Philadelphia, PA – There's an elephant in the room at this point for Southern Conference teams as they begin the in-conference portion of their schedules.
And maybe, in this case, it's two elephants.
As the weeks roll on and non-conference games start to go by the wayside and give way to conference games, SoCon teams fight to earn a conference title and an automatic berth into the FCS playoffs. Just like any other conference.
But with Georgia Southern and Appalachian State ineligible for the conference championship and the national postseason this season, it may come as a surprise to some that their matchups with other SoCon teams do actually count against their opponents' records, despite the fact both schools are over the scholarship limit as they transition to life on the FBS level.
There are seven schools in the Southern Conference that are eligible for the postseason in a conference that, over the years, has been dominated by the two programs that are not eligible.
So the role of ultimate spoiler could go to both Georgia Southern and Appalachian State as they take on other SoCon teams this season, but that's about it. A loss to either on of these two teams goes up in the "L" column, and could potentially affect one (or more) team's playoff push.
Should that bother the coaches around the conference? Maybe. Does it bother them? According to several program heads in the conference, not at all.
"(Games against Georgia Southern and Appalachian State) should count, because that's what the league decided," The Citadel coach Kevin Higgins said. "The league comes out and says, 'This is what we're going to do,' then obviously you're going to go ahead and do that.
"The bottom line is everybody in the league has to play against them. ... It's not like one team has a greater advantage than the other. We were fortunate last year in that we beat App State and we beat Georgia Southern, so if that was this year, we'd be in a great position. But every year is a new year, and I don't have any issues with it at all."
Wofford hosts Georgia Southern on Saturday in its second straight conference matchup. Wofford is realistically one of about four teams in the Southern Conference that has a very good shot at taking the title and an automatic playoff bid. But a loss to the Eagles would drop the Terriers below .500 on the season and even the team's conference record to 1-1.
Terriers coach Mike Ayers agrees with Higgins that the decision has already been made and there's no reason not to accept it. His team has seen Georgia Southern year after year, so for the final time as conference foes, the two will meet up and battle it out.
"The powers that be made the decision, so we'll go with the decision," Ayers said. "I think that from our standpoint, we know that it's not a conference game (after this season), but it is a team that we've had a great (rivalry) with, and we're going to approach it from that standpoint."
Ayers added that once the season comes to a close and it's time for the conference to figure out the playoff situation, will the committee members remember that both Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are moving up and have additional resources? Are they considered an FBS school or an FCS school? He hopes those questions can be answered when the time comes.
The bottom line, Ayers said, is that it's a competition nonetheless, and his team needs to be ready Saturday to take on Georgia Southern, just like any other opponent.
For one more season, the SoCon rivalry continues.
The following is a game-by-game breakdown for The Sports Network FCS Top 25 and other select games (all times ET):
Saturday, Sept. 14
Colgate (0-2) at No. 12 New Hampshire (0-1)
What to know: New Hampshire narrowly missed out on an FBS upset in its first weekend of game action. The Wildcats held a lead against the Central Michigan Chippewas up until midway through the fourth quarter, when a 97-yard pass play knotted the game up at 21 apiece, and a Ron Coluzzi 27-yard field goal as time expired gave the Chippewas their first (and most important) lead of the game.
But that likely won't sink the Wildcats emotionally as they look to rebound against a Colgate team coming off its third straight loss dating to last season.
This game features two starting quarterbacks accustomed to tucking the ball away and carrying it for themselves. Andy Vailas carried the ball 17 times for the Wildcats last Saturday, while Gavin McCarney rushed 14 times. McCarney, a Walter Payton Award candidate, also passed for 303 yards and a touchdown against Albany, and will look to pick the UNH secondary apart.
Don't expect a total runaway this game.
Prediction: New Hampshire 27, Colgate 23
No. 22 Lehigh (1-0) at Monmouth (0-2)
What to know: Lehigh wide receiver Lee Kurfis did more than turn a few heads against Central Connecticut State on Saturday in the Mountain Hawks' debut performance of 2013.
