Richmond coach Danny Rocco has changed his stance on CAA Football playoff teams since arriving from Liberty.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Every year when teams around the FCS enter the final full weekend of the regular season, there's always arguments about which schools deserve a trip to the playoffs.
More often than not, the debate always comes back to whichever conference the NCAA playoff committee not only gives an automatic bid, but also a couple of at-large playoff spots as well.
In the last 5-10 years, as much as "bubble teams" and other conferences like the Southern, Big Sky and Missouri Valley hate to admit, CAA Football has always been that primary conference.
Since the 2003 season, the conference has had four teams win a national championship and had a team in the national title game in every year except 2005 and 2011. Five teams made the playoffs in 2008, four in 2009, four in 2010 and five made more last season.
While the landscape and playoff system itself in the FCS continues to evolve and develop - moving from 16 to 20 teams, then to 24 next year - it's either going to benefit the competitiveness and depth of the CAA, or other conferences will start to settle the debate on the field.
Richmond coach Danny Rocco now understands firsthand what it's like to be on the other side of the fence in terms of "CAA bias" because he spent the previous six seasons as the coach at Liberty University in the Big South Conference.
"I'm just really blessed and excited about this opportunity to be the head football coach at the University of Richmond," Rocco said. "Being in this league week in and week out, you're playing against programs and teams that have amazing resumes, history and outstanding coaches. When you look at it from that perspective and you really line up those teams and start throwing out the accolades I mean, you can't find anything quite like it. It's really unique and very exciting to be a part of."
According to the CAA title tiebreaker scenarios announced by the conference, Richmond and James Madison have no mathematical possibility of obtaining the conference's auto-bid. But Rocco and JMU coach Mickey Matthews' squads - both at 7-3 - still have legitimate playoff hopes if they can win this weekend versus William & Mary and Old Dominion, respectively.
"Everybody has their own reference point," Rocco said. "I was head coach at Liberty University for six years prior to Richmond and we had a pretty good run. We won four conference championships down there, we were ranked in the Top 25 the last four seasons, we had three eight-win seasons and a 10-win season. We were 10-2 one year ranked 14th in the country and we didn't get into the playoffs. They took five teams out of the CAA, so my perspective is coming from the other side.
"Historically, I would align myself with some of the programs from some of the conferences that would be rated a little bit lower than the CAA. For all the arguments that I would make, or would have made over the years, I can't make that argument anymore now that I'm here. It's amazing how deep and how talented this league is. There are a number of leagues out there that if their teams or top teams were competing in this league, they would have a very difficult time showing the kind of record or the resume you need to have to sit there and say that you merit a slot in the tournament."
Old Dominion, which sits at 9-1 and 6-1 in conference play, is ineligible for the CAA title and auto-bid, but mathematically speaking, there are five other CAA teams which could make a case for the playoffs. If New Hampshire wins this weekend versus Towson, the Wildcats obtain the title outright. However, if Richmond, Villanova, James Madison and Towson all win on Saturday, it could make things even more crazy.
"I know we all want to cloud it a little bit or present arguments, and that's all fine and good," Rocco said. "But you know, you go ahead and line up against Villanova, Towson, Delaware, ODU, JMU and so on, who's kidding who? At the end of the day, seriously, what coach wants to say, 'Put me in that league and we'll go 8-3 or 6-2 in conference play.' Now I didn't have that opinion last year, I was making an argument to get in at Liberty, but when you talk about quality wins, when you win six games in this league, it's hard not to have quality wins."
Villanova, like Richmond, hasn't been given enough credit this season. The Wildcats have been a nice surprise after a 2-9 campaign in 2011 and are 7-3, with a game against rival Delaware this week. Wiley old veteran coach Andy Talley has been around the block a few times when it comes to playoff scenarios and understanding the strength of the CAA.
