Philadelphia, PA – For weather fanatics addicted to being out in the hot sun, laying on a sand-filled beach as ocean waves crash around, the transition into fall can be, at times, deplorable.
The days become shorter, while temperatures during the day drop from hot to mild and at night from cool to cold. Beach days are not only limited, they're restricted.
If you stop and take in your surroundings when the fall season sets in, you can feel a noticeably cooler sensation in the air. It feels crisp. It feels refreshing. If you love summer so much, it feels like the end of an era.
But if you're a sports fan, it feels like the start of football season.
There's no mistaking it. There's excitement abound for the first kickoff since January (well, technically the Super Bowl was the first weekend in February, but you get the point), and it's a tangible excitement.
For months, fans have been waiting to host viewing parties to support their team, or hungered for a chance to grill up some food at a tailgate while tossing a football around.
What we've all been waiting for starts Thursday night.
The last FCS season ended like the exciting finale of a fireworks show, with North Dakota State defeating Sam Houston State for the second consecutive year to earn the national crown. As the Bison get set to take on Big 12 co-champion Kansas State on Friday, it will be hard for coach Craig Bohl's team not to think about the possibility of becoming the second program in FCS history to win three straight national titles.
The title game is a ways down the road, though. For now, players, coaches and fans alike can bask in the enjoyment of seeing teams take the field for the first time this season.
And there are some perfectly intriguing matchups to open the season.
On Thursday night, Towson travels to Storrs, Conn., to take on the Connecticut Huskies. Sure, UConn is a model for Northeast FBS college football, and Towson enters the game as one of the premiere FCS teams.
In the past few seasons, Towson has shown it can play up to the level of its competitors. Although the Tigers never came away with a victory against an FBS team, they hung tough with both Kent State in the 2012 season opener and with No. 3-ranked LSU just a few weeks later.
It never hurts to return an All-American runner in junior Terrance West, and a solid defense will complement the explosive offense nicely. Don't count out the Tigers just because of the FCS-to-FBS jump.
But perhaps the most eye-catching matchup of the first weekend is on Saturday night in Missoula, Mont. Twelfth-ranked Appalachian State travels to face the No. 20-ranked Grizzlies, who suffered their first losing season in years in 2012. The contest has the potential to be one of the best non-conference games not just in Week 1, but for the season.
Montana returns starting quarterback Jordan Johnson (who was suspended for the 2012 season) and a stingy defense led by senior linebacker Jordan Tripp. The fact the Grizzlies had to suffer through a disappointing 2012 campaign under then-first year coach Mick Delaney will leave them hungry to return to relevance.
Appalachian State gets set to move upward into the FBS come the start of the 2014 season, but will still look to spoil a few FCS teams' playoff hopes this year. The Mountaineers are led by senior quarterback Jamal Londry-Jackson, a Walter Payton Award candidate, but will be without the services of top receiver Sean Price, who is serving a team suspension after his recent arrest.
Keep a close watch on App State and Montana Saturday as well as Bethune-Cookman at Tennessee State in the Sunday nightcap. There's a rivalry there featuring these two historically black colleges, and both teams are looking to make a serious playoff push in their respective conferences.
Bask in it, football fans, the season is finally here.
The following is a game-by-game breakdown for The Sports Network FCS Top 25 and other select games (all times ET):
Thursday, Aug. 29
No. 13 Illinois State (0-0) at Ball State (0-0)
Kickoff: 7 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
What to know: Ball State and Illinois State used to have something of a rivalry back in the day. The last time the two squads met was in 1993 - a 45-30 Ball State victory. The Cardinals, though, are coming off a 2012 trip to the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl (the what?) and a 9-4 overall campaign.
The trouble for Illinois State this season will be matching the production of departed quarterback Matt Brown, although the Redbirds think they have something in Iowa State transfer Jared Barnett. There will be some pressure on Colton Underwood and the defense to try to keep Ball State's Keith Wenning (Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award watch list) and Jahwan Edwards (Doak Walker Award watch list) at bay.
Ball State coach Pete Lembo knows a thing or two about FCS play as well, having won the Eddie Robinson Award in 2001 while coaching Lehigh.
Prediction: Ball State 30, Illinois State 20
UT Martin (0-0) at No. 24 Chattanooga (0-0)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. (Charter/CSN Sports Southeast)
What to know: The Mocs return an impressive 20 starters (10 on both sides of the ball) from a 6-5 overall campaign. Where the success starts for Chattanooga is on the defensive side, especially with defensive end Davis Tull. The junior recorded 12.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss when earning co-Southern Conference defensive player of the year honors last year.
