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FCS Football: Predictions for the Best 10 Games in Week 8

Cole Smith, Princeton Tigers Football

Princeton QB Cole Smith has been outstanding so far, throwing for 1,514 yards and 10 TDs with only two INTs in five games. The most challenging stretch lies ahead though, starting this weekend against Harvard in a matchup of undefeated Ivy League teams.

What a crazy FCS weekend we had the last go around. Can it be matched this weekend? Of course it can.

Where do we stand this week? Who is still standing, who can be eliminated in the eighth weekend of 2021 (ANSWER: Lots)?

Related: FCS Top 25 Power Poll Following Week 7

Why waste time getting to the debate?

Here’s a countdown of the 10 best games of week eight:

Note: All times ET. Rank in front of team refers to the Athlon Sports FCS Top 25 Power Poll

10. No. 6 James Madison (5-1, 3-1 in CAA) at No. 25 Delaware (3-3, 2-2)
3 p.m., Saturday (FloFootball)

This is a critical opportunity for Delaware: It’s a must-win game if the Blue Hens want to stay in the playoff picture. James Madison is no easy task and the matchup doesn’t bode well for Delaware – but all a program can ask for is an opportunity to claw its way back into the national discussion.

The Blue Hens have JMU at home this weekend and are home against Villanova in the season’s finale. Those are currently the top two teams in the CAA, and Delaware can generate an atmosphere when the fan base is fired up. Will it be?

The truth is, it’s tough to see the Dukes losing again. They’re rolling towards 10-1 and a top seed.

Pick: JMU by 14

9. No. 22 Northern Iowa (3-3, 1-2 in MVFC) at No. 7 South Dakota State (5-1, 2-1)
3 p.m., Saturday (ESPN+)

Much like Delaware, Northern Iowa really needs to get the engine fired right now. Historically, the Panthers take on a brutal schedule, and it wouldn’t be unprecedented for them to capture a win in a situation like this. The last two weeks have hurt UNI (losses at North Dakota State and at home to a dangerous South Dakota team).

UNI’s road to the postseason is loaded with landmines: This weekend, home against Southern Illinois, a road trip to Missouri State – you name it. But those games are also opportunities and can flip on teams that aren’t expecting a challenge from a .500-range team.

On the slip side, one wouldn’t expect South Dakota State to repeat what happened at home against Southern Illinois (one-point loss) after a tremendous start to the season, which included a decisive FBS win over Colorado State.

Pick: SDSU by 13

8. Duquesne (4-1, 2-0 in NEC) at Sacred Heart (4-3, 2-1)
12 p.m., Saturday (ESPN3)

These two NEC opponents have met two common opponents: Merrimack and Bryant, both NEC foes. Duquesne knocked off Bryant, Sacred Heart fell to the Bulldogs. They both handled Merrimack relatively well – plus Duquesne has an FBS win over the Ohio Bobcats from the MAC.

On paper, this seems like a Dukes win – but this is an opportunity for the Pioneers to make a splash in the NEC, throwing the whole league into a tizzy. And of course, take the lead for a potential automatic playoff spot.

Pick: Duquesne by 10

7. Morehead State (4-2, 3-0 in Pioneer League) at Marist (3-2, 3-0)
12 p.m., Saturday (ESPN3)

The cream has been rising in the Pioneer League, as all of the teams want to stay within eyesight of Davidson – who appears on paper to be the favorite to once again nab the title and the automatic playoff berth. The two top candidates aside from Davidson are Morehead State and Marist – who both are 3-0 in league play.

The Red Foxes have a ton to play for here, because thanks to Pioneer League schedule rotation, they won’t face Davidson or San Diego this year – who are the only two teams to win the PL since Dayton won it in 2015.

This match is a total toss-up.

Pick: Marist by 3

6. No. 20 Rhode Island (5-1, 3-1 in CAA) at No. 5 Villanova (5-1, 3-0)
3 p.m., Saturday (FloFootball)

Rhode Island wants to stay in the mix when it comes to the national discussion, and the Rams certainly can if they come away with this win. With James Madison not on the schedule this year due to rotation and a challenging William & Mary team also off the sked, Rhody could rise if it somehow won this weekend and maybe even picked up an FBS win on Nov. 6 at UMass (don’t be surprised if this happens – Rhody is clearly good enough).

The problem is, Villanova has arguably its best team since it went 11-3 in 2014.

Villanova won’t trip up in this one.

Pick: Villanova by 14

5. Prairie View A&M (5-1, 4-0 in SWAC) at Southern (3-3, 2-1)
7 p.m., Saturday (ESPN+)

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The first thing you look at in this game is comparative scores – and Prairie View A&M blew out Texas Southern while Southern U. fell in a matchup vs. TSU.

On the flip side, this is a homecoming game in Baton Rouge – home of the Jaguars and their potential 20,000-plus spectator atmosphere. This should be a great crowd as the Jaguars are still in the mix in the West Division of the SWAC, hoping to reach the conference championship.

