It’s Thursday, so that means FCS games are right around the corner.
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Overall W/L Records:
No. 1 North Dakota State @ No. 3 South Dakota State
Brian: SDSU 17-16
Finally, we get the Clash of the Titans — the best FCS matchup of the 2019 regular season. And you know what? It probably won’t be the only time these two teams play this year. Sound familiar? North Dakota State has proven once again it can dominate with new names filling key spots — both in the lineup and on the coaching staff. Nobody reloads better in the FCS than NDSU. On the flip side, we have a South Dakota State team that has played stellar team defense, was beating a current 7-0, Big Ten West Division leading Minnesota team with six minutes left in the game … and has won every game since. Both teams have shown some imperfections (SDSU needing to storm back in the second half to beat Youngstown State, NDSU not being able to put away 1-5 Missouri State as early as it should have) but both have found ways to win when they’ve been challenged. Both play stingy defense, both run the ball well, both are great when it comes to passing efficiency overall — but for the third time in the past four seasons, SDSU will knock off the Bison. The question will be, who will win the rematch in the playoffs, and where will it be played — Brookings? Fargo? Frisco?
Sam: NDSU 29-20
No. 1 vs. No. 3. This is going to be another classic battle between the Bison and the Jacks. To me, it’s a pretty even matchup. NDSU’s offensive line is better than SDSU’s, but the Jackrabbits have better weapons. I’d take NDSU’s secondary over SDSU’s but I think both front 7s are legit and on par with each other. So what does this game come down to? The two redshirt freshman QBs in SDSU’s J’Bore Gibbs and NDSU’s Trey Lance. While I don’t think either coaching staff is going to throw a ton on their QB’s plate and say “go out there and win this game for us,” I do think whichever quarterback has the better game is going to lead their team to a win. And right now, Lance is just the more polished QB while Gibbs has shown his youth at times and flashes of brilliance other times. SDSU’s secondary is talented but inexperienced. I’m not sure how many looks they can give Lance to try and confuse him. But the Bison have a very experienced secondary and guys like linebacker Jabril Cox in pass defense to try and “bait” Gibbs into interceptable passes.
San Diego @ Dayton
Brian: San Diego 28-24
This game really has me perplexed. For weeks I had Dayton listed as my Pioneer Football League automatic playoff berth team. I was impressed with how the Flyers took down a full-strength Indiana State team (that really looked playoff caliber before key injuries) and then the non-scholarship Flyers also went on the road and took down an NEC team with scholarships (Robert Morris). That was an impressive start, along with going toe-to-toe with one of the NEC’s top teams, Duquesne, before falling. The reason I changed my playoff berth pick this week to San Diego is the resume. The more you look at it — it is just a tad bit more impressive. The Harvard win, the near win against UC Davis … once again USD looks pretty darned good. This game should be a doozy, but I think San Diego survives the long trip to Ohio.
Sam: San Diego 38-24
This is a huge conference game and another test for San Diego. Last season, the Toreros edged Dayton 36-34 and this time won’t have the home-field advantage. The Flyers are 2-1 in the Pioneer Football League standings while USD is 3-0. I thought the Toreros were going to be challenged a couple of weeks ago at Davidson, but they ended up winning 37-17. I don’t like this matchup for Dayton’s defense, which is allowing 32.5 points per game. USD continues to roll.
No. 9 Montana State @ North Dakota
Brian: Montana State 35-32
Hey, North Dakota is 3-0 at home, and the wins have been over pretty impressive opponents. Montana State has had two weeks to recover from the loss to Sacramento State and also figure out what exactly it wants to do with its quarterback situation. This one is dangerous for the Bobcats, as they’d like to stay in the running for a potential seed and have it come down to the Brawl of the Wild with the Griz in November. Honestly, I think MSU is the better program right now, but due to where this is being played? This is a coin-flip game, in my opinion.
Sam: Montana State 31-28
UND is beat up and thin on the defensive line right now, which just isn’t ideal when facing a run-heavy like Montana State. The Fighting Hawks have been up and down on defense this season, but are 3-0 at home. Meanwhile, the Bobcats haven’t looked sharp on the road in 2019. Coming off of a bye week, though, where their weaknesses were exposed by Sac State a couple of Saturdays ago, the Bobcats have had two weeks to prepare and clean things up. This is a good opportunity for MSU’s veteran offensive line to take control of a game.