"The proof is in the pudding," Talley said. "I don't think any league in the country can produce a resume like the CAA has with regards to national championships and people who were in the finals of the national championship. In 2010, we were 7-4, had to beat Delaware in overtime in the last game of the year to get into the playoffs. We get in, went to Texas, we beat Stephen F. Austin. Then, they sent us to App State, who was No. 1 seed, we beat them and they sent us to Eastern Washington and we barely lost that game. That's what I think the strength of the CAA is, I think that year we came in third or fourth in the league."
Villanova needs some help to receive the auto-bid and needs a victory versus Delaware, coupled with an Old Dominion win, a Towson win and a Richmond win, to feel completely safe on Selection Sunday.
"The problem this year, is that there are so many teams with eight, nine or 10 possible victories," Talley said. "We're running into teams who are going to get automatic qualifiers and it might not seem fair, but that's the way its set up. To me, if you play a Division II team and you beat them, if your record is a little suspect, I think your strength of schedule will matter. Especially now, when there are 20 teams and there are so many good teams out there.
"When the playoff committee get's right down to picking teams, I'm not sure that the CAA is always going to be a top priority. I think they're pretty fair about it. Now, with the FBS going to a playoff system, more people are going to the GPI or the Sagarin rating to try and factor in some of the computer stuff. I think the committee has a really tough job and I think they do try to be very fair."
With a prime opportunity to make or break the season in "The Battle of the Blue" versus Delaware, Talley said it's still just like any other game.
"I'll tell the guys the same thing I've always said, that you have four quarters to play and the rest of your life to remember," Talley said. "That's really what it's all about. For Villanova, we were a 2-9 team last year. You know if we end up 7-4, hey it was a heck of a season, great come back, we're young. But we are there, we have an opportunity, a great one, it may never come again. It's one-and-done. In this league, you're so battled tested that when you get to a game like this, you don't flinch."
The following is a game-by-game breakdown for The Sports Network FCS Top 25 and other select games (all times ET):
No. 19 Towson Tigers (6-4, 5-2 CAA) at No. 7 New Hampshire Wildcats (8-2, 6-1), noon (Comcast SportsNet)
Series record: New Hampshire leads, 7-1
Last meeting: Towson 56, New Hampshire 42 (Nov. 12, 2011)
What to know: With all the confusion heading into the final regular-season weekend in CAA football action, the simply solution to the conference's title implications is that New Hampshire can win it outright with a victory over Towson.
Few realize, even with the success UNH has had since the 2004 season, the Wildcats have only won the conference outright one time, in 2005. Coach Sean McDonnell's squad has the slight advantage of having its bye week in Week 11, but Towson is one of the CAA's hottest teams right now.
Towson quarterback Grant Enders has thrown for 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season and is second in the conference in total offense with 266 yards per game. Last week, in a convincing, 41-10 victory over Rhode Island, the Tigers utilized senior running back Dominique Booker, while stud running back Terrance West wasn't much of factor.
New Hampshire receiver R.J. Harris will play a huge role in helping the Wildcats' offensive attack. The sophomore needs 39 receiving yards to become just the second player since 2008 to eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving plateau. The 'Cats have had a surprising amount of success running ball this season and rank second in the CAA with 237 rushing yards per game while their 25 total rushing touchdowns lead the conference. Towson ranks second in the CAA in rushing defense, allowing 132 yards per game, so something has to give.
Since the start of the 2007 season, the Wildcats are 29-3 in "The Dungeon" at Cowell Stadium and are 22-1 in their last 23 home contests. Last year's game was a shootout, so expect the same kind of fireworks this year.
Last meeting: Duquesne 37, Wagner 21 (Oct. 22, 2011)
What to know: Wagner has a chance to secure the Northeast Conference's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs with a victory over Duquesne Saturday. The Seahawks started the season with three straight losses, but have turned things around with seven straight wins.
Albany will certainly be paying attention to the contest this week because it needs a Duquesne win and a home victory over Central Connecticut State to obtain an outright title and the auto bid. The Great Danes sit at 9-2 and their only loss in conference play came against Wagner.
It would be pretty remarkable if Wagner can take care of business this week, especially when you consider how the team dealt with the effects of Hurricane Sandy during its remarkable playoff push.
