A loaded FCS slate this week features five ranked matchups, including two in the Top 10.
Let’s predict some scores.
2019-2021 record: 244-115
2022 record: 46-20
RELATED: Week 8 Viewing Guide
No. 21 Elon at No. 25 New Hampshire
The weekly ranked 50/50 CAA matchup special.
Elon suffered its first FCS loss last week, 17-10 at Rhode Island. UNH is 5-1 vs. the FCS with a loss to NC Central. The defense has been lights out since that FCS loss, holding FCS opponents to 14, 14, and zero points. DE Josiah Silver continues to be a beast with 10.5 TFLs and seven sacks.
Elon’s offense offers a bit more explosiveness compared to UNH despite last week’s 10-point performance at Rhody. Back-to-back road trips is tough, but I think the Phoenix can find success through the air behind the arm of Matthew McKay.
There are six CAA teams in the hunt for playoff bids right now, with Monmouth and Villanova just on the outside — New Hampshire (Record: 5-2, FCS Record: 5-1, loss to NC Central), Rhode Island (Record: 4-2, FCS Record: 4-1, losses to FBS Pitt and Delaware), Richmond (Record: 4-2, FCS Record: 4-1, losses to FBS Virginia and Elon), Elon (Record: 5-2, FCS Record: 5-1, losses to FBS Vandy and Rhody), Delaware (Record: 5-1, FCS Record: 4-1, loss to W&M), William & Mary (Record: 5-1, FCS Record: 4-1, loss to Elon).
So as you can see, the cannibalizing has already begun. And more will come with big matchups ahead. This one is massive for playoff positioning.
Prediction: Elon 28-24
No. 11 Mercer at No. 10 Chattanooga
Mercer is 6-0 vs. the FCS. Chattanooga is 5-0 vs. the FCS. Mercer is outscoring opponents 41 to 16. Chattanooga is outscoring opponents 29.2 to 15.7. Both teams are looking playoff-worthy, but the winner Saturday has a solid position for a seed.
I continue to be high on Mercer, ranking the Bears No. 6. I like Mercer’s run defense, led by LB Isaac Dowling, that allows just 109.6 rushing yards per game (No. 20 in the FCS) against Chattanooga standout RB Ailym Ford. And I think Mercer is more explosive offensively. The weapons of QB Fred Payton, WRs Ty James and Devron Harper, and RB Austin Douglas offer a balanced attack.
Chattanooga has an experienced defense that is 10th in FCS scoring defense. DL Devonnsha Maxwell and LB Ty Boeck are some of the best players at their positions in the FCS. But I think Mercer is built a little better to get this road win, starting with the run defense and QB play. Payton is completing 67% of his passes for 1,816 yards, 21 TDs, and just one interception.
Prediction: Mercer 27-21
No. 16 SEMO at Northwestern State
If you were to guess who is atop the Southland standings, you’d probably say Southeastern Louisiana University or Incarnate Word. But it’s actually Northwestern State at 3-0. (The Demons face SLU and UIW in the final two weeks.)
However, NW State’s 3-4 overall record, including losses to Grambling, FBS Southern Miss, Eastern Illinois, and a blowout loss against Montana, tells me SEMO should win here. The Redhawks are 5-0 vs. the FCS, including a win against ranked Southern Illinois. The offense has been hot behind All-American RB Geno Hess (630 yards rushing, 6.6 YPC, 6 TDs) and transfer QB Paxton DeLaurent (62.6%, 1,693 yards, 14 TDs, 3 INT).
Prediction: SEMO 45-24
Campbell at No. 9 Jackson State
Jackson State shouldn’t care where it is ranked in the FCS national polls besides just the “respect” angle. Whether the Tigers are ranked No. 1, No. 10, or No. 25 doesn’t matter in their quest for a SWAC title and a Celebration Bowl win. And this result against Campbell doesn’t impact that quest. But … this is an extremely intriguing matchup from a media perspective. Because we’d personally love to know how a super-talented JSU squad would match up against the FCS top tier.
Campbell isn’t necessarily FCS top tier, but it looks to be JSU’s toughest opponent this season. The Camels are not ranked in the media poll, although I have them at No. 21 on my ballot. Campbell hammered NC Central, winning 48-18. NC Central, who is 5-1 and owns a win against ranked UNH, is looking like the favorite to reach the Celebration Bowl out of the MEAC.
Jackson State had the No. 2 FCS recruiting class this last year. Campbell’s was ranked No. 1. JSU brought in roughly 17 FBS transfers, while Campbell brought in about seven. There will be a lot of talent in this game between two teams likely to go on and win their conferences. Expect a close game at halftime before JSU’s loaded defense clamps down in the second half.
Prediction: Jackson State 35-24
No. 5 Weber State at No. 3 Montana State
Weber State is 6-0 with an FBS win, while MSU is 6-0 vs. the FCS and an FBS loss. This begins a stretch of three straight Top 10 opponents for Weber, who gets Montana and Sac State at home after traveling to Bozeman.
