Week 7 of the 2023 FCS season has several games with huge short-term and long-term implications.
Let’s predict some scores for a handful of the best matchups.
2023 Record: 39-14
2019-2022 Record: 337-158
No. 5 Furman at Samford
In the preseason, we thought this could be a Top 10 showdown. Samford hasn’t had a strong start, though, at 3-3. But the Bulldogs have won two in a row, and Michael Hiers is still slinging it around with an FCS-high 1,768 passing yards.
Furman’s offense hasn’t quite lit up the scoreboard, but it has the potential to on Saturday. Samford has allowed 30 points to WCU and 47 to Chattanooga, two other top teams in the SoCon alongside Furman. Furman is also better built to control the clock behind a good offensive line and RB Dominic Roberto.
The Paladins have veteran players in the secondary. Travis Blackshear is a top-three graded FCS cornerback, per PFF. Watch for Furman to force key turnovers Saturday. Hiers has thrown seven interceptions in six games to go with his 10 TDs.
Prediction: Furman 42-38
No. 24 UAlbany at New Hampshire
UAlbany continues to get more attention as an undefeated team vs. the FCS with two competitive FBS losses. The Great Danes will be challenged this week in defending Dylan Laube, who leads UNH with 399 yards rushing and five TDs and 381 yards receiving and four scores. Max Brosmer is having another strong season with 1,588 yards passing, 14 touchdowns, and one interception.
But UAlbany’s defense is built well, especially in the front seven. The Great Danes are allowing just 18.1 points per game. Anton Juncaj (13 TFLs, 9 sacks) and AJ Simon (10.5 TFLs, 7 sacks) are special players up front. And LB Dylan Kelly already has 79 total tackles.
Offensively, UAlbany is led again by good QB play. Reese Poffenbarger has thrown for 1,140 yards and 12 touchdowns to just three interceptions. UNH’s defense is gettable, allowing 30.4 points per game and 233 passing yards per game.
Prediction: UAlbany 31-28
Elon at Villanova
An important midseason game for both if they want to position themselves for the playoffs.
Elon beat then-No. 5 William & Mary 14-6 two games ago before losing 34-23 to No. 14 NC Central last week. If you can contain standout RB Jalen Hampton (575 yards rushing, 5 TDs), the Phoenix aren’t too explosive throwing the ball.
Nova has played well defensively, allowing 21.8 points per game and giving up just 107.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks No. 16 in the FCS. Villanova also has more offensive firepower than Elon, a balanced attack led by Connor Watkins (1,226 yards, 8 TDs, 5 INT), and a strong core of RBs led by DeeWil Barlee (403 rushing yards, 4 TDs).
Prediction: Villanova 28-21
Gardner-Webb at Austin Peay
Gardner-Webb has plenty of key players back from last year’s playoff squad but currently sits 2-3 overall and 2-1 vs. the FCS. A win over Elon is still impressive on its resume. Austin Peay is a rankable team at 3-2 overall and 3-1 vs. the FCS. The Govs are on a three-game winning streak, scoring 63, 22, and 52 points in those wins.
Gardner-Webb’s offense hasn’t gotten going like last year’s with a new QB under center. Austin Peay, meanwhile, is lighting it up. At home and with better QB play (Mike DiLiello has 1,345 passing yards, 12 TDs, 6 INT), the Govs should keep its hot playing rolling.
Prediction: Austin Peay 38-28
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No. 6 North Dakota State at No. 15 North Dakota
If this game was in Fargo, it’d be more comfortable picking the Bison. But the Alerus Center is probably going to be the loudest venue in the FCS this weekend, a place where the Fighting Hawks are 22-2 in their last 24 games. One of those losses was a 16-10 battle vs. NDSU in 2021. NDSU went on to win a national title, and UND finished 5-6.
UND has a better o-line than its 2021 squad. Its passing-blocking is graded No. 22 in the FCS by PFF, and its run-blocking is No. 2. NDSU’s defense isn’t as strong as the 2021 unit. NDSU’s tackling grade on PFF is ranked 105th in the FCS. (UND is 127th.)
If the Fighting Hawks can pop some big plays early, and their defense can get the Bison’s offense out of sorts with the help of the crowd, a two-score lead early would be massive. NDSU didn’t respond well mentally when USD threw early punches a couple of games ago.
But how long can UND hold up defensively? NDSU’s power rushing attack isn’t as dominant as past years, but it’s still pretty dang good. NDSU ranks fourth in the FCS with 256.6 rushing yards per game. The Fighting Hawks still don’t look built to defend that for four quarters. They struggled against the QB run last year in Fargo and didn’t hold up defending the run at SDSU earlier this fall. Add in Cam Miller playing like an All-Conference-level QB with his legs and his arm, and the NDSU offense looks like it can attack UND’s defense in multiple ways instead of the one-dimensional attack in Grand Forks back in 2021.
Prediction: NDSU 31-21
No. 23 Youngstown State at No. 10 South Dakota
A massive ranked matchup with big implications. YSU could position itself well with its fourth win and its second straight Top 10-ranked win with a favorable schedule ahead. USD, meanwhile, could show its NDSU win wasn’t a fluke and that its Top 10 ranking is deserved.