Duquesne has won four of the last five games in the series and senior running back Larry McCoy enters the game needing just five yards to become the first player in school history with three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Signal-caller Sean Patterson ranks 10th on the FCS list of active career total offense leaders with 7,734 yards. Plus, in his last 26 starts, he has a record of 18-8 and thrown for 53 touchdowns versus 19 interceptions.
Wagner has some offensive weapons as well with running back Dominique Williams (1,064 rushing yards, nine touchdowns) and quarterback Nick Doscher (1,468 yards, 11 touchdowns, one interception), who have accounted for most of the team's offensive production in 10 games. The Seahawks defense has been tops in the NEC for most of the season, giving up a total of only 20 touchdowns.
Wagner has a lot riding on this game and it helps that the contest will be played at Hameline Field for Senior Day.
Prediction: Wagner 33, Duquesne 26
Penn Quakers (5-4, 5-1 Ivy) at Cornell Big Red (4-5, 2-4), 12:30 p.m.
Series record: Penn leads, 68-45-5
Last meeting: Cornell 48, Penn 38 (Nov. 19, 2011)
What to know: Regardless of Saturday's outcome, Penn already has clinched at least a share of the Ivy League championship. If the Quakers fall to Cornell, however, they could share the crown with one or two teams, Harvard and Princeton, whom they defeated earlier this season. But since coach Al Bagnoli has been at the helm, the team has never shared an Ivy league title.
Penn picked up a huge, 30-21 victory over Harvard last week, and while the win was well deserved, it came with a price. Quarterback Billy Ragone went down with a season-ending ankle injury and the Quakers will be without him under center for the first time since the 2009 season-finale. Replacing him will be Ryan Becker, who is very capable of leading the offense.
Columbia stunned Cornell last week, 34-17, as the Big Red managed only 244 yards of offense (94 rushing, 150 passing). Quarterback Jeff Matthews is just as good as any in the FCS and needs just one passing touchdown to reach 50 for his career. Plus, he has a wealth of weapons to play catch with. Receivers Grant Gellatly, Shane Savage, Luke Tasker and Kurt Ondash have all totaled 1,000 receiving yard in their careers, a new school record for a group of teammates.
Penn is 4-0 this season when leading at halftime. It seeks revenge after losing the Trustees' Cup last year at home.
Prediction: Penn 28, Cornell 25
No. 9 Wofford Terriers (8-2) at South Carolina Gamecocks (8-2), 1 p.m. (PPV)
Series record: South Carolina leads, 18-4
Last meeting: South Carolina 23, Wofford 13 (Sept. 20, 2008)
What to know: Last week, when the dust had settled after a thrilling 16-13 overtime victory versus Chattanooga, on Senior Day nonetheless, the Terriers could feel a whole lot better about their postseason hopes. The win not only secured at least a share of the Southern Conference, but it gave Wofford seven Division I victories and, most likely, an FCS playoff berth.
Senior fullback Eric Breitenstein rushed for 132 yards in the win, and on his second carry of the game, he set the school's all-time rushing record. He stands at 5,223 career rushing yards after passing Shawn Graves (5,128).
The Terriers have a small element of surprise this week at FBS South Carolina with their unique triple option offense. Don't forget, last year the Terriers hung with and almost shocked Clemson, before falling, 35-27. Then again, Wofford has never faced an SEC defense quite like South Carolina's.
Some believe Wofford's schedule isn't tough enough or flashy enough to impress the NCAA Division I playoff committee, but when a SoCon team has already clinched at least a share of the title, it's hard to leave it out. If the Terriers compete well, it could go a long way on their resume.
Prediction: South Carolina 38, Wofford 17
No. 1 North Dakota State Bison (9-1, 6-1 MVFC) at No. 11 Illinois State Redbirds (8-2, 5-2), 1 p.m.
Series record: North Dakota State leads, 3-2
Last meeting: North Dakota State 20, Illinois State 10 (Oct. 1, 2011)
What to know: North Dakota State has a chance to clinch the Missouri Valley Conference's outright title and automatic playoff bid with a victory as well as the No. 1 seed for the FCS playoffs.
