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FCS Football: Best Games and Predictions for Week 1

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FBS teams are on alert to open the college football season. The little brother from the FCS isn’t so little anymore.

FCS

A season-high 42 of this year’s 111 FCS-FBS matchups are on the Week 1 schedule and some will end in upsets. Northern Arizona beating UTEP wouldn’t be one, though. The visiting Lumberjacks are favored.

It’s always good for FCS teams to catch the FBS early. During Labor Day weekend the last six seasons, the FCS has 26 wins over the big boys.

Here are the FCS games of the week:

Note: All times ET

Thursday, Aug. 30

No. 3 New Hampshire at Maine, 7 p.m.

UNH is coming off its ninth trip to the FCS quarterfinals in 14 consecutive playoff appearances under head coach Sean McDonnell. The Wildcats expect an even deeper run this season, but archrival Maine just may trip them up in their CAA Football opener. Last year’s 24-23 UNH win is typical of their down-to-the-wire matchups.

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Pick: New Hampshire

No. 5 Kennesaw State at Georgia State, 7 p.m.

An entire offseason wasn’t enough preparation: Georgia State’s defense is going to driven crazy by Kennesaw State’s triple-option offense, which led the FCS in rushing last season. The Owls’ Bryson Armstrong-led defense wasn’t too shabby, either, allowing just 15.5 points per game.

College Football Rankings: Georgia State
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Pick: Kennesaw State

Western Illinois at Montana State, 9 p.m.

The visiting Leathernecks’ terrific 2017 campaign ended in the playoffs out in Big Sky country (against Weber State). With star quarterback Chris Murray sidelined by academics this season, Montana State is in proving mode. Last year, the Bobcats flashed their potential with close losses to South Dakota State, Weber State and Kennesaw State, which all reached at least the FCS quarterfinals.

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Pick: Western Illinois

Saturday, Sept. 1

No. 2 James Madison at NC State, noon

James Madison has beaten FBS opponents in two of the last three seasons, but none on the level of NC State, which has Top 25 potential. Either two-year backup Cole Johnson or Pitt transfer Ben DiNuccio will take over as the Dukes’ starting quarterback, but head coach Mike Houston has kept the decision under wraps.

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Pick: NC State

No. 11 Villanova at Temple, noon

Rivalries aren’t any tighter than this one in Philadelphia (16-16-2). With so many key players injured last season, second-year head coach Mark Ferrante gets a do-over. When he had most of them healthy to open the season, they hung with the Owls before falling, 16-13.

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Pick: Villanova

No. 15 Nicholls at Kansas, 7 p.m.

Nicholls’ veteran squad has put scares into Georgia and Texas A&M, so it’s possible struggling Kansas will be going Rock Squawk Jayhawk. The 10 Colonels who earned a form of All-Southland honors are back, including a pair of defensive linemen, Kenny Dotson and Sully Laiche, who figure to trouble KU’s rebuilding offensive line.

College Football Rankings: Kansas
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Pick: Nicholls

The Citadel at No. 16 Wofford, 6 p.m.

The last two Southern Conference champs square off in an ultra-important opener. The Citadel’s triple option ranked No. 2 in the FCS in rushing last season and Wofford’s flexbone was eighth. Josh Conklin makes his Wofford head coaching debut, and the shoes he steps into – Mike Ayers’ – are oversized following a 30-year run.

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Pick: Wofford

No. 19 Northern Iowa at No. 18 Montana, 9 p.m.

Montana head coach Bobby Hauck is back for his second stint guiding the Griz, having led them to seven straight Big Sky titles and three national runner-up finishes the first time around (2003-09). He inherits a team that has missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1991-92. This matchup features two stud linebackers in UNI’s Rickey Neal and Montana’s Josh Buss (who’s trying to get 100 percent healthy).

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Pick: Northern Iowa

Towson at Morgan State, 7 p.m.

This is the underrated matchup of the week. Towson, from the CAA, and Morgan State, from the MEAC, are doing what FCS programs should be doing, playing a backyard series to capture area interest. The “Battle for Greater Baltimore,” which resumed last year with a 10-0 Towson win, is just downright fun.

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Pick: Towson

Sunday, Sept. 2

North Carolina Central vs. Prairie View A&M in Atlanta, noon

As usual, the MEAC-SWAC Challenge has the national FCS spotlight, this time meeting at Georgia State Stadium as a prelude to the two conferences squaring off in the season-ending Celebration Bowl. Each team has a new head coach – North Carolina Central with Granville Eastman, who’s the interim boss, and Prairie View with Eric Dooley, who’s moved over from SWAC champ Grambling State. The MEAC holds a 9-3 series lead, but Prairie View was impressive in a 31-28 loss at Rice last Saturday.

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Pick: North Carolina Central

— 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 of Montana Athletics)