The 2016 FCS season kicks off with head coaching debuts in the spotlight. Could upsets of FBS programs be close behind?
Head coaching debuts and matchups versus FBS opponents highlight the a full slate of Week 1 action in the FCS.
North Dakota State and Charleston Southern got the season rolling in the FCS Kickoff last weekend. Every team ranked in the Athlon Sports FCS Power Poll except five-time national champ NDSU is in action over the extended Labor Day Weekend.
Here are the games of the week:
Note: All times ET
Thursday, Sept. 1
No. 19 Western Illinois (0-0) at Eastern Illinois (0-0), 7 p.m.
Former Richmond offensive coordinator Charlie Fisher makes his debut as WIU’s head coach, while EIU third-year head coach Kim Dameron remarkably seeks his first non-conference win (0-8). Teams left short of an FCS at-large playoff bid last year complained the most about the WIU and EIU bids. WIU won a playoff game, while EIU was blown out by Northern Iowa.
Pick: Western Illinois
No. 10 The Citadel (0-0, 0-0 Southern) at Mercer (0-0, 0-0), 7 p.m.
After winning a share of the Southern Conference title last year, The Citadel turns to redshirt freshman Jordan Black at quarterback because starter Dominique Allen is suspended for Brent Thompson’s head coaching debut. Mercer is a dark horse in the SoCon, having beaten co-champ Chattanooga at home last season.
Pick: The Citadel
Montana State (0-0) at Idaho (0-0), 9 p.m.
Clearly, it’s an important night of debuts for new FCS head coaches and Jeff Choate tries to begin revitalize Montana State following its first losing season since 2001. Two years from now, this will be a Big Sky Conference game after Idaho drops from the FBS to its old stomping ground.
Friday, Sept. 2
No. 23 Colgate (0-0) at Syracuse (0-0), 7 p.m.
Defending Patriot League champ Colgate is playing only a 10-game schedule — with road trips to Yale and Richmond up next — so the Raiders may want to leave at least a good impression on the Orange. Still, head coach Dan Hunt’s veteran team must be thinking upset after the Raiders won twice on the road in last year’s playoffs.
Saturday, Sept. 3
Fordham (0-0) at Navy (0-0), noon
The Rams opened last season with a win at Army West Point. OK, Navy is a higher level of FBS opponent, but the Rams bring 18 returning starters, including record-setting running back Chase Edmonds, into head coach Andrew Breiner’s first game. The seniors also remember a win at Temple in 2013.
No. 20 Villanova (0-0) at Pittsburgh, 1:30 p.m.
Head coach Andy Talley begins his 32nd and final season leading ‘Nova. He’s won 221 games with the Wildcats and his next victory will be his 250th overall. NFL scouts will monitor the play of defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon – tawn-o pass-N-yo for those pronouncing at home.
No. 4 Richmond (0-0) at Virginia (0-0), 3:30 p.m.
The Spiders, deep on both sides of the ball with 16 returning starters, will try to spoil the debut of new Cavaliers head coach Bronco Mendenhall. Richmond features both CAA Football preseason players of the year — quarterback Kyle Lauletta and safety David Jones.
No. 3 Northern Iowa (0-0) at Iowa State (0-0), 8 p.m.
Call this the rubber match for the senior classes because UNI won in Ames in 2013 and fell 31-7 last year. With 1,000-yard rushers in quarterback Aaron Bailey and running back Tyvis Smith as well as a veteran offensive line, UNI has the ground game to control the clock.
Pick: Iowa State
No. 12 Eastern Washington (0-0) at Washington State (0-0), 8 p.m.
In three career games against Pac-12 teams, EWU wide receiver Cooper Kupp has caught 28 passes for 510 yards and eight touchdowns. Despite the return of a 3,000-yard passer in Jordan West, the Eagles have switched quarterbacks to Gabe Gubrud, a redshirt sophomore.
Pick: Washington State
Sunday, Sept. 4
Alcorn State (0-0) at Bethune-Cookman (0-0), 1 p.m.
The MEAC-SWAC Challenge moves to campus sites, beginning this season. The MEAC has dominated the series between the two historically black FCS conferences, winning five straight and nine of the 11 games. Alcorn, the two-time defending SWAC champ now led by first-year head coach Fred McNair, is playing in the Challenge for the first time, while Bethune won its prior appearances in 2011 and ’12.
Pick: Alcorn 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 Richmond Athletics)