Of course, Illinois State has other plans. The Redbirds have a great opportunity to make some noise on their own and they have had two weeks to prepare for the FCS' No. 1-ranked team. Quarterback Matt Brown won't have to play perfect, but he will have to play well. He has thrown for 2,464 yards and 19 touchdowns in 10 games.
Likewise, expect a battle between the NDSU defensive front and Illinois State's tough offensive line. Running back Darrelynn Dunn (814 yards, 12 touchdowns) averages 90 yards per game on the ground and despite playing with an injured hand, his totals are the most by a ISU player since the 2006 season.
The most points NDSU has given up this season has been 21 and overall the Bison lead the FCS in scoring defense (11 points per game), total defense (183 yards per contest), passing defense (120 yards per game) and, yes, you guessed it, rushing defense (62 yards per game). However, the key to the game will be NDSU's offense, which has been average in the last couple of games.
North Dakota State is 10-0 on the road over the past two years and ISU is just 3-2 at home this season. The Redbirds have some talented playmakers on defense, like Ben Ericksen and Colton Underwood, who have stepped up their play this season. Coach Brock Spack will have his team well prepared for such a tough task and is 2-0 this year versus ranked foes.
Prediction: Illinois State 24, North Dakota State 21
Last meeting: Lehigh 37, Lafayette 13 (Nov. 19, 2011)
What to know: In the 148th edition of college football's most-played rivalry, the stakes couldn't be higher for either team. Lehigh needs a win to keep its playoff hopes alive and Lafayette needs a win to salvage a winning season.
The most important thing on Lehigh's mind shouldn't be its playoff chance - which now looks questionable after last week's disappointing, 35-24 setback versus Colgate - but rather, the fact that it can finish with a 10-1 record. With a loss, there's no doubt the Mountain Hawks would most likely miss the FCS playoffs and Lafayette seeks revenge because it has dropped four straight games in the series.
The Leopards have lost three straight games entering the contest and need a victory to finish with winning overall and Patriot League marks for the first time since 2009.
Only one team from the Patriot League, Bucknell in 1997, finished with a 10-1 record (all Division I wins) and missed the FCS playoffs. That was also when the field was still at 16 teams.
Lehigh's defense is still tops in the league in total defense and scoring. Plus, the team's offensive playmakers will want to make a statement after being shut out in the second half last week.
Prediction: Lehigh 35, Lafayette 27
No. 20 Richmond Spiders (7-3, 5-2 CAA) at William & Mary Tribe (2-8, 1-6), 1:30 p.m.
Series record: William & Mary leads, 61-55-5
Last meeting: William & Mary 25, Richmond 23 (Nov. 19, 2011)
What to know: Richmond hasn't been getting the love in the polls or from other conferences, although the team has a legitimate shot at making the FCS playoffs. In "The Oldest Rivalry in the South," a series which dates back to 1898, the Spiders hit the road to face a W&M squad which has a deceiving record.
The Tribe hasn't had a true leader under center all season and five of the team's six losses have come by six points or less. There were some positives after a 10-point loss at Old Dominion last week. The Tribe totaled a season- high 477 yards of offense, while quarterback Michael Graham threw for four touchdowns and 353 yards.
Richmond enters the game leading the FCS in turnover margin (plus-20) and in interceptions (23). Plus, the team also is tied for third in the nation in fewest turnovers (eight). Safety Cooper Taylor and fellow members of the secondary Darryl Hamilton and Doug Howell have been giving teams fits all season. Together, they have accounted for 14 interceptions this season.
Richmond's resume is good enough for FCS playoff recognition. Coach Danny Rocco's squad needs to win to have a chance of getting in.
Last meeting: Georgia 45, Georgia Southern 21 (August 30, 2008)
What to know: In the team's final regular-season contest of the season, Georgia Southern faces the daunting task of trying to take down SEC foe Georgia on the road.
