In the FCS Huddle: Week 12 Preview
By Brandon Lawrence, FCS Associate
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The phrase is such a simple one to say: "Win, and you're in."
But for a handful of conference leaders this weekend, 60 minutes of football on Saturday will seem like an eternity; like the clock will never tick down to nothing but zeros.
There are two weeks left in the FCS regular season, which means playoffs are right around the corner. Two weeks left. That's it. It's a sprint to the finish for teams that are ahead in their conference races. The end is near; all they have to do is maintain the pace they've been playing at all season, and postseason life becomes a reality.
And with this weekend's slate of games, several teams can clinch an automatic berth by obtaining something as simple yet so distant as a win.
After a hot start for a handful of teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, Saturday's North Dakota State versus Youngstown State game could decide the MVFC champion. If the Bison win, they'll clinch the conference title outright and the automatic playoff bid for the third season in a row.
Unfortunately for the Bison, the Penguins don't exactly have plans of letting that happen.
Had it not been for a game-winning Northern Iowa field goal as time expired last Saturday, the Penguins and Bison would each have unblemished conference records heading into their matchup, and the winner this weekend would be the winner of the conference bid. Alas, that is the case no more.
North Dakota State, without star linebacker Grant Olson the rest of the way, will still rely heavily on its second-best scoring defense in the country to limit Kurt Hess, Martin Ruiz and the rest of the Youngstown State offense. Because if the Bison win, they're playoff-bound once again.
The same goes for Maine in the Colonial Athletic Association. The Black Bears, who were picked to finish eighth in the conference's preseason poll, will face a struggling Rhode Island program Saturday with a chance to lock up the CAA's automatic bid.
In such a deep conference with teams like Towson, Villanova (which was projected to finish first in the conference after garnering 11 first-place votes in the preseason poll), Delaware, William & Mary, James Madison and New Hampshire, not many had Maine pegged as the team that would eventually secure the outright title.
Still, the Black Bears overpowered teams like Massachusetts, Delaware, William & Mary and Villanova to earn their ranking. And with a win this weekend, they can seal up their fate.
Possibly one of the most confusing playoff scenarios belongs to the Pioneer Football League's title race. How fitting (or not so fitting, depending on which way you'd like to look at it), since it's the first year a team from the PFL will get an automatic bid to the playoffs.
No PFL team has been to the postseason before, yet about five teams are still in the hunt with two weeks to go. That shows what a little incentive can do to aid a winning spirit, doesn't it?
But it could all come to a close (and save everyone some massive headaches) with a San Diego win over Drake on Saturday. The Toreros lost a double- overtime thriller to PFL foe Dayton back on Oct. 19, which serves as the lone league loss for USD.
But since the Toreros have beaten fellow one-loss teams Marist, Mercer and Butler, and could put an end to Drake's run Saturday, San Diego controls its own playoff destiny.
In 10 games played this season, Toreros quarterback Mason Mills has completed 227-of-341 passes for 3,176 yards and 32 touchdowns and thrown just five interceptions. His final season as the starting quarterback could be his first in the FCS postseason. All he needs is a win Saturday to get there.
Don't forget two conference battles in the South. Southeastern Louisiana (not Sam Houston State and not McNeese State) can wrap up the Southland Conference's auto bid with a win over the very Bearkats who have been to back-to-back national championships.
Led by Oregon transfer quarterback Bryan Bennett, the Lions would win their first Southland title since joining the conference in 2005. Southeastern Louisiana is just two seasons removed from a 1-6 campaign in the conference.
And in the Southern Conference, Chattanooga - the only one-loss team left in the league - can clinch the title and automatic bid with a win at previous conference leader Samford.
At the start of the 2013 season, the SoCon title was deemed completely up for grabs because both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern were cast as ineligible as they transition to the FBS level. Both programs were over the scholarship limit, so between the remaining seven conference teams, the title and the automatic bid were seen as anyone's to win.
