Week 8 of the 2023 FCS season features three ranked vs. ranked games with all three involving Top 12 teams.
Let’s predict some scores for a handful of the best matchups.
2023 Record: 45-18
2019-2022 Record: 337-158
Lafayette at No. 15 Holy Cross
Lafayette, a 4-7 squad last year, is off to a 5-1 start and a 1-0 record in the Patriot League. Jamar Curtis is already up to 700 yards on the ground and four scores. But the Leopards will run into the conference juggernaut.
Holy Cross has been knocked out of many seed discussions after its 38-28 loss to Harvard on Sept. 30. The Crusaders don’t have a ranked opponent on the schedule, making style points important. There is an FBS game vs. Army in November for a playoff-resume-boosting opportunity.
The Holy Cross defense has been up and down this year with some new starters. The unit is still anchored by middle linebacker Jacob Dobbs, one of the top defenders in the FCS. He’ll be big in containing Curtis. Expect HC to continue its hot offensive play, which ranks No. 4 in the FCS with 41.5 points per game.
Prediction: Holy Cross 42-24
No. 16 NC Central at Morgan State
MEAC play begins in this Thursday night game on ESPNU.
Morgan State is 1-4 with three losses by 10 points or less. The defense was playing like one of the best units in the FCS until giving up 45 points to Yale in a 45-3 loss.
What unit do we see against an NC Central team looking to make another run to the Celebration Bowl? The Eagles are scoring 35.3 points per game. Davius Richard and Co. may just be too much for the Bears to contain. He is playing like a top QB in the subdivision, throwing for 827 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions with 348 yards and 10 scores on the ground.
Prediction: NC Central 28-21
No. 4 Furman at No. 8 Western Carolina
Huge SoCon title and seed implications in this one. The winner has a nice path to a Top 4 playoff seed if they go on to handle business, finish unbeaten vs. the FCS, and own 2-3 ranked wins.
My gut was telling me Furman earlier this week. My thinking was the Paladins will be more ready for the moment with a veteran squad that is used to high rankings and games with big implications. And I thought Furman could grind down WCU’s defense and control the clock and tempo of the game.
I’ve since changed my mind. Furman may be able to find success on the ground with Tyler Huff and Dominic Roberto. But I don’t know if it can keep pace with WCU.
The Catamounts are scoring 41.3 points per game, passing for 309.8 yards a game and rushing for 222. Cole Gonzales is lighting it up at QB with great weapons like Censere Lee and PFF’s top FCS WR AJ Colombo. But the ground game is excellent as well. Desmond Reid, who is listed No. 1 on the depth chart after leaving the game two weeks ago with an injury, is a top RB in the FCS with 847 rushing yards and 10 TDs. An unheralded part of WCU is a great offensive line that is graded as PFF’s 11th-best run-blocking unit in the FCS.
The OL goes:
6’6″ 315 lbs
6’5″ 320 lbs
6’2″ 295 lbs
6’2″ 330 lbs
6’8″ 310 lbs
Couple that offensive firepower with what should be an electric home environment, and beating WCU on the road will just be too big of an uphill battle for Furman.
Prediction: WCU 35-31
Place College Football Wagers at BetMGM
No. 1 South Dakota State at No. 12 Southern Illinois
This is the start of four consecutive ranked opponents for the Jackrabbits. After the close Montana State game, we keep on waiting to see who will test SDSU next. So far in the MVFC, it’s been blowout after blowout.
SIU looks to push the defending champs in front of a good Homecoming crowd. The Salukis were hot to start the season at 4-0 with an FBS win over NIU and a ranked win over SEMO. But the last two weeks saw a 31-3 loss at YSU and a 27-6 win over Murray State, not exactly a needle-moving performance. QB Nic Baker’s play goes hand-in-hand with that hot start cooling off. After throwing for 219, 144, 462, and 285 yards in the first four games, he threw for 94 yards and an interception at YSU and 137 yards at Murray State.
That won’t do it against an SDSU defense coming off of its best defensive performance, beating UNI 41-6. SIU has played good defense as well this fall, which it will have to lean on to upset the Jacks. But SDSU has arguably the most talented offense in the FCS.
SDSU is the highest-graded FCS offense and defense on PFF. SIU will have to throw SDSU off its game completely to win. And it looks harder and harder to do that every week.
Prediction: SDSU 35-21
No. 11 North Dakota at Northern Iowa
Excluding the ranked matchups, this is probably the most intriguing game of the weekend. Can UND continue its momentum after dominating NDSU? Or will the Fighting Hawks have an emotional hangover and lose at 3-3 UNI, who is once again fighting for its playoff lives?