The Eagles have a share of the Southern Conference title, but if The Citadel beats Furman this weekend, GSU will win the conference's auto-bid to the FCS playoffs. Either way, the Eagles should not have to worry on Selection Sunday, but a good showing versus a nationally ranked FBS opponent could only help its chances for a playoff seed.
GSU is 0-19 all-time versus FBS schools; however, it leads the FCS in rushing with 401 yards per game. That statistic itself, plus the difficulty of preparing for a triple option, will have Georgia's attention.
The Eagles have averaged 24.5 points the last two times they have played the Bulldogs and should get plenty of yards. Ultimately, Georgia should prove to be too much to handle.
Prediction: Georgia 45, Georgia Southern 21
No. 18 Indiana State Sycamores (7-3, 5-2 MVFC) at Youngstown State Penguins (6-4, 3-4), 2 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
Series record: Youngstown State leads, 18-3
Last meeting: Indiana State 37, Youngstown State 35 (Sept. 24, 2011)
What to know: Indiana State needs a win this week to have any shot at making the FCS playoffs. The Sycamores have six Division I wins, including a nice victory over North Dakota State, but a loss on Nov. 3 leaves the team with just six Division I wins.
Youngstown State has completely owned the all-time series, but ISU defeated the Penguins, 37-35, last year, while running back Shakir Bell had a historic game - rushing for 256 yards and four touchdowns. This season, Bell has rushed for 3,740 yards and averages 142 per game, good for No. 5 in the FCS.
The situation won't look great for YSU if it gets behind in this game, especially after halftime. the Sycamores are outscoring opponents 116-80 in the final two quarters and 64-29 in the fourth quarter this season. They are also undefeated (7-0) when leading after three quarters.
In any other year, Youngstown State would be strongly considered for a playoff spot, with a 6-3 record entering the final week of the regular-season. However, thanks to going 0-4 mark in October and the natural competitiveness in the MVFC and other conferences, YSU needs a lot of help to make the field of 20.
Senior running back Jamaine Cook sits at 3,928 career rushing yards and getting to 4,000 is doable, but ISU allows just 123 rushing yards and only 13 points per game.The Sycamores will have to earn a victory, so expect the defense to rise up to the challenge.
Last meeting: Bethune-Cookman 26, Florida A&M 16 (Nov. 19, 2011)
What to know: Bethune-Cookman enters the game as one of just four teams in the FCS which already know they have earned a spot in the playoffs. Coach Brian Jenkins' team remains perfect in the MEAC with a 7-0 record and is searching to become just the second team in school history with a undefeated conference mark.
Bethune's only losses this season have come in the hands on FBS Miami (Fla.) and Tennessee State out of the Ohio Valley Conference. Of Course, the Wildcats still have a lot to play for because anything can happen in "The Florida Classic" and they have a chance to host a playoff game if the team can finish with a win.
BC-U's strength is its run game, which averages 251 yards per contest, while running backs Brodrick Waters, Rodney Scott and Isidore Jackson have all scored at least five rushing touchdowns and gained at least 400 yards in 10 games. Quarterback Quentin Williams has become more comfortable as the go-to guy under center and he's thrown for nine touchdowns and rushed for three more.
Although Florida A&M has had a bit of a disappointing season, the Rattlers picked up a solid, 22-21 win over North Carolina Central last week. It was also interim head coach Earl Jones' debut, after legendary HBCU coach Joe Taylor surprisingly stepped down last week. Place-kicker Chase Varnadore played a crucial role in the victory, connecting on all five of his field goals, including the eventual game-winner with two minutes to play.
Interestingly, this is Bethune-Cookman's second trip of the season to the Florida Citrus Bowl - the first was against Miami. The Wildcats' run game could have another big day.
Prediction: Bethune-Cookman 34, Florida A&M 17
No. 23 Tennessee State Tigers (8-2, 4-2 OVC) at UT Martin (7-3, 5-2), 3 p.m.
Series record: Tennessee State leads, 14-7
Last meeting: Tennessee State 35, UT Martin 30 (Nov. 12, 2011)
What to know: Tennessee State and UT Martin meet in a crucial rivalry game which also could determine a second team from the Ohio Valley Conference in the FCS playoffs. With a victory, TSU would reach nine Division I wins, including a nice win over playoff-bound Bethune-Cookman. UT Martin has a chance to reach eight Division I wins; plus it has a victory over FBS Memphis.
