The FCS spring season has been an entertaining one, to say the least. Eleven of the 13 conferences and 75 percent of the teams are playing with a reduced 16-team playoff bracket to cap off what will be an unorthodox season.
Every week, Senior FCS Analyst Sam Herder will predict the scores of the week’s top games.
Here are his picks for Week 7:
2021 Spring Predictions Record: 24-11
2019 Record: 100-42
No. 13 UIW at No. 17 Nicholls
Nicholls has had two weeks to figure itself out after a 71-17 loss to Sam Houston. The Colonels can get right back into the playoff picture with a win against the 3-0 Cardinals. But a second loss likely takes Nicholls out of playoff contention.
UIW’s offense has been electric this spring, scoring 48, 42, and 56 points. Freshman QB Cameron Ward has thrown for 1,054 yards, 14 touchdowns, and two interceptions. It’s a balanced offensive attack too with RB Kevin Brown averaging an amazing 14 yards per carry (36 carries for 503 yards) with two TDs. This should be another high-scoring Southland game. Nicholls has some offensive firepower as well with QB Lindsey Scott Jr. and WR Dai’Jean Dixon.
Unless Nicholls has made some wholesome changes to its defense in two weeks, whether its scheme or personnel, UIW’s offense will be too much to get in a track meet with.
Prediction: UIW 45-31
No. 11 Delaware at No. 18 Rhode Island
The winner of this game takes control of the CAA North. Both teams are 2-0. Delaware has pummeled its first two opponents, beating Maine 37-0 and Stony Brook 31-3. Its big matchup with New Hampshire last week was postponed due to COVID issues at UNH. Meanwhile, Rhode Island has been one of the best stories this spring. After going 2-10 in 2019, the Rams are 2-0 with close wins over No. 6 Villanova and No. 18 Albany. Both of those wins were on the road and against teams expected to be worthy playoff contenders.
Rhody’s two wins are more impressive than Delaware’s. But I still like the Blue Hens in this one. This is a good-looking squad for a program we’ve been waiting on to return to national relevance. Their defense is stout, and the offense has some balance to it with QB Nolan Henderson settling in. He’s looking like he has solved that quarterback issue the team has dealt with for years, throwing for a combined 361 yards (66.7 completion percentage) for four TDs and one interception.
Prediction: Delaware 28-24
No. 1 James Madison at William & Mary
This is the first game action the top-ranked Dukes have had for three weeks due to COVID issues on the team. The last time we saw JMU on the field, it narrowly defeated Elon 20-17 in an underwhelming March 6 performance. Backup QB Gage Moloney came into the game and led a fourth-quarter comeback. Two days later, he was named the starter.
It would be tough to expect the Dukes to come out on fire and roll an improving W&M team. They have had limited practices as the team tried to get the COVID outbreak under control. And it’s unknown who will be and who won’t be available Saturday. JMU has a great shot to finish 6-0, or 7-0 if either the March 13 W&M game or the March 20 Richmond game can get rescheduled. However, JMU needs to start getting more convincing wins to elevate itself in the playoff seeding discussion.
The defense for the Dukes is legit. The group of RBs is tops in the FCS. Let’s see if Moloney provides that extra boost in his first start.
Prediction: JMU 24-10
Charleston Southern @ Monmouth
We are four weeks away from Selection Sunday, and there has only been one Big South Conference game — Kennesaw State beating Charleston Southern. The conference has had its issues with COVID, including the 2019 champ Monmouth having its first two games postponed. Now the Hawks have four straight games from this weekend to April 17.
I still kept Monmouth in my Top 25 ballot, whether that’s fair or not. Yeah, it may be weird to have a 0-0 team in there, but I still believe this team is one of the 25 best in the FCS. Monmouth has experience on defense and standout offensive weapons like WR Lonnie Moore IV and RB Juwon Farri, who sat out in 2019 but ran for 1,024 yards and eight TDs in 2018.
Getting an at-large bid out of the Big South doesn’t seem likely. If Monmouth wants to return to the playoffs, it needs to go undefeated.
Prediction: Monmouth 27-14
No. 10 Southern Illinois at Missouri State
So the mindset for this spring season has been once you hit two losses, you’re on the bubble. Once you lose three times, you’re out of playoff contention. But then you have Missouri State at 3-4. On the surface, you see that record and don’t think the Bears are in the playoff picture.
But three of those losses came in the fall under a first-year head coach and first-year starting QB. Mo State lost to Oklahoma (understandably) and to ranked Central Arkansas twice. This spring, the Bears are 3-1 in MVFC play, losing to NDSU (understandably) and beating WIU, then-No. 21 South Dakota, and then-No. 10 Northern Iowa.
Despite a 3-4 overall record, the Bears should still be considered in the hunt for the playoffs. They have No. 10 SIU this week, No. 6 UND the next, and then YSU. If Mo State wins out, it should be in the playoffs despite having four overall losses and three FCS losses.
And I believe the Bears get it done this week. Their last two ranked wins were on the road. Now they get an SIU team battling QB injuries and coming off of a 44-3 home loss to SDSU. The Salukis are losing early-season steam. And Missouri State is gaining steam. I’ll take the Bears.
Prediction: Missouri State 31-28