McKinney, who has been just as good (1,027 yards, 10 TDs, 3 INT). EKU is a bit more battle-tested on the field and has been emotionally challenged as well after head coach Walt Wells nearly died, but is incredibly back on the sidelines now.
SFA and Kennesaw looked like the two playoff bids from the ASUN-WAC in the preseason, but with those two teams struggling to start, does the conference get knocked down to one total bid and no at-large bids? This is a huge head-to-head, and I’m slightly higher on EKU despite the Colonels being on the road.
Prediction: Eastern Kentucky 28-27
No. 4 UIW at Southeastern Louisiana University (received votes)
Last year’s matchup between UIW and Southeastern saw a 55-52 UIW win. Cameron Ward threw for 610 yards and seven TDs. Cole Kelley threw for 647 yards and three TDs. Kelley graduated, while Ward transferred to Washington State.
UIW brought in Nicholls transfer QB Lindsey Scott Jr., who is playing like one of the best QBs in the FCS — 1,098 passing yards, 13 TDs, and one interception for the 3-0 Cardinals (featuring wins against then-No. 9 SIU and FBS Nevada). Cephus Johnson III took over for Southeastern after backup duty last year. He struggled in the first two games in FBS losses, but last week went 14-of-20 for 228 yards and two TDs in a blowout win against the NEC’s CCSU.
This is likely the last regular-season challenge UIW will face. If the Cardinals win, an 11-0 record is looking likely. Questions on strength of schedule will arise when seeding discussion comes, so a statement win Saturday is big for UIW. And then the Cardinals will be hoping for SIU and Southeastern to finish the season with winning records and in the playoff discussion.
UIW has stronger QB play and stronger defense, which will lead to a road win.
Prediction: UIW 49-28
No. 1 North Dakota State at South Dakota (received votes)
This is a good “get right” game for NDSU after some FCS followers and even some Bison fans are ringing the alarms after the team lost by three points to a P5 team. USD is going to be a much tougher challenge than Drake or NC A&T, but it’s also the type of above-average opponent past title-winning NDSU teams have handled.
The Bison do have questions to answer.
Can NDSU WRs get open against some talented players in the USD secondary? Can the front seven shut down a physical RB in Travis Theis? The Bison haven’t lost back-to-back games since 2009. It’s highly unlikely that USD, who is currently 1-2 with decisive losses to FBS Kansas State and No. 2 Montana and who lost 52-24 last year at NDSU, will win this game. But it’s how NDSU wins that will be interesting to watch.
Prediction: NDSU 35-14
No. 12 Weber State at UC Davis (received votes)
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: This is going to be a classic Big Sky slugfest.
Yes, these are two physical football teams playing tough, hardnosed, fly-to-the-football defense this year. This matchup also features two strong offensive lines and two elite running backs in Weber’s Josh Davis and UC Davis’ Ulonzo Gilliam Jr.
Weber is reminding us that it was one of the better FCS programs in the late 2010s and that last year was just a down season riddled with injuries. The Wildcats’ 3-0 start features a 35-7 dominating win against FBS Utah State. UC Davis may be 1-2, but one loss is to P5 Cal and the other is a 24-22 loss at No. 2 South Dakota State, a game the Aggies had a chance to tie with a two-point conversion in the final minute.
With a game at No. 4 Montana State looming next week, this is a very important game for UC Davis. A 1-3 start with the potential to go 1-4 spells trouble for a return to the postseason. It’s just tough to pick against Weber at this point in the season. The Wildcats look too strong on defense, and things really seem to be clicking offensively under new OC Mickey Mental.
I seem to be picking too many road teams this week, but that won’t deter me from predicting Weber State’s great start to continue into a 4-0 record.
Prediction: Weber State 24-17