Who said it's too early to contest key conference matchups, right? Why not do it … the first day of the season? In August, while you're at it? Tonight's FCS slate is impressive.
That's the spirit of the next-door-neighbor Maine at New Hampshire matchup this evening, a game usually played much later in the season. Or how about McNeese at Nicholls tonight in the Southland Conference? Both teams could be playoff contenders. All around the country there are good FCS vs. FCS matchups, potentially featuring playoff teams … and of course the FCS vs. FBS matchups (which we already documented this week).
So let's not waste any time getting to the best FCS vs. FCS games on Thursday night … and why:
(NOTE: All times Eastern)[divider]
THE BIG FIVE
7 P.M. ON ESPN3
You're looking at two potential FCS playoff teams, and both will be in contention for their conference crowns, too. Samford has one of the top three quarterbacks in the nation in Devlin Hodges, period. He has weapons back and the Bulldogs are going to score some points.
On the flip side, the Owls have come into their prime. They've done everything the right way to get to the point where people will talk about them as a threat to unseating the impressive run by Charleston Southern in the Big South. The facilities, the coaching, the recruiting … it's all falling into place for this Georgia program that didn't even have a team a few years ago. Folks, we may be looking back at this one in November when the seedings are announced.[divider]
7 P.M. ON CBS SPORTS DIGITAL
In 1903, Maine likely boarded a train and traveled down to Durham to take on New Hampshire — and a rivalry was born. Today, they play for the 106th time. They wear hard helmets now, not the leather helmets of 1903 — but the intensity? It hasn't changed. That's the mark of a great rivalry.
Maine won the first eight meetings between the schools, but in the recent past it's been pretty much all UNH — as the Wildcats have won 7 in a row. But many of the games have been close. I really don't care about the lopsided-ness of the past few years … when the Black Bears and Wildcats go at it, save your "breaks" for halftime.[divider]
7 P.M. ON OVC DIGITAL NETWORK
Former LSU quarterback and four-star recruit Hayden Rettig gets the start for Tennessee Tech at home, so that will definitely be something to watch.
The Golden Eagles could be one of those key teams to watch this year in the Ohio Valley Conference, and Western Illinois? The Leathernecks are clearly one of the teams to keep an eye on in the Missouri Valley this year, no matter how brutal the Valley is in 2017. This is a seasoned team, with studs back on both sides of the ball — namely WIU defensive stalwart Brett Taylor (134 tackles, 8.5 TFLs).[divider]
8 P.M. ON ESPN3
Sam Houston State seems like the clear favorite in the Southland Conference, though McNeese surely didn't buy into that two years ago when it knocked off the Bearkats in the regular season. But behind SHSU, should it win the Southland — who would be that second FCS playoff team? Or could there be three if the conference depth is there?
My take is that both teams involved in tonight's game are going to be seriously involved with the playoff push in November — and you can bet both teams will be able to point back to this one and see how pivotal it was. It is critical for both sides.[divider]
8 P.M. ON MIDCO SN
Want to watch two of the top NFL prospects in the FCS in SDSU TE Dallas Goedert and his WR teammate Jake Weineke? Of course you do. And they aren't the only big guns playing for the Jackrabbits.
This may be a bit of a mismatch, but I feel certain you're watching two FCS playoff teams here because Duquesne has all the tools to win the NEC this year and take that league's automatic berth. This one should be fun to watch because of the immense talent of the Jacks and the chance to see if the Dukes can put up a fight and make a push.
Keep an eye on Jerry Rice Award Winner A.J. Hines for Duquesne. He was the FCS freshman of the year last year.[divider]