Well, Chattanooga can claim that crown with a simple win, although Samford will make it anything but simple for the Mocs.
With a win over Cal Poly, Eastern Washington can punch its Big Sky Conference ticket to the playoffs. So can Eastern Illinois in the Ohio Valley Conference with a win over Jacksonville State, and Colgate with a win in the Patriot League over Lehigh.
In the Northeast Conference, Sacred Heart can take the crown with a win and help from Wagner to win the conference title this weekend. The Pioneers would need a St. Francis (Pa.) loss to the Seahawks to win the conference's automatic bid. The same goes for a few other conferences that send teams to the playoffs.
Prior to Week 12, no automatic bids had been punched. After Saturday's games, eight of the 11 conferences that send their teams to the FCS playoffs could have their automatic bid wrapped up.
A win - that's all it takes for some programs to secure a spot in the postseason. Conference leaders are no strangers to winning games, but with added incentive on the line, we'll let the performances speak for themselves Saturday.
The following is a game-by-game breakdown for The Sports Network FCS Top 25 and other select games (all times ET):
Saturday, Nov. 16
Richmond (4-6, 2-4 CAA) at No. 21 Delaware (7-3, 4-2)
What to know: Despite the ferocity of Delaware's offense two weeks ago against Towson, the Blue Hens suffered while regular starting quarterback Trent Hurley sat out last Saturday against William & Mary. Delaware only accumulated 10 points and 223 yards against the nation's top scoring defense.
It was a mess from the start. Delaware had trouble running the football, then fell behind anyway. And fill-in quarterback Trevor Sasek struggled to throw the ball on the Tribe when his team attempted to play catch up.
Hurley is questionable to play this weekend against an upturn-yet-still- underperforming Richmond squad. The Spiders have won two in a row (against CAA teams with losing records), and quarterback Michael Strauss is coming off a five-touchdown performance against Stony Brook.
The Blue Hens are tied with three other CAA teams at 4-2 in the conference (tiebreakers not yet considered), and are looking to re-establish themselves as a playoff-quality team. If Hurley comes back, the offense should start clicking again.
Prediction: Delaware 30, Richmond 26
Sacred Heart (9-2, 3-2 NEC) at Robert Morris (5-4, 3-1)
What to know: The postseason scenario in the Northeast Conference is anything but clear with two weeks left to play in the regular season, but this matchup between the conference's top team and the NEC team with the best overall record should help solve the puzzle a bit.
Robert Morris leads the NEC at 3-1, with Sacred Heart trailing a half game back (the Pioneers hold the tiebreaker against Duquesne, which is also 3-2 in the NEC). After easily beating Central Connecticut State last Saturday and scoring more than 50 points in a game for the first time in over a decade, coach Joe Walton's squad will be ready.
But the Pioneers have weapons offensively that not even the talented Dukes defense could handle last week. Running back Keshaudas Spence recorded 181 rushing yards and a touchdown that proved to be the game sealer late in the fourth quarter. Freshman quarterback R.J. Noel can be dangerous through the air and in the run game.
Sacred Heart leads the FCS in passes intercepted with 20, while last weekend the Colonials defense returned two interceptions for scores against CCSU. With two stellar defenses in the matchup, it may be tough for either side to get something going offensively.
Prediction: Sacred Heart 21, Robert Morris 14
Rhode Island (3-8, 2-5 CAA) at No. 6 Maine (9-1, 6-0)
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m.
What to know: For three straight weeks, the Black Bears have had somewhat of a scare put into them by fellow CAA opponents - they escaped Villanova, 37-35, then both Stony Brook and Albany either tied the score up or took a lead into the fourth quarter against Maine in back-to-back weeks. But the Bears were unwavering, and are still unbeaten in FCS play.
This weekend it's Rhode Island on the schedule for the Black Bears. Rhode Island has been mostly shaky this season, but has a few wins under its belt. After being blanked by Villanova on Saturday, the Rams have now been shut out three times this season.