The Coyotes have rolled its three other FCS opponents 97-13 to be 4-0 vs. the FCS and 4-1 overall. The Yotes have used a stout defense that ranks No. 3 in the FCS with 13.4 points allowed per game and a balanced offense. Aidan Bouman has thrown for 810 yards, seven TDs, and one interception, while Travis Theis has a physical style of running with 430 yards and four TDs on the ground.
But it may run into trouble going up against an elite YSU front seven. The Penguins allow just 75.8 rushing yards per game, which is No. 2 in the FCS. A 44-41 loss at UNI two weeks ago was not a good performance, but last week’s 31-3 domination of then-No. 6 SIU caught the eyes of the FCS. Maybe YSU is an up-and-down team and won’t show well on Saturday. But something tells me that the SIU performance will carry over, and USD’s FCS winning streak gets halted.
Prediction: YSU 28-24
Northern Iowa at No. 1 South Dakota State
Back in the preseason, many picked this game as the most likely loss for SDSU. UNI just plays well vs. the Jackrabbits, especially in Brookings. UNI has a 4-2 record at SDSU dating back to 2015, including a current two-game winning streak. UNI seems to play to its level of competition, beating YSU 44-41 two games ago before squeaking by a struggling Indiana State team last week with a 27-20 win.
SDSU looks tough to beat this season. But if there’s an area of concern, it’s the lack of pressure from the d-line. The Jacks only have three sacks in five games, which has also led to less-than-stellar play in the secondary at times. That is not a good recipe for defending the talented arm of Theo Day (1,414 yards, eight TDs, and six interceptions). But if there’s a game to generate that pressure, this is it. UNI’s o-line has allowed 14 sacks already this fall.
With four straight ranked opponents ahead, SDSU doesn’t want to stumble now. The Jacks should be locked and loaded for this one. And if they’re fully engaged and executing well, they will be too much for any opponent this season.
Prediction: SDSU 38-28
No. 25 Chattanooga at Mercer
Chattanooga’s offense is hot, averaging 37 points per game and coming off of a 50-point performance vs. Top 10 WCU. UCLA transfer QB Chase Artopoeus has found his groove, throwing for 1,706 yards, 14 TDs, and six interceptions. Last week, Javin Whatley had 11 catches for 231 yards and four TDs. Couple that with All-American RB Ailym Ford (447 total rushing yards, 4 TDs), and the Mocs are tough to slow down.
Mercer has some elite weapons as well. WRs Ty James (32 catches, 602 yards, 5 TDs), and Devron Harper (25 catches, 287 yards, 1 TD) are a great duo. The offense overall isn’t quite as explosive, though, averaging 24.7 points per game compared to last year’s 38.2. Carter Peevy has thrown for 1,073 yards, six TDs, and one interception.
Both of these teams are playoff hopefuls and sit at four wins. A victory Saturday puts either in a good position to reach the bracket. Chattanooga may be susceptible to big plays, but I don’t know if Mercer has shown the firepower to keep up with the Mocs.
Prediction: Chattanooga 41-31
UC Davis at No. 22 Weber
I would flip the rankings between these two. I dropped Weber out of my ballot last week after needing a three-TD comeback to beat winless Northern Colorado. This was a week after losing to now-No. 2 Montana State 40-0. Last Saturday, Weber lost 27-10 to unranked NAU.
UC Davis has an argument to still be ranked at 3-3 overall and 3-2 vs. the FCS, losing two one-possession games to ranked EWU and Montana.
Weber can’t throw the ball. A change at QB may be needed, but Kylan Weisser is still the only player to attempt a pass. He has thrown for 782 yards, two TDs, and seven interceptions. And running on UC Davis’ defense is no easy task. Expect a lower-scoring game, but UC Davis has the edge to get a road win.
Prediction: UC Davis 21-17
No. 16 Montana at No. 3 Idaho
Montana got a needed ranked win last week at UC Davis to silence some doubters. Another win this weekend completely flips the script from where the Grizzlies were at and how they were playing in September. Beating red-hot Idaho in front of a frenzied sold-out crowd and on ESPN2 is going to be a challenge, though.
Idaho has offensive star players at QB, WR, and RB. But the offensive line will need to play well, especially keeping Gevani McCoy clean. The Vandals are the 114th-graded pass-blocking unit in the FCS on PFF. They are a better run-blocking team with the No. 43 FCS grade. Montana’s defense prides itself on disruptive plays — sacks, QB hits, TFLs. The Griz haven’t generated that pressure, though, ranking 90th in the FCS with 4.7 TFLs per game and 83rd with 1.5 sacks per game.
Montana’s offense showed promising signs last week under the direction of Clifton McDowell. McDowell showed a better arm, but expect Idaho to take away the throws he’s comfortable making. The Vandals have one of the more talented secondaries in the FCS, ranking 11th with 166.8 passing yards allowed per game. Montana will likely try to establish the run game to suck in Idaho’s defense, allowing McDowell to hit screens or make easier throws off of play-action. The Vandals’ front seven, especially its d-line, is improved from last season and allows just 130.5 rushing yards a game to rank inside the Top 40 of the FCS.
Montana will come in with a good plan to slow down Idaho’s explosive offense. The Griz may also hit on an explosive play or two on special teams or on offense with some of their home-run hitters. Expect a close game, but the Vandals have too much firepower and the crowd behind them to lose this one.
Prediction: Idaho 28-20