Tennessee State had the luxury of a bye week before facing UTM, but the Tigers fell two weeks ago versus Murray State, 49-28, after leading 28-27 at the end of three quarters. That game could come back to haunt them.
TSU running back Trabis Ward ranks eighth in the FCS, averaging 131 yards per game, and tight end A.C. Leonard has been extremely productive, hauling in 44 receptions for 643 yards this season.
UT Martin signal-caller Derek Carr has put together an impressive season, throwing for 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns, versus eight interceptions in 10 games. He has thrown for 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in his last two games. The Skyhawks also dropped a costly game last week, as Tennessee Tech benefited from a UTM botched extra point in overtime.
Expect the winner of this game to feel better, but not sold on its possible playoff chances.
Prediction: Tennessee State 28, UT Martin 27
South Dakota Coyotes (1-9, 0-7 MVFC) at No. 21 South Dakota State Jackrabbits (7-3, 5-2), 3 p.m. (Midco Sports Net)
Series record: South Dakota leads, 50-48-6
Last meeting: South Dakota State 22, South Dakota 11 (Oct. 25, 2003)
What to know: South Dakota State lost a tough game last weekend at No. 1 North Dakota State, 20-17. The Bison only gained 251 yards of offense compared to 209 for SDSU. The Jackrabbits can still earn a share of the Missouri Valley Conference title with a win this week and a NDSU loss versus Illinois State.
The 'Jacks offense has been a little stifled in recent weeks. Opponents have found a blueprint for running back Zach Zenner. In the last three games, he has managed just 179 rushing yards. In 10 games, SDSU averages 21 points and its offensive yardage has dropped to 169 rushing and 186 passing yards per game.
South Dakota enters the game with just one win - in Week 2 over Colgate - and the team has now dropped eight straight contests. Four times this season, it has lost by three points, including last week's 24-21 defeat versus Northern Iowa.
Although this is a rivalry game, it might be just what South Dakota State needs. The Coyotes give up 31 points and 199 rushing yards per game. If the Jackrabbits can take care of business, they can expect to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
Prediction: South Dakota State 35, South Dakota 21
No. 16 Villanova Wildcats (7-3, 5-2 CAA) at Delaware Blue Hens (5-5, 2-5), 3:30 p.m.
Series record: Villanova leads, 23-21-1
Last meeting: Delaware 26, Villanova 16 (Nov. 19, 2011)
What to know: This year's edition of "The Battle of the Blue" gets even more interesting as Villanova searches for its eighth win of the season and a possible playoff spot, and Delaware looks to finish with a winning record.
Villanova added another nice win to its resume last week, taking down James Madison at home, 35-20. The 'Cats ran for 307 yards in the win, marking the fourth time this season they passed the 300-yard rushing mark. The team also held the Dukes to under 100 total yards before halftime and registered three sacks, two interceptions and two safeties.
The Blue Hens dropped their third straight game - all versus Top 20 opponents - last week versus Richmond. Coach K.C. Keeler's team has really struggled to finish and win close games. UD's No. 1-ranked CAA rushing defense (117 yards per game) will truly be put to the test versus 'Nova's conference-leading rushing offense (259 yards per game).
Villanova quarterback John Robertson's status is unknown this week after sustaining an apparent concussion in the victory over James Madison. Backup and former starter, Chris Polony, has the ability to lead the offense, but in such a huge game for the Wildcats, expect coach Andy Talley to rely on his run game more than ever.
Prediction: Villanova 30, Delaware 26
Charleston Southern Buccaneers (5-5, 3-2 Big South) at Coastal Carolina (6-4, 4-1), 3:30 p.m. (MASN)
What to know: One week ago, few even thought of Coastal Carolina as a potential playoff squad. Just a few days later, the Chanticleers can clinch the Big South auto-bid in a three-way tie with Stony Brook and Liberty at 5-1. SBU has finished the regular season with that record, while Liberty plays Virginia Military this week with a chance to finish at 5-1. Because of the league's tie-breaker, the Chants went 3-0 on the road this season, the best in the Big South, and would earn a spot to the playoffs with a three-way tie for the title.
