After a 1-2 start, defending Southland Conference champion Sam Houston State and quarterback Brian Bell are trying to make a run to the FCS playoffs.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
It might seem ridiculous to make a comparison between the FCS and its playoff system in relation to the FBS and the BCS. After all, it's playoffs versus popularity.
However, with the announcement earlier this week of the season's first BCS standings, it's almost a sigh of relief for all of those who associate with the FCS. It's another reminder that, once again, teams have the opportunity to prove which program is the best of the best on the field, not with polls or computers.
For the most part, in the FCS teams have the ability to control their own destiny, rather than worrying about style points, going undefeated or even, worrying about the timing of a big win or loss.
"I think the way we (FCS) do it is the way that you should do it," Villanova coach Andy Talley said. "That's have a round of 20 people to play off and give people an opportunity to slip every now and then. I think it's tough when you're in the Southeastern Conference or some of those places and you're playing national games week in and week out.
"It's hard to win all those games ... so I like our deal. There is still life at 5-2 for us, we still have a chance to go on and go as far as we really want to go. So I think that's the great thing about the FCS level. We give people an opportunity to play through the season and through the playoffs."
With the exception of the Ivy League, the Pioneer Football League and basically the Southwestern Athletic Conference, there are still plenty of schools competing for their own spot in the playoffs.
Currently, 33 teams in the FCS are at least two games above .500, while 14 teams have at least four wins, 17 teams have won at least five games, five teams have already totaled at least six wins and only two teams have won seven games.
Of course a lot can change between now and Selection Sunday on Nov. 18, so don't hold your breath just yet.
Obviously, as is the case most of the season in the BCS standings, teams which expect to play for the national championship can really afford only one, maybe two, loss.
As history has shown, in the FCS teams don't have to be perfect. Many factors come into play, like scheduling, injuries, development of players and so on. But even then, schools can afford to have a down week or make the postseason without winning their respective conference.
"I think that's the thing you preach from the beginning of the year," Talley said. "That we're going to have some ups and downs, especially with us, having a young team and a freshman quarterback. So it's something where we're going to continue to grow and that's what you have a chance to do."
In recent years, the "talk of the town" in regards to the FCS playoffs has been the quality of teams selected which have won just seven games. While the NCAA FCS playoff committee doesn't necessarily state that a team must reach seven wins against Division I teams to earn an at-large bid in the field of 20, the committee usually follows the seven-win plateau as a benchmark.
James Madison coach Mickey Matthews and Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken both can agree that often times a team with a 7-4 record is still very much alive in the national picture.
"I think what makes our system difficult, it does not reward playing a tough schedule," Matthews said. "You know, it's the negative about it. I think all of us like (to go play other tough conferences), but when you get a I-AA loss, it really hurts you. If you play in a tough league, which we do, and then there's an upset or two, you can be sitting at home."
Monken, the third-year head coach at Georgia Southern, understands firsthand just how dangerous a 7-4 team can be, especially if it plays a tough schedule.
"I think that's one of the good things about having a playoff," Monken said. "You don't have to have an undefeated season or go 15-0 ... we've been in the national semifinals the last two years and the team from 2010 had four losses, but made the playoffs. We won three games (in the playoffs) but we were 7-4.
"It just gives teams a chance to improve over the course of a season. In 2010, we were one of those teams who did just that."
Similarly, Matthews' team even made the argument with a record of 6-5 in 2010. The Dukes beat FBS Virginia Tech and playoff-bound William & Mary and they had plenty of close defeats.
"We have a team in our league right now, Towson, who I think is no question a Top 10 team and they have three losses," Matthews said. "Now, how can you keep them out at the end (of the season)? I don't want to put any pressure on Rob, (Towson coach Rob Ambrose), and I don't mean this in any shape or form or fashion, but if they're 7-4 with two losses to Kent State and LSU, now how does that equate?"
Many of the teams from the big four of the Big Sky, CAA Football, Missouri Valley and Southern Conference are making strong cases to be considered by the committee through the first seven weeks of the season. At the same time, conferences like the Ohio Valley and the Southland also will have something to say when the regular season ends.
Interestingly enough, Southeastern Louisiana, which leads the Southland with a 3-0 record, is also the only team in the conference which plays 11 Division I opponents. Every other team, especially those still in the race, have played one non-Division I game, which could hurt later down the road.
What's the simple solution for teams on the cusp of making the postseason? For Sam Houston State coach Willie Fritz' team, it's a one-game approach.
"I think when you start looking ahead too far, that's when you have problems," Fritz said. "We have signs up all over our complex, you know, prove it every week, last week's over and done with. All of our focus is on McNeese State. I think every coach in this conference would agree with me on that. You better not think ahead or you're going to get your butt kicked. All we are worried about is the Cowboys."
The following is a game-by-game breakdown for The Sports Network FCS Top 25 (all times ET):
No. 12 New Hampshire Wildcats (5-2, 3-1 CAA) at Maine Black Bears (2-4, 1-2), noon, (Comcast SportsNet)
Series Record: New Hampshire leads, 48-43-8
Last Meeting: New Hampshire 30, Maine 27 (Nov. 19, 2011)
What to know: In one of the oldest New England rivalries, Maine and New Hampshire meet for the 100th time and up for grabs, of course, is the coveted Brice-Cowell Musket. For the longest time, this series was played on the last game of the season, but one thing is for sure, you can pretty much throw the stats out the window, especially when you consider how close the rivalry has been the last couple of years.
The last three meetings have been decided by three points, including a four- point difference four years ago, while two of the last three meetings (2006, 2010) at Alfond Stadium have gone to overtime.
New Hampshire gets the press offensively, coming into the contest averaging 499 yards per game and very surprisingly ranking No. 6 in the FCS in rushing offense with 259 yards per game.
Much of the success has been related to an offensive line which is expected to make it eight straight games with Seamus O'Neill, Chris Zarkoskie, Mike Coccia, Mickey DiLima and Rob Bowman all in the lineup. Running backs Nico Steriti, Chris Setian and Jimmy Owens have been deemed the "SOS Express" and have accounted for 14 touchdowns this season.
