“After a weekend of FCS results that shook up parts of the Top 25, are any upsets brewing in Week 5?”
That was my opening sentence in last week’s score predictions article. And oh man, the FCS answered that question with an emphatic “yes.” Somehow I escaped Saturday with a 5-3 record.
What’s in store this weekend? Let’s predict some scores for a handful of the best matchups.
2023 Record: 32-11
2019-2022 Record: 337-158
No. 14 NC Central at No. 25 Elon
Both teams will need to put their emotional wins last week in the rearview in this intriguing non-conference game between ranked opponents.
NC Central beat Campbell 49-48, climbing back from a 35-14 deficit. QB Davius Richard was that dude for the Eagles, throwing for 265 yards and a score and rushing for 86 yards and four TDs. Elon knocked off William & Mary 14-6, who was ranked No. 5 at the time.
NC Central needs to contain standout RB Jalen Hampton. If they can do so, the Phoenix won’t have the offensive firepower to keep up with the Eagles. Matthew Downing has been decent at QB for Elon, competing 58% of his passes for 576 yards, six TDs, and three interceptions. Keeping up with Richard is a tall task, though.
Prediction: NC Central 28-21
No. 18 UT Martin at Eastern Illinois
Both teams are 4-0 vs. the FCS.
EIU has been a pleasant surprise with its start. A 14-13 win over Illinois State opened some eyes, although only beating McNeese 31-28 and Northwestern State 19-10 will make you wonder how good of a 4-1 overall team it is.
UT Martin has beaten three of its four FCS opponents by double digits. RB Sam Franklin is going off this season, already at 785 yards and six scores on the ground. He has yet to be held under 125 yards rushing by an FCS opponent. EIU is playing well defensively, only allowing 17.8 PPG. But it’ll be a challenge holding down this UT Martin offense enough to get a win.
Prediction: UT Martin 31-21
UAlbany at Towson
Two teams coming off of ranked wins as UAlbany beat Villanova 31-10 and Towson knocked off New Hampshire 54-51 in overtime.
I think UAlbany can have a big day offensively here. Towson has also allowed 42 points in a 42-23 loss to Monmouth, another explosive offense in the CAA.
Reese Poffenbarger is building off of his freshman All-American season, throwing for 915 yards, 10 TDs, and two interceptions so far this year, spreading the ball around to his pass-catchers. The Great Danes are playing well defensively too, especially up front. Anton Juncaj already has nine sacks, and AJ Simon has seven. This program knows how to identify and develop talent on the d-line.
UAlbany is 3-0 vs. the FCS and has two competitive FBS losses. Another win comes this weekend.
Prediction: UAlbany 35-24
No. 11 Western Carolina at No. 24 Chattanooga
RELATED: WCU Looks To Keep Momentum
WCU’s hype will be put to the test this weekend. The Catamounts have been on fire, now 4-0 vs. the FCS and dominating their last two opponents. The run/pass balance of the offense is tough to slow down. Quarterback Cole Gonzales is completing 73% of his passes for 1,256 yards, 11 touchdowns, and two interceptions. Running back Desmond Reid has rushed for 636 yards and 10 TDs already, averaging 6.5 yards per carry.
But the Mocs have gotten hot as well, winning four straight after a surprising 41-27 Week 1 loss to North Alabama. QB Chase Artopoeus has gotten it rolling after transferring from UCLA. He has thrown for 1,307 yards, nine TDs, and four interceptions. Couple that with veteran All-American RB Ailym Ford, and Chattanooga has some firepower as well.
This is a chance for WCU’s defense to step up. It has played well, allowing 16.5 points per game vs. FCS opponents. If the Catamounts want to challenge not just for the SoCon title but as a Top FCS team ranked in the Top 10, a proven strong defense is needed. We know the offense will get theirs, even Saturday vs. a talented and opportunistic Chattanooga defense. The WCU defense will need to get a couple of key stops in the second half.
WCU will have to take care of the ball. Untimely interceptions can completely change the complexion of a game. Another key is not letting Chattanooga’s Jay Person wreak havoc off the edge. Give Gonzales time, and he can cook.
Prediction: WCU 35-28
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SEMO at No. 23 Central Arkansas
Geno Hess vs. ShunDerrick Powell is so damn fun.
Hess hasn’t gotten it rolling as much with 253 yards on the ground and three scores, but he is still a Top RB to have on your offense. Powell has been unstoppable, rushing for 747 yards and five scores. He has gone for 218 (NDSU), 256 (ACU), and 115 (SUU) yards in the last three games.
SEMO is a good squad, but its schedule has been brutal. At 1-3, the Redhawks have lost big to FBS K-State and dropped two FCS games to rankable teams SIU and EKU by a total of four points. A bye week to regroup is huge, especially to get healthy for some of its key players.
UCA is on a two-game winning streak and is tough to knock off on the stripes. I’ll lean SEMO here. It is oh-so-close to being undefeated vs. the FCS. And I think the week off coupled with some good bounces results in another down-to-the-wire game finally going SEMO’s way.
