Each week, one must-see game stands out above all.
So get the charter flight ready... OK, fuel up the bus, this is the FCS, mind you. Here are the best FCS matchups by week in the 2017 season:
Richmond at Sam Houston State (Aug. 27)
Both teams were FCS semifinalists in 2015 and quarterfinalists last year. Russ Huesman, the former head coach at Chattanooga, makes his debut with Richmond. In one of the best quarterback matchups of the season, seniors Kyle Lauletta and Jeremiah Briscoe (Sam Houston’s 2016 Walter Payton Award winner) square off.
James Madison at East Carolina (Sept. 2)
With East Carolina coming off of a 3-9 season, defending FCS champion James Madison could open the new season with an FBS scalp. The Dukes beat an American Athletic team just two years ago – SMU.
North Dakota State at Eastern Washington (Sept. 9)
It’s Eastern Washington’s offense versus North Dakota State’s offense again. Last season, they played to overtime before the host Bison prevailed, 50-44. They met on EWU’s red turf in the 2010 playoffs, also going to overtime. The Eagles won that game on the way to capturing an FCS championship, but NDSU claimed the next five titles.
Eastern Washington at Fordham (Sept. 16)
Eastern quarterback Gage Gubrud got it going in his first season as a starter, throwing for an FCS single-season-record 5,160 yards last year. Fordham running back Chase Edmonds has been electric for three seasons and is on pace to become the all-time FCS rushing leader this fall.
Eastern Washington at Montana (Sept. 23)
Yeah, yeah, it’s Eastern Washington again. But kudos to the Eagles for playing anybody and anywhere. This one was necessarily, though – their Big Sky opener at bitter rival Montana. No FCS stadium puts fans on top of the action quite like Washington-Grizzly Stadium, where the Griz are the annual national attendance leader.
Sam Houston State at Central Arkansas (Sept. 30)
The inside track to the Southland Conference title comes early on UCA’s striped turf. Sam Houston nearly had three 1,000-yard receivers last season, so it doesn’t seem to be the right year for the Bears to be replacing two starters in the secondary.
Western Illinois at Northern Iowa (Oct. 7)
These two teams beat FBS opponents last September only to stub their toes in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and miss the FCS playoffs. To get there this year, this is one of those must-have games.
Wofford at The Citadel (Oct. 14)
Triple option versus triple option. The Citadel has won two straight Southern Conference titles for the first time, but Wofford kept the Bulldogs out of the end zone during a playoff win in Charleston, S.C., last season.
Richmond at Delaware (Oct. 21)
The backstory is enticing: Head coach Danny Rocco left Richmond after five seasons to step across the conference and try to revive Delaware’s program. With 19 returning starters, the host Blue Hens are capable of pulling an upset.
Lehigh at Fordham (Oct. 28)
Two of the most high-powered offenses meet with the Patriot League’s automatic playoff bid perhaps on the line. If he continues at his current rate, Fordham senior Chase Edmonds would become the FCS rushing leader in this game. But the league race takes center stage.
North Dakota State at South Dakota State (Nov. 4)
North Dakota State’s streak of Missouri Valley Football Conference titles is alive at six even if its run of FCS titles is over. But South Dakota State won a last-second thriller at the Fargodome last October and gets home-field advantage this time to pair with one of the nation’s best offenses.
Eastern Washington at North Dakota (Nov. 11)
This could be decision day across the FCS because there are a number of outstanding conference matchups, including Richmond-James Madison. Eastern Washington and North Dakota shared last year’s Big Sky title with 8-0 marks because they didn’t play each other.
North Carolina Central at North Carolina A&T (Nov. 18)
The MEAC title has been hinged on this rivalry the last three years. NC Central has won each time and has claimed at least a share of three straight titles, but A&T has two postseason appearances to the Eagles’ one during that time. A bid to the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl could be at stake again.
Southern vs. Grambling (Nov. 25)
As the FCS playoffs open, the Bayou Classic also demands the spotlight, turning 44 this year at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The last four winners of this regular-season finale have gone on to represent the West Division in the SWAC Championship Game.
— 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.
(Top photo by Eastern Washington University Athletics)