Maine has struggled to remain consistent, but its only losses have come by FBS Boston College, Albany, Villanova and Towson last week. Quarterback Marcus Wasilewski is gaining confidence in leading the offense each week - he averages 228 passing yards per game. Running backs David Hood and Rickey Stevens won't put up huge numbers, but they are equally dangerous catching passes out of the backfield as well.
Defensively, Maine is led by defensive end Michael Cole (seven sacks, two forced fumbles and seven tackles for loss) and linebacker Donte Dennis (59 total tackles, tied for second in the CAA with 9.8 tackles per game).
UNH has some serious questions to answer, particularly at the quarterback position because although sophomore Andy Valais has been solid, coach Sean McDonnell also will look to redshirt freshman Sean Golrich, who was injured in Week 2. Whichever signal-caller is healthy and or playing better will see action.
Maine has the ability to stretch the field vertically on a Wildcats secondary which is young and inexperienced. The 'Cats give up 282 passing yards per game, so expect the Black Bears to pass first before running the ball.
Maine's senior class has only won the musket once in their careers, the last time the game was in Oreno in 2010 - a 16-13 overtime win. The Black Bears still have a lot of fight in them and should have no problem moving the ball through the air.
Prediction: Maine 35, New Hampshire 33
No. 17 Tennessee State Tigers (7-0, 3-0 OVC) at Jacksonville State Gamecocks (3-3, 2-2), noon (Fox College Sports)
Series Record: Jacksonville State leads, 6-1
Last Meeting: Jacksonville State 38, Tennessee State 16 (Nov. 19, 2011)
What to know: The Tigers have somewhat quietly remained undefeated through their first seven games and are off to their best start since 1999, when the team was 11-0. Jacksonville State has the edge in the all-time series, having won the last three games and TSU hasn't won since 2006, as the teams did not meet in the 2007 and 2009 seasons.
Last week, versus Southeast Missouri State, running back Trabis Ward was a beast, scoring four touchdowns on the ground, for 267 yards on an FCS season- high 43 carries.
Despite giving up a season-high 28 points in the win last week, the Tigers still rank No. 13 in the FCS, allowing 16 points per game. Even more promising? It was the first time since 1999 that TSU defeated SEMO on the road, breaking a five-game losing streak.
The Tigers defense, spearheaded by Nick Thrasher (65 total tackles, 7 1/2 tackles for loss), has a wealth of depth and many players have seen a lot of action.
Jacksonville State probably needs a win more than any team in the OVC, after committing five turnovers, missing three field goals and failing to set up what would have been a game-tying field goal in a 31-28 loss at Eastern Illinois last week.
Because the conference has so many teams in the title race, a loss could be devastating. The Gamecocks held the Panthers in check for the most part, but couldn't put together a complete showing on both sides of the ball. JSU is rushing for over 200 yards per game, but its defense also gives up just over 200 yards per game, which could be an issue.
The Gamecocks still have some fight and have nothing to lose, so Tennessee State will have to play mistake-free football on the road.
Prediction: Tennessee State 27, Jacksonville State 24
Last Meeting: Lehigh 30, Bucknell 6 (Oct. 8, 2011)
What to know: Lehigh has been one of the most talked about highly ranked teams. Not necessarily because it's one of four remaining undefeated teams in the FCS, but because its wins have come over relatively easy competition and the style of play isn't very pretty.
Still, the Mountain Hawks have taken care of business in every contest this season and should deserve at least some credit, because reaching seven wins, like most teams realize, is no easy task. Last week, at Georgetown, Lehigh faced its biggest scare, holding on for a 17-14 victory. The Mountain Hawks overcame seven turnovers - yes, seven - while the Hoyas' stud defensive back Jeremy Moore had three interceptions.
Quarterback Michael Colvin has hit a little bit of a wall and turned the ball over more then normal over the last couple of weeks. However, his running abilities are improving and the rest of the backfield, like Keith Sherman and Zach Barket, are playing big roles on offense.
Senior All-America receiver Ryan Spadola, who has been strangely quiet this season, is expected to miss his second straight game after he was diagnosed with mononucleosis.
Lehigh has won its last 14 games against Bucknell, dating back to 1998, but the Bison's defense might be the best unit Lehigh will have faced on the season. Of course, Bucknell is looking to snap a five-game losing streak, not to mention avoid its first six-game losing streak since 2005.
Bucknell can't get much going offensively - ranking third-from-last in the FCS with just nine points per game - and it has scored 20 points just once versus Lehigh in the last 14 meetings.
The Mountain Hawks have won 17 straight regular-season games, good for the longest active streak in the FCS. Expect an on-going battle between the Bison defensive line, which averages three sacks per game, and the LU offensive line, which has given up only three sacks on the season.
Last Meeting: Harvard 56, Princeton 39 (Oct. 22, 2011)
What to know: Harvard continued its own impressive streak of 14 straight wins dating back to last season, by defeating Bucknell, 35-7, last week. Each victory during that run has come by double figures.
Senior signal-caller Colten Chapple averages 274 yards per game through the air and he has thrown 13 touchdowns versus only three interceptions in his team's first five games. His backfield mate, running back Treavor Scales, leads the Ivy League in rushing touchdowns with seven and averages 103 yards per game with his legs.
The Crimson defense leads the FCS in rushing defense (43 yards per game) and sacks (four per game). On the other side of the ball, they rank No. 3 in scoring with 41 points per game.
What could top those statistics? How about accumulating the highest-scoring total (205 points) through their first five games since 1892. Not 30 years ago, like 1982, but as in 120 years ago.
Harvard takes its perfect record to Princeton to play the Ivy's most unexpected success in 2012. The Tigers defense has been outstanding, allowing just 11 points per game, which ranks No. 2 in the FCS, and 94 yards per game through the ground, No. 7 nationally. It's the first three-game winning streak for Princeton since the 2006 season and a win would allow for the Tigers to control their own Ivy League title aspirations.
The Crimson have beaten down the Tigers in recent years, winning the last five games by an average of 17 points and 14 of the last 16 games.
