The conference season is so good that even the elite teams are on alert
The teams near the top of the AthlonSports FCS Power Poll have been anchored there quite a bit since the preseason.
But they better not get caught hanging in the tailgaters lot, the drag-‘em-out conference schedule brings in opponents that aren’t intimidated.
There are some doozy matchups – perhaps some upsets – ahead.
Here are the Week 5 FCS games of the week:
Note: All times ET
Saturday, Sept. 30
San Diego (2-2, 1-0 Pioneer) at Dayton (1-3, 0-1), noon
This has come to be the game in the Pioneer Football League, but this year’s matchup took a hit when Dayton was upset at Morehead State last weekend. The host Flyers still don't have quarterback Alex Jeske back from a foot injury, which hurts against the league’s top signal-caller, San Diego’s Anthony Lawrence.
No. 19 Albany (3-1, 1-0 CAA) at No. 21 Elon (3-1, 1-0), 2 p.m.
Elon running back Malcolm Summers has carried the ball a whopping 70 times (for 372 yards) in the Phoenix’s back-to-back wins over Top 25 opponents. They’ll go for a third in a row, but Albany’s been stout against the run, allowing only 2.6 yard per carry and 71.5 rushing yards per game.
No. 18 The Citadel (3-0, 1-0 SoCon) at No. 24 Samford (2-2, 0-1), 3 p.m.
The discipline of a military academy rubs off on opponents, too. There’s been only 16 penalties in The Citadel’s three games. Standout safety Kailik Williams and the Bulldogs' defense must be disciplined against Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges, who’s coming off a school-record 516 passing yards.
Pick: The Citadel
No. 1 James Madison (4-0, 1-0 CAA) at Delaware (2-1, 0-0), 3:30 p.m.
If the host Blue Hens could pick only one win between 2016 FCS champion James Madison or first-year head coach Danny Rocco’s former program, Richmond, they’d pick the beating the Dukes, right? They’ve had two weeks to prepare for the champs.
Pick: James Madison
No. 22 Weber State (3-1, 1-0 Big Sky) at Montana State (1-2, 1-0), 3:30 p.m.
Weber State ranks No. 1 in the Big Sky in scoring defense (15 ppg) and total defense (292.8 ypg), but Montana State dual-threat quarterback Chris Murray has been unstoppable in the Bobcats’ recent games against South Dakota State and North Dakota.
Pick: Montana State
No. 7 South Dakota (3-0, 0-0 Missouri Valley) at No. 9 Western Illinois (3-0, 0-0), 4 p.m.
Both teams have beaten FBS opponents (USD over Bowling Green and WIU over Coastal Carolina). South Dakota has jumped on opponents by a combined 66-3 in the first quarter, but the Leathernecks have done similar damage after making halftime adjustments – a 59-6 advantage in the third quarter.
Pick: Western Illinois
No. 20 North Carolina A&T (4-0, 1-0 MEAC) at South Carolina State (1-2, 0-1), 6 p.m.
In his first four career games, A&T redshirt freshman Franklin McCain III has five interceptions that have gone for 274 return yards and three touchdowns. The host Bulldogs may still be emotionally spent from a fourth-quarter meltdown against North Carolina Central.
Pick: North Carolina A&T
Western Carolina (3-1, 1-0 SoCon) at Chattanooga (1-3, 1-0), 6 p.m.
Chattanooga quarterback Alejandro Bennifield is eligible again after a four-game academic suspension. He matches the dual-threat skill set of Western Carolina’s Tyrie Adams, the reigning Southern Conference offensive player of the week.
No. 4 Sam Houston State (3-0, 1-0 Southland) at No. 10 Central Arkansas (2-1, 1-0), 7 p.m.
Sam Houston rolled to a blowout win in last year’s meeting of 8-0 conference teams. While UCA has two weeks to prepare for this year’s early showdown, the Bearkats were ultra impressive in a 66-17 win over Nicholls last weekend.
Pick: Sam Houston State
Eastern Illinois (2-2, 1-0 OVC) at No. 25 Tennessee State (3-1, 0-1), 7 p.m.
Playing at home for the first time, the Tigers seek to end a five-game losing streak against Eastern Illinois, including 35-34 last year. The Panthers will find it tough to run the ball against a TSU defense that’s ranked 12th nationally in rushing defense (75.5 ypg).
Pick: Tennessee State
No. 3 South Dakota State (3-0, 0-0 Missouri Valley) at No. 6 Youngstown State (2-1, 0-0), 7 p.m.
The calendar is right for Youngstown State, which has won 20 straight and 30 of its last 31 home games in September, but the calendar has never met SDSU’s triumvirate of quarterback Taryn Christion, tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Jake Wieneke.
Pick: South Dakota State
McNeese (3-1, 1-1 Southland) at Stephen F. Austin (2-2, 2-0), 7 p.m.
The big Southland game is Sam Houston-Central Arkansas, but SFA sits atop the standings and McNeese owns the most consecutive winning seasons (12) among conference teams.
Last Week’s Record: 9-3 (.750)
Season Record: 42-8 (.840)
— 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 South Dakota State University Athletics)