All year, Senior FCS Analyst Sam Herder will give his thoughts and score predictions on the week’s biggest games. This weekend features a few ranked vs. ranked games as positioning for playoff bids intensifies.
Let’s predict some scores.
PredictionsRecord: 2021: 38-18 Spring 2021: 53-25 2019: 100-42
Friday night’s game on ESPNU has big implications, as written about in-depth in the link right below this paragraph. Weber is currently on the wrong side of the playoff bubble. And this is MSU’s first chance to show how good it is against a quality FCS opponent.
Weber is coming off of a bye, is at home, and gets starting quarterback Bronson Barron back from an MCL injury. But the Wildcats are on a three-game home losing streak dating back to the spring playoffs. And the freshman QB has been prone to turnovers, throwing three interceptions to two TDs in two games this season. The Bobcats are tied with UC Davis for the most interceptions in the FCS with 11. MSU is also tied for the third-most team tackles for loss with 47.
Behind that strong defense and a balanced offense averaging 228.5 rushing yards per game and 232.8 passing yards a game while scoring 38 PPG, the Bobcats are the more complete team.
Prediction: Montana State 27-20
Yale at UConn
The last time an FBS program lost to two FCS teams in one season was Georgia State in 2013. GSU was in its 1st season in the FBS and lost to Chattanooga and Samford. UConn, who lost 38-28 to Holy Cross in September, plays Yale this weekend. Yale is 2-2 overall with a 20-17 loss to Holy Cross. Saturday is the 50th all-time meeting between Yale and UConn and the first since 1998.
UConn hasn’t won a game since Oct. 26, 2019, granted the Huskies did not play in 2020 due to COVID. While UConn is one of the worst FBS teams, this is still a chance for the Ivy League to show it plays good football despite not playing in the FCS playoffs and rarely challenging itself in the non-conference.
Yale, who also did not play in 2020, went 9-1 in 2019. The Bulldogs still have some big names that have been around for a while, including 2017 HERO Sports Freshman All-American RB Zane Dudek and 2018 Ivy League Rookie of the Year QB Griffin O’Connor.
UConn is bad. And it would still be bad if it played in the FCS. Yale is an above-average FCS team. The Bulldogs should win.
Prediction: Yale 24-17
Nicholls at No. 18 UIW
Expect fireworks in this one. Nicholls won 75-45 when these two met in the spring.
Nicholls QB Lindsey Scott Jr. has thrown for 1,206 yards and 10 TDs this season and has rushed for 538 yards and five TDs. UIW QB Cameron Ward has thrown for 1,636 yards and 16 TDs. Nicholls is scoring 33.6 points per game and allowing 31.6. UIW is scoring 38.4 PPG and allowing 22.8. Whatever the total points is set at probably won’t be high enough.
Nicholls needs a win here. Not only to avoid falling to 1-2 in the Southland after losing to SLU last week but to help its chances at an at-large bid if it does not win the Southland AQ. The Colonels are 2-3 overall and 2-1 against FCS opponents. UIW has a good resume at 4-1 overall with an FBS win.
The two teams meet again on Nov. 13 at Nicholls. I don’t see the Colonels losing two games in a row here. Doing so means an uphill battle to be a playoff team.
Prediction: Nicholls 45-42
No. 10 ETSU at Chattanooga
ETSU is 6-0 with a P5 win against Vanderbilt. If the Bucs want a seed, they will likely have to go undefeated. A 10-1 ETSU team with zero FCS ranked wins may not cut it. Staying clean in the competitive SoCon won’t be easy, and the Bucs already have had close calls against Samford and Wofford.
UTC is looking to avoid a 1-2 record in the conference standings after losing to spring champs VMI 37-34 last week. The Mocs are strong against the run, allowing 99.4 rushing yards per game while allowing 263.4 passing yards a game.
ETSU is known for its two-headed monster at RB in Quay Holmes (749 yards and nine TDs) and Jacob Saylors (401 yards and six TDs). But the Bucs are averaging 229.7 passing yards a game compared to 245 rushing yards. This offense can get it done in multiple ways. Tyler Riddell has been efficient, completing 64.1 percent of his passes for 1,305 yards, nine TDs, and two interceptions.
I don’t know if the Bucs can go through the SoCon unbeaten. But I don’t think that one loss is coming this week.
Prediction: ETSU 31-21
No. 8 James Madison at Richmond
Coming off of a loss, JMU needs to win out to earn a playoff seed. Dominating wins would help it rise in the seedings as well, considering the number of wins the Dukes have against ranked opponents by mid-November may be slim. Weber State is slipping in the rankings, and UNH is just inside the Top 25. The only upcoming opponent in the rankings is Delaware, who is also dropping.
Richmond is a good test for the Dukes, especially if they want to get back to their offensive identity. JMU, having to replace their two All-American offensive tackles (Liam Fornadel sounds he’ll be back at some point this season), has struggled to run the ball in the last two games. The Dukes face a great Richmond front seven with dudes like DL Kobie Turner and LBs Tyler Dressler and Tristan Wheeler.
But even if Richmond can hold its own defensively, the Spiders are struggling to score points, especially with starting QB Joe Mancuso out. Richmond lost 20-7 versus Elon two weeks ago heading into its bye week.
JMU pulls away in the second half for the win.
Prediction: JMU 27-10
No. 22 North Dakota at No. 4 Southern Illinois
SIU is coming off of an emotional overtime win at then-No. 2 SDSU. UND is fighting for its playoff life after losing to South Dakota.