The Tigers have yet to allow a touchdown in Ivy League play. That should change this week. Coach Bob Surace finally has his players believing they can compete. It's great news for a program which has struggled as of late.
But the Tigers still have a lot to prove before they upset a ranked defending Ivy champion.
Last Meeting: Georgetown 40, Colgate 17 (Oct. 22, 2011)
What to know: Very few times in a season can a team force seven turnovers and have a player intercept three passes yet still lose a game. That's just what Georgetown did last week versus Lehigh, while key special teams miscues cost the Hoyas a huge upset victory and a great start in Patriot League play.
Georgetown has never beaten the Raiders in Hamilton, N.Y., but they did notch their first-ever win over Colgate in the all-time series last year, winning, 40-17.
Colgate is won of the most intriguing teams in the league because although it is 3-3 overall, it controls its own destiny in the Patriot. Colgate has losses versus Albany to open the season, at South Dakota and at nationally ranked Stony Brook, where it fell by one point.
As of late, the "Double-Mac Attack" duo of quarterback Gavin McCarney and tailback Jordan McCord have been on fire. Collectively, they are the team's leading rushers and have scored 19 combined rushing touchdowns.
The defense gives up 29 points per game and an alarming 213 rushing yards per contest, but the offense is playing like the team many thought would give Lehigh a run for its money in the Patriot.
Georgetown's talented senior defensive back, Moore, was named The Sports Network National Co-Defensive Player of the Week for his three-interception game at Lehigh and he now leads the FCS with five interceptions on the season. He now holds a Patriot League and school record for career interception return yards with 318.
Linebacker Robert McCabe might be the best player you have never heard of. He leads the FCS in total tackles with 99 - 15 more than any other player. His 347 career tackles are just two away from the program record.
As mentioned before, Colgate is 4-0 all-time at home versus the Hoyas and are trying to move to 2-0 in the Patriot League for the first time since 2009. In that same year, Georgetown fell to 0-2 in league play.
Prediction: Colgate 35, Georgetown 24
San Diego Toreros (3-3, 2-1 PFL) at Jacksonville Dolphins (6-1, 4-0), 1 p.m.
Series Record: San Diego leads, 4-3
Last Meeting: San Diego 23, Jacksonville 14 (Nov. 19, 2011)
What to know: In the Pioneer Football League, San Diego makes a tough cross- country trip to face Jacksonville, which sits atop the league standings at 4-0 with Drake and Butler. The Dolphins boast an FCS-best 16-game home win streak and are seeking revenge after the Toreros posted a 23-14 in last season's meeting and prevented the Dolphins from claiming a share of the PFL title.
It might be strange to say, but JU's lone loss, a 58-0 humbling experience at Georgia Southern, has been the only setback of the season through seven games. Jacksonville would much rather pass first, then run the ball because the Dolphins rank 70th in the FCS in rushing offense with 138 yards per game and it has only scored four rushing touchdowns. Eric Baker leads the team on the ground with a mere 258 rushing yards and one touchdown.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Kade Bell has made his dad, coach Kerwin Bell, happy. He has passed for 12 touchdowns versus five interceptions and averages 197 yards per game. Also, the Dolphins have the advantage on special teams, having returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and one punt return for a touchdown.
Once again, San Diego has another brutal travel game, where kickoff will be slated for 10 a.m. Pacific time. USD has had to travel, but its losses have come versus quality opponents. The three defeats this season have come to teams with a combined record of 16-2: Cal Poly (6-0), Harvard (5-0) and Drake (5-2). In the team's 44-0 mauling of Campbell last week, running back Dallas Kessman became just the fourth Torero to rush for four touchdowns in a game. He's a redshirt freshman.
The key to the game will be how San Diego quarterback Mason Mills, whose numbers through six games haven't been great - nine touchdowns versus eight interceptions - handles the PFL's No. 1 pass defense in JU, which gives up 166 yards per game and has allowed just five touchdown passes.
The edge goes to Jacksonville, not only because San Diego has to travel and feel like it is playing earlier than normal, but because the Dolphins play so well at home and they want to avenge last year's costly loss.
Last Meeting: Georgia Southern 50, Furman 20 (Oct. 15, 2011)
What to know: Georgia Southern picked up a nice win last week over then-No. 5 Wofford, 17-9. Interestingly, the Eagles have won 14 straight games at Paulson Stadium, which is the second longest streak in the FCS behind the team GSU throttled in Week 1, Jacksonville, which has won 16 straight home wins.
The Eagles didn't attempt a pass in the win against Wofford and, quite frankly, they haven't really needed to throw the ball because the run attack has been solid over the last couple of games.
It's not uncommon for triple option teams to have non-existent passing statistics. For example, the three SoCon teams which run the triple option rank as the three worst passing teams in the FCS. Georgia Southern ranks last in the FCS, having thrown for 207 passing yards through six games, just 36 per game.
Furman enters the game having dropped two straight games, falling to Chattanooga last week at home, 31-10. The offense has playmakers such as quarterback Reese Hannon (105-of-169, 1,291 yards, six touchdowns passing), running back Jerodis Williams (815 rushing yards, seven touchdowns) and receiver Will King (541 receiving yards, three touchdowns). However, the Paladins defense gives up 390 yards of offense per contest, good for No. 6 in the SoCon.
Everyone in the conference knows about the wealth of talent and depth GSU has on offense, but the defense actually ranks No. 2 in the FCS in total defense, yielding just 266 yards per game.
The Eagles have won three of the last four games against Furman, not to mention winning in the last two contests in Greenville, S.C.
Prediction: Georgia Southern 40, Furman 28
Missouri State Bears (1-6, 1-3 MVFC) at No. 11 Illinois State Redbirds (6-1, 3-1), 2 p.m.
Series Record: Illinois State leads, 17-14-1
Last Meeting: Illinois State 38, Missouri State 13 (Oct. 8, 2011)
What to know: Illinois State picked up a very crucial come-from-behind victory over Youngstown State last week after trailing 28-7 midway through the first half. The Redbirds are looking to improve to 7-1 for the first time since 1967. Likewise, Missouri State scored the final 17 points in the last 5:27 to defeat South Dakota, 27-24.
