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FCS Football: Predictions for the Top 10 Games in Week 1

FCS Football: Samuel Akem

FCS Football: Samuel Akem

The big games involving FCS college football teams are seemingly countless during the first full week of the season.

There’s a great mix of potential thrills with FBS teams going on upset alert and big non-conference FCS matchups grabbing the spotlight.

We’re here to rank the 10 best matchups over the extended Labor Day weekend, but we know the storylines will keep unfolding with one terrific game after another.

Enjoy all the Week 1 games.

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

10. Bethune-Cookman vs. Jackson State

3 p.m., Sunday in Atlanta

The pageantry and battle of the bands are key parts of the MEAC-SWAC Challenge, which always has a Sunday spotlight over Labor Day Weekend. Bethune-Cookman has contributed two wins to the MEAC's 9-4 lead in the Challenge, but the SWAC has won the last two years.

The Pick: Bethune-Cookman

9. No. 13 Nicholls at Kansas State

7 p.m., Saturday

After opening with a win at Kansas last year, Chase Fourcade, Sully Laiche and Nicholls will find it harder to top K-State. Either way, FCS fans will be interested because former North Dakota State national championship-winning head coach Chris Klieman is debuting in Manhattan.

The Pick: Kansas State

8. Southern at No. 22 McNeese

7 p.m., Saturday

McNeese head coach Sterlin Gilbert's debut is a lot tougher than the Cowboys expected when the matchup was scheduled nearly three years ago. The Cowboys have missed the playoffs in three straight seasons and Southern was the 2018 SWAC runner-up.

The Pick: McNeese

7. No. 20 Sam Houston State at New Mexico

6 p.m., Saturday

The Bearkats won a 48-45 overtime thriller at New Mexico in their last meeting in 2011. They seek to get head coach Bob Davie's make-or-break season with the Lobos off to a poor start.

The Pick: Sam Houston State

6. No. 4 Eastern Washington at Washington

3 p.m., Saturday

Eastern Washington, the FCS runner-up last season, dropped games to Washington in 2011 and '14 by a combined 10 points. Eagles quarterback Eric Barriere is a leading candidate for the Walter Payton Award.

The Pick: Washington

5. No. 11 Towson at The Citadel

3 p.m., Saturday

It's a rematch of Towson's 44-27 triumph last season. Led by senior quarterback Tom Flacco, the Tigers have their most talented team since the 2013 national runner-up squad. The Citadel put a scare into Alabama for over a half last November.

The Pick: Towson

4. No. 3 South Dakota State at Minnesota

9 p.m., Thursday

Two days before rival North Dakota State also plays in Minneapolis (at Target Field), the Jackrabbits are in town. They return a banner lineup after making a second straight trip to the FCS semifinals, but all eyes are on redshirt freshman quarterback J'Bore Gibbs in a difficult opener.

The Pick: Minnesota

3. No. 21 Elon at No. 25 North Carolina A&T

6 p.m., Saturday

Separated by less than 20 miles, these two teams renew a backyard rivalry, and this week it's the only matchup between two Top 25 FCS teams. The reigning black-college national champion Aggies return only eight starters.

The Pick: Elon

2. No. 2 James Madison at West Virginia

2 p.m., Saturday

Two new head coaches make their debut: JMU's Curt Cignetti and WVU's Neal Brown. The Dukes have to prove they can run the ball enough to pull the upset.

The Pick: West Virginia

1. No. 23 Montana at South Dakota

3 p.m., Saturday

Surprised? Don’t be. This is the kind of juicy game that could decide the direction of the season for two playoff hopefuls. It's part of the Big Sky-MVFC Challenge.

The Pick: Montana

— 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 He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.

(Photo courtesy of University of Montana Athletics)