Here are game-by-game predictions for SDSU, who is No. 1 in HERO Sports’ FCS Preseason Top 25.
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vs. Western Oregon
This will be more of a national title banner-raising pregame celebration for fans and an in-game, iron-out-the-kinks type of matchup for the new-look coaching staff. Western Oregon is a D2 opponent that the defending champs should roll.
vs. No. 3 Montana State
This is the most anticipated non-conference game of the 2023 season. It will tell us a ton about both teams. Is SDSU as good as advertised? Is Montana State ready to take the next step as a legit title contender?
If the Jackrabbits roll MSU like they did in the 2022 semifinals (39-18 win), that’s a scary thought for the rest of the FCS. If it’s a more competitive game, that probably tells us more about MSU raising its level of play than about SDSU (it’s hard to dominate a good opponent twice in a row). And if MSU pulls the upset, we’re in for a fascinating national title race.
My guess is we’ll see a one-possession score for most of the game that’ll get FCS social media buzzing. It’s hard to see MSU getting blown out again. It’s also hard to see a senior-laden SDSU squad getting knocked off at home.
vs. Drake (in Minneapolis, MN)
A game at Target Field, home of the MN Twins, will be cool for SDSU fans. But the postgame party will be more entertaining than the game.
vs. No. 17 North Dakota
Both teams have a bye week to prep for this game. The Fighting Hawks appear built to have their best team in years and should be back in the playoffs. And the last FCS team Mark Gronowski lost to as a full-game starter was UND back in the 2021 spring season, played in Grand Forks.
Being the defending national champs not only comes with high expectations and pressure, but your opponents are also going to put everything into their matchup against you to try and knock off the No. 1 team. This could be another close game, perhaps starting an unnecessary narrative on why SDSU isn’t as dominant as expected against its two ranked opponents so far. But the Jacks should win this game thanks to their rushing attack taking over.
at Illinois State
The first true road game for SDSU doesn’t happen until October. Expect a physical battle here, but the Jacks shouldn’t have a problem getting a W. Too much offensive firepower for ISU to keep up with.
vs. Northern Iowa (Received Votes)
This may be the game SDSU fans are most worried about.
UNI has a 4-2 record in Brookings dating back to 2015, including a two-game winning streak. Last year’s game in Cedar Falls saw SDSU narrowly escape with a 31-28 win. This will probably be labeled “upset alert” or a “trap game” the week of, but my theory is a game can’t be a trap game if everyone is calling it a trap game. SDSU will be mentally ready for this one.
at Southern Illinois (Received Votes)
SIU could pose some problems as it looks to return to the postseason. It’s Homecoming for the Salukis if playing the No. 1 team isn’t enough motivation. But this is a game where SDSU’s offense can shine and pull away in the second half.
at South Dakota
I can’t picture this SDSU senior class losing its last game to USD. Plus, the highlights of the 2021 loss in Vermillion on a Hail Mary (which cost SDSU a playoff seed and probably a trip to the national title game due to all the travel SDSU had in the bracket) will be played all week. It’s doubtful SDSU will look past USD with NDSU looming the next week.
vs. No. 2 North Dakota State
It actually wouldn’t be a major surprise if NDSU wins this game, putting everything into this matchup knowing they need to end the four-game losing streak against their rivals. And then SDSU gets the final laugh and beats the Bison in Frisco. It’d be a humorous online switch-up of “rings vs. rock” smack talk from SDSU fans.
But matchup-wise, SDSU will have NDSU’s number again in 2023. The overall talent disparity may be eye-opening as folks across the FCS will be tuned into this one.
at No. 23 Youngstown State
If no one else calls this a trap game, then this is a trap game.
Coming off back-to-back rivalry games and a physical battle against NDSU, the Jacks travel to face a YSU squad that, by this point in the season, may need just one more win to seal a playoff bid. This will be a gritty game, and it’s where the depth of SDSU comes into play.
vs. Missouri State
At a projected 10-0, SDSU may have already sealed a Top 2 seed, depending on records elsewhere. The Jacks could maybe afford a loss here and still get home-field playoff advantage. Although they surely wouldn’t want to leave that up to chance by resting starters, and the team will want to complete an undefeated regular season.
Missouri State is a bit of a mystery this year after falling well short of high 2022 expectations. But even when things were unraveling last season, the Bears still essentially knocked YSU out of the playoffs in Week 11. Who knows what this team looks like in November 2023?
Going through the MVFC unscathed is tough to do. This year’s SDSU team is built to do it, though, thanks to its talent, depth, and getting its toughest opponents at home.
Regular-Season Record Prediction: 11-0
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