Under center, ISU senior Matt Brown bounced back from a four-interception performance in the loss to Southern Illinois one week earlier. He threw for three touchdowns and scored the game-winning rushing touchdown with 2:44 left, capping off the dramatic victory against Youngstown State. The senior now has 71 career touchdowns and needs just one score to become the new program leader.
Missouri State place-kicker Austin Witmer kicked a game-winning boot of 33 yards as time expired to defeat South Dakota. Before the win last week at home, the last time the Bears won in their own backyard was on another Witmer kick, a 22-yard field goal to help MSU beat North Dakota State, 3-0 on Nov. 17, 2010.
The victory over SD was the first of 2012 and should give the Bears a lot of confidence in knowing they can disrupt Illinois State's Missouri Valley title aspirations.
However, the Redbirds have too much riding on the season if they hope to make the FCS playoffs. The defense adjusted well after halftime last week and allowed just 100 total yards against YSU in the second half. Coach Brock Spack is 17-4 all-time at Hancock Stadium and ISU will need to take a "one-game at a time" approach before playing Northern Iowa, Indiana State and NDSU to end the season.
Prediction: Illinois State 42, Missouri State 24
No. 2 James Madison Dukes (5-1, 3-0 CAA) at Richmond Spiders (4-3, 2-2), 3:30 p.m. (Comcast SportsNet)
Series Record: Richmond leads, 16-13
Last Meeting: James Madison 31, Richmond 7 (Oct. 1, 2011)
What to know: James Madison survived at home versus William & Mary last week, as safety Jakarie Jackson batted down a two-point conversion attempt in double overtime to win, 27-26.
The Dukes have looked a lot like their 2008 squad, which also entered Week 8 with only one loss versus an FBS program and went on to lose in the FCS national semifinals. Comparisons aside, JMU might not put up 40 points per game, but it will run the ball well and play solid defense.
Although Mickey Matthews' squad ranks No. 3 in the CAA with 212 rushing yards per game, the Dukes defense is tops in the conference in scoring defense allowing 15 points per game. Even more impressive, Madison has given up 95 points and three total rushing touchdowns through six games.
Richmond fell at New Hampshire in a barnburner last week, 44-40. The Spiders trailed by 17 early in the third, but battled back to take a six-point lead with 10:21 remaining, before a late Wildcats touchdown and field goal allowed UNH to survive. Perhaps even more devastating than the loss was the injury which senior quarterback John Laub suffered late in the game. He broke his left ankle and will be out for at least three to four weeks. He was the team's leading rusher and passer.
Backup signal-caller Michael Strauss will have his hands full this week in facing an athletic JMU front, but the Spiders still have plenty of experience with fullback Kendall Gaskins and trusted receiver Ben Edwards, who leads the conference in receptions per game with seven.
Richmond is 0-2 in 2012 versus ranked opponents and, ironically, the last win versus a ranked foe came in 2010 at home versus James Madison, a 13-10 overtime thriller. Ultimately, however, JMU's defense should prove to be stout against a quarterback with little experience.
Prediction: James Madison 28, Richmond 18
Rhode Island Rams (0-6, 0-3 CAA) at No. 25 Delaware Blue Hens (4-2, 1-2), 3:30 p.m.
Series Record: Delaware leads, 19-8
Last Meeting: Rhode Island 38, Delaware 34 (Oct. 22, 2011)
What to know: After a much-needed bye week, Delaware will try to regroup and gain back the confidence it once had before dropping consecutive games at New Hampshire and home versus Maine.
In the losses, UD has been outscored, 60-17, as its offense totaled 234 and 224 yards, respectively. Coach K.C. Keeler had been utilizing running back Andrew Pierce since he stepped on campus as a walk-on in 2010. This season, however, he has scored only twice and in the last two games Delaware has rushed for a combined 141 yards and only one rushing touchdown.
No disrespect for the Rhode Island program, but who in the conference could have predicted the Rams would struggle this much through their first six games? Last year, URI won only three games, but almost every contest was competitive. In the battle of the CAA's winless teams last week, Georgia State won, 41-7, proving it didn't want to be the conference doormat this season.
The Rams simply cannot generate any points, and rank last in the FCS, averaging 7.5 points per game. Of course, not to search for excuses, but URI has actually had many injuries to some of its key players, which has added to the problem.
UD should have no trouble getting back on its feet at home. Let's not forget, last season, URI shocked the Blue Hens, 38-34, which greatly hurt their playoff chances later in the season.
Prediction: Delaware 35, Rhode Island 14
No. 24 Villanova Wildcats (5-2, 3-1 CAA) at Georgia State Panthers (1-6, 0-0), 3:30 p.m.
Series Record: First meeting
Last Meeting: None
What to know: For the first time since Sept. 5, 2011, Villanova finds itself ranked in the FCS Top 25. The Wildcats picked up one of the most impressive wins of the 2012 FCS season by taking down then-No. 3 Old Dominion, 38-14, on Homecoming in Norfolk, Va., last Saturday.
After the performance 'Nova had against Temple in Week 1, it would have been hard to foresee this season's turnaround. After all, who would have guessed the Wildcats would be 3-1 in the CAA by Week 8 and have a legitimate shot at the conference title? There's still a lot to be determined, especially with a difficult three-game stretch at the end the season, but it may soon be time to start drinking the navy blue Kool-Aid.
In the win last week, 'Nova totaled 527 yards and held ODU's Taylor Heinicke to 239 passing yards and only two touchdown passes. Coach Andy Talley wasn't joking in the preseason when he said his defense could hold teams to under 20 points consistently.
Georgia State is led by senior running back Donald Russell, who leads the CAA in rushing with 106 yards per game and averages 6.5 yards per carry. GSU can't throw the ball with very much success, but Brown has the ability to make defense pay. Against URI, he set a new program-record with 201 rushing yards.
The key will be the Panthers' defensive line and linebacking corps, which have contributed to giving up 212 rushing yards per game. That could be a problem versus the Villanova offense, which is run-heavy.
John Roberston has flourished as a runner under center. He may only be a redshirt freshman, but has rushed for eight touchdowns and 627 yards and has been improving each week as a passer.
