Week 5 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 Top 10 showdowns.
Let’s predict some scores.
Spring 2021: 53-25
Stony Brook at No. 21 Rhode Island
Rhode Island is getting close to making my projected playoff bracket. The Rams are 3-0 with wins against Bryant, Albany, and Brown, but I want to see what they do in these next three games before really jumping on board. They host Stony Brook this week, host No. 9 Delaware next week, and then go to Towson. The Rams could be looking at a 5-1 record there.
Plus, a winnable FBS game at UMass looms on Nov. 6. Rhody is set up to push for a playoff spot.
It needs to handle business against Stony Brook, though. The Seawolves are a hard-nosed bunch that can push teams they are underdogs against. They are having a hard time putting up points, though, compared to a URI offense averaging 35.3 points per game, led by Kasim Hill’s 716 yards passing with five TDs and one interception.
Prediction: Rhode Island 28-17
Harvard at Holy Cross
Here’s an under-the-radar matchup. Holy Cross is coming off of an impressive 45-15 win at then-No. 20 Monmouth. But the last time Holy Cross had a big win, the next week resulted in an emotional letdown — the Crusaders beat FBS UConn to open the season and then lost 35-21 to Merrimack.
The loss has made some voters hesitant to rank Holy Cross despite its 3-1 record with an FBS win.
Harvard is 2-0 with blowout wins against Georgetown and Brown. The Crimson are 210-138-8 all-time against opponents currently in the Patriot League (including Georgetown).
Aaron Shampklin is a tremendous RB for Harvard and has been for a while. He was a 2018 HERO Sports Sophomore All-American. He is averaging 11.3 yards per carry and 152 rushing yards a game through two contests. Holy Cross is stout against the run, though, holding Monmouth All-American RB Juwon Farri to 53 yards rushing on 13 carries.
Prediction: Holy Cross 31-21
No. 18 VMI at The Citadel
This rivalry game dates back to 1920 with it being dubbed The Military Classic of the South in 1976. The Citadel leads the overall series 42-32-2, but VMI ended its 12-game losing streak in 2019 and then beat the Bulldogs again in the spring as it won the SoCon title.
VMI QB Collin Ironside has stepped in very well for starter Seth Morgan, who got knocked out of the game at Cornell two weeks ago with a hit to his helmet. Ironside went 18-22 for 188 yards and two TDs in last week’s 32-23 win against Wofford.
The Citadel is 1-2 overall and 0-1 against FCS opponents (losing 38-21 to Charleston Southern). The defense has struggled, especially against the pass as it is allowing 270.0 passing yards a game. That’s not an ideal recipe to defeat VMI.
Prediction: VMI 31-21
No. 17 Jacksonville State at No. 20 Kennesaw State
This is a massive game for both teams in the playoff picture unless, of course, JSU wins the AQ7 auto-bid (which seems unlikely) and KSU wins the Big South auto-bid (which is possible). But let’s say SHSU wins the AQ7 and Monmouth wins the Big South, how well-positioned are JSU and KSU to grab an at-large bid if they finish second? That depends on this result.
JSU is hanging on to its P5 Florida State win for dear life after narrowly beating North Alabama and then losing to UT Martin last week. With a tough three-game stretch following this week (vs. SFA, at SHSU, vs. UCA), getting a ranked win at Kennesaw is key.
KSU has just one D1 win, handling Wofford 31-10 while losing to Georgia Tech and beating non-counter Reinhardt. Having one D1 win outside of Big South play may not scream at-large bid-worthy, so beating ranked JSU is a big resume-booster.
Kennesaw has had two weeks to prepare, although you wonder if the Owls would have liked to play this game last week to continue its momentum after looking great against Wofford. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, are the toughest team in the FCS to predict. They can let things unravel after last week’s loss that knocked them out of the Top 10. Or they can rally and play to their potential.
It could go either way. But basing it off of watching each team’s last performance, Kennesaw seems more poised to get the W.
Prediction: Kennesaw 28-27
No. 5 North Dakota State at No. 10 North Dakota
NDSU and UND meet for the 114th time Saturday, but just the fourth time as D1 opponents. The Bison won decisively in 2015, 2019, and the spring of 2021, which were all played in the Fargodome. Now, NDSU heads to the Alerus Center for the first time since 2003.
UND is 10-0 at home in the last two seasons, including seven wins against ranked opponents and two wins against Top 10 teams. The Fighting Hawks play phenomenal ball at home and will have what should be an electric, sold-out crowd behind them. The Bison aren’t too shabby on the road, though, with a 44-5 record in away games (not including neutral sites) since 2011.
