Week 6 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 several ranked versus ranked matchups, and possibly even a playoff-elimination game.
Let’s predict some scores.
Spring 2021: 53-25
No. 9 Delaware at No. 18 Rhode Island
Rhody is slowly proving to more and more people that it is for real. But there are valid reasons to be skeptical, despite its 4-0 record. Rhody’s Massey strength of schedule is 97th so far. The best test to date comes this weekend, though, against a potentially vulnerable Top 10 team in Delaware.
The Blue Hens escaped with a 20-15 win against winless UAlbany last week, a team Rhode Island beat 16-14 in Week 2. Standout QB Nolan Henderson is battling injuries, and how many reps he gets the rest of this season sounds like will be a week-by-week decision.
Delaware’s defense is solid with plenty of talented players. I think it can hold an explosive Rhode Island offense in the low 20s in points. But I don’t know how much offensive success Delaware will have. The Rams are giving up just under 20 points a game.
Prediction: Rhode Island 21-17
No. 14 SLU at No. 25 Nicholls
The six-team Southland has a pretty clear top and bottom.
The bottom three are Houston Baptist, Northwestern State, and McNeese, who are a combined 1-12.
The top three are UIW (4-1 with an FBS win), SLU (3-1 and 3-0 against the FCS), and Nicholls (2-2 and 2-0 against the FCS). The conference will likely get two total bids into the playoffs. Three seems unlikely with the MVFC, Big Sky, and CAA hogging a lot of at-large bids. Plus, it doesn’t reflect well on the Southland when one of its top teams (UIW) lost 44-41 in OT to one of the MVFC’s worst teams (YSU, who is 1-3).
So three teams are battling for two likely playoff spots, making this October game massive. Interestingly, since the Southland lost five teams to other FCS conferences, SLU and Nicholls meet a second time this year to end the regular season. Nicholls plays UIW twice, and SLU plays UIW once.
Expect a classic Southland shootout. All-American QB Cole Kelley leads a dangerous SLU offense averaging 406.5 passing yards a game. Nicholls has a more balanced attack averaging 480.8 total yards of offense a game. Lindsey Scott Jr. has rushed for 430 yards and four TDs and has thrown for 908 yards and seven scores.
I think Nicholls plays slightly better defense. And with it being at home, I’ll take Nicholls here.
Prediction: Nicholls 48-45
No. 11 Villanova at No. 3 James Madison
This looks like the best Villanova team in several years. But it also seems like we’ve been saying that for years. If there is a season for the Wildcats to take that next step and live up to its ranking, this is it.
They are playing tough, hard-nosed defense led by linebacker Forrest Rhyne, allowing 17.8 points per game and just 42 rushing yards a game. And the offense has weapons everywhere, whether it be RB Justin Covington (322 yards, two TDs), WR Rayjoun Pringle (251 yards, 5 TDs), or the dual-threat abilities of Daniel Smith (10 passing TDs, 3 rushing TDs).
Nova collides with a stout defense, as JMU is even better against the run with 33 yards allowed a game. The JMU secondary can be susceptible to big plays, allowing 184.3 passing yards a game. If Nova wants to beat the Dukes, it’s going to have to do it through the air.
It’s a big game for JMU’s DBs. But also a big day for the defensive line to get after Smith. The Dukes have 11 sacks in four games, and their depth across the front will help in slowing Nova down.
Prediction: JMU 28-17
No. 8 Southern Illinois at No. 2 South Dakota State
SDSU looks like the best team in the FCS to me. The defense is playing at an incredibly high level. And the offense is balanced and can light up the scoreboard when it gets going. The best gauge of the season so far is this weekend.
SIU had the Jacks in trouble in the spring’s quarterfinal game, up two TDs in the second quarter before SDSU came back to win. The Salukis bring back a lot of firepower from that team looking to show it is in the top tier of the FCS despite last week’s close call against WIU.
With shutdown CB Don Gardner out for roughly 6-8 more weeks due to an arm injury, the Jacks will be tested in the secondary against some big-time receivers, Landon Lenoir and Avante Cox. On the flip side, how will the best offensive line in the FCS and QB Chris Oladokun handle an SIU defense that already has 17 sacks in five games?
SDSU is rolling right now, making it hard to pick against the Jacks. Last week wasn’t Oladokun’s sharpest performance despite the blowout win against Dixie State, but I think he has a game that mirrors the Week 1 win at Colorado State.
