After a weekend of FCS results that shook up parts of the Top 25, are any upsets brewing in Week 5?
Let’s predict some scores for a handful of the best matchups.
2023 Record: 27-8
2019-2022 Record: 337-158
No. 12 North Dakota at No. 1 South Dakota State
Another sellout crowd is expected in Brookings for this ranked matchup. A key Saturday will be the defensive lines. Can UND’s d-line hold up against the best FCS offensive line and keep Isaiah Davis and Amar Johnson in check? And can SDSU’s d-line be more productive, making Tommy Schuster uncomfortable and keeping him in the pocket?
These two have had close games over the last few years. And the last time Mark Gronowski lost to an FCS opponent as a full-game starter was at UND in the 2021 spring season.
The Jackrabbits know they will get every team’s best shot as the defending national champs. And UND will no doubt reach into its bag of tricks to find creative ways to hit explosive plays. The Fighting Hawks look like a playoff squad again and have established themselves as a consistently solid FCS program. But SDSU is just on another level. The Jacks are too good and too balanced across the board for UND to knock off in front of their home crowd at this point in the season.
Prediction: SDSU 31-21
No. 5 William & Mary at Elon
W&M standout RB Bronson Yoder is expected to miss time after suffering a scary upper-body injury around his shoulder area last week. It’s a tough blow for an offense that hasn’t gotten it into full gear just yet. The Tribe is playing fantastic defense, though, tied for No. 1 in FCS scoring defense with 10.0 points allowed per game. W&M’s defense is graded as the fifth best in the FCS on PFF.
The unit will need a big day to defend Elon RB Jalen Hampton. A 1,000-yard rusher last season, Hampton is already up to 488 yards and five scores on the ground in four games this fall. Elon is 2-2 and on a two-game winning streak. This may be the toughest FCS opponent of the season for the Tribe, which has a favorable CAA draw. It’ll be a battle, but W&M should win on the road if it’s as good as advertised in the polls.
Prediction: W&M 28-24
No. 23 Youngstown State at Northern Iowa
It’s tough to gauge YSU through three games. I had the Penguins as a Top 25 team in the preseason, and still have them on my ballot. They look like a ranked team to me. But beating Valpo 52-10, losing 35-7 at Ohio State, and beating RMU 48-28 (it was 48-14 in the fourth) doesn’t tell us a ton.
Meanwhile, UNI is in a familiar 1-2 hole, losing to an FBS opponent Iowa State (30-9) and a ranked FCS team Weber State (34-17) before beating a struggling FCS team Idaho State (41-17).
This just seems like one of those games UNI wins. Where everyone has written the Panthers off, then they spring a ranked win to get back to .500 and get themselves back on the radar. I am concerned about how UNI’s offensive line will hold up against a good YSU d-line. The Penguins already have nine team sacks. And UNI has allowed 10. But after a bye to figure things out, and it being at home, this feels like a UNI win and a big Theo Day performance.
Prediction: UNI 35-31
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No. 4 Idaho at No. 19 Eastern Washington
EWU has had an impressive turnaround after a disappointing 2022 season. At 2-2, the Eagles have two straight ranked wins over SLU and UC Davis and also took now-No. 25 FBS Fresno State into double overtime in Week 2. EWU has a nice balance on offense between Kekoa Visperas (1,057 yards passing, 5 TDs, 3 INT.) and Justice Jackson (232 rushing yards, 3 TDs). And its defense is looking better.
EWU’s secondary is its defensive strength, allowing 178.2 passing yards per game to rank just inside the Top 30 of the FCS. That will, of course, be key in defending an electric Idaho offense that is averaging 260.0 passing yards per game (No. 19). Gevani McCoy has thrown for 980 yards, six touchdowns, and two interceptions. Hayden Hatten has 328 receiving yards and two TDs.
An underrated part of Idaho’s offense, though, is uber-talented RB Anthony Woods (382 yards rushing, 4 TDs, 5.8 YPC). He’s been battling through injury, but expect him to have a big day as the EWU defense keys in on containing Idaho’s great WRs. Also watch for Idaho’s defense and a strong secondary, so good at creating turnovers last year, to snag an interception or two on a still-developing Visperas in crucial points of this game.
Prediction: Idaho 38-28
Campbell at No. 15 NC Central
This was an interesting result last year. Two weeks after beating ranked UNH 45-27, NC Central got physically manhandled at Campbell, losing 48-18. Was that a one-off performance? Or does NC Central just not match up well with Campbell?
