All FCS eyes will be on the Fargodome on Saturday, when No. 1 North Dakota State hosts No. 3 South Dakota State in one of the can’t-miss games of the season.
Well, if you do miss it, there’s a reason. The Week 5 schedule in the FCS is filled with outstanding matchups. A few of the games lost some luster because of results last weekend, but it’s still a standout schedule nonetheless.
Here are the FCS games of the week:
Note: All times ET
Friday, Sept. 28
No. 21 Rhode Island (2-1) at Harvard (2-0), 7 p.m.
This regional matchup promises to be a wide-open, back-and-forth barnburner. URI is coming off a bye following a near-miss against UConn and features quarterback JaJuan Lawson (11 total touchdowns in three games). Harvard has plenty in the skill positions, none better than wide receiver/returner Justice Shelton-Mosley.
Pick: Rhode Island
Saturday, Sept. 29
No. 12 Maine (2-1) at Yale (1-1), 1 p.m.
It’s part 2 of the CAA Football-Ivy League weekend, and this will be more defensive-oriented than URI-Harvard. Maine will start freshman quarterback Isaiah Robinson for the injured Chris Ferguson (shoulder). Yale doesn’t appear as strong as last year’s Ivy League championship squad, but it started only one senior in its first two games. A year after Zane Dudek’s arrival, freshman Spencer Alston also is contributing at running back.
No. 4 Eastern Washington (3-1, 1-0 Big Sky) at No. 23 Montana State (3-1, 1-0), 3 p.m.
It’s not surprising to see Eastern Washington lead the Big Sky in total offense (570.8 ypg), but to have more than half of the yards come from the run game has caused some double-takes. The Eagles will think ball control with running backs Sam McPherson and Antoine Custer Jr. just to keep Montana State quarterback Troy Anderson from running up and down the field.
Pick: Eastern Washington
No. 2 James Madison (3-1, 1-0 CAA) at Richmond (2-2, 0-1), 3 p.m.
With a 51-0 demolition of William & Mary last week, James Madison pushed its CAA Football winning streak to 19 games (and 21 against conference foes when including the playoffs). Richmond quarterback Kevin Johnson would be wise to avoid Jimmy Moreland’s side of the field. The senior cornerback holds JMU’s career record with 16 interceptions, and that includes pick-sixes in each of the past two weeks.
Pick: James Madison
No. 3 South Dakota State (2-0, 0-0 Missouri Valley) at No. 1 North Dakota State (3-0, 0-0), 3:30 p.m.
North Dakota State leads 60-42-5 all-time in the 14th-most-played rivalry among current FBS membership, but South Dakota State has won the last two regular-season meetings, and the Dakota Marker trophy that goes with the game. The FCS champion Bison’s first-team defense has basically been impenetrable, but the Jackrabbits’ passing duo of Taryn Christion-to-Cade Johnson has clicked for six touchdowns in two games.
Pick: North Dakota State
Austin Peay (2-2, 0-1 Ohio Valley) at No. 10 Jacksonville State (2-1, 1-0), 4 p.m.
A blowout loss to UT Martin last weekend means Austin Peay has to end Jacksonville State’s 33-game Ohio Valley Conference winning streak or its FCS playoff aspirations will be moved to life support. The host Gamecocks have won each of the last three meetings by 20 points. They needed help in the passing game, and junior wide receiver Josh Pearson is stretching defenses in a breakthrough year.
Pick: Jacksonville State
No. 19 Central Arkansas (2-1, 1-0 Southland) at Sam Houston State (1-2, 0-1), 4 p.m.
After surrendering the longest home winning streak in the FCS two weeks, Sam Houston is trying to avoid consecutive losses at Bowers Stadium for the first time since a three-game home slide wrapped around the 2008 and ’09 seasons. UCA, the defending Southland champ, usually troubles the Bearkats and it’s had two weeks to prepare for this matchup. Bears QB Brevlin Smith has completed more than 72 percent of his passes.
Pick: Central Arkansas
The Citadel (1-2) at No. 25 Towson (2-1), 4 p.m.
The Citadel surely is glad to step out of conference after three straight entertaining, yet emotionally draining games in the Southern Conference. Last week’s 38-31 win at Mercer came courtesy of Rod Johnson’s 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the final minute. There’s never enough time to prepare for a triple option, but at least Towson had two weeks of preparation because of a bye. The best defense will be a strong offense led by quarterback Tom Flacco.
Prairie View A&M (2-3, 1-0 SWAC) vs. Grambling State (1-2, 1-0 SWAC) in Dallas, 5 p.m.
The State Fair Classic at the Cotton Bowl, which drew over 55,000 fans last year, should be raucous. As Prairie View has become a consistent threat in recent years, it has been rebuked regularly by Grambling State (then again, so have most SWAC programs). Last week, conference player of the week Jalen Morton of Prairie View accounted for 511 yards of total offense and six touchdowns in three quarters of action against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, while Grambling linebacker De’Arius Christmas won defensive honors in leading a 34-0 shutout of Alabama State.
Pick: Prairie View A&M
Samford (1-3) at No. 5 Kennesaw State (3-1), 6 p.m.
Samford’s only win was against a Division II opponent and won’t count toward its playoff resume, so nothing short of seven straight wins to end the season will get them there. At least the Southern Conference preseason favorite is used to facing a triple option, including Kennesaw twice last year, but the host Owls have been pointing toward this weekend for a while, so Chandler Burks and Co. should pick apart their reeling opponent.
Pick: Kennesaw State
No. 7 Villanova (3-1, 0-1 CAA) at No. 20 Stony Brook (3-1, 1-0), 6 p.m.
In the ultra-deep CAA, the winner of this game will see its national impression grow considerably. Stony Brook seniors Jordan Gowins and Donald Liotine form the “Long Island Express,” ranking 1-2, respectively, in the conference in rushing. But Villanova is always stingy against the run, this year allowing only 2.6 yards per carry.
No. 18 Chattanooga (4-0, 2-0 Southern) at ETSU (3-1, 2-0), 7:30 p.m.
The new “Rail Rivalry” trophy is at stake, but even more important, the winner will stand alone in first place in the Southern Conference. It’s a big difference from their combined 5-11 conference mark last year. Chattanooga has been taking leads and holding on for wins, while ETSU has won the last two weeks in conference with fourth-quarter comebacks.
— 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 South Dakota State Athletics)