Prediction: Villanova 36, Georgia State 17
No. 8 Wofford Terriers (5-1, 3-1 SoCon) at No. 13 Appalachian State Mountaineers (5-2, 3-1), 3:30 p.m.
Series Record: Appalachian State leads, 17-11
Last Meeting: Wofford 28, Appalachian State 14 (Oct. 1, 2011)
What to know: The last time Appalachian State faced a triple option offense, it fell in Week 3 at home to The Citadel, 52-28. Of course, since then, App State has not lost, but that game has to be in the back of its defense's mind. The Citadel snapped an 18-game winning streak at "The Rock," scored 38 first-half points and rolled up 618 yards of total offense.
Wofford fell for the first time in 2012 last week at Georgia Southern, 17-9. It's easier said than done, but all the Terriers had to do was stop the run attack of GSU because the Eagles set a new FCS single-game record by not attempting a pass.
The Terriers want to get back on track ASAP due to the difficulty of its upcoming schedule. After Appalachian, coach Mike Ayers' team still has to play The Citadel, Samford, Chattanooga and a regular-season finale at FBS South Carolina. Yikes.
Wofford still leads the FCS in rushing with 410 yards per game and has scored 24 rushing touchdowns this season, tying first nationall with The Citadel.
Appalachian State redshirt freshman and Jerry Rice Award nominee Sean Price hauled in a 22-yard touchdown catch with 22 seconds remaining to steal a win on the road at Samford last week. ASU has played well in the series in recent years at home and have outscored the Terriers, 113-37, in the last two contests in Boone, N.C.
Fullback Eric Breitenstein suffered a high ankle sprain in the loss to Georgia Southern last week, but he is expected to play Saturday.
It's clear that two-loss teams in the SoCon title race don't have a lot of championship success. In fact, a two-loss school has won the Southern Conference title just twice in the conference's 79-year history.
A win for either team keeps postseason hopes very much alive, while a loss could put a lot of pressure on that team.
Prediction: Appalachian State 33, Wofford 27
Southern Illinois Salukis (4-3, 3-1 MVFC) at No. 15 Youngstown State Penguins (4-2, 1-2), 4 p.m. (MyYTV)
Series Record: Youngstown State leads, 12-10-1
Last Meeting: Youngstown State 35, Southern Illinois 23 (Oct. 15, 2011)
What to know: Youngstown State felt pretty comfortable in Week 5 as it had a bye week to prepare for then-No. 1 North Dakota State. Flash forward two weeks later and the Penguins have suddenly lost two games in a row and dropped from the Top 10 to No. 15 in the FCS Top 25.
Last week, facing an Illinois State team which also badly needed a win, YSU led 28-7 in the first half, but blew the lead and lost, 35-28. Running back Jamaine Cook ran for 177 yards and three touchdowns, but it didn't matter. Coach Eric Wolford needs to get his team back on track because it is still very much alive on the national scene.
Southern Illinois has found some momentum after starting the season with an 0-2 record. The Salukis have won four of their last five games and set themselves up nicely with a 3-1 conference record. Over the last two weeks, SIU has capitalized on defense and special teams at all the right times. The Salukis have scored touchdowns on two blocked punts and combined to force seven turnovers, and the defense averages three sacks per game on the season, which ranks No. 7 in the FCS.
Similarly, the Penguins defense has given up four rushing touchdowns in the last two games, versus four rushing touchdowns in the first four games of the season. The unit also has given up five passing touchdowns, after allowing just six touchdowns through the air in the first four games.
However, SIU's offense is too slow in its developing process, while special teams as well as defense can't always produce points like it has in the last couple of weeks.
Prediction: Youngstown State 38, Southern Illinois 24
Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs (1-5, 0-1 Big South) at No. 10 Stony Brook Seawolves (6-1, 2-0), 4 p.m.
Series Record: Stony Brook leads, 3-1
Last Meeting: Stony Brook 76, Gardner-Webb 28 (Nov. 12, 2011)
What to know: Gardner-Webb picked up its first win of the season last week, with a 30-28 escape over NAIA MidAmerica Nazarene. Clearly, the Runnin' Bulldogs are in the middle of a rebuilding process, but when you look at the team's first four games of the season, it could not have been much more difficult. This included games versus Wofford, Richmond, Samford and FBS Pittsburgh - all respectable foes. This week, it gets even tougher.
Stony Brook improved to 6-1 with a 27-21 win at Coastal Carolina. The Seawolves moved to No. 10 in the FCS Top 25 and yet again senior running back Miguel Maysonet - the Big South's all-time rushing leader - set another career high with 233 yards, including 199 yards in the second half.
Opponents have had to account for Maysonet every time he's on the field, which has only helped quarterback Kyle Essington (1,190 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions) find his favorite target, Kevin Norrell (34 receptions, 811 yards and six touchdowns). The passing game has strengthened thanks to the success of the run game, while the Seawolves defense is balanced, giving up 163 rushing yards and 164 passing yards per game.
SBU doesn't have a bye week, so there are only three games left after Gardner- Webb. As long as coach Chuck Priore keeps his team focused on the task at hand, the Seawolves could be sitting pretty before a huge matchup at Liberty to end the season on Nov. 10.
Prediction: Stony Brook 45, Gardner-Webb 20
No. 20 South Dakota State Jackrabbits (5-1, 3-0 MVFC) at Northern Iowa Panthers (1-5, 0-3), 5 p.m. (MVFC TV)
Series Record: Northern Iowa leads, 27-17-2
Last Meeting: Northern Iowa 31, South Dakota State 14 (Oct. 15, 2011)
What to know: South Dakota State begins its toughest stretch of games atop the Missouri Valley Conference alone after NDSU fell last week.
The Jackrabbits won at home versus Western Illinois, 31-10. However, running back Zach Zenner had his worst statistical game of the season. He only rushed for 171 yards and failed to amass over 100 yards by halftime for the first time in 2012. Both of those notes are absolutely ridiculous when you consider the type of season he's had.
The sophomore still leads the FCS in rushing, averaging 208 yards per game and eight yards per carry. Perhaps even more impressive is that he has scored eight rushing touchdowns for an average of 58 yards per score.