It’s the ultimate trap game for the Salukis as they are an interesting team to figure out. The Salukis trailed Illinois State 17-0 a few weeks ago before coming back and winning 35-17. Then they had an overtime scare at Western Illinois, who is now 1-5, but got a two-point conversion stop to win 31-30. And last week, SIU trailed SDSU 20-0 early before winning 42-41 in OT, getting another stop on a two-point conversion.
With a 5-0 record against the FCS, avoiding NDSU, and getting that massive win at SDSU, the Salukis are in the driver’s seat for a high seed. But they can’t afford slow starts as the next three opponents are vying for the playoffs — vs. UND, at UNI, vs. Missouri State.
UND is 2-3 overall, 2-2 against FCS teams, and 0-2 in the MVFC. With road games remaining at SIU, at Mo State, and at SDSU plus home games vs. WIU, Illinois State, and YSU, the Fighting Hawks need to go 5-1 to make the playoffs. The odds are stacked against them as the offense is struggling against Valley teams. Knocking off an SIU squad with a lot of firepower on the road seems unlikely.
Prediction: SIU 31-17
VMI at Mercer
There will likely be room for two SoCon teams in the playoff bracket. Three teams is a stretch, but it all depends on what happens in other conferences.
If ETSU wins the AQ, the at-large bid will be influenced by the result of this game. VMI is the defending SoCon champ, is currently 4-2 overall and 4-1 against the FCS, and is receiving Top 25 votes. Mercer is 4-1 overall and 3-0 against FCS teams and is just outside of the Top 25.
Mercer opened some eyes after the Bears beat Furman 24-3. They have since had close games, beating Samford 45-42 and WCU 34-24. VMI is 2-1 in the SoCon with a 31-23 win vs. Wofford, a 35-24 loss at The Citadel, and a 37-34 OT win vs. UTC.
The conference always has close games. And this one shouldn’t be any different. I have Mercer as my No. 2 SoCon team right now, so I won’t deviate from that.
Prediction: Mercer 31-27
North Carolina A&T at No. 15 Kennesaw State
NC A&T had a disappointing start to this season, losing to Furman and getting handled by Duke. The Aggies have since responded with three straight wins, although a 38-34 win against North Alabama may not inspire confidence in them being a Top 2 team in the Big South.
NC A&T can convince doubters otherwise with a win at Kennesaw, another team on a hot streak.
The Owls didn’t exactly pull away from non-D1 Reinhardt in Week 1, winning 35-25. That followed with a tough-looking 45-17 loss to Georgia Tech. But they are now on a three-game winning streak, beating Wofford 31-10, ranked Jacksonville State 31-6, and Hampton 34-15. Xavier Shepherd has looked good running the option offense, rushing for 438 yards and nine TDs and completing 60 percent of his passes for 299 yards, three TDs, and two interceptions.
With defending Big South champs Monmouth looking up-and-down during the non-conference schedule, the opportunity is there for KSU to reclaim the title. NC A&T wants to be a part of that discussion as well. It will be good on good as KSU’s strong rushing offense squares off against a solid rushing defense. Both teams are also healthier now compared to early September. I’ll take the Owls at home in a physical game.
Prediction: Kennesaw State 24-21
No. 21 South Dakota at No. 16 Northern Iowa
Seven MVFC teams are in playoff contention right now, two of which are featured in this matchup.
UNI is 3-2 overall and 3-1 against the FCS with the loss coming at NDSU. USD is 4-2 overall and 4-1 against FCS opponents. The Coyotes narrowly lost to FBS Kansas and ranked Missouri State. They are coming off of a win against then-No. 13 UND.
UNI still has to play playoff contenders at SDSU, vs. SIU, and at Missouri State. USD hosts SDSU and goes to NDSU in the final two weeks. A win here is crucial for playoff positioning.
The Coyotes are gettable through the air, allowing 202.5 passing yards a game. UNI isn’t shy about taking deep shots with Theo Day entrenched as the starter. The Panthers are coming off of a physical bout with the Bison, but I see them responding strongly with a win against a good USD team. UNI will connect on some big plays, and I’m not sold on USD’s offense getting much going against this UNI defense.
Prediction: UNI 24-14
Eastern Kentucky at Central Arkansas
The No. 2 spot in the AQ7 behind Sam Houston is up for grabs. UCA and JSU, the projected No. 2 and 3 teams, have been up and down this season. Meanwhile, EKU is sitting with a 4-1 record against FCS opponents and is 1-0 in the standings.
Is EKU playoff-worthy? Narrow wins against struggling Western Carolina and Austin Peay and a loss to a bottom MVFC team Indiana State would suggest no. But double-digit wins against Tarleton and Abilene Christian, despite those two teams not being too strong either, have the Colonels getting more Top 25 voting love. They have nine voting points, and UCA has 21 voting points, which puts the Bears No. 32.
These two schools did not participate in the spring season, instead playing a full fall schedule. That included two games against each other that saw EKU win at UCA and UCA returning the favor at UCA.
I’ll have that road team winning trend continue this weekend. EKU was the dark horse preseason team in the AQ7. This is its chance to show it should be in the playoff discussion.
Sam’s coverage of the FCS began in 2012 as the sports editor and eventual editor-in-chief of NDSU’s The Spectrum. After graduating in 2015, he spent three years in the newspaper and magazine industry while starting his work for HERO Sports in the fall of 2016 as a freelancer. In May 2018, he joined the website full time as the Senior FCS Analyst.