Kurfis caught seven passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns in the two- overtime thriller in Bethlehem, Pa. The early success for Lehigh and quarterback Brandon Bialkowski (18-of-29, 366 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions) doesn't bode well for Monmouth, which gave up an average of 12.6 yards per pass play to Liberty last weekend.
The Hawks are looking to get things back on track after starting the season 0-2. Brandon Hill, a Massachusetts transfer who impressed coaches in the preseason, didn't reach 100 yards passing against the Flames and tossed three interceptions.
The proximity of these two schools should make for a spirited matchup, though.
Prediction: Lehigh 34, Monmouth 20
No. 24 Youngstown State (2-0) at Michigan State (2-0)
Kickoff: 2 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
What to know: Michigan State is coming off a lousy win against South Florida - remember, the FBS team that got demolished by McNeese State? In fact, McNeese State's win against the Bulls made Michigan State's win look pathetic.
Just one offensive touchdown was scored in the Spartans' 21-6 victory - a fourth quarter 2-yard run. And in a game that featured three different Michigan State quarterbacks under center, it's hard to say this 2-0 Spartans' team is an FBS threat to anyone.
The Spartans certainly aren't doing themselves any favors. And quarterback Kurt Hess is the best thing going for Youngstown State. He has experience playing in huge stadiums against big-time FBS programs. In fact, he and the Penguins visited Michigan State two years ago - a 28-6 Spartans' win.
Although Michigan State is playing some ugly football this season, the program is still finding ways to win. And let's keep things in context here by reminding everyone Youngstown State has beaten two Pioneer Football League teams this season. Certainly no Michigan State.
Hess and Youngstown State have the ability to overtake the Spartans, but ultimately the unfriendly environment could overmatch the Penguins.
Prediction: Michigan State 28, Youngstown State 17
Texas Southern (0-1) at No. 5 Sam Houston State (1-1)
Kickoff:3 p.m. (CSN-Houston)
What to know: Texas Southern had an extra week to digest its opening week loss to fellow Southwestern Athletic Conference member Prairie View A&M via an early bye week. The Tigers could probably use all the game planning they could get for Sam Houston State, too.
The Bearkats dropped slightly in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 after a Week 2 loss (well, drubbing) to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. Falling to No. 5 must be horrifying, right? But even against the Aggies, senior Timothy Flanders managed 170 yards rushing with three total touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) while the offense gained 390 total yards.
Maybe seeing such a high-powered offense this early in the season will jump-start the comeback trail for the Tigers in the SWAC race, which is absolutely wide open at the moment.
Prediction: Sam Houston State 52, Texas Southern 13
Colorado Mesa (1-0) at No. 3 Montana State (1-1)
Kickoff: 3:05 p.m. (Max Media)
What to know: The Bobcats suffered a huge blow earlier this week when the team learned McGhee would miss the next few weeks with a separated shoulder. No timeline has been given for his return, though coach Rob Ash believes the middle of the season sounds about right.
In a statement Monday, Ash said he feels great about Jake Bleskin under center. Bleskin played a total of five games in 2012, completing three of four pass attempts for 18 yards. His first career start comes against Division II opponent Colorado Mesa.
The Mavericks are 1-0, defeating Menlo College, 34-0, last weekend. So Bleskin, the sophomore, will ease into his first of what will be multiple starts for the Bobcats against a lower-division test. Expect Bleskin to air it out, but for running backs Cody Kirk and Shawn Johnson to get a heavier workload.
Prediction: Montana State 38, Colorado Mesa 17
No. 17 Stony Brook (1-0) at Buffalo (0-2)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
What to know: Last week, we got to see Stony Brook in action as a first-year member of the Colonial Athletic Association, as the Seawolves took on Rhode Island. This week, against Buffalo, we get to see Stony Brook play in a not- so-sure-thing game.
Buffalo comes into Week 3 with an 0-2 record, but to be fair, it dropped those two early games to Ohio State and Baylor. There are few teams in this country that would walk away 2-0 against those early opponents.
