The FCS conference races began to come together last weekend because, for once, the schedule wasn’t littered with one upset after another.
November should be blowing in with even more clarity. The stakes are high with conference titles and postseason bids nearing. Included in Week 10 is a matchup of unbeaten teams and another pivotal schedule in CAA Football.
Here are this week’s FCS games of the week:
Note: All times ET
Saturday, Nov. 3
Dartmouth (7-0, 4-0 Ivy) at No. 14 Princeton (7-0, 4-0), 1 p.m.
This showdown of two of the four unbeaten teams in the FCS has been brewing for well over a month — it was just a matter of them not getting picked off. Dartmouth has a bruising defense and Princeton the top-ranked offense in the FCS. The difference is Princeton also has a strong defense which happens to work in the shadow of quarterback John Lovett and Co. In fact, the Tigers are slightly ahead of Dartmouth nationally in scoring defense (second vs. fourth) and total defense (seventh vs. eighth).
Florida A&M (6-2, 5-0 MEAC) at Howard (3-4, 3-2), 1 p.m.
Wait, we’re setting bowl matchups already? It’s true, with the MEAC dropping to a seven-game conference schedule, Florida A&M would clinch the MEAC’s bid to the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl with a victory. The first-place Rattlers, under first-year head coach Willie Simmons, own the head-to-head tiebreaker against the only one-loss conference team, North Carolina A&T, so they’re a win away.
Pick: Florida A&M
Rhode Island (5-3, 3-2 CAA) at No. 8 Elon (5-2, 3-1). 1:30 p.m.
This might as well be a playoff game to get into the FCS playoffs. For URI, it is; for Elon, it’s not quite as much, but the situation is tenuous with Hurricane Florence dropping the Phoenix’s resume to 10 games. That means it’s time for the Phoenix to rise up. Every week, they seem to have a new young player contributing in the skills positions, and the offensive line is punishing with the likes of NFL prospect Oli Udoh.
San Diego (6-2, 5-0 Pioneer) at Drake (5-2, 4-1), 2 p.m.
San Diego owns the longest conference winning streak in the FCS - 26 games since 2015 — but this is the Toreros’ toughest road assignment in the PFL. Drake has a veteran quarterback, Grant Kraemer, to match the excellence of Anthony Lawrence, who’s thrown 105 touchdown passes in his career. The weather in Iowa — rainy and in the 40s — won’t be as perfect as San Diego’s.
Pick: San Diego
No. 18 Illinois State (5-3, 2-3 Missouri Valley) at No. 23 Northern Iowa (4-4, 3-2), 2 p.m.
The Missouri Valley is getting dangerously close to having just three playoff teams if the teams below North Dakota State in the standings keep beating each other up. This matchup is a prime example. The winner can feel good, but the loser will fall short of having seven Division I wins, which is preferred by the selection committee. UNI is a different team indoors.
Pick: Northern Iowa
No. 9 Wofford (6-2, 5-1 Southern) at Samford (4-4, 3-2), 3 p.m.
With senior quarterback Devlin Hodges setting records on a weekly basis, SoCon preseason favorite Samford is talented enough to come all the way back from an 0-2 start in the conference and claim the automatic playoff bid. It requires three more wins and another loss by Chattanooga — all possible. But it starts with a win over defending champ Wofford, which will own time of possession with its triple-option offense.
No. 17 McNeese (6-2, 5-1 Southland) at Southeastern Louisiana (3-6, 3-4), 3:30 p.m.
The visiting Cowboys just retook first place in the Southland — will they give it back? It’s been that kind of wacky season in the conference. Unlike two weeks ago, head coach Lance Guidry’s squad is closer to the finish line and knows a 9-2 record guarantees a playoff spot, which wasn’t the case last season.
Youngstown State (3-5, 2-3 Missouri Valley) at No. 1 North Dakota State (8-0, 5-0), 3:30 p.m.
Do you know what makes this a big game? Youngstown State head coach Bo Pelini — you never know if he’s going to stir controversy. The Bison are perfect through the midway point of what could be a record FCS national championship season. It could turn combustible.
Pick: North Dakota State
No. 16 Maine (5-3, 4-1 CAA) at No. 12 Towson (6-2, 4-1), 4 p.m.
Have the Towson players come out of the whirlpool since the Delaware game? Those who did better reserve a spot for after Maine and linebacker Sterling Sheffield come to town. Of course, it doesn’t hurt if the opponents can’t catch you, and nobody seems to be putting a hand on Towson’s Shane Simpson. He’s averaging an FCS-high 190 all-purpose yards per game, including 320 against Delaware last week.
Alcorn State (7-2) at New Mexico State (2-7), 4 p.m.
It feels like an eternity since an FCS team toppled an FBS opponent. Actually, it was Maine over Western Kentucky on Sept. 8. But it has been an eternity since a SWAC team beat the FBS — Grambling State over Oregon State in 1985. New Mexico State has only one winning season since 2002 (last year), so the drought might end with the way the Braves are playing.
Pick: Alcorn State
Last Week’s Record: 10-3 (.769)
Season Record: 66-32 (.673)
— 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.
(Photo courtesy of Princeton Athletics)