Here’s the shameless cross-promotion of the week (oh, but it must be the kind the big bosses love):
Amid all the upsets, surprise teams and parity, the top of this week’s Athlon FCS Power Poll still looks quite similar to the preseason Top 25 — give or take a New Hampshire. Six of the top seven teams this week were ranked in the top eight heading into the campaign.
But in a wacky FCS, at least one of the top teams figures to be staggered over the final five weeks of the regular season. There’s just too many key conference games remaining, including some this week.
Here are the FCS games of the week:
Note: All times ET
Saturday, Oct. 20
Campbell (5-1, 0-0 Big South) at Monmouth (4-2, 0-0), 1 p.m.
Dual-threat quarterback Daniel Smith and Campbell have dominated a lesser schedule, so Saturday’s first-ever Big South game is a step up. Monmouth returned 16 starters from its first FCS playoff team, and one of them, NFL prospect Reggie White Jr., is three receptions shy of the all-time Big South record after recently setting the Hawks’ career marks for receptions and receiving yards.
No. 25 ETSU (6-1, 4-0 Southern) at No. 13 Wofford (4-2, 3-1), 1:30 p.m.
Like Campbell, SoCon leader ETSU is an upstart team (five straight wins) that has to prove it can handle an increase in opponents in the final month of the season. Linebacker Dylan Weigel and Blake Bockrath were part of a strong defensive effort against The Citadel’s triple-option offense. The Bucs seek a similar effort against Wofford’s conference-leading rushing attack.
The Citadel (1-4, 1-3 Southern) at VMI (0-6, 0-5), 1:30 p.m.
The polar opposite of ETSU-Wofford in the SoCon standings is VMI and The Citadel. But with the “Military Classic of the South,” which matches two respected military academies, American pride far outweighs the team records. The Citadel rushes the ball on average 62 times a game, while VMI attempts 58 passes a game.
Pick: The Citadel
Dartmouth (5-0, 2-0 Ivy) at Columbia (3-2, 0-2), 1:30 p.m.
Defensively strong Dartmouth is in the same situation as a year ago, off to a 5-0 start and putting its unbeaten record on the line against Columbia. Dartmouth fell in that matchup and the two teams ultimately tied for second place behind Yale. The Big Green lead the all-time series by a whopping 68-19-1.
No. 5 Jacksonville State (5-1, 4-0 Ohio Valley) at Southeast Missouri (4-2, 2-1), 2 p.m.
The host Redhawks already had the OVC’s best running back in Marquis Terry, but their offense is much improved by the play of quarterback Daniel Santacaterina, a transfer from Northern Illinois. The dynamic duo takes on a Jacksonville State defense that’s anchored by tackle Randy Robinson and safety Marlon Bridges and ranks second in the FCS in yards allowed per game (the last two opponents were held to less than a yard per carry). The Gamecocks have won 36 straight OVC games since 2013.
Pick: Jacksonville State
Grambling State (3-3, 2-1 SWAC) at Alcorn State (5-2, 3-1), 3 p.m.
Southern’s win over Prairie View A&M last weekend has Grambling back in serious contention for a fourth straight SWAC West Division title. That Geremy Hickbottom has settled the quarterback position also has factored in a lot. Four straight division titles? Hey, Alcorn is going for five in a row in the East.
Pick: Alcorn State
No. 6 Illinois State (5-1, 2-1 Missouri Valley) at No. 1 North Dakota State (6-0, 3-0), 3:30 p.m.
This is a tougher road assignment for Illinois State than its FBS win at Colorado State. To pull an upset at the Fargodome, the Redbirds have to run the ball well with James Robinson and win the turnover battle — they’re plus-nine, but North Dakota State is one better. There’s not a lot of shortcomings with the FCS champion Bison, but quarterback Easton Stick needs to find a second receiving option after Darrius Shepherd.
Pick: Illinois State (yes, we know we're probably wrong)
North Carolina A&T (5-2, 2-1 MEAC) at Bethune-Cookman (4-3, 2-1), 4 p.m.
The talk of North Carolina A&T posting a second straight 12-0 season has vanished — the Aggies are now playing for their postseason lives, and it could be for the FCS playoffs instead of the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl. It’s puzzling how the Aggies’ offense is ranked 94th in the FCS, down 70 spots from last season. Bethune-Cookman has won its last seven home games.
Pick: North Carolina A&T
No. 2 South Dakota State (4-1, 2-1 Missouri Valley) at No. 15 Northern Iowa (3-3, 2-1), 5 p.m.
There’s a logjam in the Missouri Valley behind North Dakota State with five teams sporting 2-1 conference records. UNI has defeated a top-10 team in three straight seasons, including South Dakota State in Brookings last season. The Panthers will seek to run the ball and keep Jackrabbits signal-caller Taryn Christion off the field.
Pick: Northern Iowa
No. 21 Montana State (4-2, 2-1 Big Sky) at No. 12 Weber State (4-2, 2-1), 6 p.m.
Montana State features quarterback Troy Andersen, the 2017 Big Sky freshman of the year. This year’s award will likely go to Weber State running back Josh Davis, who’s fourth in the FCS in all-purpose yards per game (168.6). In a crowded conference, the loser of this game may find it hard to make the playoffs.
Pick: Weber State
No. 11 McNeese (5-1, 4-0 Southland) at UIW (3-3, 3-1), 7 p.m.
During its bye, McNeese gained sole possession of first place in the Southland because UIW lost to Lamar with a game-ending touchdown off a blocked field-goal attempt. The Cardinals’ last two opponents have slowed down their game-breaking running back Ra’Quanne Dickens, and he will have trouble against McNeese’s DWA (Defense With Attitude), which is fourth nationally against the run.
Last Week’s Record: 7-4 (.636)
Season Record: 48-26 (.649)
— 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 Athletics)