Important conference games have taken center stage in the FCS
The conference season is in full bloom, making it the best time of the year.
Until, of course, we say that about another time of the year. Honestly, just three more times.
But the best games in college football are usually within the conferences, when a good backyard brawl has more bite than a presidential debate.
The FCS powers are building playoff resumes in October, with the best still ahead.
Related: FCS Rankings: Power Poll for Week 6
Here are the FCS games of the week:
Note: All times ET
Saturday, Oct. 8
Cornell (3-0, 1-0 Ivy) at No. 25 Harvard (3-0, 1-0), 1 p.m.
Cornell has already matched the winningest campaign of head coach David Archer’s first three seasons, highlighted by a rally past Colgate last Saturday. But during the fall in the Ivy League, Crimson is the color over (Big) Red.
Colgate (1-3, 0-0 Patriot) at Lehigh (3-2, 0-0), 12:30 p.m.
An at-large playoff bid is out of the question for Colgate, which is going to have to repeat as Patriot League champion to get back to the postseason. The Raiders are reeling, while Lehigh’s offense (51.3 points per game the last three weeks) is soaring no matter if the quarterback is Nick Shafnisky or Brad Mayes. Shafnisky is due back this week.
Tennessee Tech (2-3, 2-1 OVC) at No. 3 Jacksonville State (3-1, 0-0), 2 p.m.
The visiting Golden Eagles have given up the most sacks in the Ohio Valley Conference and Jacksonville State junior Darius Jackson needs only a half sack to match the school’s all-time record. Hmmm...
Pick: Jacksonville State
No. 16 Youngstown State (3-1, 1-0 Missouri Valley) at No. 21 Illinois State (2-3, 0-2), 3 p.m.
This may be the crossroads game of the season in the Missouri Valley Conference, with Youngstown State pointing toward a playoff bid under head coach Bo Pelini and Illinois State trying to avoid the sky falling on Hancock Stadium.
Pick: Youngstown State
No. 12 Northern Iowa (2-2, 1-0 Missouri Valley) at South Dakota (1-3, 0-1), 3 p.m.
A big game? Well, USD has played better than its record indicates and the Coyotes always play better at their DakotaDome. But if UNI quarterback Aaron Bailey and running back Tyvis Smith are going to have 100-yard games together, this is the one.
Pick: Northern Iowa
No. 7 Richmond (4-1, 1-1 CAA) at No. 20 Albany (4-0, 1-0), 3:30 p.m.
Albany, behind star running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, has had time to rest up for the biggest game since the Great Danes entered CAA Football. The Spiders, who have the pedigree, will want to force Albany to pass the ball. It worked last year when safety David Jones had four interceptions.
William & Mary (2-3, 0-2 CAA) at No. 6 James Madison (4-1, 2-0), 3:30 p.m.
It’s a last gasp for the visiting Tribe, who aren’t the same team that shared the CAA title with JMU and Richmond last season. It’s one thing that the Dukes have the best 1-2 rushing duo in the FCS in Khalid Abdullah and Cardon Johnson, but when quarterback Bryan Schor is superb, that’s a lethal offense.
Pick: James Madison
Mercer (2-2, 1-1 Southern) at No. 5 Chattanooga (5-0, 3-0), 4 p.m.
Chattanooga has lost one time in its last 17 Southern Conference games: 17-14 at Mercer last November. The Mocs, who are No. 1 in the FCS in scoring defense (8.4 ppg) and total defense (202.8 ypg), surely haven’t forgotten.
Northern Colorado (3-1, 1-0 Big Sky) at No. 2 Eastern Washington (4-1, 2-0), 4:05 p.m.
At the rate they’re going, the Eagles will go down as being one of the greatest passing offenses in FCS history. But they’re more focused on getting the Big Sky title back after their three-year run ended last season.
Pick: Eastern Washington
Tennessee State (4-0, 1-0 OVC) at No. 23 Eastern Illinois (3-2, 1-1), 7 p.m.
The visiting Tigers are one of only eight unbeaten teams in the FCS. Both teams have had injuries to their season-opening quarterbacks, with TSU going from O’Shay Ackerman-Carter to Ronald Butler and EIU switching from Mitch Kimble to Austin Green.
Pick: Eastern Illinois
No. 18 McNeese (3-2, 2-1 Southland) at Southeastern Louisiana (1-3, 1-1), 7 p.m.
With its DWA (Defense With Attitude) roaring back last weekend, head coach Lance Guidry’s Cowboys looked more like the defending Southland champions.
Portland State (2-3, 1-1 Big Sky) at Weber State (2-2, 1-0), 8 p.m.
It’s basically a must-have game for both teams if the playoffs are in the future. The Vikings’ run game (quarterback Alex Kuresa and running backs Nate Tago and Paris Penn) may be too deep for the Wildcats.
Pick: Portland State
— 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 University of Albany Athletics)