That's not a good sign, especially going against the conference's fourth-best scoring defense. Maine quarterback Marcus Wasilewski had one of his more productive games Saturday against the Great Danes, throwing for 231 yards and three touchdowns while gaining 43 rushing yards. A week after only gaining 88 total yards against Villanova, it's a pretty poor time to travel to Orono and face the CAA's best team.
Prediction: Maine 38, Rhode Island 17
Yale (5-3, 3-2 Ivy) at No. 25 Princeton (7-1, 5-0)
Kickoff: 1 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
What to know: The Tigers are the first Ivy League team to crack the Top 25 this season, and it's much deserved. Princeton, behind quarterback Quinn Epperly, has been playing as well as any team this season.
The Tigers can clinch a share of Ivy League crown with a win. And a 29-28 opening week loss to Lehigh now seems like it could have been a win had the Tigers been in midseason form. Epperly wasn't even the team's starter then.
This weekend, it's Yale on the schedule. The Bulldogs scored a fourth-quarter touchdown with 19 seconds remaining in the contest to take a 24-17 win over Brown last Saturday. Four different quarterbacks attempted at least four passes, though regular starter Henry Furman saw most of the reps.
Despite two straight wins, it doesn't appear anyone can hang around with the skill of Epperly and Tigers' tough defense, led by senior Caraun Reid.
Prediction: Princeton 33, Yale 24
No. 20 Lehigh (7-2, 2-1 Patriot) at Colgate (4-6, 3-1)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
What to know: Things are getting pretty intense in the Patriot League with two weeks left to go in the regular season.
Lehigh and Colgate are two of the three most competitive teams battling for the league title, with Lafayette still alive. In the remaining two weeks, things will be separated out. But if Colgate wins this weekend against Lehigh, the Raiders will receive the league's automatic qualifier to the playoffs for the second straight season.
Colgate is coming off a win over previously unbeaten in conference play Lafayette, as Lehigh is over Holy Cross. Freshman quarterback Nick Shafnisky entered last Saturday's game for the Mountain Hawks and completed 11-of-12 pass attempts for 136 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for another score. The Lehigh passing game took a hit when Brandon Bialkowski was announced out for the season with an injury, but players like Keith Sherman and Lee Kurfis have ensured the Mountain Hawks remain successful.
Demetrius Russell was the star of Colgate's win over the Leopards, rushing for 92 yards and three touchdowns. The Mountain Hawks surrender 30.9 points per game to opponents, which bodes well for Raiders quarterback Gavin McCarney and Russell. But considering what's on the line, it'll be a fight to the finish.
Prediction: Colgate 32, Lehigh 27
Presbyterian (3-6, 1-2 Big South) at No. 11 Coastal Carolina (9-1, 3-1)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
What to know: Suddenly, the Chanticleers' backs are up against the wall. After suffering a five-point loss to current Big South leader Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina faces a bit of pressure this weekend to remain a playoff contender.
It would be hard to imagine the 9-1 Chants missing the playoffs should the regular season end now, but they finish the season in a little over a week against FBS power South Carolina. A loss wouldn't hurt much, but the thought of ending the season against the Gamecocks really emphasizes the importance of beating Presbyterian.
Coastal's star running back Lorenzo Taliaferro, after leaving last weekend's matchup against Charleston Southern with an injury, is said to be a lock to play this weekend against the Blue Hose. Quarterback Alex Ross has been dinged up over the last month, but appears to be healthy and ready to play.
Regardless of the injury situation, coach Joe Moglia knows this is a must- win game, and his team should be able to get it done.
Prediction: Coastal Carolina 36, Presbyterian 20
No. 22 Jacksonville State (8-2, 4-2 OVC) at No. 2 Eastern Illinois (9-1, 6-0)
Kickoff: 1 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
What to know: Eastern Illinois secured at least a share of the Ohio Valley Conference championship with its defeat of Murray State last Saturday, and can win the OVC title outright with just one more win this season. Why wait?