His defensive teammates are hardly a "supporting cast," but rather standouts themselves. Wes Dothard commands the middle linebacker role while D.J. Key scouts the backfield at strong safety.
UT Martin is coming off a very successful season, going 8-3 and ranking 10th in the FCS in passing offense. But quarterback Derek Carr is gone, and so goes his 31 touchdown tosses with him. That's the tough part for the Skyhawks. It may take them a few games to get their feet under them.
Prediction: Chattanooga 31, UT Martin 17
No. 11 Towson (0-0) at Connecticut (0-0)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
What to know: Towson has done a great job of scheduling tough FBS contests over the past few years, and this season is no exception. Opening against UConn is going to be a near insurmountable task for the Tigers, but if history is any indicator, they (almost) play up to the level of their competitors.
Last season, the Tigers opened on the road in Ohio at Kent State, which historically hasn't had much of a successful football program, though the Golden Flash defied that label and went 11-2 with a loss in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Towson dropped the opening contest by 20 points, but still managed to put up three scores in Week 1 against an FBS opponent.
Let's not forget the trip to LSU three weeks later. Then-No. 3 in the country, LSU let Towson hang around before eventually pulling away for a 38-22 victory. The point is: Towson can hang around and put a bit of a scare into considerably better opponents.
Terrance West returns to the Tigers' backfield, while Peter Athens, a fifth- year senior, brings plenty of experience to the quarterback position. Just because Towson will likely drop this game to the Huskies doesn't mean it's an indicator of how the program will fare in 2013.
Prediction: UConn 34, Towson 21
Jacksonville (0-0) at Delaware (0-0)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.
What to know: Delaware is looking to bounce back after a losing season that led to the firing of K.C. Keeler, a national championship-winning coach. Now Dave Brock, the former offensive coordinator at Rutgers, takes the helm with what he hopes will be healthy players capable of doing damage.
Andrew Pierce is back to full strength, which is the biggest positive for the Blue Hens. Jacksonville defensive lineman Juan Pimienta will be the greatest threat to Pierce, but the senior running back may be too much for the Dolphins to handle.
The Dolphins defense gave up an average of 129.9 rushing yards per game to opponents in 2012 and didn't face a feature back nearly as talented as Pierce.
Sophomore quarterback Kade Bell now has a year's worth of playing time under his belt for Jacksonville, but hasn't faced a CAA Football opponent in his career. The greatest opposition the Dolphins faced last season was Georgia Southern - a 58-0 trouncing the Eagles laid on Jacksonville in Week 1.
Prediction: Delaware 34, Jacksonville 13
Incarnate Word (0-0) at No. 7 Central Arkansas (0-0)
Kickoff: 8 p.m.
What to know: If you're superstitious, then I apologize for what comes next.
Central Arkansas is 12-0 since laying down purple and gray turf on its football field in Conway, and that interesting yet ultimately meaningless statistic is on the line here against Incarnate Word.
Rest assured, the Bears retain Wynrick Smothers at quarterback, who led Central Arkansas to the second round of the FCS playoffs last season.
UCA coach Clint Conque suspended two starters, running back Willie Matthews and offensive lineman C.J. Simon, for the game.
It's the first season UIW is playing Division I football at the FCS level. The Cardinals will transition into Southland Conference play before the 2014 season starts, but for now have a jumbled schedule as an independent. The Cardinals recently hired former NFL standout Ricky Williams to help coach their running backs. That's a positive. But it will be a steep learning curve.
Prediction: Central Arkansas 45, Incarnate Word 10
Monmouth (0-0) at No. 2 Montana State (0-0)
Kickoff: 9:05 p.m.
What to know: This game will mark the first meeting between the two programs, and Monmouth will soon find out there's a reason Rob Ash's team continues to get better.
Montana State, for the first time in program history, has recorded back-to- back 10-plus win seasons (the Bobcats went 11-2 in 2012), but the chance to play for a national title eluded them both times. Both playoff defeats came at the hands of Sam Houston State - the national runner-up two years running.
The Bobcats enter this season with guns blazing, as DeNarius McGhee, Cody Kirk and Tanner Bleskin anchor the high-powered Bobcats offense. Monmouth, with returning star wideout Neal Sterling, will look to try and cancel out some of Montana State's production. It's a pretty daunting task.