Buffalo needs to slow down opposing offenses; last week giving up 781 net yards offensively to Baylor. Stony Brook has a tough-to-contain offense as well, and the Subdivision label shouldn't count for much here. This could be a very close game.
Seawolves Chuck Priore has done a great job bringing in FBS transfers over the past few seasons, so this team knows what to expect.
Prediction: Stony Brook 28, Buffalo 20
Delaware (2-0) at Navy (1-0)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m.
What to know: Delaware is off to a strong start in 2013 under new head coach Dave Brock, but the competition the team has faced isn't exactly anything to write home about.
The Blue Hens took down Jacksonville on opening night and handed Delaware State a sizeable loss last weekend. Now they travel to Annapolis, Md., to face a very run-heavy Midshipmen offense. Navy is 1-0 after beating Indiana, 41-35, and leads Delaware in the all-time series, 9-7.
Delaware quarterback Trent Hurley had a pretty spectacular day against Delaware State on Saturday, throwing for 328 yards and four touchdowns in the 42-21 win. Against Navy in Week 2, Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld put up fairly similar numbers to Hurley's, tossing 363 yards and four scores.
Hurley will have to at least duplicate his stats while getting a solid contribution from the run game in order to take down the Midshipmen.
Prediction: Navy 38, Delaware 23
No. 14 Cal Poly (1-1) at Colorado State (0-2)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m.
What to know: The Mustangs didn't get it going offensively until it was too late Saturday against Fresno State. By the time they scored their first point (a field goal several minutes into the third quarter) the Bulldogs were already up, 34-0.
But there's something to be said for scoring three straight touchdowns to end the game and coming back (sort of) to lose 41-25. Cal Poly discovered that sophomore Chris Brown provided a spark at the quarterback position, and made headway into what was a stagnant running game Saturday.
The Mustangs take on Colorado State, an 0-2 team which recently gave up a 10- point fourth-quarter lead in a three-point loss to Tulsa. The Rams offense has been uninspiring this year, while the Mustangs have received solid play from Kristaan Ivory on the ground. Look for that to continue.
Prediction: Cal Poly 27, Colorado State 21
Alabama State (0-2, 0-1 SWAC) at Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-2, 0-0)
Kickoff: 5 p.m.
What to know: It's interesting, and certainly disappointing, the way the season has started for Southwestern Athletic Conference teams. Here we have Alabama State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, two teams picked to finish at the top of each SWAC division (defending champ UAPB in the West, Alabama State in the East).
But instead, we're looking at two 0-2 teams that have underperformed like it's in style. At least last weekend Alabama State running back Isaiah Crowell ran like the Georgia transfer he is, gaining 179 yards and scoring a touchdown against conference foe Jackson State.
Pine Bluff was decimated by blooming McNeese State, and really didn't boast any numbers worth bragging about. Yet here we are, still talking about the potential for these two teams meeting up in the SWAC Championship Game. That's a testament to the rough start the conference has had this year. Maybe it will turn around, starting with this game.
Prediction: Arkansas-Pine Bluff 23, Alabama State 17
No. 23 Bethune-Cookman (2-0) at FIU (0-2)
Kickoff: 6 p.m.
What to know: This will be a fun FBS-FCS matchup between two East Coast Florida teams (granted the total distance between the universities is 268 miles, so it's not exactly a quick drive for B-CU fans). But that doesn't mean there shouldn't be some sort of intrastate rivalry here.
Bethune-Cookman has had an interesting start to the season, narrowly defeating Tennessee State in Week 1 and blowing the lid off Virginia Union last weekend. There hasn't been much to judge this Top 25 team on.
Florida International won't exactly break the trend. The 0-2 program has scored 10 points combined in its two games (including a shutout last weekend at the hands of Central Florida), and has given up 81 total points to opponents. This will truly be a game in which we can judge the FBS-FCS gap because this contest features a Top 25 FCS team and a bottom-tiered Conference USA counterpart.