Northern Iowa dropped its fourth straight game last week when Southern Illinois place-kicker Austin Johnson nailed a 24-yard field goal with 59 seconds left in the game to give the Salukis a 34-31 win.
UNI has certainly had a difficult season to say the least. The Panthers' only win came in Week 2 versus Central State and they have played a tough early conference schedule. UNI's offense scores 30 points per game, which is strange for a 1-5 team, but the defense gives up 27 points per contest and 354 total yards, good for No. 50 in the FCS.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen has thrown for 12 touchdowns versus three interceptions, while running back David Johnson is three touchdowns away from tying his total of 12 from last year.
SDSU's defense hasn't gotten much credit for the impressive start to the season, but opponents have only scored a total of seven touchdowns, two through the air and five on the ground.
Three things spell trouble for South Dakota State: It's homecoming in the UNI- Dome, the 'Jacks haven't won at Cedar Falls since 1978 and UNI coach Mark Farley is 5-1 all-time versus SDSU.
Prediction: Northern Iowa 24, South Dakota State 21
No. 4 North Dakota State Bison (5-1, 2-1 MVFC) vs South Dakota Coyotes (1-5, 0-3), 7 p.m., Howard Field - Sioux Falls, S.D. (Midco Sports Network)
Series Record: North Dakota State leads, 49-25-3
Last Meeting: North Dakota State 38. South Dakota 16 (Sept. 25, 2010)
What to know: Two teams with a lot of history meet for the 77th time in a series which dates back to 1903.
Last week, North Dakota State fell for the first time in 10 games dating back to last season in a 17-14 home loss to Indiana State. South Dakota dropped its fourth straight game this season in a heartbreaking 27-24 loss at Missouri State.
The Bison may have lost their No. 1 ranking, but coach Craig Bohl will have his squad ready to go following a surprising defeat. On the positive side in the loss, Indiana State didn't score an offensive touchdown and only gained 197 total yards. In fact, NDSU still leads the FCS in total defense with 204 yards allowed per game.
On the negative side, senior quarterback Brock Jensen had one of the worst games of his career, throwing three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. But he should have no trouble bouncing back here.
This game will be played at the neutral Howard Field in Sioux Falls, S.D. Although it's considered a rivalry game, the Bison should roll to a win. South Dakota's opponents are rushing for 203 yards per game and passing for 201.
USD has the ability to stay close in contests, having lost three straight conference games, all by a touchdown or less, but NDSU will be looking to make a statement after its first loss since last Nov. 12.
Prediction: North Dakota State 42, South Dakota 21
No. 21 Indiana State Sycamores (5-2, 3-1 MVFC) at Western Illinois Leathernecks (3-3, 1-2), 7 p.m.
Series Record: Western Illinois leads, 21-14
Last Meeting: Indiana State 46, Western Illinois 24 (Oct. 15, 2011)
What to know: After one of the biggest wins of the 2012 season, in which Indiana State took down then-No. 1 North Dakota State in the Fargodome, the Sycamores must travel to face WIU. The only problem? History says ISU should stumble, because dating back to 1996, ISU has dropped each of its last seven games in Macomb, Ill.
Defensive back Johnny Towalid has to be the big man on campus this week after a two-interception (both for touchdowns) performance, which earned him The Sports Network Co-Defensive Player of the Week award. ISU didn't score an offensive touchdown in the win, but it slowed down the Bison offense just enough.
The Sycamores are 5-0 this year when leading after the third quarter and they are outscoring teams 37-15 in the fourth quarter. Very few realize that Indiana State is currently the No. 17 team in the FCS in total defense, giving up 310 yards per game.
This is no cupcake game in any sense, especially after such a huge win. Western Illinois' defense isn't that bad, giving up 167 yards on the ground and 198 through the air per game. Rather, the offense has struggled to get anything going. WIU ranks 109th in scoring offense in the FCS and are 117th in total offense with a mere 266 yards per game. Wil Lunt and Josh Hudson both have started under center, but neither has done very well through the team's first six games.
If Indiana State can remain focused and, more importantly, not look ahead down the road, it has a legitimate chance to win the Missouri Valley Conference. However, ISU still has to play Illinois State and Youngstown to end the season, a task which won't be easy.
Prediction: Indiana State 28, Western Illinois 17
Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions (4-2, 3-1 SWAC) at Southern Jaguars (3-3, 2-2), 7 p.m.
Series Record: Southern leads, 12-6
Last Meeting: Arkansas-Pine Bluff 22, Southern 21 (Oct. 15, 2011)
What to know: In the wacky and somewhat wild SWAC, the race for the Western Division has been mostly up for grabs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff finds itself atop the division with a 3-1 conference record and it had over two weeks to prepare for Southern. The Jaguars sit in second place in the West with a 2-2 conference record.
The other teams in the division are a combined 2-17 this season.
The Golden Lions took down Jackson State, 34-24 two weeks ago and were led by running back Dennis Jenkins, who rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively, UAPB gave up 420 yards, but had four defenders with double-digit tackles.
The Golden Lions rank fifth in the conference in total offense (340 yards per game) and third in total defense (321 yards per game). Quarterback Ben Anderson has done a good job leading the offense and he is still growing as a passer.
Southern utilized an early 34-0 lead over Texas Southern and never looked back on the way to its third win of the season. Quarterback Dray Joseph ranks second in the conference in passing with 193 yards per game and he has thrown nine touchdowns versus five interceptions. His primary targets, Mike Berry (22 receptions, 395 yards, four touchdowns) and Lee Doss (30 receptions, 344 yards, two touchdowns), rank No. 2 (65) and 3 (57), respectively, in the conference in receiving yards per game.
The Jaguars rank fourth-from-last in the FCS with just 66 yards per game on the ground, but its rushing defense yields 129 yards per game - good for No. 2 in the SWAC. Arkansas-Pine Bluff could make great strides with a win and should really only have to worry about shutting down SU's passing attack. However, with the way the SWAC season has gone, anything can happen.