To counter, Prairie View hasn't started 5-1 since their 2009 SWAC Championship season. They’re riding high. This won’t be an easy contest, but PVA&M looks like the team to beat.

Pick: Prairie View by 7

4. No. 15 ETSU (6-1, 3-1 in SoCon) at Furman (4-2, 2-1)
2 p.m., Saturday (ESPN+)

For ETSU, this is simple: Win the next two games at Furman and at home against VMI, and it is right back in the discussion for a playoff seed heading into the final two games of the season, which should be wins (at winless Western Carolina, home against a decent Mercer team).

The Bucs can afford a hiccup, especially a road hiccup against a Chattanooga team that is better than its 3-3 record indicates. What the Bucs don’t want is a second one.

Furman won’t make it easy. The Paladins can toss their P5 loss to NC State out the window and are 4-1 against FCS teams. Could the Mercer loss end up being Furman’s blip/hiccup, and they fortify things the last five weeks? Yes, Furman could.

Lots and lots of games lie ahead in the always entertaining and tumultuous SoCon, where a crystal ball would help – a lot. Even comparing common opponents doesn’t help. ETSU was clearly more impressive against The Citadel, and Furman won more decisively at Wofford than ETSU did hosting the Terriers.

This one makes a picker shake his proverbial head (me). But remember, only Florida and Georgia have held P5 Vanderbilt to fewer points than ETSU did in its big win in the season opener (Bucs allowed only three).

Pick: ETSU by 3

3. No. 23 Jacksonville State (3-3, 1-0 in AQ7) at No. 1 Sam Houston (5-0, 3-0)
3 p.m., Saturday (ESPN+)

This isn’t mathematically a must-win game for Jacksonville State, but it may as well be. The Gamecocks have been the FCS version of Jekyll and Hyde this season (and times in the past) but they also have the potential to punch out an elite opponent’s lights when they’re “on.” Will that happen this week? Who knows?

As it turns out, JSU may very well have lost to two eventual automatic playoff berth teams in UT Martin (OVC, by three points) and at Kennesaw State (Big South, by 24 points). The Gamecocks also have a poker chip with the P5 comeback win over Florida State – which has been stated many times. The UAB loss will also be forgotten. This is an ample opportunity for JSU to make a massive jump forward in the national discussion. But will it?

JSU is playing the undefeated, reigning national champ on its home field. Sam Houston hasn’t had a blemish on its record since the 2019 season, and the program comes in 5-0 with respect. What’s interesting is this: Both of these teams played an improving Stephen F. Austin team at home, with the Bearkats winning by one point (albeit with usual starting QB Eric Schmid resting), and Jacksonville State beating SFA by four points.

Pick: Sam Houston by 7

2. No. 11 Missouri State (4-2, 3-1 in MVFC) at No. 2 North Dakota State (6-0, 3-0)
3:30 p.m., Saturday (ESPN+)

Missouri State is in its best two-year stretch since going to the FCS playoffs in 1989 and 1990 under former head coach Jesse Branch – who led the Bears to a 20-4 record over that span, with MSU’s lone playoff win (Maine, 1989).

Last season in the COVID-infected, weird-ass year of 2020-21, the Bears earned a share of the Missouri Valley title – playing three games in the fall and seven in the spring. There is a swagger to this team these days, and undoubtedly that comes from having an accomplished head coach in Bobby Petrino.

But then again, this weekend's matchup is in the FargoDome. It will be interesting to see how NDSU’s staunch defense (giving up only 7.2 points per game) handles Missouri State’s potent offense – as no FCS opponent has held the Bears to fewer than 31 points. It may be the best offense NDSU faces, but you have to go with the Bison.

Pick: NDSU by 14

1. Harvard (5-0, 2-0 in Ivy League) at Princeton (5-0, 2-0)
1 p.m., Saturday (ESPN+)

Only 12 short years after the conclusion of the American Civil War, these two schools met for the first time on a Boston gridiron in April 1877 – yes, April. Undoubtedly, some Civil War vets attended the first game. Hell, with the way things were back then? Some Civil War vets probably even played.

That's how historical this one is, FCS diehards. And that's why it matters so much.

Sometimes we joke about the “leather helmet days” of football, but this was in the no-helmet days. Final score? Harvard won, 1-0. Yep, 1-0 in April. That seems more like a score from a sport with a hard spherical ball and a bat, eh?

This game has had a lot of plotlines along the way, from the two schools despising each other 100-plus years ago to today – when, well, nothing’s changed at all. They still hate each other. Add to that the fact neither team has lost a game in two years (true, they didn’t play last season), and you can see what’s brewing here.

Princeton is 23-2 since 2018. Harvard doesn’t have quite that record in the same span, but the Crimson are undefeated this year – as are the Tigers – and something’s got to give.

Unlike 100 years ago, there are no ties.

The game’s in Jersey. Slight advantage, Tigers.

Pick: Princeton by 1

BMac’s Record Last Week: 6-4
BMac’s Season Record: 30-20 (.600)

— 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.