The FCS spring season has been an entertaining one, to say the least. Eleven of the 13 conferences and 70 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 9:
2021 Spring Predictions Record: 30-16
2019 Record: 100-42
No. 7 Kennesaw State at No. 20 Monmouth
The winner gets the Big South’s auto-bid. The loser, well, it isn’t looking promising for the Big South to get one of the six at-large bids. Had the playoff committee put Kennesaw State, who is No. 7 in the Stats Perform Top 25, in its own Top 10 rankings, we’d feel more confident about the Owls getting an at-large bid with a potential loss.
KSU is down to its third-string quarterback, but Xavier Shepherd had a great game last week in what was KSU’s best performance of the season, beating Robert Morris 35-0. Shepherd completed all three passes for 45 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 93 yards and another TD. But the previous two games weren’t the most impressive performances for the Owls, which the committee seems to agree with.
Monmouth is playing solid ball right now with two straight convincing wins for a 2-0 start. Freshman QB Tony Muskett has thrown for 452 yards, four TDs, and zero interceptions. Plus you have standout RB Juwon Farri returning to action this season. He’s rushed for 243 yards and seven TDs. Monmouth has answered its main question marks during the offseason. I expect the Hawks to defeat the Owls for the second season in a row.
Prediction: Monmouth 24-21
Youngstown State at No. 15 Missouri State
YSU may be 1-5, but a lot of fans and teams around the FCS will be paying attention to its final two games. The Penguins have a chance to give Missouri State its second MVFC loss this weekend and North Dakota its second overall loss next week. They could eliminate both teams from playoff contention.
While its 19-17 loss to now-No. 4 South Dakota State on March 13 suggests YSU could give Mo State a scare, the Penguins also gave Western Illinois its only win of the season last week. Missouri State is rolling right now with three straight wins against ranked opponents at the time of the game – No. 21 South Dakota, No. 10 Northern Iowa, No. 10 Southern Illinois. The Bears need this win to be considered for a playoff bid.
Prediction: Mo State 28-17
Idaho State at No. 3 Weber State
Yes, at the end of the day, a win is a win. But when you’re trying to position yourself for a playoff seed, how you win matters. Weber State narrowly won its last two games, beating Northern Arizona (1-2) 28-23 on a last-second Hail Mary and Southern Utah (1-4) 19-16. A convincing win against Idaho State will help the Wildcats go from No. 6 on the committee’s rankings to being a top-four seed.
These two teams met on Feb. 27, resulting in a 49-21 Weber win. Idaho State is now 2-3, but those other two losses were both by four points. The Bengals likely knocked Idaho out of playoff contention last week by giving the Vandals their second loss.
I still think Weber is one of the best teams in the FCS and a national title contender. The Wildcats have a grind-it-out style of play, but a blowout win here would go a long way. Life is easier playing postseason games at home rather than on the road.
Prediction: Weber State 31-14
Idaho at No. 9 Eastern Washington
Idaho’s playoff hopes are on life support after suffering its second loss last week. But the plug hasn’t been pulled yet. Beating EWU for the second time this spring would get the Vandals some consideration for an at-large bid, though those chances are not high.
EWU, meanwhile, can secure an at-large bid with a win and a 5-1 record. Since losing 28-21 to Idaho to start the season, the Eagles have scored 45, 46, 52, and 32 points. You could make the case that the Eagles look like the best team right now in the Big Sky even if Weber State gets the auto-bid with a win against Idaho State.
EWU plays great at home. And like 2019, the Eagles are playing their best football at the end of the season. This time, it will get them into the bracket.
Prediction: EWU 35-24
No. 23 Southeastern Louisiana at No. 18 Nicholls
How about these for some Southland scores:
SHSU 71, Nicholls 17
Nicholls 75, UIW 45
McNeese 43, Nicholls 31
SHSU 43, SLU 38
UIW 56, SLU 45
Simply put, expect a high-scoring game this weekend.
