If it feels like the FCS games are getting more meaningful, you’re as on target as a Sam Houston State touchdown pass.
November begins the home stretch of the regular season. The conference matchups are impeccable this week, including James Madison-Richmond in CAA Football, Eastern Washington-Cal Poly in the Big Sky, Youngstown State at North Dakota State in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and Samford at The Citadel in the Southern Conference. Add in Villanova at Maine and that’s five games matching two teams ranked in the Athlon FCS Power Poll.
Everybody loves to claim they’re going to the playoffs (the pairings come out Nov. 20), but winning a conference title comes first in the list of goals for a team.
Here are the FCS games of the week:
Note: All times ET
Saturday, Nov. 5
No. 14 Villanova (6-2, 4-1 CAA) at No. 24 Maine (5-3, 4-1), noon
The retiring Andy Talley, 73, has been coaching at Villanova (32 years) longer than Maine’s 30-year-old coach Joe Harasymiak has been alive. Coming off a bye, ‘Nova probably has enough answers on defense for the Black Bears.
Penn (5-2, 4-0 Ivy) at Princeton (5-2, 3-1), noon
Few players have been hotter in the Ivy League than Penn wide receiver Justin Watson. Oh, yes, Princeton do-everything John Lovett has, coming off a Tigers win over Cornell in which he passed for four touchdowns, rushed for two and caught one.
Bucknell (3-5, 2-1 Patriot) at No. 21 Lehigh (7-2, 4-0), 12:30 p.m.
With a win, the Mountain Hawks would clinch at least a share of the Patriot League title and become the first team to clinch an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. Wide receivers Gaitlin Casey and Troy Pelletier are both on the verge of surpassing 1,000 receiving yards for the season.
South Carolina State (3-4, 3-1 MEAC) at No. 18 North Carolina A&T (7-1, 5-0), 1 p.m.
A Hampton win over South Carolina State last weekend kept this from a being a matchup of MEAC unbeatens. The host Aggies know how to finish games – under head coach Rod Broadway, they’re 40-1 when leading at halftime and 39-2 when ahead after three quarters.
Pick: North Carolina A&T
No. 15 Samford (6-2, 4-1 Southern) at No. 7 The Citadel (8-0, 6-0), 2 p.m.
Lehigh can beat The Citadel to it, but the unbeaten Bulldogs also can clinch an automatic bid to the playoffs with a win, and they’d secure back-to-back Southern Conference titles for the first time. Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges has surpassed 400 passing yards in three of his last four games.
Pick: The Citadel
No. 3 Jacksonville State (7-1, 4-0 OVC) at Southeast Missouri State (3-5, 3-2), 2 p.m.
It’s a tricky road assignment for Jacksonville State. OK, so the Gamecocks don’t lose in the Ohio Valley Conference as their winning streak is at 21 games and counting.
Pick: Jacksonville State
No. 10 North Dakota (7-2, 6-0 Big Sky) at Northern Colorado (5-3, 3-2), 2:05 p.m.
The Fighting Hawks can see the Big Sky finish line, but can they get there? They have to avoid an emotional letdown following a big win over Weber State. Their two main running backs (Brady Oliveira and John Santiago) hope to be better than UNC’s one (Trae Riek).
Pick: North Dakota
No. 17 Youngstown State (6-2, 4-1 Missouri Valley) at No. 1 North Dakota State (7-1, 4-1), 3:30 p.m.
Uh oh, it’s November – a month that hasn’t been kind to Youngstown State (3-8 the past three seasons) as it’s tried to end a playoff drought stretching to 2006. Even if the Penguins fall to NDSU, they figure to beat Southern Illinois and Missouri State and make it to the postseason.
Pick: North Dakota State
No. 6 James Madison (7-1, 5-0 CAA) at No. 5 Richmond (7-1, 4-1), 3:30 p.m.
The Dukes better hope they saved some points for Richmond after scoring 84 against Rhode Island last week. Spiders quarterback Kyle Lauletta is the national name among CAA quarterbacks, but the Dukes’ ever-improving Bryan Schor earned three conference offensive player of the week awards in October.
Pick: James Madison
No. 16 Central Arkansas (7-1, 6-0 Southland) at Stephen F. Austin (4-4, 3-3), 3:30 p.m.
Is it too much to ask for UCA and Sam Houston State to go into their Nov. 19 matchup with 8-0 Southland records? The Bears' defense is getting better, allowing only one touchdown (the other one occurred on a punt return) in their last three games.
Pick: Central Arkansas
McNeese (5-4, 4-3 Southland) at No. 4 Sam Houston State (8-0, 6-0), 7 p.m.
The Bearkats’ FCS-high 592 yards and 54.1 points per game would be Southland single-season records. But quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe (34 touchdown passes) and the fast-break offense are facing McNeese’s second-ranked defense in the conference.
Pick: Sam Houston State
No. 2 Eastern Washington (7-1, 5-0 Big Sky) at No. 11 Cal Poly (6-2, 4-1), 9:05 p.m.
Eastern Washington’s No. 1 passing offense in the FCS (437.5 ypg) meets Cal Poly’s No. 1 rushing offense (370.3). The Eagles have soared against every defense, but games tend to get a little wacky on a Saturday night in San Luis Obispo.
Pick: Cal Poly
— 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 North Dakota State University Athletics)