The early samplers of conference play have been scintillating in the FCS.
The lower-ranked team in the CAA Football preseason poll has won each of the first four conference games. Mercer upset Samford in the Southern Conference. The Southland Conference has had some stellar matchups.
Even Jacksonville State lost in the Ohio Valley Conference (hah, just making sure you know fake news when you see it).
But the conference season takes off this week in the FCS, and the results will get even wilder.
Here are the FCS games of the week:
Note: All times ET
Saturday, Sept. 22
Davidson (3-0, 0-0 Pioneer) at Dayton (1-2, 0-0), 1 p.m.
The last time we saw Davidson, or at least heard the offense pass by, it was averaging 15.5 yards per play while scoring 91 points and setting NCAA records for total yards (964) and rushing yards (685) in a game. But that was against Division III Guilford – the Wildcats’ third straight sub-FCS opponent. Dayton is the most successful program in Pioneer Football League history.
Delaware (2-1) at No. 1 North Dakota State (2-0), 2 p.m.
Senior Cam Pedersen’s next extra point will be the 192nd of his career and become North Dakota State’s new school record. Delaware, on the other hand, will find it much harder to reach the end zone in this first-time meeting. The Bison’s first-team defense has surrendered only a field goal.
Pick: North Dakota State
No. 8 Maine (2-0) at Central Michigan (0-3), 3 p.m.
Head coach Joe Harasymiak’s Black Bears are rested up from a bye and seeking to become the first FCS team to beat two FBS programs in the same season since Portland State in 2015. The Black Bears’ 12 sacks have lowered their opponents’ rushing average to 0.4 yards per carry.
Sacramento State (2-1, 0-0 Big Sky) at Montana (2-1, 0-0) 3 p.m.
The host Grizzlies have won the last 17 meetings and are 19-1 in the series, but Sacramento State dual-threat quarterback Kevin Thomson poses a tough assignment (he redshirted at UNLV in Montana head coach Bobby Hauck’s final season there in 2014). The Griz have an excellent defensive line and linebacker Dante Olson has been filling the box score, including 40 tackles through three games.
William & Mary (1-1, 0-0 CAA) at No. 2 James Madison (2-1, 0-0), 3:30 p.m.
It’s an intrastate rivalry game, but the host Dukes shouldn’t have much trouble in its CAA opener. Still, emotions will be high as W&M’s Jimmye Laycock, in his 39th and final season, coaches in the game for the final time. Tribe quarterback Shon Mitchell offers promise for the future.
Pick: James Madison
Sam Houston State (1-1, 0-0 Southland) at Nicholls (1-2, 0-1), 4 p.m.
Sam Houston State led the FCS in total offense in each of the last three seasons, but rank – gulp – 88th this season at 322 yards per game (and against two FCS opponents). Nicholls’ offense also has dried up since a season-opening upset of Kansas. The loser of this early-season showdown is going to need help in the conference race.
Pick: Sam Houston State
Monmouth (2-1) at Princeton (1-0), 4:30 p.m.
Separated by fewer than 60 miles in New Jersey, Monmouth and Princeton are meeting for the first time. The outdoor track is adjacent to Princeton Stadium, but it will seem like it’s been moved inside it for 60 minutes. Tigers quarterback John Lovett is the most fascinating of all the offensive standouts.
Howard (0-2, 0-0 MEAC) at Bethune-Cookman (1-2, 0-0) in Indianapolis, 4:30 p.m.
Meeting at Lucas Oil Stadium, the two teams that tied for second place in the MEAC last year can’t afford to fall behind streaking North Carolina A&T, which hasn’t lost since, oh, 2016. The two quarterbacks, Howard’s Caylin Newton and Bethune’s Arkevious Williams square off in a terrific individual matchup.
Richmond (2-1, 0-0 CAA) at Stony Brook (2-1, 0-0), 6 p.m.
Who’s for real and who isn’t in CAA Football? This could decide a lot for both teams. Richmond’s wide receiver trio of Dejon Brissett, Cortrelle Simpson and Tyler Wilkins will try to spread out Stony Brook’s always-strong defense.
Samford (1-2, 0-1 Southern) at Chattanooga (3-0, 1-0), 7 p.m.
After getting upset by Mercer, Samford and All-America quarterback Devlin Hodges are playing for their SoCon and playoff lives. Chattanooga, with quarterback Nick Tiano and wide receiver Bryce Nunnelly connecting at a blistering pace, has already matched its 2017 win total.
Idaho (1-1, 0-0 Big Sky) at UC Davis (2-1, 0-0), 7 p.m.
It’s been hard to get a gauge on Idaho considering it’s been blown out by Fresno State and blown out a Division II opponent (Western New Mexico). But the Vandals’ first Big Sky game since 1995 will be telling. They know to cover UC Davis wide receiver Keelan Doss. He was targeted by Aggies quarterbacks 25 times at Stanford last week.
Pick: UC Davis
— 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 Delaware Athletics)