Week 4 of the 2021 FCS season is here.
All year, Senior FCS Analyst Sam Herder will give his thoughts and score predictions on the week’s biggest games. This weekend features a couple of ranked vs. ranked FCS games and more potential FCS over FBS wins.
Let’s predict some scores.
Spring 2021: 53-25
I said last week that Monmouth, my preseason dark horse team, needed to show me a little more after two disappointing performances to start this season. They obviously (did not) listened to me and put a whooping on a decent Charleston Southern team, winning 41-14. It was the type of offensive explosion the offense is capable of.
Holy Cross is the team to beat in the Patriot League and has two good wins against Yale and FBS UConn. An upset at the hands of Merrimack has prevented the Crusaders from staying in the Top 25 ranking.
This is a good non-conference matchup between two teams we’ll likely see in the playoffs. I don’t see Holy Cross being able to do enough offensively to get a road win. Monmouth looks to be heating up for another Big South title.
Prediction: Monmouth 31-17
San Diego won the Pioneer Football League championship from 2014-2019. But its 39-game conference winning streak was snapped by Davidson in the spring season. USD lost a second conference game that year to Valpo to finish 4-2 in the standings. Davidson won the league title and playoff auto-bid with a 4-1 conference record.
Davidson’s option offense is a challenge to slow down. The USD defense has allowed 28, 53, and 52 points this season against three Big Sky teams, although its run defense has played much better than the secondary. The Toreros are allowing 161.0 rushing yards a game and 313.7 passing yards a game.
I’ll take Davidson at home to get a leg up on a tight conference race. Keep an eye on Dayton as well as one of the favorites to emerge.
Prediction: Davidson 31-24
Wofford had a solid Week 1 win against the CAA’s Elon (24-22). But a 31-10 loss to Kennesaw State last weekend has taken a lot of shine off of Wofford as a potential playoff team. Overall, the SoCon has had a solid non-conference, which could lead to three total playoff bids. The conference standings will be one of the closest races in the FCS.
VMI, the defending champs, no doubt wants to prove it is still the team to beat, even with ETSU jumping to No. 15 with a 3-0 record highlighted by a win at P5 Vanderbilt. After a breakout season in the spring and being named the SoCon Freshman of the Year, quarterback Seth Morgan has struggled to start this year with two TD passes and four interceptions, although three of those picks came against FBS Kent State. Morgan was knocked out of last week’s win at Cornell with a hit to his helmet, and he’s a game-time decision Saturday.
Backup Collin Ironside stepped in last week and went 27-of-42 for 230 yards, two TDs, and one interception.
This is a tough game to predict. Wofford didn’t look good against KSU. And VMI barely edged Cornell 31-21. VMI still looks like a playoff team to me with its standout individual players, so I don’t see a conference loss happening this early.
Prediction: VMI 21-20
UNA, one of the newer teams in the FCS, has been competitive despite its 0-3 record. The Lions have played three teams that are ranked or are receiving votes, losing 49-28 to SLU, 20-0 to Chattanooga, and 27-24 to Jacksonville State a week after JSU beat Florida State.
Nicholls, who is receiving some Top 25 votes, may be hiding in the shadows right now with an 0-2 record. But those two losses are against FBS opponents, one being a close 27-24 loss to Louisiana. The Colonels have one of the most powerful offenses in the country, and that will show against FCS teams. With SLU being ranked No. 16 and UIW getting an FBS win last week, Nicholls will want to show its firepower in its last non-conference game.
Prediction: Nicholls 42-28
SHSU has a chance at a statement win this weekend, especially since its strength of schedule will be picked apart by the likes of JMU, NDSU, SDSU, and Montana as the quest for a Top 2 playoff seed intensifies.
Right now, SHSU only has two ranked teams on its schedule — No. 25 UCA and No. 9 Jacksonville State. UCA, who is 1-2, would likely fall out of the rankings with a loss this weekend. So by November, it is possible SHSU only has one ranked win on its resume. Is a 10-0 SHSU team with one ranked win deserving of a higher seed than some undefeated or one-loss teams with four ranked wins and an FBS win?
It will be interesting to see what the playoff committee does in that situation. Do they give the defending national champs who are undefeated the top seed, or would the Bearkats get a No. 3 seed behind an 11-0 James Madison team with four ranked wins and a 10-1 SDSU team with four ranked wins, an FBS win, but a random letdown loss?
For SHSU to build a strong case for a Top 2 seed, it needs convincing wins against its strongest opponents. And UCA is arguably the best or second-best team the Bearkats will face. The Bears went down to the wire with Missouri State, who is currently No. 18. Mo State won 43-34 after scoring a TD with 29 seconds left and then getting a pick-six as time expired.
UCA has the potential to possess the best passing attack in the FCS when everything is clicking. But Breylin Smith has turned it over a bit too much, throwing nine TDs and six interceptions. UCA is also struggling to defend the pass, something SHSU’s explosive offense will want to exploit.
All-American WR Jequez Ezzard didn’t play in SHSU’s second non-conference game after his leg got bent underneath him in Week 1 at NAU. But I was told after that game he was running around in practice and looking fine. Holding him out against SEMO was probably precautionary. If he’s back in the lineup against UCA, the Bearkats will be able to put up some points.
Prediction: SHSU 35-21
One of the more underrated games this week is USD going to Mo State, a matchup that would have had little national implications just a couple of years ago. But Mo State quickly turned into a playoff team under Bobby Petrino in the spring and has two impressive performances this year, narrowly losing 23-16 to No. 22 FBS Oklahoma State and beating then-No. 16 Central Arkansas 43-34.
USD is receiving some Top 25 votes with its 2-1 start. The Coyotes should have beaten Kansas, losing 17-14. They defeated Northern Arizona 34-7 a week before NAU beat P5 Arizona, and also won 48-14 at Cal Poly. USD is playing much better defensively than in past seasons, and its offense has come alive in the last two weeks.
Mo State can score in bunches while it can be susceptible to the big play on defense. A shootout is possible this weekend.
I think there are six MVFC teams in the playoff mix right now: SDSU, NDSU, UND, SIU, UNI, and Mo State. USD can add its name to the mix with a win, but I like the Bears getting it done at home.
Prediction: Mo State 37-34
Weber State is in danger of falling to 1-3 overall and 1-2 against FCS opponents with ranked Montana State and Eastern Washington still to come in October. With starting quarterback Bronson Barron sidelined, Weber’s offense has looked pedestrian, which is putting a big strain on a defense filled with talent. Last week’s game against James Madison saw a 37-10 fourth-quarter deficit. Weber has become one of the more respected programs in the FCS, going deep into the playoffs from 2017-2019. But the Wildcats are slipping fast in the rankings.
UC Davis rolls into town looking to do the opposite and crack into the Top 10 nationally. The Aggies are 3-0 with an FBS win versus Tulsa. The defense has been stout, and the offense has scored 113 points in the last two games against San Diego and Dixie State. Quarterback Hunter Rodrigues is the real deal (61-of-91 for 759 yards, six TDs, and one interception). And Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. is one of the better running backs in the FCS, averaging nearly 100 rushing yards a game this season.
UC Davis is looking loaded this year. And winning at Weber State will turn more people into believers, because I think the Wildcats are still a playoff team, even with a potential 1-3 start.
Prediction: UC Davis 28-17
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