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FCS Football: Best Games and Predictions for Week 1

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James Madison

This past weekend’s Top 25 matchup between Jacksonville State and Chattanooga was great for kicking off the FCS college football season – JSU won, 27-13 – but when the first full week of games arrives, Cinderella steps to the forefront.


There’s no better way to get the season rolling than with FCS teams knocking off FBS opponents. It’s happened 22 times over Labor Day Weekend in the last five seasons.

There will be more opportunities (46 matchups) this week than any other during the season, including 2016 FCS national champion James Madison taking its shot.

Here are the FCS games of the week:

Note: All times ET

Thursday, Aug. 31

Kennesaw State at No. 18 Samford, 7 p.m.

It’s run (KSU) versus pass (Samford) in a first-ever meeting. The visiting Owls are 14-8 as an FCS startup program, but they haven’t beaten a ranked team. They’ll want to control the clock to keep Samford’s 4,000-yard passer Devlin Hodges off of the field.

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Tennessee State at Georgia State, 7 p.m.

Georgia State plays for the first time at its new home, the former Turner Field in Atlanta, but Tennessee State is capable of pulling an upset. Wide receiver Patrick Smith is the Ohio Valley Conference’s preseason offensive player of the year and defensive end Ebenezer “Ebo” Ogundeko an NFL prospect.

College Football Rankings: Georgia State
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Pick: Tennessee State

Maine at No. 11 New Hampshire, 7 p.m.

The “Battle for the Brice-Cowell Musket” usually concludes the regular season for these archrivals, but it’s the opener for the first time in 25 years. The series is competitive – Maine leads, 54-43-8 – but UNH has won seven straight and 14 of the last 15 meetings.

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Pick: New Hampshire

North Dakota at Utah, 7:30 p.m.

The Fighting Hawks have been coming on strong on the FCS level, including last year’s Big Sky co-title and first-ever playoff berth. Here’s one way for head coach Bubba Schweigert’s team to gain more attention than that other FCS team downstate.

NCAAF Top 25 Rankings: Utah
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Pick: Utah

Friday, Sept. 1

No. 21 Fordham at Army West Point, 6 p.m.

When Fordham opened the 2015 season with a 37-35 win at Army, running back Chase Edmonds had 266 yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns, while quarterback Kevin Anderson passed for 322 yards and rushed for a score. Oh yes, they’re back.

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Pick: Army

No. 7 Richmond at No. 4 Sam Houston State, 7 p.m.

After being postponed by Hurricane Harvey this past weekend, the two national powers turn their attention back to the field. Both were national semifinalists in 2015 and quarterfinalists last year, and they are meeting in the type of intersectional matchup rarely seen in the FCS.

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Pick: Sam Houston State

Saturday, Sept. 2

No. 8 Villanova at No. 12 Lehigh, 12:30 p.m.

Villanova needed a second-half rally to escape with a 26-21 home win last year. This time, new Wildcats head coach Mark Ferrante makes his debut at picturesque Goodman Stadium. The scene won’t be pretty for the Wildcats if the Rob Rolle-led defense can’t stop Lehigh’s offensive juggernaut.

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Pick: Villanova

No. 14 Youngstown State at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.

The Penguins’ offseason was a long break coming after they played a whopping 16 games (going 12-4) as the national runner-up last season. They hung tough against the Panthers two years ago (a 45-37 loss) in head coach Bo Pelini’s debut. 

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Pick: Pittsburgh

No. 6 Eastern Washington at Texas Tech, 4 p.m.

Ironically, new Eagles head coach Aaron Best is making his debut against the same Texas Tech program that his predecessor, Beau Baldwin, faced in his first game in 2008. Gage Gubrud set the FCS single-season record with 5,160 passing yards for the top FCS passing team last year. Texas Tech threw for an FBS-high 463 yards a game – 100 yards more than the No. 2 team.

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Pick: Texas Tech

No. 2 James Madison at East Carolina, 6 p.m.

The truth is, this wouldn’t quite be an FCS-FBS upset because JMU opens defense of its national championship as a slight favorite over an ECU squad that finished 2-9 last season. Their upperclassmen remember the Dukes’ win at SMU in 2015, and their lineup is bolstered by some FBS transfers.

College Football Rankings: East Carolina
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Pick: James Madison

No. 13 Northern Iowa at Iowa State, 8 p.m.

UNI is seeking to duplicate last year’s 25-20, season-opening win at Iowa State. It’s the rest of the season – a 5-6 record – that was forgettable. All-Missouri Valley linebacker Jared Farley, head coach Mark Farley’s son, fuels the Panthers’ defense.

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Pick: Iowa State

Grambling State at Tulane, 8 p.m.

There’s a buzz about head coach Broderick Fobbs’ Grambling squad, which returns two dominant offensive players, quarterback DeVante Kincade and running back Martez Carter, from last year’s SWAC and Air Force One Celebration Bowl champion. An upset is possible.

College Football Rankings: Tulane
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Pick: Tulane

Sunday, Sept. 3

South Carolina State at Southern, 2:30 p.m.

Southern is the only SWAC program to win in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge as the MEAC holds a 9-2 series lead. In the only FCS game of the day, the host Jaguars must account for South Carolina State linebacker Darius Leonard whenever he's on the field.

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Pick: South Carolina State

— 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 He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.

(Top photo courtesy James Madison University Athletics)