Much of the Missouri Valley Football Conference that’s lined up behind North Dakota State is taking the week off to catch their breath before the conference schedule heats up.
Related: FCS Power Poll for Week 4
Guess what? There are plenty of good matchups across the FCS, led by games in the Big Sky Conference. In fact, the schedule is strong enough that we didn’t limit the games of the week to 10. We went 11, and it was hard to keep it to that.
Here are the FCS games of the week:
Note: All times ET
Saturday, Sept. 24
No. 11 James Madison (2-1, 0-0 CAA) at Maine (0-2, 0-0), noon
Maine is still seeking a first win for the youngest head coach in Division I, 30-year-old Joe Harasymiak, but the Black Bears have prepped well for JMU with two FBS matchups and a bye. The visiting Dukes simply have too much firepower as these CAA programs meet for the first time in four years.
The Pick: James Madison
Harvard (1-0, 0-0 Ivy) at Brown (1-0, 0-0), 2 p.m.
With a Brown upset of the three-time defending champion Crimson, the Ivy League race would get off to a rockin’ start. The defenses will be hard-pressed to stop Harvard tight end Anthony Firkser and wide receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley and Brown wide receivers Alex Jette and Troy Doles.
The Pick: Harvard
Samford (2-0, 0-0 Southern) at No. 6 Chattanooga (3-0, 1-0), 2 p.m.
This Southern Conference showdown pits the FCS’ No. 1 scoring offense (Samford at 56 ppg) against the No. 1 scoring defense (Chattanooga at 4.7 ppg). The three-time defending champion Mocs will use their running game to dictate tempo.
The Pick: Chattanooga
No. 15 Illinois State (2-1, 0-0 Missouri Valley) at Indiana State (2-1, 0-0), 3 p.m.
Despite a number of new faces, the Redbirds are getting it done on defense, allowing only 223.3 yards per game. They face a tough challenge in Indiana State quarterback Isaac Harker, who’s coming off MVFC offensive player of the week honors.
The Pick: Illinois State
No. 5 Montana (2-0, 0-0 Big Sky) at Cal Poly (2-1, 0-0), 3:05 p.m.
The Griz did the right thing to take a week off before facing Cal Poly. The host Mustangs have won the last two years and split the last six meetings. South Dakota State can confirm that fullback Joe Protheroe (217 yards last week) is leading the top-ranked rushing attack in the FCS.
The Pick: Montana
No. 10 Western Illinois (2-0) at Northern Illinois (0-3), 3:30 p.m.
WIU is deep enough that quarterback Trenton Norvell, a three-year starter who was injured last November, didn’t even win his job back from sophomore Sean McGuire. Three MVFC teams have beaten FBS programs this season.
The Pick: Northern Illinois
No. 22 Colgate (1-1) at No. 9 Richmond (2-1), 3:30 p.m.
After getting crushed by Stony Brook last week, the host Spiders need to freshen their breath with Colgate. But the veteran Raiders went on the road in the FCS playoffs last year and beat two other CAA Football teams, New Hampshire and James Madison.
The Pick: Colgate
No. 4 Jacksonville State (2-1) at Liberty (1-2), 7 p.m.
Social media would be buzzing if the pick here was Liberty. All-America quarterback Eli Jenkins even mentioned the Gamecocks weren’t the Athlon pick after the Gamecocks held off Coastal Carolina, 27-26, last Saturday.
The Pick: Jacksonville State
No. 2 Eastern Washington (2-1, 0-0 Big Sky) at No. 23 Northern Arizona (1-2, 0-0), 7 p.m.
First one to 50 may not even win this track meet. Looking at schedules in the preseason, this Big Sky opener appeared to be one EWU would need more, but NAU, the conference’s preseason favorite, has its back against the wall.
The Pick: Northern Arizona
Alcorn State (1-1, 1-1 SWAC) at Grambling State (2-1, 1-1), 7 p.m.
A rematch of last year’s SWAC Championship Game surely had Alcorn State looking ahead last week, when the Braves were stunned by struggling Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Ole Miss transfer QB DeVante Kincade is answering the hype at Grambling.
The Pick: Grambling State
Dayton (2-1, 0-0 Pioneer) at San Diego (1-1, 0-0), 7 p.m.
These two teams tied for the Pioneer Football League title last season and Dayton went to the playoffs because of a one-point win in their regular-season meeting. The Toreros haven’t forgotten.
The Pick: San Diego
Portland State (1-2, 0-0 Big Sky) at Southern Utah (1-1, 0-0), 8 p.m.
Neither team appears close to the level of last season, when Southern Utah won the Big Sky title and Portland State tied for second place in a magical year under head coach Bruce Barnum. The Thunderbirds still shine on defense despite losing some NFL talents.
The Pick: Southern Utah
— 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 Northern Arizona University Athletics)