It’s always hard to know what UNI team we’ll see. Is it the team we saw beat ranked YSU? Or the one we saw lose to a now-struggling Weber team or squeak by Indiana State 27-20 a couple of weeks ago?
If UND plays with the urgency and physicality as it did last weekend, the Fighting Hawks should handle business. UNI hasn’t played well defensively, allowing 30.5 points per game. The offense is also turnover-prone, throwing eight picks and losing six fumbles.
The physical running style of Gaven Ziebarth will be key in this game to sustain long drives and convert on third-and-shorts for UND to keep Theo Day off the field. But also watch for Tommy Schuster to hit on some explosive plays vs. a UNI secondary allowing 247 passing yards per game.
Prediction: UND 31-28
Towson at No. 13 William & Mary
W&M has been going down in the rankings. The Tribe haven’t looked too sharp offensively, and have a loss to now-unranked Elon. After a bye week following a loss to FBS Virginia, the team looks to finish the season strong in hopes of a seed and another deep playoff run.
Towson will be no pushover, though. The Tigers may be 2-4, but they beat ranked New Hampshire 54-51 in overtime a few weeks ago and then gave ranked UAlbany a scare, losing 24-17. New head coach Pete Shinnick has this program heading in the right direction.
Expect W&M to come out strong for its Homecoming. Scoring 34, 23, 15, 28, 6, and 13 points is a surprise for an offense bringing back several starters, even with standout RB Bronson Yoder sidelined with an injury. Christian Taylor is a great offensive coordinator, though, and the Tribe may have figured some things out with its bye week. Finishing promising drives will be an emphasis.
Prediction: William & Mary 31-24
Weber State at Eastern Washington
With both teams at four losses (Weber 3-4, EWU 2-4), one needs to win out for a shot at the playoffs. EWU still has No. 2 Montana State to come. And Weber still has No. 10 Idaho to play. The loser here is basically eliminated from the playoffs.
It’s tough to envision Weber’s offense keeping up with EWU, especially on the road. Weber has scored 7, 0, 28, 10, and 16 points in its last five games. The Wildcats made a QB switch last week in a loss to UC Davis, and Richie Munoz went 15/30 for 128 yards and a TD.
EWU is coming off a tough 42-41 loss to Idaho State, blowing a 41-14 lead. A bright spot, though, was the return of QB Kekoa Visperas. He looked fantastic, going 33/47 for 403 yards and three TDs. He helps EWU get back on track with a W.
Prediction: EWU 31-24
No. 2 Montana State at No. 3 Sacramento State
It’s been a quiet few weeks for both teams with about a month going by since they played a ranked opponent. Montana State has mostly rolled through Big Sky opponents, improving to 5-1 overall. The Bobcats look built to contend for a national title, but now more of their games will be under the national microscope with road trips to Top 10 teams Sac State, Idaho, and Montana. Sac State is also 5-1, featuring an FBS P5 win over Stanford. The last two games have cooled off Sac State’s hot start, though. Beating now-2-5 Northern Arizona 31-30 and now-0-6 Northern Colorado 21-13 makes one wonder where exactly the Hornets fit in the national landscape.
Sac State may be No. 3, but some voters recognize they did lose to Idaho earlier this season, and Idaho just suffered its first FCS loss to drop to No. 10
This game — played in front of an ESPN2 TV audience — will tell us a lot about both teams.
Sac State has good players in its front seven, led by LB Armon Bailey and DL Jett Stanley. Stopping the run is key No. 1 in beating MSU. The Hornets allow 144.8 rushing yards per game (No. 46 in the FCS). MSU averages 324.5 rushing yards per game, which is No. 1 in the FCS. The Bobcats aren’t as one-dimensional as last year, though. QBs Sean Chambers and Tommy Mellott are now healthy, making the offense more diverse in the different looks it can give defenses. MSU’s offensive scheme with Chambers behind center has given MSU another element to defend. He’s been excellent on play-action and has thrown for 712 yards, five TDs, and one interception this fall.
Sac State has been without standout RB Marcus Fulcher in recent games. QB Kaiden Bennett will try to give MSU a dose of its own medicine with the QB run game. He leads the Hornets with 339 yards and four TDs on the ground. He’s been good throwing the ball too with 1,350 yards, 10 TDs, and three interceptions.
The MSU offense is a challenge for any FCS defense to contain. But its defense can be the difference here. A strong DL should match up well with one of the better o-lines in the conference to stop the run. Sac State can be dangerous moving the ball through the air. It’s an opportune time for All-American TE Marshel Martin IV to get going. An MSU team with 20 sacks, seven interceptions, and the No. 20 passing defense in the FCS should generate enough stops for a hard-earned road win.
Prediction: Montana State 31-24