Prediction: FIU 26, Bethune-Cookman 21
No. 15 Richmond (1-1) at Gardner-Webb (1-1)
Kickoff: 6 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
What to know: Credit goes where credit is due this week, as Richmond was one of several FCS teams to just miss out on an FBS upset in Week 2.
The Spiders dropped a 23-21 decision to North Carolina State last Saturday, but made a strong case for themselves moving forward in the season. And with Villanova struggling to an 0-2 start and on a bye this weekend, Richmond can move up toward the top of the CAA pecking order.
Gardner-Webb stands in the way, though. The Big South program was shut out by Marshall, 55-0, last weekend, but the more embarrassing stat was in the turnover column. The Runnin' Bulldogs gave away possessions six times to the Herd - three interceptions and three fumbles. That absolutely cannot happen against Richmond, which forced four turnovers Saturday against N.C. State.
Prediction: Richmond 34, Gardner-Webb 14
Saint Francis (Pa.) (0-1) at No. 20 James Madison (1-1)
Kickoff: 6 p.m.
What to know: For St. Francis, a Northeast Conference team, the first two games of the 2013 couldn't get much tougher.
After starting with an open week, the Red Flash traveled to Statesboro, Ga., to take on Georgia Southern - an eventual 59-17 loss. Now they must travel a few states up to battle James Madison, a team that could very well be 2-0 if it weren't for a failed two-point conversion against Akron last week.
The Dukes received standout performances from sophomore quarterback Michael Birdsong (310 yards, three touchdowns, one interceptions) and senior running back Dae'Quan Scott (107 yards, TD).
The Red Flash at least got production from senior back Kyle Harbridge, but will need to see a lot more from freshman signal callers Max Ward and Capri Thompson, who combined to throw for fewer than 100 yards last Saturday.
Prediction: James Madison 30, St. Francis (Pa.) 16
No. 21 Coastal Carolina (2-0) at Eastern Kentucky (1-1)
Kickoff: 6 p.m.
What to know: OK, so the numbers may be a bit weighted for Eastern Kentucky, a team coming off a 44-7 loss to Louisville. And as a program teetering on the brink of breaking into the Top 25, this is a perfect test for the Colonels.
Coastal Carolina was nearly upset last Saturday against Furman, when a late defensive stand kept the Paladins from reaching the end zone and a game-tying score. But it was a game that was telling for the Chanticleers, who gave up 240 yards rushing and are allowing 208.5 rushing yards per game to opponents this year.
Eastern Kentucky can take advantage of that, but it depends on the play of junior quarterback Jared McClain. In Week 1, McClain totaled four touchdowns, two passing and two rushing, in a 38-6 win over Robert Morris. But as a team against Louisville, the Colonels lost 99 yards on run plays and finished with a net 50 yards on 42 carries. Again, that was against Louisville.
It should be a tight game, and could quite possibly come down to the final possession Saturday.
Prediction: Coastal Carolina 27, Eastern Kentucky 24
Tennessee State (1-1) vs. Jackson State (1-1) in Memphis, Tenn.
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
What to know: At 1-1, Jackson State is one of four total SWAC teams (from both the East and West divisions) to have a win this season. Which means the Tigers are sitting pretty right now in a conference clearly struggling after two weeks.
Jackson State quarterback Clayton Moore turned in a pretty solid game against Alabama State last Saturday, throwing for 281 yards and two touchdowns (with one interception). The downside of that performance was his 38.8 completion percentage (14-of-36).
Tennessee State, on the other hand, prides itself on being a sound defensive squad. Most recently, the Tigers held Florida A&M - one of the better offenses in the MEAC - to just seven points. Look for Tennessee State's defense to keep up its solid play (the team has allowed 16 points combined to opponents through two weeks).
Prediction: Tennessee State 28, Jackson State 10
No. 11 Montana (1-0) at North Dakota (1-1)
Kickoff: 7 p.m. (Max Media)
What to know: This matchup doesn't count toward the Big Sky Conference standings.
