The 2021 FCS season is here. The 2021 fall FCS season is here, to be exact.
All year, Senior FCS Analyst Sam Herder will give his thoughts and score predictions on the week’s biggest games. This season begins with three Week 0 games: Eastern Illinois goes to Indiana State, Alcorn State and North Carolina Central play in Atlanta, and Southern Utah takes on FBS San Jose State.
Let’s predict some scores.
Spring 2021 Record: 53-25
2019 Record: 100-42
Eastern Illinois at Indiana State
5 p.m. CT on ESPN+
I don’t expect either team to be a factor in the playoff picture, but that doesn’t mean the matchup isn’t intriguing. EIU can help the national perception of the OVC’s strength with a win over an MVFC team. Both squads have similar expectations in their respective preseason polls. Indiana State was picked to finish 10th out of 11 teams, and EIU was picked to finish last in the seven-team OVC standings.
The Sycamores defeated EIU 16-6 in 2019 as part of a 5-7 season. They also won head-to-head 55-41 in 2018. EIU won 22-20 in 2017. Expect another close game for the two teams separated by 45 miles.
Keep an eye on Indiana State WR Dante Hendrix (No. 8). He’s one of the more underrated receivers in the FCS. And while he’s on the field, also watch the other No. 8 running around. EIU linebacker Jason Johnson is all over the place and was a 2020-21 HERO Sports Sophomore All-American.
It makes sense the Sycamores get a Week 0 game. Indiana State hasn’t played in 642 days. EIU last played 145 days ago. Advantage Panthers.
I think the Panthers will execute better than Indiana State early on. I think they will play with better game speed. And I think they will have fewer penalties and mistakes.
But I believe Indiana State has the better roster overall. And that will tilt the scoreboard in its favor during the second half.
Prediction: Indiana State 24-17
Alcorn State vs. NC Central
6 p.m. CT on ESPN
This is the spotlight game for Week 0. College GameDay will be on location for its first broadcast of the season, a great showcase for these two teams, the MEAC and the SWAC, and the FCS.
The SWAC is filled with good teams this year. Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman left the MEAC for the SWAC. Alabama A&M won the conference title in the spring, beating a much-improved Arkansas-Pine Bluff program. Jackson State is bringing in loads of talent. And then you have Alcorn State, the SWAC champs in 2018 and 2019, who opted out of the spring season.
For how much stronger the SWAC has gotten since 2019, I like Alcorn State as the favorite once again. RB Niko Duffey, WR LeCharles Pringle, and All-American QB Felix Harper are some of the top players at their positions in the conference. The defense will be solid as well after having the second-best scoring defense in the SWAC (23.1 PPG) in 2019. Alcorn State returns six of its top 11 tacklers in 2019, led by DB Juwan Taylor.
Since going 8-0 in the MEAC in 2016, NC Central has slowly regressed with a 5-3 record in 2017, 3-4 in 2018, and 3-5 in 2019. The Eagles did not play any games in 2020-21 either after the MEAC suspended the spring season.
So we have an Alcorn State team that hasn’t played a game since Dec. 21, 2019, and a North Carolina Central team that last played Nov. 23, 2019. Expect a slow start for both. Season-openers are usually a bit sloppy in general with teams not executing at a high level. That will be amplified in this one to start. But the Alcorn offense will get rolling after settling in, and the Braves will be too much for the Eagles.
Prediction: Alcorn State 35-10
Southern Utah at San Jose State
9 p.m. CT on CBS Sports Network
Believe it or not, San Jose State won the Mountain West in 2020. It’s a much-improved program compared to the teams that beat struggling Northern Colorado 35-18 in 2019 or lost to UC Davis 44-38 in 2018.
This is going to be a tough game for Southern Utah. But the Thunderbirds are making strides to be competitive in the Big Sky again, so I don’t see a blowout here. Their 1-5 record from the spring doesn’t look great. Keep in mind, though, the five losses were all by eight points or less. Four of them were by three points or less, including a 19-16 loss to No. 2 Weber State.
I get the sense that this is going to be one of those FCS vs. FBS games where the FCS team has a 7-0 lead after one quarter. Then the FBS team wakes up and goes into halftime leading 14-7. Then it slowly pulls away in the second half as the depth advantage takes its toll. SUU may be able to jump on the Spartans early since it was playing games in April. Don’t expect an early lead to last, though.
Prediction: San Jose State 31-14