The all-time series is knotted at five games apiece between the Gamecocks and Panthers, and both teams sport Top 20 offenses in the country (Jacksonville is ranked 20th in scoring offense, while Eastern Illinois leads the nation). The looming task of halting Walter Payton Award candidate Jimmy Garoppolo is always easier said than done.
Garoppolo, with receivers like Erik Lora (97 receptions), Keiondre Gober and Adam Drake, has almost too much firepower for teams to handle. Not even the extremely talented defensive backfield of Tennessee State could keep the Panthers from scoring at least 30 points.
The Gamecocks will need to keep pace offensively with the Panthers to stay in this one. EIU averages 46.3 points per game to Jacksonville State's 36.2, so running back DaMarcus James and quarterback Max Shortnell will have to be on their game.
Prediction: Eastern Illinois 40, Jacksonville State 30
Appalachian State (2-8, 2-4 Southern) at No. 24 Wofford (5-4, 4-2)
Kickoff: 1:30 p.m.
What to know: Wofford has lost key back-to-back games against Southern Conference opponents, and faces a reeling Appalachian State team on Saturday.
After losing two weeks ago to Samford and last weekend to Chattanooga - now the frontrunner in the conference - the Terriers will find it's an uphill battle to get into a position to make the playoffs. But it can certainly be done.
The first task will be the Mountaineers, who are just 2-8 on the season after losing 45-6 against Georgia, the likes of which App State should be bracing itself for next season. The young Mountaineers defense showed promise in the loss to the Bulldogs, forcing three turnovers and holding star running back Todd Gurley to 75 yards on 13 carries.
It's the offense that seems to be struggling for Appalachian State, which isn't a good sign going up against the SoCon's second-best scoring defense at their stadium. Against a very tough Chattanooga defense, the Terriers still managed 172 team rushing yards, but they turned the ball over four times. In an effort to secure another playoff spot, Wofford should be focused and ready to play this weekend.
Prediction: Wofford 27, Appalachian State 21
No. 13 Charleston Southern (10-1, 3-0 Big South) at Gardner-Webb (5-5, 0-3)
Kickoff: 1:30 p.m.
What to know: All eyes are on you, Charleston Southern.
After defeating previously unbeaten and former Big South leader Coastal Carolina, the Buccaneers are now the ones with the targets on their backs. And even though Gardner-Webb is out of the hunt for the Big South automatic playoff bid, that doesn't mean the Runnin' Bulldogs can't at least shake things up with an upset win.
The problem is that Gardner-Webb has struggled mightily in conference play this season. The Runnin' Bulldogs have only scored 16 combined points in three conference games in 2013, while surrendering 93 to Big South opponents. GWU does hold the series lead with Charleston Southern, 9-4, however.
The Bucs trot out star running back Christian Reyes, who scampered for 117 yards and two touchdowns against the Coastal defense last weekend. As a team, the Bucs notched 323 total rushing yards in the win. And with freshman quarterback Daniel Croghan III's ability to do damage through the air, it looks like the Bucs won't be halted this weekend.
Prediction: Charleston Southern 29, Gardner-Webb 17
No. 10 Towson (8-2, 4-2 CAA) at No. 16 William & Mary (7-3, 4-2)
Kickoff: 1:30 p.m.
What to know: The high-powered offense of Towson, specifically its running game, matched up against the CAA's and nation's top scoring defense in William & Mary will be a must-see contest this weekend.
William & Mary shut down the explosive offense of Delaware last weekend, and is now back in the hunt for an at-large playoff bid. With Maine still unbeaten in CAA play, all the Black Bears have to do is win one game in the final two weeks to wrap up the conference's automatic bid.
Which means both Towson and William & Mary are fighting for their playoff lives. After a bye week, Towson should be plenty rested. But game planning against the Tribe's defense is going to be the key.
Terrance West hasn't been held down this season, and after getting a week to review game film and find out how not to run the football against the Tribe (see Delaware's minus-35 rushing yards), he and the Tigers should be ready to come out with everything possible.
