This weekend settles everything, folks. The games below are massively important, and nine of the 10 – aside from the Ivy League battle between Harvard-Yale –have playoff ramifications.
So, who will be watching the FCS Playoff Selection Show on ESPNU on Sunday (set for 12:30 p.m. ET), and who will be eliminated? Which fan bases will feel confident and only be curious about the opponent, and which ones will wonder if they’re even in the playoffs?
We’ll all know by Sunday afternoon.
Here's a countdown of the 10 best games of week 12:
Note: All times ET. Rank in front of team refers to the Athlon Sports FCS Top 25 Power Poll.
10. No. 19 Rhode Island (7-3, 4-3 in CAA) at Elon (5-5, 4-3)
2 p.m., Saturday (FloFootball)
This is a massive opportunity for Rhode Island. The Rams haven’t clinched an FCS playoff berth since 1985, when it went as the Yankee Conference champions (a predecessor to the current CAA).
This is very simple: If Rhody wins this game? It is a playoff lock at 8-3 with an FBS win over UMass – regardless of how weak the Minutemen look this season. If Rhody loses, it’ll still be considered a bubble team but there are no guarantees. It’s not unprecedented that a 7-4 CAA team with an FBS win gets into the postseason, and the playoff bubble is weak this year.
On the flip side? Elon is 5-4 this fall against the FCS with two of those losses being by a total of five points (the other two FCS losses are to James Madison and Villanova, likely seeds). While the Phoenix don't have a path to a playoff spot, you know Tony Trisciani’s group would love to play spoiler.
Pick: Elon by 3
9. No. 5 Eastern Washington (8-2, 5-2 in Big Sky) at Portland State (5-5, 4-3)
5 p.m., Saturday (ESPN+)
Eastern Washington looked tough last weekend at UC Davis, especially when the fog rolled in. While EWU’s conference rival Portland State should not be overlooked, the Eagles and QB Eric Barriere should leave Portland late Saturday with a win here – and a playoff seed.
With six Big Sky wins, one win in the Big Sky-MVFC Challenge, and an FBS win over UNLV, EWU’s resume would look solid come Saturday night if it wins. If the Eagles fall, they’d still get into the postseason but will play two days after Thanksgiving instead of having a first-round bye.
Pick: Eastern Washington by 10
8. North Dakota (5-5, 3-4 in MVFC) at No. 12 South Dakota State (7-3, 4-3)
3 p.m., Saturday (ESPN+)
South Dakota State should be able to handle this matchup, but if it overlooks UND? It is playing with fire. The good news for the Jackrabbits is that after each of its three losses, it has rebounded with a win the next week – and that’s the hope in Brookings after falling to rival South Dakota on a Hail Mary last weekend.
The Fighting Hawks have fallen to four playoff-bound MVFC opponents (North Dakota State, South Dakota, Southern Illinois, and Missouri State). It also has won two games in a row coming into the SDSU affair.
SDSU has a win over NDSU and an FBS win (Colorado State) and would be 7-3 against Division I teams with a win – clearly a playoff-bound resume.
Pick: South Dakota State by 10
7. Harvard (7-2, 4-2 in Ivy) at Yale (5-4, 4-2)
12 p.m., Saturday (ESPNU)
When these two teams last played in the Yale Bowl in 2019, the game drew 45,000 fans. In this, the 137th matchup between these two ancient football programs – expect the same energy.
As the cliché goes, these two teams could be 0-9 apiece and they’d still love to rough each other up. But there’s a little more to it than that, as both have respectable records in the Ivy League (both 4-2) and want to stay at the top of the standings. While Princeton and Dartmouth clearly lead things at 5-1, this is clearly the next tier.
Look for a great crowd and a great game as the Ivy League season wraps in 2021 after a two-year hiatus.
Pick: Harvard by 1
6. Florida A&M (8-2, 6-1 in SWAC) at Bethune-Cookman (2-8, 2-5) in Orlando
3:30 p.m., Saturday (ESPN3)
The Florida Classic is massive for so many reasons, regardless of the records. And we’re not just talking about the stellar bands, which would sell thousands of tickets if they provided the only competition on the field.
Speaking of the Harvard-Yale crowd size, did you know the annual Florida Classic (held in neutral-site Orlando) once drew 73,000-plus in 2003. It will be a well-attended affair this weekend. Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman first played in 1925.
This game goes beyond the big crowds and rivalry atmosphere for the Rattlers because they want to make a case for an FCS playoff at-large berth. There hasn’t been an HBCU representative in the FCS playoffs since 2016 when North Carolina A&T got in – because the champions of the SWAC divisions compete in the SWAC title game, and the MEAC champion goes straight to the Celebration Bowl (the HBCU national championship). Only teams that didn’t qualify for the HBCU postseason games are available for FCS playoff berths.
FAMU is that rare exception with the potential to go 9-1 against the FCS (all against HBCU opponents) and be in position for an FCS playoff berth. The only loss is to Jackson State by one point, and the Tigers are currently, clearly the best HBCU team.