Chattanooga @ Wofford
Brian: Wofford 28-20
In our HERO Sports Preseason Top 25, we had Wofford at No. 8 and Chattanooga at No. 19. Both programs got lost in the woods a bit in September — the Terriers while trying some new things on offense and the Mocs while playing the most brutal non-conference schedule in the FCS this year. Well, both of them are back to being major factors in the SoCon and both control their own destinies, and that’s a nice feeling this deep into October. Both programs could put themselves in a really nice position by nabbing a win here. ‘Nooga comes in on a three-game winning streak, and Wofford comes in on a four-gamer. Neither team has lost in a month. This should be a good one, folks, with home-field settling things.
Sam: Wofford 38-21
The SoCon has been quite chaotic this season, per usual, with teams getting hot and cold. But here’s Chattanooga, sitting above everyone else in the standings at 3-0. Now, the Mocs haven’t played any of the top teams yet, but you have to give them credit for rebounding from a 1-3 nonconference start. Speaking of rebounding … how about Wofford? After two losses to start the year, the Terriers have won four straight. The offense is really starting to click and has averaged 48.5 points per game during this winning streak. That hot play continues Saturday.
UT Martin @ No. 24 Southeast Missouri State
Brian: UT Martin 27-24
UT Martin hasn’t been to the FCS Playoffs since its 9-3 team went in 2006 — when the Skyhawks’ current true freshmen were riding tricycles and playing in sandboxes. Well, nobody on this team is messing around with that stuff any more, as they’re too busy sitting firmly above the fray in the Ohio Valley Conference — playing opportunistic defense, coming out on the right side of the turnover margin situation, and putting points up when they’re needed. The ramifications of a road win at SEMO are massive, as it would put one of the two 2018 OVC playoff teams (SEMO) behind UT Martin, and the Jacksonville State game at home next weekend could nearly lock things up with a win, but wouldn’t end everything either if the Gamecocks were to win. UT Martin’s league lead could be that far ahead. First things first though, SEMO is no slouch opponent and has been in-and-out of my Top 25 ballot all season as the Redhawks have shown flashes of brilliance, like disposing of a solid Southern Illinois team and also traveling to JSU for a rare road OVC win against the Gamecocks. Expect a battle.
Sam: SEMO 27-21
UT Martin is such an awesome story this year as the Skyhawks are 4-0 in the OVC standings. This game is going to be a huge test though as SEMO (3-1 in the OVC) is coming off a big win against Jacksonville State. I think that momentum carries over, especially with the defensive effort the Redhawks are playing with. UT Martin has scored 40, 38, 55 and 27 points in its OVC wins. SEMO has the defense to slow that down.
Eastern Washington @ No. 10 Montana
Brian: Montana 27-24
Think Eastern Washington is done? Think again, folks. The Eags do control their own destiny, but it truly starts this weekend with the Griz — because after traveling to Missoula, EWU has four games that are winnable. If the Eags were to finish on a six-game winning streak and go 8-4? They’ll be in the FCS Playoffs. But if they lose this weekend and go 7-5 or worse? They’ll likely be home for Thanksgiving. That’s how big this one is for the Eags. For the Griz? They just need to get back on the train tracks after their first FCS setback (Sacramento State). Montana has enough positive on the resume that if it were to close out going 4-1 or even 3-2 over the final five games, it will make the playoffs. But what the Griz would really like to do is go 5-0, finish 10-2 and be in serious discussion for one of those playoff seeds. There’s a lot of “ifs” ahead, but Montana certainly controls its own destiny for a playoff seed, and it starts this weekend. Yes, Montana may be without star QB Dalton Sneed this weekend, but I still think this Griz team can fight through a big game at home with Sneed nursing injuries.
Sam: EWU 35-31
Yes, I think No. 10 Montana is going down for the second week in a row. And I think I have a fair reason why. 1) No matter how skilled your backup QB may be, losing a guy like Dalton Sneed to injury is a huge blow to your offense. 2) The Griz have problems in the secondary, allowing 403 yards passing in the Sac State loss last week. EWU averages 326.3 yards passing per game while Sac State averages 311.7. 3) This is a must-win for the Eagles. They are just 2-3 against FCS opponents and a loss here really weakens their playoff chances.