Prediction: SDSU 28-21
No. 23 Stephen F. Austin at No. 24 Jacksonville State
No one has clung to an FBS win as hard as JSU has this season. Despite barely beating North Alabama, losing to UT Martin, and getting dominated 31-6 to Kennesaw State, the Gamecocks are still getting Top 25 votes because of their win at Florida State.
I can tell you this, no one groaned harder when the poll was released on Monday than their most passionate fans.
But hey, the Gamecocks can turn what looks to be a spiraling season around in the next three games against ranked SFA, No. 1 SHSU, and a good UCA team. After last week’s lifeless performance, though, is there any sign of that happening?
The Lumberjacks are a solid team. They almost beat Texas Tech. And they almost beat SHSU last week, granted the Bearkats were without All-American QB Eric Schmid. The No. 2 spot in the AQ7 is up for grabs, and SFA looks worthy of taking it. The defense is allowing just 17 points per game. The offense is scoring 36 as Trae Self has upped his play with 1,135 yards passing, seven TDs, and two interceptions.
Prediction: SFA 34-21
No. 16 Northern Iowa at No. 5 North Dakota State
NDSU is facing questions on its passing offense again after Quincy Patterson went 4-of-10 for 48 yards in last week’s 16-10 win at No. 10 UND. Things get even tougher when UNI’s outstanding defense comes to town.
The Panthers have dudes all across their defense. They have allowed 16, 16, three, and seven points this season. One of those 16-point performances was against No. 7 Iowa State, the Cyclones’ lowest of the season as they now average 33.8 points per game.
Since benching starting QB Will McElvain and inserting Michigan State transfer Theo Day in Week 2, UNI is showing some explosiveness for the first time in years. Seven touchdowns in the last two games have been from at least 20 yards or more. But those defenses aren’t in the same universe as NDSU’s, who has allowed six, zero, seven, and 10 points this season.
Long scoring drives are not going to come easy. Whichever team busts a big play will be the difference. In this series, that has been NDSU (Bruce Anderson’s KR TD in the 2015 quarterfinals and Christian Watson’s KR TD in the spring).
Prediction: NDSU 17-14
No. 13 North Dakota at South Dakota
It’s early October, so the loser of this game isn’t completely out of the playoff picture. But the path to the postseason gets daunting.
No. 13 UND is 2-2 overall and 2-1 against the FCS after a narrow loss to NDSU last week. With seven games to go, UND wants to go at least 5-2 to feel good about making the playoffs. A seven-win MVFC team is likely to get an at-large bid. Six-win teams have done it in the past, but it’s unlikely this year. The Fighting Hawks have favorable home games against Illinois State, Youngstown State, and Western Illinois. But the road games are tough — at South Dakota (receiving votes), at No. 8 Southern Illinois, at No. 15 Missouri State, and at No. 2 SDSU.
If UND loses this one, they are going to have to stay perfect at home and beat two of the three ranked teams on the road.
USD is playing well this year. At 3-2, the two losses were 17-14 at FBS Kansas and 31-23 at ranked Missouri State. The Coyotes need four more wins to make the playoffs. Four of the final six opponents are ranked — vs. UND, at UNI, vs. SDSU, and at NDSU.
This is the most 50/50 game in this week’s prediction article. I actually had UND winning before I typed this section. But then my gut is telling me to change than N to an S. I really like how USD’s defense is playing, especially against the run. This game may be a little more high-scoring than expected since the passing offenses could pop some big plays. I’m going with the ‘Yotes here in a last-second decision.
Prediction: USD 31-28
The Citadel at No. 12 ETSU
The Citadel knocked off defending SoCon champs VMI last week, 35-24. The Bulldogs look to play spoiler again against the top-ranked team in the conference.
ETSU is off to a 5-0 start that includes a 23-3 demolition of the SEC’s Vanderbilt. The Buccaneers can get it done throwing the ball and rushing it as they average 37.6 points per game. The RB duo of Quay Holmes (617 yards, 7 TDs) and Jacob Saylors (307 yards, 5 TDs) has been the strength.
While the numbers may be skewed a bit after a shootout with pass-happy Samford, ETSU’s run defense has been stout with 94.4 yards allowed a game. The secondary has been gettable, giving up more than 250 passing yards per game. The Citadel, of course, is a run-heavy team with its option offense.
That tilts the scales to a favorable matchup for ETSU. But expect a close game, which has become a SoCon staple in the competitive conference.
Prediction: ETSU 27-21