With both teams having two losses, so their hopes of an at-large bid aren’t high. But a ranked win at least keeps the winner’s hopes alive. Nicholls plays its best at home, giving it the edge here. While the Lions had their best defensive performance last week in a 42-12 win against Lamar, the opportunity is there for Nicholls to put up a lot of points. The question is can the Colonels hang on for dear life defensively with an explosive SLU offense also having the ability to light up the scoreboard?
Prediction: Nicholls 56-45
McNeese at No. 4 Sam Houston
McNeese potentially cost Nicholls an at-large bid by giving the Colonels their second loss last week. If SHSU loses this game, its playoff hopes are still strong, but the chance at a seed is slim.
The Bearkats played their worst game of the season last week but found a way to win at Northwestern State, 24-16. Now they’re back at home for the first time since March 13. SHSU scored 43 and 71 points in its home games this year. I think last weekend’s close call gets the urgency back up, and the Bearkats get a hard-earned win against a tough McNeese team.
Prediction: SHSU 31-14
No. 2 North Dakota State at No. 24 Northern Iowa
Another frustrating spring season disruption: NDSU looks underwhelming in its first few games. Then the Bison come alive and dominate No. 2 UND 34-13, flipping the storyline script to the Bison being the team to beat again in the FCS. But then their next two games get canceled or postponed.
So does that momentum of a young NDSU team getting better and better every week continue with three weeks in between games?
The Bison still have question marks at quarterback. Those haven’t gone away. And they’ll go against one of the best defenses in the FCS on the road. But NDSU’s offense won’t have to do much to get a W here. The UNI offense continues to lack explosiveness, and it won’t threaten a strong NDSU defense.
Prediction: NDSU 21-7
No. 21 ETSU at Mercer
VMI is currently 5-1 in the conference and ETSU is 4-1. ETSU handed VMI its first loss last weekend. But if VMI beats The Citadel on April 17, it would secure the auto-bid due to having a better winning percentage over ETSU.
If ETSU beats Mercer this weekend and doesn’t play a game on April 17 to finish 5-1, the Bucs should get an at-large bid if VMI does secure the AQ. It won’t be easy this week, though. The Bears are 4-2 in SoCon play and had a solid double-digit win against No. 17 Furman on April 3.
ETSU has been able to grind its way to wins this spring. Nothing flashy as all four wins have been by seven points or less.
Prediction: ETSU 24-21
Sacred Heart at No. 25 Duquesne
The NEC’s auto-bid will be determined in this conference championship game. Check out the full preview here.
Duquesne’s defense has been stifling since these two teams last met in the season-opener on March 7. The Dukes allowed Sacred Heart’s stud RB Julius Chestnut to get going with four total touchdowns, but they were able to pull out the 30-27 win. The defensive unit has gotten better every week since and has allowed zero, 17, and 10 points in its next three games.
Chestnut will get his. But Duquesne should have a better showing to at least limit him from taking over the game.
Prediction: Duquesne 21-14
No. 10 Jacksonville State at No. 17 Murray State
The best hope for the OVC to get an at-large bid is for Murray State to beat Jacksonville State on Sunday. This would give Murray State the AQ, and the chances of JSU getting an at-large are good. The Gamecocks would finish 8-3 overall with an FBS win from the fall. If JSU beats Murray State, the Gamecocks are the AQ and Murray State falls to 5-2 with two straight losses. The Racers’ chance at an at-large bid is low.
While Murray State was one of the best stories in the FCS with its 5-0 start, its toughest two games were the last two. And last week, the Racers got their first loss against Austin Peay.
The week prior, JSU had its worst performance in the spring, committing six turnovers in a loss APSU team. The Gamecocks had the ideal opponent on their schedule for April 3, a struggling Eastern Illinois team the Gamecocks beat 44-23 to get the bad taste out of their mouth. While JSU has had inconsistencies on offense, the defense has been strong.
Prediction: JSU 20-10