Prediction: Montana State 41, Monmouth 17
Friday, Aug. 30
No. 1 North Dakota State (0-0) at Kansas State (0-0)
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. (FOX Sports 1)
What to know: Stating the obvious: North Dakota State is coming off back-to- back national championship seasons, and returns 18 starters from last year's team. They're good. Really, really good.
Here's another one for you: Kansas State won a share of the Big 12 championship last season. The fact of the matter is, no matter how good North Dakota State will be this season, it'll take much more than what the Bison have to bring down an FBS powerhouse.
Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein is no longer with the Wildcats, but they return receivers Tyler Lockett and Tremaine Thompson - their top two scoring pass catchers from last season.
North Dakota's top-ranked FCS defense will have its hands full this first week, but the Bison have a downhill ride the rest of the way if you look past Kansas State.
Prediction: Kansas State 34, North Dakota State 21
No. 18 Northern Arizona (0-0) at Arizona (0-0)
Kickoff: 10 p.m. (PAC-12 Network)
What to know: Northern Arizona doesn't have a nice history when it comes to playing instrastate FBS foe Arizona. The Lumberjacks are a dismal 1-11 all- time against the Wildcats, though you can't expect a whole lot better when playing a Pac-12 team.
The most intriguing aspect of this game will be the running back matchup. NAU's Zach Bauman is a Walter Payton Award candidate, while Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey notched several All-America honors in 2012. The last time these two backs went head-to-head, Bauman outrushed Carey, 99 yards to 59.
Northern Arizona will make a strong push for the Big Sky Conference crown this season, and a blip on the radar against a strong FBS opponent shouldn't mess up the Lumberjacks' title plans.
Prediction: Arizona 41, Northern Arizona 20
Saturday, Aug. 31
No. 5 Villanova (0-0) at Boston College (0-0)
Kickoff: noon (ESPNews)
What to know: These two teams haven't met since the 1980 season - a 20-9 Villanova victory. The Wildcats return a slew of talent from last year's roster, including Jerry Rice Award winner John Robertson under center and junior running back Kevin Monangai, both of whom were 1,000-yard rushers.
It's never an easy task for an FCS program to take on an FBS counterpart, especially considering Boston College recently had national acclaim and still boasts strong athletes. Chase Rettig threw for 3,065 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Eagles last season and will be looking to get his team back in the bowl hunt in 2013.
Opponents outscored the Eagles by nearly 10 points per game last season. Stopping the ground attack was their kryptonite, as teams rushed for an average of 215.3 yards per game. Running the ball is what Villanova does best, so expect a very run-heavy playbook from coach Andy Talley.
Prediction: Villanova 24, Boston College 21
Albany (0-0) at Duquesne (0-0)
Kickoff: 12:10 p.m.
What to know: Albany split from the Northeast Conference after last season to join the CAA, but finds itself right back on a familiar field in Pittsburgh against the Dukes in Week 1.
Albany split the conference title last season with Wagner, but lost out in a tiebreaker when it came time for the NCAA selection committee to map out the playoff field. Things don't get easier for the Great Danes as they get ready to play some of the most talented teams in the nation in the CAA, but a matchup with Duquesne will ease the transition.
Dukes linebacker Dorian Bell has heard his name called in a fair number of preseason accolades, and will be hunting Danes quarterback Will Fiacchi this weekend. However, since it's the first week and no CAA teams have had the opportunity to feast on the newcomer Albany, the Danes should be healthy and ready to pick up where they left off against NEC teams from a year ago.
Prediction: Albany 31, Duquesne 27
Jacksonville State (0-0) at Alabama State (0-0)
Kickoff: 6 p.m.
What to know: Everything Alabama State does offensively starts with Isaiah Crowell, the junior running back who transferred in from Georgia several years back. He dominated his sophomore campaign with 842 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground. He is the go-to playmaker for the Hornets.
The intriguing part of the matchup is that Jacksonville State returns its top seven tacklers to an experienced defense, and will likely be the focal point in first-year coach Bill Clark's scheme. The Gamecocks offense may be the anchor that weighs the team down, despite the return of DeMarcus James. Inexperience at the quarterback position contributes to that weight.
