With so many top teams, the Missouri Valley, CAA and Big Sky roll out one big game after another on a weekly basis.
If the FCS is the little brother to the FBS, then conferences such as the MEAC, Northeast, Pioneer and SWAC are the smaller versions of the power FCS conferences. But this is their week, too, with big games going a long way toward potential FCS playoff and Celebration Bowl bids.
Here are the FCS games of the week:
Note: All times ET
Saturday, Oct. 13
No. 21 Maine (3-2, 2-0 CAA) at No. 15 Rhode Island (4-1, 2-0), noon
Maine appears to be contractually obligated to play only important games this season. The Black Bears have had plenty, with this one a surprising first-place showdown in the CAA. Their No. 1-ranked defense in the conference, led by linebacker Sterling Sheffield, will be tested by the passing rhythm that URI quarterback JaJuan Lawson (expected back from a knee injury) has with Isaiah Coulter and Aaron Parker.
Pick: Rhode Island
Central Connecticut State (3-3, 1-0 Northeast) at Bryant (4-1, 2-0), 1 p.m.
The first thought with Bryant is usually the fast-paced offense of second-year head coach James Perry, but the defense features two ferocious players in defensive end Tomas Wright and linebacker Tom Costigan, the reigning NEC defensive player of the week. CCSU, the defending conference champ, will try to play ball control with running back Drew Jean-Guillaume, the reigning offensive player of the week.
Florida A&M (4-2, 3-0 MEAC) at No. 14 North Carolina A&T (5-1, 2-0), 1 p.m.
Florida A&M, located in Tallahassee, faced the wrath of Hurricane Michael on Wednesday, so the Aggies' focus has been elsewhere. North Carolina A&T’s surprising loss to Morgan State last month did not count toward the MEAC standings, so a win here could put the Aggies in the driver’s seat once again. Their quarterback, 2017 MEAC offensive player of the year Lamar Raynard, has gotten hot over the last two games, but FAMU’s Ryan Stanley has been excellent all season.
Pick: North Carolina A&T
No. 7 Wofford (4-1, 3-0 Southern) at Furman (1-3, 1-1), 1 p.m.
Furman is trying to do the seemingly impossible: Start 0-3 and make the FCS playoffs... for the second straight year! The Paladins outlasted Western Carolina two weeks ago and have enjoyed an extra week of preparation for defending SoCon champ Wofford. They’ll need to get the ball away from a Terriers rushing attack, led by quarterback Joe Newman and fullback Andre Stoddard, that is a yard shy of being No. 1 in the FCS.
No. 5 James Madison (4-2, 2-1 CAA) at Villanova (3-3, 0-3), 1 p.m.
This was supposed to be the game in which the three-time defending Dukes’ CAA winning streak came to an end — but Elon stopped it at 20 last week. Villanova still can’t shake the injuries, including to quarterback Zach Bednarczyk’s throwing shoulder, and has fallen under an avalanche of strong teams on the conference schedule. It needs to win this game in the worst way.
Pick: James Madison
No. 19 Montana (4-2, 2-1 Big Sky) at North Dakota (3-2), 2 p.m.
Montana’s stunning loss to Portland State last week heightens the need to win inside the Alerus Center. If the Griz fall again, their rabid fan base will be reaching for the panic button throughout the team’s bye next week. UND’s physical offense will pound the run with its three capable backs, but they’ll want to run away from Griz linebacker Dante Olson, who has an FCS-high 98 tackles in six games.
Pick: North Dakota
Alcorn State (4-2, 2-1 SWAC) at Alabama A&M (3-3, 2-1), 3 p.m.
Alabama A&M isn’t in the business of thanking rival Alabama State, but the Aggies are playing for sole possession of first place in the SWAC’s East Division because of the Hornets’ five-overtime win at Alcorn State last week. Alcorn, which has won the last four divisional titles, must shake off the cobwebs, especially usually reliable kicker Corey McCullough, who had the roughest day of all.
Pick: Alcorn State
No. 4 Elon (4-1, 2-0 CAA) at Delaware (3-2, 1-1), 3:30 p.m.
Elon takes down James Madison and the reward is a trip to Delaware? Such is life in the CAA. The Phoenix don’t beat themselves and conference rushing leader Malcolm Summers helps them to control the game clock. To end their seven-year playoff drought, the Blue Hens are going to have to upset at least one conference foe. Here’s their opportunity.
Dayton (3-3, 2-1 Pioneer) at San Diego (3-2, 2-0), 5 p.m.
The quarterback whom Dayton freshman Jack Cook has replaced — the injured Alex Jeske — was at the controls for the Flyers the last time San Diego lost to a PFL opponent, 13-12 in 2015. Not only are the visitors going after USD’s 21-game conference winning streak, but the Toreros have won 18 in a row at home. They feature the league’s top QB, Anthony Lawrence, who has passed for 892 yards and nine touchdowns in the Toreros’ two conference wins.
Pick: San Diego
No. 2 Eastern Washington (5-1, 3-0 Big Sky) at No. 17 Weber State (3-2, 1-1), 6 p.m.
This would be everybody’s game of the week if Weber State hadn’t lost to Northern Arizona last week. Now it’s almost a must-win for last year’s Big Sky co-champ, which has a brutally tough schedule ahead. The Wildcats' offense has converted a mere 18 percent of third downs. The last thing they want to do is keep putting the Eastern Washington offense back on the field, even if it’s led again by quarterback Eric Barriere with Gage Gubrud hobbled by a foot injury.
Pick: Eastern Washington
Idaho State (4-1, 2-0 Big Sky) at No. 9 UC Davis (4-1, 2-0), 7 p.m.
Idaho State was averaging more rushing yards than passing yards until a week ago, when quarterback Tanner Gueller went off for, oh, 492 yards and eight touchdown passes. But he won’t necessarily be the best QB on the field with UC Davis boasting Jake Maier. Both teams are in the top 10 in the FCS in turnover margin.
Pick: UC Davis
Last Week’s Record: 7-3 (.700)
Season Record: 41-22 (.650)
— 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 University of San Diego Athletics)