Prediction: Towson 28, William & Mary 21
No. 19 South Dakota State (6-4, 3-3 Missouri Valley) at South Dakota (4-6, 3-3)
Kickoff: 2 p.m. (Midco Sports Network)
What to know: Had it not been for an Ellis Henderson kickoff return for a touchdown, Montana could very likely have fallen to South Dakota and former coach Joe Glenn Saturday. But with 1:36 left to play, Henderson took a kickoff 98 yards for the winning score, giving South Dakota its sixth loss.
The Coyotes, after going on a three-game win streak to start the month of October, are now on a three-game losing skid. But there's plenty of promise on this young South Dakota roster. Sophomore quarterback Kevin Earl and freshman running back Trevor Bouma have developed into young stars, while junior Josh Vander Maten has proven to be a reliable target for Earl.
We all know about Zach Zenner and the Jackrabbits, who nearly let the wheels come off after four losses in five weeks in the middle of their schedule. But after two straight wins, South Dakota State has been able to salvage its season.
The Coyotes allow 166.7 rushing yards per game to opponents, so Zenner should have yet another productive day. But the South Dakota State defense has showed in the team's losses this season to have more holes than originally thought. The upcoming Coyotes may very well take advantage of a patchy defense and the momentum of the home crowd.
Prediction: South Dakota 30, South Dakota State 27
No. 1 North Dakota State (9-0, 6-0 Missouri Valley) at No. 15 Youngstown State (8-2, 5-1)
Kickoff: 2 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
What to know: Well, Northern Iowa got its first win in the Missouri Valley Football Conference last weekend when the extremely banged-up Panthers took down previously unbeaten-in-conference Youngstown State. Certainly Northern Iowa is a better team than its record reflects (at one point the Panthers were ranked fourth in the country), but the win might say more about Youngstown State than anything else.
The Penguins are a very solid team, but with no Sawyer Kollmorgen and no David Johnson, Northern Iowa wasn't exactly at its best, granted the Panthers won on a game-winning field goal as time expired.
The point is: If Youngstown State wants to unseat the Bison this weekend as the top team in the MVFC, it'll take a better effort than was shown last weekend. The good news for the Penguins, aside from the game being played on their home turf, is that the two most important cogs on the North Dakota State defense - middle linebacker Grant Olson and cornerback Marcus Williams - are hurt. Olson is out for the season after suffering an ACL tear that will eventually require surgery, while Williams twisted his knee Saturday and could play this weekend, but nothing official has been released.
If neither is good to go, it'll be the perfect opportunity to take advantage of for Kurt Hess, Martin Ruiz and the Penguins offense. But as is typically the case with North Dakota State, the Bison can find a way to win.
Prediction: North Dakota State 31, Youngstown State 24
Weber State (1-9, 0-6 Big Sky) at No. 7 Montana (8-2, 4-2)
Kickoff: 2 p.m. (Max Media)
What to know: As mentioned previously, the Grizzlies, specifically sophomore receiver Ellis Henderson, pulled a classic Houdini escape act and left South Dakota with a win on a 98-yard kickoff return in the final few minutes.
The non-conference win could really help Montana gain an at-large bid into the FCS playoffs (assuming the final two weeks don't destroy the Big Sky Conference leaders). Either way, the Grizzlies need to keep winning in order to ensure a possible postseason berth.
Against a young Weber State team, this potent Grizzlies attack shouldn't have much trouble. The Wildcats are winless in Big Sky play, and are tied for 119th in the country in allowing opponents an average of 44.8 points per game - worst in the Big Sky.
The Wildcats have lost nine straight, and will likely make it 10 this weekend against a dangerously good all-around Montana team.
Prediction: Montana 44, Weber State 17
No. 17 Chattanooga (8-2, 6-1 Southern) at Samford (6-4, 4-2)
Kickoff: 3 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
What to know: Samford fell pretty far from grace after its last two games, both of which were losses to Southern Conference opponents. Now the Bulldogs are on the outside trying to get back in with two weeks to play.