The gap between these two programs seemed like it was going to shrink in the spring when No. 2 UND visited No. 4 NDSU. But the Fighting Hawks were overwhelmed in the trenches in a 34-13 loss. NDSU looks even stronger on the offensive and defensive lines this fall, while UND has shuffled its starting o-line after replacing its three interior linemen from the spring.
The Fighting Hawks may grab the momentum early by hitting on a big play and getting the raucous crowd going. But they don’t have the horses to hang with the Bison for all four quarters. Depth will be the difference in the second half while NDSU’s No. 1 rushing offense takes over. The Bison are averaging 348.3 rushing yards per game. Harvard is No. 2 at 289.0 and the option attacks of Davidson and Kennesaw State are right around 280 yards a game.
This is NDSU’s first chance at a statement performance after playing a meh non-conference schedule. The Bison’s Massey strength of schedule through three games is 103rd. I don’t expect a blowout, but a double-digit road win against a Top 10 team is a resume-booster for the Bison.
Prediction: NDSU 28-17
No. 3 James Madison at No. 25 New Hampshire
It’s debatable if UNH should still be ranked after losing 77-7 to Pitt. The Wildcats are 3-1 overall, but games like beating Lafayette 19-13 make you wonder if this is the 25th best team in the FCS.
But hey, it’s another opportunity at a ranked win for JMU looking to make an argument for a Top 2 playoff seed.
The Dukes have the No. 1 scoring offense in the FCS, averaging 53.3 PPG through three games. UNH is not an easy place to play, but neither is Weber State. JMU is on a different level this season, and that won’t slow down this week.
Prediction: JMU 42-14
No. 1 Sam Houston vs. Stephen F. Austin
Held at NRG Stadium (home of the Houston Texans), this year’s Battle of the Piney Woods has a high level of national intrigue. SHSU has an intact team coming off of a national championship but faces plenty of doubt on its ability to repeat. SFA is a program on the rise, is 3-1 right now with a close 28-22 loss to Texas Tech, and has the 29th most voting points in this week’s Stats Perform poll.
While it may not seem like it on paper, this is another chance for the Bearkats to prove themselves on the national radar. Other top teams will have several ranked wins on their resume with some having an FBS win. The only opponent on SHSU’s schedule that is currently ranked is No. 17 Jacksonville State.
SFA is a quality opponent, so this is a good game to watch for FCS fans. I think it will be close, but I still like the Bearkats to finish 10-0. Even one regular-season loss makes SHSU’s quest to repeat at natty champs become that much harder. A 10-0 record vs. a 9-1 record is the difference between a Top 2 seed and home-field advantage vs. maybe the No. 5 seed and going on the road in the quarterfinals. SHSU needs this one.
Prediction: SHSU 35-27
No. 4 Montana at No. 6 Eastern Washington
RELATED: Lewis, Barriere Lead Standout Units
EWU wants to prove it has the best offense in the FCS. Montana wants to prove it has the best defense and that it is the top team in the subdivision. The matchup, airing on ESPN2, is going to be a blast.
Montana’s defensive speed and lack of missed tackles have been incredible to watch. Now comes the challenge of facing an EWU offense putting up video game numbers.
Eric Barriere is likely No. 1 on many voters’ choice for the Walter Payton Award after his start to this season. He has more total yards of offense than a majority of FCS teams. But UNLV is the No. 124 scoring defense in the FBS, Central Washington is D2, Western Illinois is No. 110 in FCS scoring defense, and Southern Utah is No. 113. Putting on a show against the Griz is the real gauge for who I think is the best QB in the FCS.
Montana seems impossible to run the football on. That, combined with opponents playing from behind, has resulted in the secondary allowing 217.7 passing yards a game, which ranks No. 57 in the FCS. It’s still an area for EWU’s No. 1 passing offense (445.8 YPG) to exploit, though.
The Eagles are on an 18-game home winning streak. Barriere has never lost on his home turf. In a battle between EWU’s offense and UM’s defense, I think the difference here is the other two units. I don’t think the Eagles are good on defense. And I believe Montana is good (maybe not great, but good) on offense. Add in the Griz being sharp on special teams, and they are the more well-rounded team.
Prediction: Montana 34-27
Check out the latest episode of the FCS Football Talk podcast, which is also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart, Stitcher, and Spreaker.
SUBSCRIBE: FCS Football Talk