There are some important conference matchups in the third full week of the FCS season this weekend, but the schedule remains full of non-conference and FBS matchups.
The best games of the week include all of the above, plus a season opener as the Ivy League jumps on the wild ride that the rest of the FCS has been spinning around on already.
A handful of games have been affected by the approach of Hurricane Florence.
Here are the FCS games of the week:
Note: All times ET
Saturday, Sept. 15
San Diego (1-1) at Harvard (0-0), noon
As if the travel in the Pioneer Football League isn’t tough enough for the Toreros, they make the 3,000-plus-mile trek across the country to take on a Harvard squad that has the second-best winning percentage (.800) in the FCS this decade even after going 5-5 last season. Tim Murphy opens his 25th season coaching the Crimson.
Mercer (1-1, 0-0 Southern) at No. 8 Samford (1-1, 0-0), 3 p.m.
Mercer’s Kaelan Riley was the Southern Conference’s freshman of the year in 2017, but head coach Bobby Lamb started redshirt freshman Robert Riddle in place of him last week. There’s no questioning who will be behind center with Samford – Devlin Hodges, the FCS leader in passing yards and total offense.
No. 12 Montana (2-0) at Western Illinois (0-2), 4 p.m.
When it comes to an FCS playoff possibility, this is almost do-or-die for Western Illinois because a brutally tough schedule awaits it in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Montana hits the road for the first time this season, getting superb play out of transfer quarterback Dalton Snead.
Pick: Western Illinois
No. 10 Wofford (2-0) at Wyoming (1-2), 4 p.m.
Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl faced Wofford’s triple option in the 2012 FCS playoffs when he was at North Dakota State. The defending Southern Conference champion Terriers begin a stretch of four straight road games under first-year head coach Josh Conklin, a Wyoming native. His squad set a program record with 671 yards of total offense against VMI last week.
Nicholls (1-1, 0-0 Southland) at McNeese (2-0, 1-0), 7 p.m.
Nicholls’ 37-35, season-opening win over McNeese last year was the difference-maker for the third Southland playoff bid after Central Arkansas and Sam Houston State. McNeese has steamed about it ever since, especially because the Cowboys dominated play in the loss. Nicholls can’t afford to be a tired team after playing two straight FBS opponents.
Southeast Missouri State (1-1) at Southern Illinois (1-1), 7 p.m.
Beginning this year, an authentic ship's wheel will go to the winner of a rivalry that began in 1913 between schools separated by the Mississippi River and about 45 miles. The teams used to cross the river by boat, and in one of the early years of the series, SIU's boat sank and players had to swim to shore to play in a game that went on as scheduled. Southeast Missouri holds a 40-37-8 series lead.
Pick: Southern Illinois
North Dakota (1-1) at No. 9 Sam Houston State (1-0), 7 p.m.
Sam Houston has run into trouble against North Dakota State in recent years, so North Dakota offers a better alternative in the first game of a two-year home-and-home series. There won’t be a shortage of electric players on the field with UND running back John Santiago (the active FCS career leader in all-purpose yards) and Sam Houston wide receivers Davion Davis and Nathan Stewart.
Pick: Sam Houston State
No. 4 Eastern Washington (2-0) at Washington State (2-0), 8 p.m.
Washington State have a trip to USC up next, but head coach Mike Leach won’t let the Cougars look beyond Eastern Washington because of what happened in 2016. In his first career start, Eagles quarterback Gage Gubrud racked up a then-school-record 551 yards of total offense and six touchdowns to fuel a 45-42 upset of the Cougars.
Pick: Washington State
South Dakota (1-1) at Weber State (1-1), 8 p.m.
This will be the final game of the Big Sky-Missouri Valley Challenge Series. The Valley holds a 3-2 lead heading into two other games earlier Saturday: Northern Arizona-Missouri State and Montana-Western Illinois. It’s offense (USD) versus defense (Weber State). USD head coach Bob Nielson needs one win to reach 200 in his career (he'd be the 91st coach to reach the milestone).
Pick: South Dakota
Central Arkansas (1-1, 0-0 Southland) at Southeastern Louisiana (0-2, 0-0), 8 p.m.
Each Southland Conference team has a first-year head coach putting his stamp on the program. Defending champ Central Arkansas, under Nathan Brown, will pound the run with backs Carlos Blackman and Kierre Crossley. Southeastern coach Frank Scelfo has gone away from last year’s big rushing attack because Fresno State transfer Chason Virgil has been so solid passing the ball.
Pick: Central Arkansas
— 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 Darren Whitley/South Dakota Athletics)