It's Friday, so that means FCS games are right around the corner.
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No. 1 North Dakota State @ No. 10 Illinois State
Brian: NDSU 17-14
Now we get to see what Illinois State is made of. The Redbirds have been solid so far, with RB James Robinson doing his thing and the offense, in general, is whipping the ball around while the defense has been stout. But now the real test comes to town. Can Robinson get rolling against the Bison like he has against other competition (8 TDs on the ground already)? Can the Illinois State defense slow down QB Trey Lance? These are the big questions. This one should be a knock-down, smash-mouth variety grudge match, and I for one can't wait to see what happens.
Sam: NDSU 24-14
A couple of weeks ago, I was looking at this game as an Illinois State win. But with ISU's top two receivers out with injuries, I'm just not sure the Redbirds will have that balance to knock off the Bison. The defense can keep the Redbirds in this game and RB James Robinson could get loose a couple of times. But I see the Bison getting a win and looking sharp doing so off of a bye week.
No. 11 Central Arkansas @ No. 16 Nicholls
Brian: Nicholls 28-27
Central Arkansas has a signature win (FBS Western Kentucky) but really, really wants to get another one on the road in the Southland Conference. This is the Bears' opportunity to do it. Nicholls doesn't really have a signature win yet and wants badly to get one and go to 2-0 in league play. This is a big opportunity.
Sam: UCA 21-20
Both of these teams are looking for a signature win. After beating an FBS team, UCA has looked decent in the following games. And Nicholls really hasn't shown us that it's a team that can win a couple of games in the playoffs. I think UCA is going to be a bit fresher coming into this came. The Bears had a bye week while Nicholls played another FBS opponent.
Central Connecticut State @ Sacred Heart
Brian: CCSU 28-24
This is an interesting battle, and depending on what Duquesne ends up doing this year, this could be a matchup we look back at in November and say it helped determine the NEC champion and the automatic playoff berth reward that comes with it. Sacred Heart disposed of two Patriot League teams after falling at Maine in its opener, and many people know the story of how CCSU fell to FBS Eastern Michigan in the waning moments. It was gut-wrenching to watch the Blue Devils drop a game like that. Both teams have showed spunk, and this should be a good one.
Sam: CCSU 17-14
This is a massive game in the NEC between two teams eyeing a playoff bid. With both teams having two weeks to prepare for this game, it should be a good one. I like CCSU here as I think the Blue Devils will come out with a fast start after a tough loss to an FBS team.
No. 14 Furman @ Samford
Brian: Furman 35-28
Samford reversed course about three weeks ago and now holds wins over two of the best SoCon teams — Wofford and The Citadel. That's a mighty turnaround for a team that lost last year's Walter Payton Award winner (Devlin Hodges) and also struggled in two early losses. Now the Bulldogs are on a three-game win streak and the resume looks much better. Can they knock off the presumed SoCon front-runners? We shall see.
Sam: Furman 42-31
Samford is coming off an emotional 4-OT win against No. 25 The Citadel. Furman had a wakeup call in a narrow win against ETSU. I think that can play a part in the first half of this game. Samford looks like a completely different team than its 0-2 start. But I still think the Paladins have the quality of team to run through the SoCon and show its ranking is deserved. The defense has looked strong in the first two conference games. Although Samford is a different beast to try and stop. Furman wins here in a game that sees the Paladins take a big lead into halftime and then the second half has a Samford comeback that falls short.
No. 18 Youngstown State @ No. 13 Northern Iowa
Brian: UNI 17-14
These two teams are ranked No. 12 (UNI) and No. 13 (YSU) in total defense, so you can read between the lines in how this game will probably go down. Northern Iowa's been a little bit shaky since the first two weeks, which included an overtime effort against P5 Iowa State. They seem primed for a bounceback, and we all know that home-field advantage is something special in these MVFC grudge matches.
Sam: UNI 24-17
Here's a wild stat courtesy of the YSU sports information department: the Penguins haven't won a game in the UNI-Dome since 1999. Yet four of the last five games in Cedar Falls have been decided by five points or less. Expect another tight game Saturday. YSU is 4-0 but has yet to defeat a strong team. UNI is always a mystery on what kind of performance we'll see. I'll stick with the trend of YSU losing at UNI's place. Plus, the Panthers seem to snap back into it coming off a disappointing performance like they had last week at Weber State.
No. 2 James Madison @ No. 24 Stony Brook
Brian: JMU 28-7
Stony Brook is 4-1 and undefeated against FCS competition and could play itself into being a factor in CAA play when it comes to nabbing a potential at-large playoff bid. While it seems a bit far-fetched to pick an upset here, we'll see if the Seawolves can keep the scoring total down a bit and make a game of this one — because this James Madison team is very strong.
Sam: JMU 27-10
I don't see Stony Brook's offense being able to stick with JMU. But I do think the defense can slow down the Dukes where this game is interesting in the second half. The Dukes looked really impressive in last week's win at Elon and backed up why we think they're a national title contender. Stony Brook is a consistent program lately and could be in the playoffs again. But the Seawolves will have to be at their absolute best and hope for some turnovers to knock off JMU.
No. 22 Eastern Washington @ Sacramento State
Brian: Sac State 35-31
Getting sick of the "statement game" label? Well, this is another one — really for both sides. Is Sacramento State worthy of a look? The Hornets are a month in and have only played one FCS opponent so far (50-point win over Northern Colorado). The two FBS losses weren't exactly ugly, as Sac State had Fresno State worried and the Hornets were only trailing by five points late to Arizona State earlier this year. EWU needs this one badly too, but the home-field advantage is the tiebreaker for me.
Sam: EWU 38-27
The EWU offensive line lived up to its preseason hype in a win against UND last week with the Eagles rushing for 284 yards in bad weather. Now, I can be proven wrong on this, but I believe UND has a stronger defense than Sac State. If the run game can repeat that performance along with a better environment to throw the ball, EWU can start to build its resume back up with a solid win here. The Hornets are impressive this year and are receiving votes in the poll. But if EWU can put together a full four quarters, I expect the Eagles to win.
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