Figuring out what LaVar Ball’s next statement will be would be easier than sweeping the picks in this week’s best FCS games.
The schedule is the most competitive of the season, where picking either team in a game feels, well, wrong.
There’s even a game involving two teams ranked in the Athlon Sports FCS Power Poll — Illinois State at Youngstown State — that didn’t make the cut among the best of the week.
Keep your antacids handy.
Here are the Week 9 games of the week:
Note: All times ET
Saturday, Oct. 28
Columbia (6-0, 3-0 Ivy) at Yale (5-1, 2-1), 1 p.m.
Lost in the excitement of Columbia’s incredible turnaround is what’s happening in New Haven, Conn. A lack of a consistent run game hasn’t hurt the Lions yet, but to reach 7-0 for the first time since 1932, the Lions will need quarterback Anders Hill to come up big again to solve Yale’s veteran defense.
No. 7 South Dakota State (5-2, 2-2 Missouri Valley) at No. 8 Western Illinois (5-2, 2-2), 2 p.m.
SDSU senior tight end Dallas Goedert, considered the likely first FCS player to go in the 2018 NFL Draft, has been heating up recently, but the Jackrabbits will be playing for their playoff lives if they don’t win at Western Illinois. They face North Dakota State, Illinois State and South Dakota in November.
Pick: South Dakota State
No. 22 Stony Brook (5-2, 4-1 CAA) at No. 23 Richmond (4-3, 2-2), 3 p.m.
Richmond is another preseason top-10 team that has a rugged schedule remaining with little margin for error regarding the playoffs. There’s no doubt Stony Brook will attack with running backs Stacey Bedell and Donald Liotine. The three teams that have beaten the Spiders have averaged 309.3 rushing yards (on 6.2 yards per carry).
Pick: Stony Brook
New Hampshire (5-2, 3-1 CAA) at No. 1 James Madison (7-0, 4-0), 3:30 p.m.
James Madison won two meetings last season, the second time in the second round of the playoffs. The Dukes rank in the top 10 nationally in 16 statistical categories, including No. 1 in red-zone defense (62.5 percent) and pass efficiency defense (70.83 rating).
Pick: James Madison
No. 13 Northern Iowa (4-3, 3-1 Missouri Valley) at No. 2 North Dakota State (7-0, 4-0), 3:30 p.m.
Former NDSU All-America cornerback Marcus Williams said this rivalry always felt like the national championship game. It doesn’t carry the same buzz this season because of UNI’s slow start to the season, but maybe it should because the surging Panthers are seeking a third straight MVFC win over a top-10 team. A win by the Bison would give them 100 since the start of the 2010 season.
Pick: North Dakota State
No. 9 Elon (6-1, 4-0 CAA) at No. 17 Villanova (4-3, 2-2), 3:30 p.m.
Elon first-year defensive coordinator Tony Trisciani has basically implemented the system he learned the last five seasons on Villanova’s staff. The host Wildcats are going to have to win with defense because they’ve turned the offense over to freshman quarterback Kyle McCloskey, their third different starter this season.
Furman (5-3, 4-1 Southern) at No. 15 Western Carolina (6-2, 4-1), 3:30 p.m.
Furman’s three season-opening losses came against teams that are each currently 6-1, so the Paladins might be playing themselves into a playoff bid under first-year head coach Clay Hendrix. Western Carolina is 3-0 without all-purpose threat Detrez Newsome (shoulder injury), but it would be on borrowed time without him. He’s due back this week.
Pick: Western Carolina
No. 19 Montana (5-2, 3-1 Big Sky) at Weber State (5-2, 3-1), 4 p.m.
While the Big Sky is rebounding nicely this month after a rough September, this might be a playoff elimination game. Coming off a bye, Montana had an extra week of preparation for a Weber State defense that has surrendered only four touchdowns in the Wildcats’ five wins.
Monmouth (6-1, 1-0 Big South) at Charleston Southern (4-3, 1-0), 6 p.m.
Charleston Southern has been built around its defense in two straight Big South championship seasons, but even defensive player of the year Anthony Ellis will have a hard time containing the youth and speed of Monmouth freshman running backs Pete Guerriero and Erik Zokouri.
Pick: Charleston Southern
No. 22 McNeese (6-1, 4-1 Southland) at No. 5 Central Arkansas (6-1, 5-0), 7 p.m.
It’s safe to say McNeese won’t score four times off interceptions like last week, but in their last four Southland games, the Cowboys’ defense has allowed only one touchdown. While McNeese’s James Tabary vs. UCA’s Hayden Hildebrand is a terrific matchup of quarterbacks, who owns the run game might be most important.
Pick: Central Arkansas
No. 6 Sam Houston State (6-1, 4-1 Southland) at Southeastern Louisiana (5-3, 5-1), 8 p.m.
Oops, Southeastern Louisiana enters with the better conference record and the Lions (No. 2 in the FCS in rushing yards per game) should be strong against the suspect Sam Houston defense. The Bearkats and quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe are getting used to tight games in the fourth quarter after breezing through last year’s schedule.
Pick: Sam Houston State
Last Week’s Record: 7-4 (.636)
Season Record: 67-28 (.705)
— 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 Montana Athletics)