Montana is returning to action after an open week and runs right into a hot- starting North Dakota team. The UND offense is on fire through two weeks, putting up 69 points on Valpo in Week 1 and losing by a touchdown, 35-28, to No. 6 South Dakota State last weekend.
That's exactly why this is one of the more intriguing matchups in Week 3. Montana has had two weeks to prepare and brings in a defense with one of the best front sevens in the entire FCS.
The key for Montana will be pressuring both North Dakota quarterbacks, so neither Joe Mollberg nor Ryan Bartels has the time to find standout wide receiver Greg Hardin. Hardin's 370 receiving yards through the first two weeks is bested by no one in the FCS landscape (and is in fact nearly 100 yards more than Stephen F. Austin's Mike Brooks, who is in second).
But as long as Montana's defense plays to its ability, the offense will certainly be able to give the Griz the advantage.
Prediction: Montana 34, North Dakota 24
No. 2 Eastern Washington (2-0) at Toledo (0-2)
Kickoff: 7 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
What to know: It's FBS matchup round No. 2 for the Eagles, who are coming off back-to-back wins against teams on different ends of the spectrum.
We all know about EWU's victory over Oregon State behind the spectacular play of quarterback Vernon Adams. Last week, it was a little less impressive, but the Eagles won nonetheless against Western Oregon. Now the Eagles return to the difficult portion of their schedule, as they take on the MAC's Toledo, have an open week next weekend, and then travel to Texas to face Sam Houston State to cap off September.
Toledo is 0-2 to start the season, but the losses the Rockets have suffered so far have been no joke - to Florida and Missouri, respectively. Toledo ranks 87th in the FBS nation currently in points allowed (31 per game), so if the Eagles can continue to put points on the board, they should be able to win this one.
Prediction: Eastern Washington 44, Toledo 35
Southeastern Louisiana (1-1) at No. 6 South Dakota State (2-0)
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
What to know: This Zach Zenner guy can really play, huh?
The junior tailback leads the nation in rushing yards (412 through two games), averages over 200 yards per game (206) and is tied for the nation's lead with five rushing touchdowns. Oh, and he's the nation's top point scorer, averaging 18 points per game.
Everyone knows about Zenner. But does anyone give the proper attention to Lions quarterback Bryan Bennett? The Oregon transfer is seventh in the nation in total rushing yards (238), eighth in rushing yards per game (119) and tied for fifth in scoring (12 points per game). He's thrown for 301 yards as well.
It's a terrific intersectional matchup. The fact that this game is in Brookings, S.D., will give the No. 6 Jackrabbits some extra momentum.
Prediction: South Dakota State 37, Southeastern Louisiana 21
No. 10 Georgia Southern (2-0, 0-0 SoCon) at Wofford (1-1, 1-0)
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
What to know: So here we go. A battle of two Southern Conference teams, one eligible for the title and FCS playoffs, and one not.
The ineligibility factor hasn't slowed Georgia Southern at all this season. The Eagles have rushed for 882 yards in two games, and when Jerick McKinnon does actually throw the ball, it's usually to the tune of a touchdown. The senior quarterback has attempted six passes in two games, and 50 percent of those have gone for scores (only one of his six attempts was incomplete).
Wofford pulled away from SoCon rival The Citadel last Saturday, but faces a pivotal conference game against Georgia Southern. A loss here could be problematic in the latter half of the season, when the Terriers have to face Samford, Chattanooga and Appalachian State in consecutive games.
Prediction: Georgia Southern 48, Wofford 20
No. 8 Central Arkansas (1-1) at UT Martin (1-1)
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
What to know: Both teams had serious problems regarding turnovers last week in their respective games.
Wynrick Smothers tossed three interceptions to Pac-12 opponent Colorado, while Dylan Favre (yes, there is a relation - nephew of Brett) threw three interceptions of his own against Boise State. True, both teams were facing some pretty stiff competition in FBS opponents. But turnovers can be prevented by making fewer mistakes internally.