If the Rattlers win big this weekend, the discussion will ramp up. While their strength of schedule component hurts, the FCS playoff bubble isn’t the most impressive either. Keep an eye on this game.
Pick: Florida A&M by 20
5. No. 14 South Dakota (7-3, 5-2 in MVFC) at No. 3 North Dakota State (9-1, 6-1)
3:30 p.m., Saturday (ESPN+)
South Dakota and North Dakota State are firmly in the FCS playoffs, but there are still questions to be answered. NDSU wants to be in contention for the nation’s No. 1 seed – and only two other teams have a shot at it: Montana State and Sam Houston. So that’s NDSU’s goal – to win this weekend against USD and get that top seed.
For South Dakota, the Coyotes have done some big things this year and with a win this weekend have a sliver of a chance to nab the MVFC’s automatic bid (if some other things go their way away from this game). Who knows? The automatic bid may improve USD’s status in the eyes of the FCS Playoff Committee – and obviously, a win over NDSU would also jump off the page.
There is a lot to consider in this one. But it typically seems like NDSU rises to the occasion when things get serious.
Pick: North Dakota State by 13
4. No. 8 Sacramento State (8-2, 7-0 in Big Sky) at No. 16 UC Davis (8-2, 5-2)
8 p.m., Saturday (ESPN+)
Both schools are firmly in the FCS playoffs based on their resumes. UC Davis has an FBS win (potential bowl-bound Tulsa) and is at eight wins already, while Sacramento State could end up with the Big Sky’s automatic bid if Montana State loses this weekend. That could also propel Sacramento State into the seeding discussion.
There is a lot to play for here between these two California rivals of proximity.
Pick: Sacramento State by 1
3. No. 20 Mercer (7-2, 6-1 in SoCon) at No. 7 ETSU (9-1, 6-1)
1 p.m., Saturday (ESPN3)
Welcome to the Southern Conference championship game. While it isn’t officially being dubbed that by the league and the NCAA – that’s exactly what this is.
When you consider that Mercer restarted football in the past decade and hadn’t played with an oblong, pigskin-made ball since World War II… and ETSU had taken roughly a dozen years off from football before restarting football in the middle of the last decade: this really is a special matchup.
The winner clinches the SoCon title and automatic berth. If ETSU loses this one, it is still in the FCS playoffs with an FBS win (Vanderbilt) and the rest of its resume – but there are no guarantees for Mercer if it falls.
This will be a good one, folks.
Pick: ETSU by 1
2. No. 25 Monmouth (7-3, 6-0 in Big South) at No. 17 Kennesaw (9-1, 6-0)
1 p.m., Saturday (ESPN+)
Let me know if you’ve heard/read something like this before (see Mercer-ETSU above): Welcome to the Big South Conference championship game. While it isn’t officially being dubbed… OK, enough of that.
Once again, we have a game that determines everything in its league. We have one team that’s 9-1 overall and will get into the playoffs regardless (Kennesaw), and one team that needs to win this or may get left out (Monmouth).
Monmouth has owned this game in the two most recent matchups, scoring more than 40 both times and winning. Could that happen again in greater Atlanta, putting Monmouth in the playoffs again?
Pick: Monmouth by 1
1. No. 4 Montana State (9-1, 7-0 in Big Sky) at No. 9 Montana (8-2, 5-2)
2 p.m., Saturday (ESPN+)
The Brawl of the Wild has been contested since William McKinley was the president of the United States. For those of you who aren’t history nerds, that’s 1897.
This is a big one, folks. While most people outside of the state of Montana may find this hard to believe, these two schools – and more specifically, their fans – really don’t like each other. And they really show up to games.
Think of it as a smaller version of the Iron Bowl with Alabama-Auburn … or just think of Alabama-Auburn as a larger version of The Brawl. That’s more appropriate.
Along with the rivalry, this game is massive in terms of what it can do to the FCS playoff picture. Now, both teams are firmly locked into the FCS playoff field – that’s not in question. The question is, could Montana be knocked out of the seeding discussion on its own field in Missoula? Montana State has had a lot of success against the rival Griz in recent years, but will that continue?
On the flip side, Montana possesses arguably the most impressive FBS/P5 win of the year in the FCS ranks (holding the Pac-12's Washington to a season-low seven points) and also could potentially hit the nine-win mark. How high a seed would the Griz get with a win?
And … who around the country would be knocked out of the seeding picture by the Griz winning? Montana State likely wouldn’t be knocked out, but many other hopefuls would.
Pick: Montana by 1
BMac’s Record Last Week: 6-4
BMac’s Season Record: 55-35 (.611)
— Written by Brian McLaughlin, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McLaughlin has covered the FCS level since 2015 and is the former HERO Sports FCS National Coordinator. Before HERO Sports, he covered national college football recruiting for The Sporting News — and compiled the PARADE All-America teams from 2010-17. He is a co-host on BMac and The Nach’s FCS Podcast each week, currently hosted on several well-known platforms like Spotify, Stitcher, etc. Follow him on Twitter @BrianMacWriter or Facebook at www.facebook.com/brianmacwriter.