The Eagles’ standout QB Davius Richard is nursing an ankle injury, a concern for the offense after he won the MEAC Offensive Player of the Year award last season. Although Walker Harris threw for 263 yards, five TDs, and zero picks in last week’s win over Mississippi Valley State. It was actually NC Central’s best-looking offensive performance of the season so far.
Campbell has a talented roster, both through signing the top FCS recruiting class in recent years and also bringing in 17 FBS transfers this offseason. But having a veteran QB to lead the locker room is key to making all that talent gel, and Hajj-Malik Williams is that guy. The multi-year starter for Campbell has thrown for 1,130 yards, six TDs, and one interception this fall, plus four rushing TDs.
Campbell had a significant edge in the trenches last year. And I think that carries the Camels to an upset win on the road.
Prediction: Campbell 34-28
Harvard at No. 6 Holy Cross
Many will question Holy Cross’ FCS strength of schedule. And that narrative could affect where the Crusaders are ranked even if they go 9-0 vs. the FCS. They can’t control their 2023 schedule anymore, but they can control how they win to continue showing they deserve Top 5 consideration. HC has elite top-end talent like QB Matthew Sluka, WR Jalen Coker, and LB Jacob Dobbs. And the play in the trenches has looked strong so far.
The o-line will be tested by a Harvard team that is out to a 2-0 start, hammering Pioneer Football League favorite St. Thomas 45-13 before beating Brown 34-31. Thor Griffith is a top interior DL in the FCS, as Harvard is allowing just 88.5 rushing yards per game.
Holy Cross will be too much, though, as style points matter for the Crusaders, who will have doubters no matter their record.
Prediction: Holy Cross 38-21
Idaho State at No. 18 Montana
I didn’t expect to have this game in my picks a week ago, but after Montana suffered a humbling and puzzling loss at 0-3 Northern Arizona, this week’s contest has increased in intrigue. The vibes around the Grizzlies are not good right now. Clips of offensive linemen giving up and walking toward the sideline while Sam Vidlak is still scrambling under pressure is a major concern for a Bobby Hauck-led team where maximum effort is never questioned. Local media is discussing the “where did this all go wrong” topic, and some fans are already asking who Montana should pursue as its next head coach.
But folks, while I comfortably moved the Griz out of my Top 25 this week, the season is far from over. The Griz can hit five D1 wins by beating the teams they should beat. And if they can split games against No. 21 UC Davis (away), No. 4 Idaho (away), No. 8 Sac State (home), and No. 3 Montana State (home), that’s seven D1 wins with two ranked victories and a probable playoff bid. I’m not saying it will happen, but is beating UC Davis on the road and knocking off Sac State in front of a hostile home crowd out of the question?
That’s what makes this game so interesting.
If Montana comes out with its hair on fire and steamrolls Idaho State, it doesn’t mean the Griz are playoff-bound again, but it will show the coaching staff and locker room figured some things out. If they come out flat and narrowly win against a 1-3 team that got dominated by unranked UNI, questions deepen. And if they lose, all scenarios are on the table for what happens next.
Idaho State is slinging the ball around, already with 202 pass attempts in four games. If Montana can force some three-and-outs or turnovers, and lean on a defense that is allowing 266.3 rushing yards per game behind a veteran o-line that should be playing much better than it is, Montana should own the time of possession and win this game by multiple scores.
That’s what they should do. But how this game actually plays out will be a fascinating watch.
Prediction: Montana 31-17
Eastern Kentucky at North Alabama
Credit to North Alabama and first-year head coach Brent Dearmon. UNA went from one of the worst FCS teams last year to now 2-3. The Lions pushed ranked Mercer in Week 0, losing by 10. They then beat Chattanooga 41-27 in Week 1, a team that just knocked Samford out of the Top 25.
UNA is so much more talented and competitive this season, making this a tough test for an EKU squad that I have ranked despite being 1-3. Two of those losses are to FBS teams, including a competitive 28-17 game at Kentucky. The FCS loss was a 27-24 down-to-the-wire game against Western Carolina, one of the hottest FCS teams. And last week, EKU knocked off ranked SEMO 41-38 in a gutsy comeback.
After a couple of emotional games, EKU can’t play flat against UNA. Behind veteran QB Parker McKinney (1,022 yards passing, 7 TDs, 4 INT.), the Colonels get it done.
Prediction: EKU 42-27