What it comes down to is this: Even if Jacksonville State's defense limits Crowell and the Hornets offense, can the Gamecocks offense do enough damage to scrape out a win between these two above-average teams? The answer is likely no.
Prediction: Alabama State 24, Jacksonville State 14
Savannah State (0-0) at No. 8 Georgia Southern (0-0)
Kickoff: 6 p.m.
What to know: There's every chance in the world that if Georgia Southern were eligible for the FCS playoffs this season, it would have a top-five preseason ranking. But the Eagles are, in fact, not eligible for the playoffs or a Southern Conference title as they prepare to move upward into the FBS. That, according to coach Jeff Monken, isn't going to stop them from trying to win every game.
And poor Savannah State, standing in the way of an Eagles team still looking to unload on the FCS before moving on for good. The Tigers averaged a mere 13.4 points per game last season - over 20 points per game fewer than Georgia Southern.
Jerick McKinnon returns as the starting quarterback for the Eagles, and was the team's leading rusher. That's not good news for the Tigers, who allowed 286.5 rushing yards per game to opponents in 2012. That, however, is good news for McKinnon and the Eagles, who racked up 399.4 rushing yards per game.
Prediction: Georgia Southern 49, Savannah State 7
Central Connecticut State (0-0) at No. 19 James Madison (0-0)
Kickoff: 6 p.m.
What to know: Right now the status of sophomore quarterback Michael Birdsong is still a bit iffy heading into JMU's season opener against Central Connecticut State.
The second-year signal caller recently underwent an emergency appendectomy, but returned to practice and took some reps a little over a week ago.
That won't affect CCSU's offense, though. Returning tailback and return specialist Rob Hollomon is an All-Northeast Conference selection, but throw him up against Buck Buchanan Award candidate Stephon Robertson and the tide may turn against him. Robertson led all JMU tacklers last year with 101 total stops, while overall the Dukes defense allowed just 122.5 rushing yards per game to opponents.
CCSU will have its hands full with a serious CAA title contender to start the season.
Prediction: James Madison 30, Central Connecticut State 14
No. 4 Eastern Washington (0-0) at Oregon State (0-0)
Kickoff: 6 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
What to know: Eastern Washington is a very impressive football team. It's absolutely worth noting the Eagles reached the FCS national semifinals last year, and won a national championship back in 2010.
But the prospect of taking on No. 25-ranked Oregon State is just too much for the Eagles to handle.
Although Eastern Washington has fared well against Pac-12 teams in the past few seasons (lost 24-20 to Washington State in 2012, and fell 30-27 to Washington in 2011), Oregon State is a different creature. The Beavers were ranked as high as No. 7 in the nation last Oct. 22. They outscored their opponents by an impressive 423-268 margin last season. And, to make matters worse for EWU, both quarterbacks who started last year for Oregon State are back in Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz.
To pile on a superstitious yet oddly foreshadowing stat: The two previous seasons in which OSU played host to the Eagles (2000 and 2006, both Beavers victories), Oregon State went on to win 11 games and 10 games, respectively - the best two seasons in program history.
Prediction: Oregon State 42, Eastern Washington 24
VMI (0-0) at No. 16 Richmond (0-0)
Kickoff: 6 p.m.
What to know: Although the all-time series between the Spiders and Keydets isn't very lopsided (43-40-5 in favor of Richmond), the last 10 meetings between the programs have been as lopsided as it gets.
Richmond seeks its 11th straight win over VMI on Saturday. The Spiders last year earned a share of the CAA regular season title, but were denied a playoff berth at season's end. Richmond returns 17 starters, including standout receiver Ben Edwards.
If last year's stats count for anything, the Keydets will have to put up more than 12 points (they averaged 12.1 per game in 2012) to match Richmond's 33.2 per game average. That's tough to do against a defense returning eight starters.
Prediction: Richmond 38, VMI 10
No. 25 Coastal Carolina (0-0) at South Carolina State (0-0)
Kickoff: 6 p.m.
What to know: Coastal Carolina is one of two teams that has a very realistic shot at winning the Big South Conference this season, the other being Liberty. Coastal made an appearance in last year's FCS playoffs, and dropped Bethune- Cookman in the first round before bowing out (being embarrassed, actually) to Old Dominion.
History is on Coastal's side, as the Chanticleers hold a 14-1 record against MEAC teams since the CCU football program was started 11 years ago. And while Coastal returns key pieces to a very explosive offense, South Carolina State will need to score more than the 18.5 points per game it averaged last season.
