Are you ready for some football? Yup, dumb question, the anticipation level for the 2018 college football season is multiplying by the day.
In the FCS, the opening week of the season features terrific conference, non-conference and FBS matchups.
Here are the 10 best games in Week 1:
North Carolina A&T vs. Jacksonville State (Aug. 25)
There’s nothing like getting the party started early and the FCS Kickoff does with a Week Zero matchup in Montgomery, Alabama. Last year’s only unbeaten FCS team (NC A&T at 12-0) takes on a Jacksonville State squad that won this annual season-opening game against Chattanooga last year. Clemson transfer quarterback Zerrick Cooper could get the start for the Ohio Valley Conference power.
New Hampshire at Maine (Aug. 30)
Maine is glad to be home to try to reverse CAA Football rival UNH’s recent dominance in the battle for the Brice-Cowell Musket. The Wildcats, who reached the FCS quarterfinals last season, have captured eight straight meetings and 15 of the last 16.
Western Illinois at Montana State (Aug. 30)
The first meeting between these two programs in 25 years has taken a hit with the academic ineligibility of Montana State quarterback Chris Murray. Still, Western Illinois has a standout signal caller in senior Sean McGuire. This is the first game of the excellent Big Sky/Missouri Valley Challenge Series.
Kennesaw State at Georgia State (Aug. 30)
Kennesaw State’s first-ever FBS matchup may produce a win, and it wouldn’t be much of an upset. Georgia State is tasked with slowing an Owls triple-option attack that ranked first in the FCS in rushing offense (330.2 ypg) last season.
The Citadel at Wofford (Sept. 1)
The season’s first Southern Conference game matches the 2015 and ’16 champ (The Citadel) against the 2017 champ (Wofford). Wofford head coach Josh Conklin is making his debut as his triple option takes on The Citadel’s version of the offense.
Northern Iowa at Montana (Sept. 1)
The largest attendance base in the FCS will welcome back head coach Bobby Hauck for a second stint. He led the Griz to Big Sky titles in all seven of his seasons plus three national championship game appearances from 2003-09. UNI, which is 142-72 under head coach Mark Farley, is a difficult first opponent.
James Madison at NC State (Sept. 1)
The national runner-up Dukes have won two of their last three FBS matchups, but NC State could threaten to reach the Top 25 this season. Head coach Mike Houston has explosive firepower at running back with Marcus Marshall, Cardon Johnson and Trai Sharp.
Bethune-Cookman at Tennessee State (Sept. 1)
Tennessee State head coach Rod Reed seeks his 50th career win in the John A. Merritt Classic. Both teams are replacing key players on defense, making for a possible offensive game. They’ve played to three straight close scores in recent seasons.
Villanova at Temple (Sept. 1)
Athlon Sports' FCS Preseason Top 25 projects a healthier Villanova will bounce back in a big way. Having lost 16-13 to Temple last season, the Wildcats seek to even their backyard series with the Owls, who have a 16-15-2 lead.
North Carolina Central vs. Prairie View A&M (Sept. 2)
As the annual MEAC-SWAC Challenge shifts to Georgia State Stadium, two new head coaches make their debuts -- Prairie View’s Eric Dooley, who previously ran the offense at Grambling State, and NC Central’s Granville Eastman, who seeks to shed an interim tag after being elevated from defensive coordinator. Despite Southern’s win last year, the MEAC owns a 9-3 lead in the Challenge.
Bonus Game: South Dakota State at Iowa State (Sept. 1)
All the focus is on what SDSU lost after last season, especially tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Jake Wieneke. But what better way for quarterback Taryn Christion and the Missouri Valley national semifinalist to show what’s back than an upset at Iowa State, which has lost to an FCS opponent in three of the last five seasons.
-- Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Photo courtesy Montana State Athletics)