Hopefully, this doesn't turn into a turnover show again, because there's a good chance this will be one of the top games to see this weekend. UT Martin will be hunting for a top spot in the Ohio Valley Conference come season's end, while Central Arkansas looks to move out of the Sam Houston State shadow in the Southland Conference.
Ultimately, it will come down to whichever team makes the least number of mistakes, and that should be Central Arkansas.
Prediction: Central Arkansas 31, UT Martin 24
No. 18 Illinois State (0-1) at No. 9 Eastern Illinois (2-0)
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
What to know: This game is certainly one of the spotlighted ones this weekend. Not only is it the only battle of two Top 25 teams, but there are serious bragging rights at stake in the state of Illinois for the winner.
Illinois State is coming off an open week, looking to rebound from a Week 1 loss to Ball State. The Redbirds like what they see in transfer quarterback Jared Barnett, who spread the ball around pretty evenly to eight different targets in their first game.
But Eastern Illinois has been the standard for offense this season. The Panthers are fifth in the nation in total offense, averaging 577.5 yards per game, and are second in passing offense in the FCS with 400.5 passing yards per game (behind Idaho State, which has only played one game this season). Can the Redbirds stop Walter Payton Award candidate Jimmy Garoppolo? We'll soon find out.
Prediction: Eastern Illinois 38, Illinois State 30
Delaware State (0-1) at No. 4 Towson (2-0)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.
What to know: Terrance West didn't even receive half of his team's total carries against Holy Cross last Saturday, yet the junior running back still managed 121 yards on the ground and two touchdowns.
The Tigers spread carries out significantly, with nine different players each recording at least one rush. West had 17 carries. Towson's forte this season, as it has been the past few years, has been its running game. But as possibly the most well-rounded Tigers' squad in recent memory, Towson has allowed just 25 points to its opponents.
Perhaps it will be Towson quarterback Peter Athens's week to shine. Delaware State allowed 328 passing yards and four touchdowns to Delaware's Trent Hurley last Saturday, which Athens can duplicate.
Prediction: Towson 42, Delaware State 14
West Alabama (1-0) at No. 13 McNeese State (2-0)
Kickoff: 8 p.m.
What to know: In two weeks, McNeese State has rocketed up from relative obscurity to the No. 13 team in the country behind an absolutely explosive offense, with the ability to keep on climbing.
The Cowboys currently have the top-ranked offense in the nation in terms of scoring offense (111 points in two games, equaling 56.5 points per game). Led by seniors Cody Stroud at quarterback and Marcus Wiltz at running back, the Cowboys laid yet another beatdown on their opposition Saturdau - a 58-14 rout of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
West Alabama has a successful day of its own Saturday, defeating Clark Atlanta, 42-6. But playing McNeese State, one of the FCS' hottest teams, won't go as well for the Tigers. Let's see if the Cowboys can post three straight games with 50-plus points.
Prediction: McNeese State 52, West Alabama 17
No. 25 Northern Arizona (0-1) at UC Davis (0-2)
Kickoff: 9 p.m.
What to know: This matchup doesn't count toward the Big Sky Conference standings, but it's important for both teams.
One more loss for UC Davis and the Aggies could easily be on the outside looking in when it comes to the Big Sky playoff picture. Yes, it's a little early to be talking playoffs. But when you play in a conference as tough and as loaded as the Big Sky, every win, and loss, counts significantly.
Northern Arizona is coming off an open week following a Week 1 loss to Arizona. So really no harm done for the Lumberjacks, who weren't expected to beat their Pac-12 opponent in the first week of the season.
The Aggies gave up 267 yards rushing to Nevada last weekend, and face Zach Bauman, a potential Walter Payton Award finalist, this week. In a conference that features the likes of Eastern Washington, Montana State, Montana and Cal Poly, the Lumberjacks could really use a win to stay relevant.
Prediction: Northern Arizona 27, UC Davis 15
Last Week's Record: 19-6 (.760)
Season Record: 34-16 (.680)