Once again, Weber’s defense is fantastic. It ranks No. 2 in FCS scoring defense (11 PPG) and No. 10 in rushing defense (87.2 YPG). The unit squares off against a superb MSU rushing offense that ranks No. 2 in the FCS (281.1 YPG). The Bobcats are accomplishing this despite a new-look starting offensive line and multiple injuries to its RB room. The o-line gets even more inexperienced after starting RT Marcus Wehr suffered a season-ending injury last week, and starting RG Cole Sain is week-to-week with an injury and unlikely to play Saturday.
Lane Sumner is healthy again at RB, and MSU’s QB Sean Chambers continues to be a beast with an FCS-high 16 rushing TDs. Chambers is back to QB2 in the dual QB system after Tommy Mellott returned from a head injury. Mellott looked sharp last week after a slow start at Northern Colorado.
If Weber can force MSU to throw the ball, the Bobcat WRs are going to have to win their 50/50 battles against the top CB duo in the FCS with preseason All-American Eddie Heckard and Maxwell Anderson, who has five interceptions already.
The difference between this year’s Weber team and past teams that made deep playoff runs is getting more explosive on offense. QB Bronson Barron is looking strong (65%, 1,434 yards, 11 TDs, 5 INT) to complement a stable of RBs and a good o-line. This team looks complete. Weber is scoring 37.3 PPG this season, compared to 31.27 last fall and 27.8 in 2019.
Weber is tied for this subdivision’s longest active road winning streak with eight. Montana State’s 16-game home winning streak is the longest in the FCS. The Bobcats have never lost a home game under head coach Brent Vigen.
Playing in Bozeman can be an equalizer, but I think Weber can attack the middle of an MSU defense missing two key safeties in Rylan Ortt (complications with the NCAA’s reinstatement process after serving a suspension) and Rhedi Short (injury). And I believe Weber has the defense to at least slow down an offense scoring 40.6 PPG (No. 7 in the FCS) and win the battle in the trenches as the Bobcats battle injuries on the OL.
Prediction: Weber State 28-21
No. 1 South Dakota State at No. 20 North Dakota
SDSU is ranked No. 1 in the FCS for the first time ever after beating NDSU in Fargo. That won’t mean anything if the Jackrabbits lose to UND, who has a strong track record of beating ranked opponents at home:
- UND has won 17 of its last 18 games inside the Alerus Center.
- MVFC teams are 1-9 in the Alerus Center since UND joined the league.
- UND is 9-1 at home against ranked teams since 2019.
The Jacks can’t suffer a hangover performance Saturday, especially if they want to hold on to a Top 2 playoff seed. This squad seems built differently, though. It is veteran-laden, and SDSU didn’t necessarily “empty the clip” against NDSU with a bunch of trick plays and a lengthy postgame celebration with the Dakota Marker. A slow start could happen in Grand Forks due to a physical game recovery for SDSU, UND being at home in front of a great crowd, and UND having a bye week to prep. The Fighting Hawks may be able to hit on a few big plays through the air. But SDSU’s elite defense should settle in. And the Jacks should be able to take advantage of a UND defense allowing 30 PPG to quiet what will be an electric crowd. Don’t sleep on the noise in the Alerus Center.
Prediction: SDSU 42-31
No. 7 Montana at No. 2 Sacramento State
A night game on ESPN2 should result in an exhilarating, back-and-forth game.
Troy Taylor has had the Big Sky’s number since taking over as Sac State’s head coach in 2019, especially Montana’s. Scheming against UM’s voodoo defense that sends pressure on every play from different spots can be a challenge. But the offensive genius of Taylor has Sac State 2-0 vs. the Griz over the last two fall seasons. The Hornets won 28-21 in Missoula last year when UM was ranked No. 5. The Griz D allowed 16.3 PPG that season. Sac State won 49-22 at home in 2019 when UM was ranked No. 5. That year, the Griz D allowed 25.1 PPG.
This season, Sac State averages 48.3 PPG (No. 2 in FCS), and UM allows 14.5 PPG (No. 6).
The Hornets are rolling right now at 6-0 with a dominant FBS win over Colorado State. Montana was getting a lot of national title contender hype, but that cooled off after suffering its first loss last week at home to Idaho. This is a great bounce-back opportunity for the Griz.
It’s also an opportunity for Sac State to continue to stake its claim as a legit national title contender. I think the Griz can score a healthy amount of points against this Sac State defense. But while I think the UM defense is top-tier in the FCS, Sac State just seems to be able to find ways to crease that defensive front seven and be able to attack its secondary.
Cameron Skattebo (740 rushing yards, 7.7 YPC, 5 TDs) has added a physical element to this offense that was already hard to get off its tracks. His 7.7 YPC is third in the FCS, going up against a Montana defense that allows 2.03 yards per carry (also third in the FCS). Skattebo is just a dude to try and bring down. Couple that with the QB duo of Jake Dunniway (11 TDs, 4 INT.) and Asher O’Hara (11 rushing TDs) and the receiving tandem of TE Marshel Martin and WR Pierre Williams, and the Hornets are going to be a tough team to slow down.
Prediction: Sac State 31-28