Controlling the turnover margin will be huge for the Bulldogs. While they lost as many fumbles as their opponents in 2012 (10), they turned the ball over through the air twice as many times as the teams they played (18 interceptions to opponents' nine). It won't get easier for SCSU in Week 2, either, when the Bulldogs travel to face Clemson.
Prediction: Coastal Carolina 34, South Carolina State 20
Houston Baptist (0-0) at No. 3 Sam Houston State (0-0)
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
What to know: Sam Houston State has been to back-to-back national finals and lost both times to North Dakota State. That ought to fuel a fire, right?
The Bearkats return a small amount of starters from last season (five on each side of the ball), but those returnees are certainly impact players. It starts in the backfield with Timothy Flanders, who rushed for 1,662 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2012, and quarterback Brian Bell. Both players were instrumental in getting Sam Houston State to the playoffs and past No. 3 Montana State and No. 2 Eastern Washington.
Houston Baptist will join Sam Houston in the Southland Conference in 2014, and will be playing a developmental season as a first-year program. Welcome to the world of football, Huskies.
Prediction: Sam Houston State 56, Houston Baptist 14
Butler (0-0) at No. 6 South Dakota State (0-0)
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
What to know: South Dakota State enters this season in an immense shadow of its rival to the north - Missouri Valley Football Conference foe North Dakota State - despite coming into the 2013 campaign as the No. 6-ranked team in the nation.
The Jackrabbits will look to prove they can step out into the sun this season behind Zach Zenner, the FCS leader in rushing yards last season. Zenner tallied 2,044 yards as a sophomore, and is one of the front-runners for the Walter Payton Award this time around.
The Pioneer Football League's Butler will look to slow Zenner, which will be extremely difficult. The Bulldogs gave up an average of 179.4 rushing yards per game to opponents last season, and having Zenner stand opposite them doesn't bode well for the Bulldogs' season opener.
All-PFL quarterback Matt Lancaster can put up some points for Butler in this matchup, but it will be the defense that needs to play above and beyond to have a chance in this one.
Prediction: South Dakota State 44, Butler 20
San Diego (0-0) at No. 14 Cal Poly (0-0)
Kickoff: 7:05 p.m.
What to know: Vince Moraga was named the starting quarterback for Cal Poly a week ago, replacing successful signal caller Andre Broadous in a high-powered Mustangs offense.
The Toreros know a thing or two about high-powered offenses, though, and boast one of their own. Returning quarterback Mason Mills led the FCS last season in completion percentage (.700), connecting on 20 touchdown passes for over 3,100 yards.
The new news for PFL teams is that the league champion will receive a first automatic berth into the FCS playoffs, and 2012 tri-champion San Diego is the favorite to be that first team into the postseason.
But that doesn't change the fact there is a talent gap between the Big Sky Conference and the Pioneer League. Cal Poly went 9-3 overall last season, and defeated San Diego handedly in Week 1 a year ago. Expect the Mustangs to start strong again.
Prediction: Cal Poly 35, San Diego 24
No. 8 Wofford (0-0) at Baylor (0-0)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. (FOX Sports Network)
What to know: The toughest part about starting up the 2013 season for Wofford will be not getting to unleash Eric Breitenstein on opponents. The Terriers' all-time leading rusher amassed 5,730 yards in his collegiate career, while accounting for 19 rushing touchdowns in 2012.
Baylor isn't going to find out what the wrath of Breitenstein felt like. Lucky Baylor. Though the Terriers have playmakers still on this team, especially on the defensive side in Alvin Scioneaux. Scioneaux will come in handy, as Baylor returns its top two rushers from 2012 in Glasco Martin and Lache Seastrunk, who accounted for 22 rushing touchdowns.
Wofford is still a top contender for the SoCon title, but Baylor kicks off a pretty tough schedule for the Terriers in 2013.
Prediction: Baylor 30, Wofford 17
No. 17 Northern Iowa (0-0) at Iowa State (0-0)
Kickoff: 8 p.m. (Cyclones.TV)
What to know: The Panthers are 73-5 in the Mark Farley era when they hold opponents to 20 points or less. Likewise, they are 68-4 under coach Farley when they score 30 or more points.
