Week three of the FCS college football season traditionally gives you a potpourri-like schedule. It can be a bit spicy, it can be a bit sweet – and it can be a bit pungent.
In week three, you get teams with off dates (three of the top five teams in Athlon's FCS Power Poll are idle this week – including defending champ Sam Houston). You also get a smaller dose of the FCS-vs.-FBS matchups, which have been quite the storyline in the first two full weeks of play – with eight FCS teams claiming wins of this ilk. That total is already the best total since 2017, and there haven’t been more than 10 FCS wins over FBS teams since 2013.
Also, you get a smattering of conference games – but in general? The conference slate is still one or two weeks ago. You also get the introduction of Ivy League football – which is kicking off for the first time in two years thanks to COVID-19. The Ivy League traditionally starts a tad bit later than the rest of this Division I level.
We’re two weeks away from a full, inter-conference schedule. But a slip up in week three can damage a resume when it comes to the FCS Playoffs Selection Sunday, the week before Thanksgiving and the first round. You don’t want to slip up this weekend, and you might just pick up an FBS or non-conference win that can greatly help your postseason argument.
We take a look at some of the top games, which vary in terms of reasoning.
Here's a countdown of the 10 best games of Week 3:
Note: All times ET. Rank in front of team refers to Athlon's FCS Top 25 Power Poll.
10. No. 13 Eastern Washington (2-0) at Western Illinois (0-2)
4 p.m., Saturday (ESPN+)
The Big Sky-Missouri Valley Challenge is a model of what would be nice to see all over the FCS nation. Two of the top conferences lining up several games, nailing down the kind of litmus-test matchups that come under a microscope come playoff time. The MVFC is up 3-1 in the challenge, but the Big Sky has a chance this weekend to win the final two games of the challenge – this EWU team against a Western Illinois team that was tied with FBS Ball State in the third quarter but fell mightily to Montana last week.
Pick: Eastern Washington by 14
9. Holy Cross (1-1) at Yale (0-0)
12 p.m., Saturday (ESPN+)
Holy Cross knocked off an FBS team in week one (UConn) but then slipped against 2-0 Merrimack – a program that is a recent addition to the FCS level. After 22 months away from the Yale Bowl (thanks to the pandemic), what can we expect from a Bulldogs team that went 9-1 the last season they were on the field? These two teams met nearly two years ago to the day, this was a three-point game in the fourth quarter with Yale prevailing 23-10. Will it be a battle again? How rusty will Yale be?
Pick: Yale by 3
8. Jackson State (2-0) at ULM (0-1)
8 p.m., Saturday (ESPN3)
Deion Sanders, head coach at Jackson State, has been adamant this week in pointing out that he’s not heading to Monroe, Louisiana, this week to be the Warhawks' first since 2019 (0-10 last year, 0-1 this year). The Tigers have two wins over HBCUs but have never won against a current FBS team. Don’t be shocked though when this turns out to be a good one.
Pick: ULM by 7
7. No. 7 Delaware (2-0) at Rutgers (2-0)
3:30 p.m., Saturday (Big Ten Network)
On the surface, this could easily look like a mismatch – even though Delaware is a top-10 team in the FCS. Rutgers blew out Temple in week one and handled Syracuse last week. The reason it seems interesting is Michigan and Ohio State follow this weekend on Rutgers’ schedule, and there’s always a chance of an FBS team looking ahead to two of the most daunting tasks on its schedule coming in the next 15 days. Keep an eye on this one. It should be decent for at least three quarters, if not more.
Pick: Rutgers by 10
6. South Dakota (1-1) at Cal Poly (1-1)
8:05 p.m., Saturday (ESPN+)
As mentioned above with Eastern Washington-Western Illinois, this game is one of the two games where the Big Sky Conference is looking for redemption. The MVFC holds a 3-1 lead coming into the final weekend of the challenge, but both games for the Big Sky should be competitive (or better). This USD-Cal Poly matchup looks to be one of the weekend’s best matchups. Cal Poly and USD may have their best teams in years. The Coyotes nearly knocked off P5 Kansas, falling by three, then throttled the Big Sky’s Northern Arizona. Cal Poly also has an FBS loss. This one should be good.
Pick: South Dakota by 6
5. No. 3 North Dakota State (2-0) at Towson (1-1)
6 p.m., Saturday (FloSports)
It’s great to see games like these, thus the reason it makes this list. These two teams lined up against each other in the 2013 national championship, and kudos to both for making this happen. NDSU doesn’t have to leave Fargo to play a game like this and still be massively relevant, and Towson could also have scheduled a cupcake right before October’s brutal CAA slate.
Pick: NDSU by 17
4. Kennesaw State (1-1) at Wofford (1-0)
6 p.m., Saturday (ESPN+)
They met in the FCS postseason in 2018, and Kennesaw State won. They met in the playoffs of 2019 – and the Owls won again. These two teams feature similar styles – philosophies – about how to play option offense. They both are extremely good at executing what they love to do most, and they are two of the best programs in the FCS nation at squeezing the oxygen out of the clock. Could this be a playoff preview? Based on geography – don’t be surprised. Wofford is in a bit of a rebuilding stage but is always strong. Expect a good one here.
Pick: Kennesaw State by 7
3. No. 18 Monmouth (1-1, 0-0 in Big South) at Charleston Southern (1-0, 0-0)
6 p.m., Saturday (ESPN+)
For years, the traditional trio at the top of the Big South Conference has had Monmouth, Kennesaw State, and Charleston Southern. Ever since Liberty and Coastal Carolina moved up to the FBS half a decade ago, that’s been the rule of thumb. So, the truth is, we may look back at this Sept. 18 game when it comes time to talk about the playoffs in November – and this may be one of the most pivotal matchups, if not the biggest.
Pick: Charleston Southern by 3
2. No. 24 Richmond (2-0, 0-0 in CAA) at No. 8 Villanova (2-0, 0-0)
3:30 p.m., Saturday (FloSports)
Both of these CAA teams are ranked, warmed up, and ready to start conference play against a tough opponent. Villanova has been lethal through two weeks, allowing just six total points – and the Wildcats play host with established stars on both sides of the ball. Running back Justin Covington was leading the nation in rushing halfway through 2019 before an injury, and he’s back to dominating this year and is sixth in the FCS in rushing. His quarterback, Danny Smith, has been dominant since he was a freshman at Campbell. And the defense is stout. Richmond, on the other hand, seems to have its best team since All-American QB Kyle Lauletta graduated and was drafted by the New York Giants the next spring. This will be a good one, folks.
Pick: Villanova by 7
1. No. 1 James Madison (2-0) at No. 10 Weber State (1-1)
8 p.m., Saturday (ESPN+)
There’s one thing you can count on with a game like this: Both teams are going to be as good as it gets in the FCS when it comes to the line play. Also, both teams will be stellar at special teams, and they’ll justify the purple in both their uniforms when it comes to defense. Oh, and they run the ball well – so you can see that they both do all the right things, like the football philosophers always said the game should be played. This game is a gem, a possible playoff preview – and these two teams amazingly feel like rivals, even though they’re 3,000 miles apart. Nothing like a rivalry involving a school in Utah and one in Virginia – but that’s what happens when you’re dealing with two of the best four teams in the FCS dating back to 2017.
Pick: James Madison by 3
— Written by Brian McLaughlin, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. B-Mac has covered the FCS level since 2015 and is the former HERO Sports FCS National Coordinator. He also is co-host on BMac and The Nach’s FCS Podcast each week. Follow him on Twitter (@BrianMacWriter) and like him on Facebook.