Prediction: Arkansas-Pine Bluff 28, Southern 17
No. 7 Old Dominion Monarchs (5-1, 2-1 CAA) at No. 18 Towson Tigers (3-3, 2-1), 7 p.m.
Series Record: Towson leads, 1-0
Last Meeting: Towson 39, Old Dominion 35 (Oct. 15, 2011)
What to know: Old Dominion fell for the first time in 2012 last week after blowing an early 14-0 lead, only to see Villanova score 38 unanswered points on its way to an impressive upset victory to spoil Homecoming for the Monarchs.
There could be two concerns for coach Bobby Wilder moving forward: First, will his team be able to run the ball more effectively and, second, did 'Nova perhaps set the blueprint for opponents to shut down stud quarterback Taylor Heinicke and crew?
ODU totaled just 350 yards - yes, a number still impressive, but not close to its previous season average - and the Wildcats literally ran over the Monarchs defense, rushing for 376 yards and four touchdowns.
On the other hand, Towson picked up a much-needed win last week versus Maine, to improve to 3-3 on the year. The Tigers have a tough stretch of games coming up, including this one, and can't really afford to slip up too much. Senior signal-caller Grant Enders has complemented running back Terrance West in more ways then none because of his ability to also be dangerous running the ball. He is the team's second-leading rusher with 321 yards and two touchdowns through the Tigers first six games.
Everyone knows Old Dominion wants to throw first and run second if needed and expect Taylor Heinicke to put forth a better showing than last week. ODU allows 186 rushing yards per game and will have to improve versus the run- heavy Tigers. The key, however, will be the Towson secondary - which gives up just 139 passing yards per contest, good for No. 2 in the FCS - versus the athletic wide receivers of Old Dominion.
Towson needs a win just as bad as Old Dominion, so whichever team's defense can keep the other's playmakers in check, should hold on for a big win.
Prediction: Towson 35, Old Dominion 33
Lamar Cardinals (3-4, 0-2 Southland) at No. 19 Central Arkansas Bears (5-2, 3-1), 7 p.m.
Series Record: Central Arkansas leads, 1-0
Last Meeting: Central Arkansas 38, Lamar 24 (Oct. 22, 2011)
What to know: As if Week 7 couldn't get any more interesting, Central Arkansas scored with 1:10 remaining last week at McNeese State. The Bears would execute an onside kick, then win the game, 27-26 on a Eddie Camara 47-yard field goal, which set a career high. UCA magically retained the "Red Beans and Rice Bowl" trophy - OK, maybe not magically - but, more importantly, the Bears became the first road team to win in the series and stayed alive in the conference title race.
UCA quarterback Wynrick Smothers has been solid because of his accuracy. The junior is completing 66 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,760 yards and 18 touchdowns against eight interceptions. As a whole, the Bears offense has converted on 10-of-11 fourth down attempts, good for 92 percent on the season. Coach Clint Conque has to be happy with his defense, which has made some adjustments against its true weakness: opponent's passing games.
Lamar coach Ray Woodard received great news this week as he agreed to a two- year contract extension which will run through the 2014 season.
His Cardinals picked up their third win of the season, defeating Division II McMurry, 52-21, last week, and the offense racked up 275 rushing yards, which was their highest total since reinstating the program in 2010. Receiver Kevin Johnson has been a beast, catching just 16 passes, but he has scored nine touchdowns. Last week, the sophomore tied school records with four touchdowns, three receiving and one on a 88-yard kickoff return.
The Cardinals actually rank No. 16 in the FCS in total defense, allowing 310 yards per game, but the conference schedule is really starting to heat up for the team in the next couple of weeks.
The schools obviously don't have a lot of history, or knowledge of each other's tendencies, and Lamar is 0-3 on the road in 2012. Plus, UCA doesn't lose on its gray-and-purple striped turf.
Prediction: Central Arkansas 35, Lamar 21
Sacramento State Hornets (5-2, 3-1 Big Sky) at No. 1 Eastern Washington Eagles (5-1, 4-0), 7:05 p.m.
Series Record: Eastern Washington leads, 16-4
Last Meeting: Eastern Washington 42, Sacramento State 35 (Oct. 22, 2011)
What to know: Eastern Washington is coming off a great week, to say the least. The Eagles defeated Montana State, 27-24, in Bozeman and are off to their first ever 4-0 start in conference play. With the win over previously second- ranked MSU, Eastern jumped to No. 1 in the FCS Top 25 and has now been ranked at the top spot for at least one week in three straight seasons.
When you look at its resume, EWU has nice wins over FBS Idaho, Montana and Montana State and controls its own destiny in the big picture of the Big Sky. Even though the high-octane offense totaled just 211 yards last week, it took big plays on special teams and a huge pick-six to steal a win on the road. This week, however, coach Beau Baldwin must have his squad focused and ready to move on.
Sacramento State is off to its best start in two decades, matching the 5-2 record of the 1992 squad. In the series, largely led by the Eagles, the last 12 meetings have seen the home team win just twice.
The Hornets aren't exactly accustomed to the limelight, but last week the defense played outstanding in a 19-14 win over Weber State. Three players reached double-digits in tackles, while the unit as a whole forced three turnovers and five sacks.
Sacramento State's defense in general is great against the run, allowing 111 yards per game, which will help because EWU struggled last week to find balance offensively, and really has for most of the season.
Quarterback Vernon Adams didn't have his best performance versus the Bobcats last week, but he has too many weapons spread out to play catch with. Don't overlook an EWU defense which leads the conference in scoring defense at 20 points per game. Plus, Eastern is now 19-1 in the last three years after Oct. 1.
Prediction: Eastern Washington 40, Sacramento State 30
UC Davis Aggies (3-4, 2-2 Big Sky) at No. 16 Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (5-1, 3-0), 7:05 p.m. (NAU-TV)
Series Record: First meeting
Last Meeting: None
What to know: Northern Arizona has been a bit of a surprise through its first six contests and enters this game sitting at the top of the Big Sky with Eastern Washington and Cal Poly.