Meanwhile, Chattanooga is on the uptick after six straight wins - all against SoCon programs. The Mocs face Samford this weekend, then end the season with the nation's top (current) team on the FBS level in Alabama. How would that prepare Chattanooga for a potential playoff run?
With a win, the Mocs can wrap up the SoCon's automatic bid. With the recent play of quarterback Jacob Huesman and a stout defensive front seven, the Mocs can smell the playoffs.
But Samford won't go down easily. Fabian Truss and Andy Summerlin will be gunning for an explosive offensive effort at home, while Buck Buchanan Award candidate Justin Shade will try to shut Huesman down.
It's a toss-up, but with a playoff berth on the line for Chattanooga, the Mocs will come to play.
Prediction: Chattanooga 31, Samford 27
No. 23 New Hampshire (5-4, 4-2 CAA) at Albany (1-9, 0-6)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m.
What to know: This New Hampshire team is hard to figure out. The Wildcats will go beat a higher ranked Top 25 team and then fall the next week to one outside the Top 25. It's very confusing.
The former happened this weekend as New Hampshire downed previously No. 22- ranked James Madison in Durham - where the Wildcats are 4-0 this season - to improve to 4-2 in CAA Football, which is good for a four-way tie for second place.
This weekend, the Wildcats travel to Albany, where the Great Danes' record isn't exactly reflective of the team's competitiveness this season. Albany sure put a scare into Maine this past weekend, losing 33-27 on a fourth- quarter Maine touchdown. Albany coach Bob Ford recognized before the season started it would be a rough transition year into the CAA, but his team certainly isn't a pushover.
New Hampshire likely needs to win its next two games to win over the NCAA selection committee when it comes to a playoff spot. With receiver R.J. Harris once again healthy (he caught three touchdown passes against James Madison last Saturday), the Wildcats could make a case, starting this weekend with a win over the Great Danes.
Prediction: New Hampshire 34, Albany 18
No. 5 Fordham (10-0) at Lafayette (3-6)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m.
What to know: This game is merely a primer for Lafayette since, realistically, the only chance for the Leopards to earn a playoff berth is through the Patriot League's automatic bid, and this game with Fordham will not count against the team's conference record.
So the Leopards can only win in this situation (not win the game necessarily, just the scenario). By beating unbeaten Fordham, the fifth-ranked team in the country, Lafayette would boost its credibility immensely and its ego headed into the final regular-season matchup with Lehigh, which could ultimately determine the Patriot League title.
A loss to Fordham just sets Lafayette back in a loss column that doesn't mean much anyway.
The Rams, however, will be without starting quarterback Michael Nebrich. The Walter Payton Award candidate left last Saturday's game against Bucknell with an injury and didn't return, and he may not be back to finish the season.
The Rams have plenty of offensive firepower still as backup quarterback Peter Maetzold entered the contest and threw for 318 yards, a touchdown and an interception. As long as Carlton Koonce and Sam Ajala are healthy, Fordham should keep its perfect season and quest for an at-large playoff bid alive, but the loss of Nebrich is troubling.
Prediction: Fordham 27, Lafayette 20
No. 3 Eastern Washington (8-2, 6-0 Big Sky) at Cal Poly (5-5, 4-2)
Kickoff: 3:40 p.m. (ROOT-NW)
What to know: After notching a share of last season's Big Sky Conference title and a trip to the FCS postseason, Cal Poly has fallen behind at times this year but hasn't given up in the chase for another playoff spot.
The Mustangs were victorious last weekend in a 42-7 rout of Sacramento State. On a run-oriented team, sophomore quarterback Chris Brown was nearly as efficient as one could be, completing 6-of-10 pass attempts for 66 yards and four touchdowns. Only four players on Cal Poly caught a pass, with running back Kristaan Ivory ending the game as the lone pass catcher without a touchdown grab.