Southern @ Alcorn State
Brian: Alcorn State 28-14
Both teams had comparable close losses to McNeese, and both teams scraped by in tough wins over Prairie View A&M. One statistic jumps out to me though — Alcorn State is one of the most efficient passing teams in the nation, and Southern U. gives up a slew of yards via the pass. Couple that with this game being at Alcorn State? I think the Braves have the edge here, and we may be looking at a preview of the SWAC Championship matchup, as both of these teams are 3-0 in league play so far.
Sam: Alcorn State 27-24
This very well could of Game 1 of 2 between these two teams as Alcorn is 3-0 in the SWAC East and Southern is 3-0 in the SWAC West. This is a rematch of last year’s SWAC title game (a 37-28 Alcorn win) and I feel we could be headed that way again in 2019. I like Alcorn here with the Braves being 4-0 at home. All three of Southern’s losses have come on the road and this is its first road trip in nearly a month.
No. 16 Towson @ No. 2 James Madison
Brian: JMU 35-14
Towson really doesn’t have too much room to breathe now, when it comes to a playoff spot. Probably its best-case scenario, should it fall to James Madison this weekend (as expected, one would think) is to keep a clean slate the final four games afterwards and finish 8-4, and coming from the CAA that will very likely earn an at-large bid to play Thanksgiving weekend. The Bucknell win last week helped get the Tigers back in the win column, now it’s time to win four of the next five and get back into the playoff discussion where Towson belongs. This weekend may be tough, but there are winnable games coming up.
Sam: JMU 35-24
Towson’s defense is “gettable” and ranks 47th in the FCS with 26 points allowed per game. Not bad but not great, and it is a unit that has improved from last year. Meanwhile, JMU is ninth with 16.9 points allowed per game. I think that’s the difference. Towson is known for its high-powered offense, which it is with 33.9 PPG. Maybe it’s because JMU is more methodical and balanced rather than hitting a ton of big plays, but the Dukes don’t get enough love for their offense that’s sixth in the FCS with 40.4 PPG. Tom Flacco and Towson will get theirs offensively. You aren’t going to completely shut them down. JMU will at least slow them down and continue to roll offensively.
No. 4 Weber State @ No. 22 UC Davis
Brian: Weber State 31-14
This one is must-win for UC Davis, who put together two wins in a row in Big Sky play but are dangling by a thread right now. Weber State on the other hand has an unblemished record in the FCS (5-0) with two six-point losses to FBS teams. The Wildcats are really playing well right now, especially defensively. They have a Top 20 scoring defense, are No. 2 in the nation in turnover margin, own the clock, have Josh Davis killing teams in the run game (ask NAU last week) and as usual … special teams is a big part of what they do. This is a sound football team. After this weekend, it’s the clash next weekend against Sacramento State that will help answer some critical Big Sky questions.
Sam: Weber State 38-27
It’s do-or-die time for UC Davis. At 4-4 overall and 4-3 against FCS opponents, the Aggies need to avoid a loss and get a signature win to get back into the playoff discussion. It’ll be quite the test as Weber State eyes a high playoff seed with a 5-0 mark against the FCS. The Wildcats’s run game is rolling right now, coming off of a 439-yard rushing performance against Northern Arizona. UC Davis is on a two-game winning streak but did squeak by a 1-7 Southern Utah team last week, winning 33-25 after leading 26-0 in the first half.
No. 21 Sam Houston State @ No. 12 Central Arkansas
Brian: UCA 35-30
Talk about two teams that are hard to figure right now. Al Davis would be proud of them, because for the most part … they just win, baby. But man some of the results are close. Now, UCA lost to Nicholls by 20 points in Louisiana, and Sam Houston State shut down Nicholls 17-0 in Texas. They both had comparable wins over McNeese. But in the tradition of how the Southland Conference can be kind of wild and being at home seems to be a key thing, I’m going with the home team on this one, in a shootout.
Sam: SHSU 24-17
Predicting Southland Conference results is never easy. You just have no idea what’s going to happens and stats, trends and what happened in previous weeks can be thrown out the window. The one thing that has been consistent this season is the play of SHSU’s solid defense. It was at its best last week, shutting out Nicholls in a huge 17-0 win. Can the Bearkats do it again on the road? UCA got a 31-30 win last week against Northwestern State, who is now 0-7. It makes you wonder just how good this Bears team really is. Give me SHSU here.
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