The Lumberjacks won last week, 45-38 at North Dakota, while quarterback Cary Grossart threw for a career-high 363 yards and four touchdowns. It's no secret that running back Zach Bauman, who leads the conference with 127 rushing yards per game, is the workhorse that gets the offense going. Despite missing the second quarter in last week's win, he returned to run for 114 yards in the second half, and finished with 176 yards on 29 carries.
NAU finished with a season-high 568 yards of offense and if the passing game can continually develop, the Lumberjacks could make a deep late-season run.
The Aggies picked up their third win of the season last week at Idaho State. Although the Bengals are the last-ranked total defense in the FCS (giving up 557 yards per game), UC Davis could have used a win. Signal-caller Randy Wright was named the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week after completing 20- of-31 passes for a career-high 309 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
Expect NAU to attack the line of scrimmage early on, especially because the Aggies defense gives up 152 rushing yards per game and have allowed 16 total rushing touchdowns on the season. The Lumberjacks have outscored opponents 106-56 in the second half of games this season and are seeking their first six-game winning streak since 2008.
Prediction: Northern Arizona 35, UC Davis 27
No. 23 Eastern Kentucky Colonels (5-2, 3-1 OVC) at Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (2-4, 0-3), 8 p.m.
What to know: Eastern Kentucky responded well after its first loss of the season two weeks ago by handily defeating Austin Peay, 45-14. The Colonels opted to not have a bye during the season and have just four games left on the season.
EKU's offensive playmakers have been dangerous when all cylinders are clicking. Last week, quarterback T.J. Pryor broke two school records after completing his first seven passes. He set a new record with 47 career touchdown passes and completed his 479th career pass - on his second touchdown pass of the day - breaking Josh Greco's previous record.
Senior running back Matt Denham has now rushed for 100 or more yards in 13 of his last 15 games, after a 20-carry, two-touchdown, 114-yard effort, and receiver Tyrone Goard is the epitome of a big-play wideout. He has just 21 receptions, but seven are for touchdowns and he averages 23 yards per catch.
The Golden Eagles seem to be in trouble entering this game, having dropped four straight after an early 2-0 start. However, it benefits from having a much-needed bye week after many injuries have cost coach Watson Brown's squad. TTU is desperately searching to get back on track, but last season Tech surprised EKU at home, 28-21, and ended up sharing the conference title with the Colonels, so you can expect the visitors to have plenty of motivation.
If the bye week truly helped with many injuries, then the Golden Eagles could have a chance. Return specialist/receiver LaDarrius Vanlier is as dangerous as any player when he has open space, but, ultimately, EKU has too much balance on offense.
McNeese State Cowboys (4-2, 1-2 Southland) at No. 6 Sam Houston State Bearkats (4-2, 2-1), 8 p.m. (CSN-HOU)
Series Record: McNeese State leads, 24-8-1
Last Meeting: Sam Houston State 38, McNeese State 14
What to know: McNeese State's two losses in Southland Conference play have come by a total of two points. Last week against Central Arkansas, the Cowboys suffered an absolutely devastating setback. UCA scored twice in the final 1:10 of the game, including a clinching field goal with 22 seconds left to stun McNeese.
Signal-caller Cody Stroud connected on 18-of-25 passes for 160 yards, but he didn't record a touchdown pass, the first time since Week 1. MSU is still very capable of staying alive in the national picture, and the Cowboys run the ball for an average of 235 yards per game, good for No. 10 in the FCS. The pressure doesn't exactly fall just on Stroud, but McNeese needs to be more effective throwing the ball because a solid run game makes room for an even better play action game.
On the other hand, Sam Houston State has won three straight games following a 24-20 loss at Central Arkansas in Week 4. The Bearkats handled Nicholls State, 41-0, while quarterback Brian Bell threw two touchdowns. He now needs two more to become SHSU's all-time leader with 40.
Sam Houston ranks No. 1 in the Southland in rushing, with 259 yards per game and No. 7 in the FCS.
The Bearkats defense has actually taken a step back this season - statistically speaking - and ranks No. 36 in the FCS, giving up 339 yards per game through six contests. But it still has a lot of studs like Darnell Taylor, Darius Taylor and Jesse Beauchamp.
This is the first home game for SHSU since Sept. 8 after finishing with a record of 3-2 during a five-game road trip. Bowers Stadium should be rocking because it's Homecoming weekend, and while both teams love to establish the run, Sam Houston is a better passing team.
Prediction: Sam Houston State 40, McNeese State 32
Portland State Vikings (2-4, 1-2 Big Sky) at No. 14 Cal Poly Mustangs (6-0, 4-0), 9:05 p.m. (Comcast SportsNet Northwest)
Series Record: Portland State leads, 10-8
Last Meeting: Portland State 42, Cal Poly 28 (1999)
What to know: The last time these two teams met in 1999, current Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh was the head coach at Portland State. Walsh's squad defeated Cal Poly, 42-28, in San Luis Obispo. He was at the helm for PSU from 1993-2006.
The Vikings will have their hands full on the road this week versus the option-oriented and undefeated Mustangs. Interestingly, Cal Poly is led by Portland native Andre Broadus, who has been an important leader for an offense which averages 418 yards of offense per game.
The Mustangs lead the Big Sky in scoring with 38 points per game, in rushing, (309 per contest) and in passing efficiency, with nine touchdowns through the air and just one interception through six games.
It's a lot easier said than done, but it has been very difficult to stop Cal Poly because of the multiple formations and choices the offense can produce under a unique form of the triple option. Running back Deonte Williams is second in the Big Sky in rushing with 757 yards and nine touchdowns on the season, but even more scary? He's averaging seven yards per carry.
Broadus has made great strides with his decision making, while the offense in general has done a great job of holding onto the ball.
Portland State is coming off a bye week after a huge, 77-10 win over Idaho State. Freshman quarterback Kieran McDonagh had the game of his life two weeks ago, accounting for six touchdowns - four rushing, one passing and one receiving.
Portland State will look to attack Cal Poly's secondary which gives up 234 yards per game. The Vikings have improved against the run, giving up 113 yards per game, good for No. 16 in the FCS, but they haven't faced such a dynamic run attack, which will test every level on the unit.
PSU has lost three straight road games on the season and it has lost 13 consecutive games against nationally ranked foes.