It's tough to hold an FBS offense to fewer then 20 points, so running back David Johnson will have his work cut out for him if Northern Iowa hopes to drop over 30 points on the Cyclones. Johnson's stats against the FBS highlight his ability, though. He's totaled 398 all-purpose yards in UNI's last three meetings with FBS programs.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, it will take more than one standout performance to take down the Cyclones, who ranked 38th in scoring defense in the FBS a year ago.
Prediction: Iowa State 27, Northern Iowa 20
No. 21 Eastern Illinois (0-0) at San Diego State (0-0)
Kickoff: 8 p.m. (Mountain West Network)
What to know: The Panthers have possibly the best quarterback-to-receiver duo in the entire FCS in Jimmy Garoppolo to Erik Lora, both of whom appear on the Walter Payton Award watch list. Eastern Illinois ended the 2012 season on a sour note, falling to South Dakota State in the first round of the FCS tournament, 58-10.
Lora set the FCS single-season record in 2012 for most receptions with 136, and needs just 23 receptions to become the Ohio Valley Conference career leader. He'll likely accomplish that early next month.
But as is the case with any FBS opponent, the disparity in the level of play can be pretty evident. San Diego State took hold of the Mountain West Conference last season with a 7-1 league record and a Poinsettia Bowl berth. The Aztecs are picked to finish second in the Mountain West this year, just behind Fresno State. Tailback Adam Muema helps their cause significantly. As a sophomore in 2012, he rushed for 1,458 yards and 16 touchdowns. And as a defense, Eastern Illinois gave up 170.2 rushing yards per game to opponents.
Prediction: San Diego State 35, Eastern Illinois 24
No. 12 Appalachian State (0-0) at No 20 Montana (0-0)
Kickoff: 9 p.m. (Max Media)
What to know: Appalachian State is not eligible for the SoCon title and a national playoff spot because the team is over the scholarship limit as it transitions into FBS life. But that doesn't mean the Mountaineers are going to roll over and concede this season to its FCS opponents.
Jamal Londry-Jackson had a productive game against the Grizzlies last season, throwing for 260 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for a third score. But that was in Boone, N.C.. This year's matchup features a talented Montana squad months removed from a losing season. Defensive stars like Jordan Tripp and Zack Wagenmann will look to shut down Londry-Jackson and the high-flying Mountaineers offense. And this game in Missoula.
Expect a close game right down to the finish. It may even come down to which team has the ball last.
Prediction: Appalachian State 27, Montana 24
Sunday, Sept. 1
Mississippi Valley State (0-0) vs. Florida A&M (0-0) in MEAC/SWAC Challenge
Kickoff: 11:45 a.m. (ESPN)
What to know: The MEAC holds a 6-2 advantage in the annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge, including two consecutive victories for Bethune-Cookman in the event that features HBCU schools.
Florida A&M has gotten the better of Mississippi Valley State both times the two schools clashed, most recently in 1990. The Rattlers have an arsenal of offensive weaponry returning in 2013, which includes all-conference preseason quarterback Damien Fleming, running back James Owens and receiver Lenworth Lennon.
The Rattlers' high-powered offense will battle nicely with MVSU's defense, which was among the national leaders last season. The Delta Devils will look to preseason All-American Robert Simpson on the defensive line to hold up last season's FCS fourth-ranked total defense.
MVSU is playing its first game since place-kicker Kevin Monzon died in a car crash in April.
Prediction: Florida A&M 24, Mississippi Valley State 17
No. 23 Bethune-Cookman (0-0) at Tennessee State (0-0)
Kickoff: 8 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
What to know: You'd better believe Bethune-Cookman is looking to avenge its playoff loss last season to Coastal Carolina. And while the Wildcats were probably smiling big on the inside when Old Dominion completely embarrassed CCU in the second round, they likely realize they need to step their game up to reach that next level.
Brian Jenkins has his squad ready to go for 2013, which includes a superbly talented defense and an all-conference running back in Isidore Jackson.
Don't overlook Tennessee State, either, as it finished 8-3 last season in the Ohio Valley Conference. Led by cornerback Stephen Godbolt III, the Tigers defense can be just as overwhelming as Bethune-Cookman's. If anything, Tennessee State is just as angry about being overlooked when it came to a playoff spot as B-CU was after losing in the first round.
It's impossible to overlook the fact Tennessee State quarterback Michael German is suspended for the first two games of the season, though. Redshirt freshman Ronald Butler will get the start.
Prediction: Bethune-Cookman 28, Tennessee State 20