Prediction: SEMO 41-38
No. 6 Southern Illinois at Youngstown State
YSU was knocked out of the Top 25 last week after its 44-41 loss at UNI. This makes for a huge game for YSU’s playoff positioning. At 2-2, games at USD and vs. SDSU are still to come.
Slowing down SIU will be a challenge. The Salukis are 4-0 with an FBS win and two wins over rankable FCS teams (Austin Peay, SEMO). SIU may be without Ro Elliott after he suffered a turf-toe injury last week. Elliott is PFF’s highest-graded FCS running back.
But even with Elliott, running on a strong YSU front seven would have been challenging (93.2 rushing yards allowed per game). What will lead SIU to victory is veteran QB Nic Baker and his weapons going after a YSU pass defense that got shredded last week and is allowing 257.5 yards per game.
Prediction: SIU 31-21
No. 1 South Dakota State at Illinois State
SDSU flexed its muscle last week, beating up on No. 12 UND. The Jackrabbits held a 28-point lead twice in the fourth quarter before winning by 21.
If the Jacks play with that level of energy and execution every week, no one in the FCS is beating them. How consistent SDSU can be with that type of performance is the next test. A road trip this weekend, plus ISU offering a strong defensive resistance as the highest-graded FCS defense on PFF, makes this a game where SDSU can’t just show up expecting to win.
ISU will try to muck this up and get into a defensive battle. SDSU just has too much offensive firepower to do that, though. The Jacks are PFF’s highest-graded FCS offense and have NFL talent at multiple spots. And its defense isn’t too shabby either, ranked the No. 2 FCS unit on PFF.
Prediction: SDSU 35-14
No. 17 Montana at No. 20 UC Davis
It’s only Week 6, so this isn’t literally a must-win game. But it’s close to it. The loser will need to win four of its last five games to hit seven D1 wins for playoff consideration. Montana’s rankings and how good UC Davis is can be debated, as written about in the link above. Where each team is and will be in November is so critical in the result Saturday.
Knowing how important this game is and probably hearing about how questionable of a 4-1 record they have, I’ve seen and heard many predicting the Grizzlies to find a way to win. Which I get. But UC Davis being at home plus the matchup on paper has me leaning toward the Aggies.
Standout RB Lan Larison probably won’t play for UC Davis. The Aggies still have a good o-line and athletes at the skilled position. Miles Hastings is an efficient QB when given time, getting the ball to his playmakers. He was last year’s All-Big Sky First Team QB selection. Montana’s defense overall has been solid, only allowing 18.2 points per game. But its defensive success has been built on being a disruptive, blitz-heavy unit and rattling the QB. The Griz only have eight sacks in five games and only one sack vs. two Big Sky opponents. UC Davis has enough athletes and offensive creativity to counter Montana’s blitzing defense.
On the other side of the ball, Montana hasn’t been threatening to a defense through the air. Sam Vidlak is still raw. And Clifton McDowell is a good runner with limited abilities as a downfield thrower. McDowell looks like the best guy moving forward for Montana to lean on the run and scheme up simple throws for McDowell to keep the defense honest.
But running the ball against UC Davis will be a challenge. The Aggies only allow 118.6 rushing yards per game, which is No. 3 in the conference. Chubba Maae is hard to get off his spot as a 347-pound DT. It will be hard to set the edge on 6-foot-6 DE Zach Kennedy. And with standouts Teddye Buchanan (LB) and Rex Connors (S) running the lanes, it’s tough to see how much damage Montana can do offensively to get a road win.
Prediction: UC Davis 28-20
No. 7 North Dakota State at Missouri State
RELATED: Questions Return For NDSU
How NDSU responds after its loss to USD is an intriguing storyline this weekend.
Missouri State is just 1-3 and will likely be without starting QB Jacob Clark. Yet the opening market only has NDSU as a 10.5-point road favorite. Is that overreacting to the USD loss? Or do the oddsmakers have a feel for how this game will go, as they usually do?
Mo State held SIU’s rushing defense in check last week (122 yards) in a 33-20 loss. And Jordan Pachot stepped in at QB and went 14/21 for 176 yards and a TD. Stopping the run and attacking NDSU’s inexperienced secondary is the best recipe to beat NDSU. But if this is a close game, the Bison have problems. I think they win and they cover.
Prediction: NDSU 38-21
Southeastern Louisiana University at No. 8 UIW
Surprisingly, I almost left this game off of the picks. That’s because SLU, picked to win the Southland, is 0-5. The Lions and UIW have had some epic clashes in recent years, including SLU winning last season. But UIW should win decisively on Saturday after a bye week to prepare.
UIW’s schedule will make it tough to gauge how good it is. There are no ranked teams on the calendar.
Statistically, the Cardinals are the No. 15 FCS scoring offense (36.5 PPG) and the No. 7 scoring defense (14.5 PPG). Analytically, UIW is the sixth-highest graded FCS defense on PFF and the ninth-highest on offense. Steven Parker is the highest-graded FCS DE, and Zach Calzada is the No. 4-graded FCS QB.
Prediction: UIW 42-21