Enter the Eagles, hot off a decisive victory against then-No.4 Montana State. Eastern Washington is proving week after week that its offense, led by sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams, is nearly too much for teams to handle. Which is why the playoffs will be ever more intriguing.
The same, though, will likely be true this weekend for Cal Poly, which allows 350 yards per game to opposing offenses. "Big Play V-A" could have another big day.
Prediction: Eastern Washington 40, Cal Poly 28
Hampton (4-6, 4-2 MEAC) at No. 18 Bethune-Cookman (8-2, 5-1)
Kickoff: 4 p.m.
What to know: If someone were to name a surprise Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference team through this point of the season, the choice could be a toss-up. South Carolina State has certainly battled back from last season's mediocrity, but Hampton has won four of its last five games and is only a game behind Bethune-Cookman in the MEAC title race.
The Pirates finished the 2012 season with a 3-7 record, and only beat the conference bottom feeders. Sure, Hampton doesn't have a victory to necessarily note above the rest this season, but it can change that with this matchup this weekend.
The Wildcats are coming off their first conference loss since 2011 and only loss to an FCS team this season. What did Norfolk State do to beat B-CU? Attack its running game. Isidore Jackson, who had a phenomenal few weeks prior to Saturday, was held to 62 yards on 12 carries (OK, he had two touchdowns as well).
Hampton has simply beaten teams by playing relatively mistake-free football, while forcing opponents into turning the ball over. Against North Carolina Central last Saturday, the Pirates received stellar play from running backs Marcus Hampton and Jorrian Washington.
It will be a battle, but Bethune-Cookman will bounce back after the end of its 18-game MEAC winning streak.
Prediction: Bethune-Cookman 29, Hampton 20
Drake (6-4, 5-2 Pioneer) at San Diego (7-3, 6-1)
Kickoff: 4 p.m.
What to know: This could be very simple for San Diego: win, and go to the playoffs. Lose, however, and things in the Pioneer Football League get very complicated.
If the Toreros lose and fall out of first place, league athletic directors will decide whether to use the selection committee's new Simple Rating System to break any potential first-place ties. The scenario of a five-team share of the PFL title is alive and well, but San Diego can dispel any outrageous situations.
Sure, Drake has won its last three games against PFL opponents, but the Toreros have done the same. In fact, San Diego's dangerous offense, led by senior quarterback Mason Mills, hasn't posted fewer than 35 points in a game since the team's Week 3 loss to Harvard. Mills orchestrated his offense to 599 yards against Morehead State, as the senior accounted for 378 passing yards and four touchdowns.
Drake has seen some great production from junior signal caller Andy Rice in weeks past, but the Bulldogs will be hard-pressed to keep pace with the Toreros offense. And with a trip to the playoffs on the line, Mills - a Walter Payton Award candidate - should lead his team to victory.
Prediction: San Diego 42, Drake 30
No. 4 Sam Houston State (8-2, 4-1 Southland) at No. 14 Southeastern Louisiana (8-2, 5-0)
Kickoff: 4 p.m. (Southland TV)
What to know: As far as weekly matchups are concerned, the Sam Houston State- Southeastern Louisiana contest is quite possibly the most appealing this weekend when considering rankings.
But there are serious conference implications here. Should Sam Houston State win and McNeese State defeat Northwestern State, there will be three Southland Conference programs with just one conference loss. And it would be a vicious circle, since Sam Houston would have defeated SELU, SELU beat McNeese and McNeese topped Sam Houston.
That, of course, is if Sam Houston State wins this game. The Lions will have their work cut out for them, but containing the SELU offense won't be an easy task for the Bearkats, either.
Sam Houston State is ranked fifth in the FCS in rushing offense, averaging 273.3 yards per game. Against Nicholls last Saturday, the Bearkats scored five rushing touchdowns in their 49-24 win. But Southeastern Louisiana isn't too far behind, ranked 10th in the country in the same category.
