The 2023 FCS tackle football season is now back in full force. We have four straight days of games, starting Thursday and ending Sunday.
Let’s predict some scores.
2023 Record: 2-1
2019-2022 Record: 337-158
No. 4 William & Mary at Campbell
In 2022, Campbell signed the No. 1 FCS recruiting class and brought in seven FBS transfers. The Camels finished 5-6 overall and 2-3 in the Big South.
In 2023, Campbell signed the No. 1 FCS recruiting class and brought in 17 FBS transfers. The Camels now enter the CAA, a much tougher conference than the Big South. They begin by hosting William & Mary, the heavy favorite in the conference.
W&M returns 15 offensive and defensive starters from last year’s squad that equaled a school-record 11 wins and advanced to the quarterfinals. This game will tell us a lot about each squad. W&M should win decisively if it’s as good as advertised. Or if Campbell lives up to the hype of its recruiting classes, maybe we’ll see a closer game. While those recruits are all young, at some point we need to see these high school/transfer class rankings translate to wins. And if it doesn’t, it’s maybe further proof that ranking FCS recruiting classes is incredibly tough.
I think the Tribe’s run game takes over here. The talent level for W&M ain’t too shabby either.
Prediction: William & Mary 42-24
No. 10 Sacramento State at Nicholls
Nicholls was a consistent playoff team for a few years in the late 2010s, but the Colonels have gone the other way more recently and finished 3-8 last fall.
I’m intrigued by this game for Sac State. The narrative around this team is that they lose everyone. That’s not true. The Hornets lose their head coach, two-headed QB monster, their stud RB, and best overall defensive player. But they return top pass-catcher in All-American TE Marshel Martin, four offensive line starters and three All-Big Sky OL, their No. 2 RB Marcus Fulcher who was All-Conference last year, their top tackler Armon Bailey, and eight of their top 11 tacklers.
Nicholls isn’t Butler. But it also isn’t Southeastern Louisiana. Sac State will win, but by how much will tell us a lot about the Hornets.
Prediction: Sac State 35-17
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Merrimack at No. 5 Holy Cross
A top NEC team goes to a top Patriot League team. Merrimack went 8-3 overall last season and 6-1 in the NEC. It played Holy Cross tough in the season opener, losing 31-17. In 2021, the Warriors beat Holy Cross 35-21 a week after HC defeated FBS UConn.
Merrimack has transitioned well into D1. But Holy Cross looks to be a different beast this year. Led by QB Matthew Sluka and LB Jacob Dobbs, Holy Cross is a team that can make serious noise in the playoffs. The Crusaders play two FBS opponents and no ranked FCS opponents. Dominating its FCS schedule will be important in earning a better seed than last year (No. 8).
Prediction: Holy Cross 38-17
Eastern Washington vs. No. 2 North Dakota State
As I said on the podcast earlier this week, I think there’s going to be a weird vibe around this game. While I still believe NDSU is the No. 2 FCS team and likely makes it back to Frisco, I don’t know if the Bison will look like a juggernaut Saturday as their new-look secondary tries to slow down what should be a good EWU passing attack. NDSU needs to replace its best three cornerbacks and best three safeties. It may be a closer game than expected, prompting social media overreaction and the classic “vulnerable” question.
Also, this may be a dud of an atmosphere. Played at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, home to the MN Vikings and an area where a ton of NDSU alumni live, the apathy we’ve talked about within the Bison fan base has resulted in (as of earlier this week) around 15,000 tickets being sold. The stadium seats close to 70,000. It’s going to be a weird environment.
NDSU will probably run for 350+ yards behind a strong offensive line against one of the worst rushing defenses in the FCS last year. Although EWU brought in six FBS transfers on defense to help that side of the ball. And the Eagles will probably throw for 300+ yards as the Kekoa Visperas era fully begins at QB. He was heavily hyped coming out of high school as a three-star recruit.
But until I see a Big Sky defense that doesn’t get smashed by NDSU’s o-line, it’s difficult to pick the Bison to lose.
Prediction: NDSU 45-35
Austin Peay at Southern Illinois
Austin Peay and SIU look to be in that 6-7-win range this season. And a game like this plays a role in the playoff bubble.
Austin Peay will need some new names to emerge as it has lost 10 transfers to the FBS and five more to the FCS. Some of those transfer losses are significant, including its top WR and a few of its best defensive players. But I like QB Mike Dilello coming back to lead the offense.
SIU also has a solid quarterback coming back in Nic Baker, now a multi-year starter and two-time Honorable Mention All-MVFC. The Salukis were good at times last year and struggled at times. With seven starters back on offense and five back on defense, plus six FBS transfers and five FCS transfers, SIU should be better than last year’s 5-6 team.
The home team pulls out an entertaining win.
Prediction: SIU 41-38
Jackson State vs. Florida A&M
A game that likely decides the SWAC East, this should be a fantastic game and atmosphere on ESPN.
Defending SWAC champs JSU lost a majority of its top players from last season. And FAMU returns a good number of its standouts, including the conference’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year at QB, Jeremy Moussa.
That’s probably why FAMU got 16 first-place votes to win the SWAC East and JSU only received two. But after watching JSU dismantle SC State in Week 0, led by impressive play in the trenches and new starting QB Jason Brown, I wonder if those voters would change their minds today if they had to re-vote.
I had JSU No. 21 in my FCS media poll preseason ballot. FAMU was just outside of my Top 25. I’ll stick to that and say JSU is the better team.
Prediction: JSU 31-27