Walter Payton Award nominee Bryan Bennett leads his Lions in rushing and passing, and has them on a seven-game win streak. Sam Houston has lost both its road games this season, while SELU is unbeaten at home.
Prediction: Southeastern Louisiana 42, Sam Houston State 38
Northern Colorado (1-9, 0-6 Big Sky) at No. 12 Northern Arizona (7-2, 5-1)
Kickoff: 6 p.m. (FSN-AZ+)
What to know: On a bye last week, the Lumberjacks were able to sit back and watch as the top two Big Sky Conference teams battled it out for first place. And as Eastern Washington came away victorious against Montana State, the Eagles became the lone unbeaten team in the conference, which puts Northern Arizona is a very good place.
The Lumberjacks have only lost one conference game this season - to Montana State in early October - and aren't out of the Big Sky title race just yet. With this weekend's game against Northern Colorado, Northern Arizona can continue to make a claim for an at-large postseason bid as well.
Northern Arizona has won 11 of the 14 meetings between these two conference foes, including the last 10 in a row. With a week of rest for the players, the Lumberjacks could be in a prime position to finish the season strong.
The Lumberjacks are 4-0 at home this season, and boast a defense that leads the Big Sky with four interceptions returned for touchdowns. Northern Colorado has thrown 12 interceptions as a team this season - tied for 94th in the country - and is on a nine-game losing streak.
Prediction: Northern Arizona 32, Northern Colorado 20
Southern Utah (7-3, 4-2 Big Sky) at No. 8 Montana State (7-3, 5-1)
Kickoff: 6:05 p.m.
What to know: Montana State needs some help in the next two weeks if the Bobcats still have aspirations of winning the automatic Big Sky bid to the playoffs. After last weekend's loss to Eastern Washington, the Bobcats were set back.
An at-large bid seems likely for at least one other Big Sky team, and if Eastern Washington wins out and gets the automatic bid, Montana State seems firmly entrenched in a potential at-large spot. But the same isn't exactly said for Southern Utah.
The Thunderbirds have an identical 7-3 overall record as the Bobcats, but are a game behind in the conference standings. That being said, a win Saturday against Montana State would garner national attention for this playoff hopeful. The Thunderbirds travel to Bozeman and then host Northern Arizona to end the season - two games that, if won, would immensely boost SUU's chance.
Aaron Cantu has played well enough for the Thunderbirds to sustain a winning record, while glimpses from promising freshman running backs Raysean Martin and Levi Te'o have been shown this season. Is it enough to upend the Bobcats' stellar program? We'll see. But lately it seems there's no stopping Cody Kirk on the offensive side of the ball, and Southern Utah, while first in the Big Sky in run defense (109.7 yards per game allowed), will face an uphill battle at Bobcat Stadium.
Prediction: Montana State 34, Southern Utah 24
Northwestern State (5-5, 2-3 Southland) at No. 9 McNeese State (8-2, 4-1)
Kickoff: 8 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
What to know: The Cowboys rebounded last week from a loss to Southeastern Louisiana with a hefty victory over Stephen F. Austin, and were carried by wide receiver/return specialist Diontae Spencer. Spencer totaled five touchdowns, including three special teams scores.
The Southland Conference is a three-team race at the moment led by SELU, while McNeese State and Sam Houston State stand right behind the Lions. It gets confusing a bit because McNeese beat Sam Houston, while the Lions and Bearkats square off this weekend. Either way, the Cowboys seem to be one win from a playoff berth.
McNeese State running back Marcus Wiltz has been sensational lately for as the senior back rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown against the Lumberjacks, while quarterback Cody Stroud passed for 333 yards and four touchdowns in the winning effort.
Northwestern State, fresh off a win against Lamar, has had certain players step up week after week. But there's virtually no chance the Demons make it back into the playoff hunt, and McNeese State will be hungry to ensure it at least gets an at-large bid.
Prediction: McNeese State 41, Northwestern State 21
Last Week's Record: 14-8 (.636)
Season Record: 180-73 (.711)
11/14 15:19:05 ET