Like it or not, there's a chance the conference will have two possible playoff teams, if and only if, Coastal wins the auto-bid and Stony Brook's resume looks good enough for the playoff committee.
Coastal Carolina has won four straight games and last week, in a 65-7 win over Presbyterian, quarterback Aramis Hillary tied school and Big South records with five touchdown passes - all of which came in the first half. In the team's last two games alone, Coastal has totaled 1,221 yards of offense.
Charleston Southern last won in the series in 2009 and is looking to win four Big South contests for the first time since that season and only the second time overall. The strength of the Buccaneers defense is its secondary. CSU leads the conference in passing defense with 149 yards per game. Plus, opposing quarterbacks are completing just 52 percent of throws.
CCU has too much on the line after the team looked like it would be sitting at home after its final regular-season game.
No. 3 Sam Houston State Bearkats (8-2) at Texas A&M Aggies (8-2), 3:30 p.m. (PPV)
Series record: Texas A&M leads 10-0
Last meeting: Texas A&M 59, Sam Houston State 6 (1997)
What to know: It's either very good or very bad news for Sam Houston State that Texas A&M defeated defending BCS national champion Alabama, 29-24, on the road last week.
On the one hand, the Bearkats should feel better about making the FCS playoffs after clinching a share of the Southland title with a 52-17 win at Northwestern State last week. Plus, with all the emotion and excitement surrounding the Aggies' monumental victory, they could easily overlook a so- called "easy win" FCS opponent.
However, any chance of sneaking into College Station completely undetected will be hard because SHSU's offense is as dangerous as any team in the FCS. The Bearkats have scored at least 41 points in eight of their 10 games this season. If Sam Houston can surprise the Aggies early on, it could help for a possible playoff seed. Brian Bell might not be "Johnny Football," but he's played pretty darn well this season and the Bearkats have numerous weapons to account for offensively.
Ultimately, the Texas A&M faithful will be yelling "Gig'em" at the end of the contest, but Sam Houston State won't go down without a fight. This might not be a cake walk early on, especially because SHSU has nothing to lose but to stay healthy for the postseason.
Prediction: Texas A&M 52, Sam Houston State 25
No. 2 Montana State Bobcats (9-1, 6-1 Big Sky) at Montana Grizzlies (5-5, 3-4), 3:35 p.m. (ROOT NW)
Series record: Montana leads, 70-36-5
Last meeting: Montana 36, Montana State 10 (Nov. 19, 2011)
What to know: What more could one ask for in the final game of the regular season in a historic and heated rivalry between the Bobcats and the Griz. The 112th meeting of "The Brawl of the Wild" might not be the most intriguing in the noted series, but every year when these teams meet, either school could care less about the other's record.
Montana State has been on fire offensively in recent weeks and has a chance to clinch a share of the Big Sky title with a win and likely a playoff seed. It seems everyone in Bozeman remembers last year's disappointing romp that the Griz handed the Bobcats on their own field. This year, as Montana has fallen into relatively uncharted waters with a mediocre 5-5 record, it's the Bobcats who could gain tons of momentum with a victory.
In fact, Montana needs a victory to avoid its first losing season since 1985. Needless to say, the folks in Missoula will feel a whole lot better with a victory rather than a loss heading into the offseason. The Grizzlies actually lead the Big Sky in total offense with 461 yards per game, but opponents are scoring 27 points per game and are having a lot of success throwing the ball.
MSU's defense looked to be in trouble early in the season with injuries, but the Bobcats have had players raise their play, and they now lead the conference in rushing defense (88 yards per game) and total defense (305 yards per game). Expect coach Rob Ash's squad to establish its run game early with Cody Kirk (13 rushing touchdowns this season) and use that success for big plays with quarterback DeNarius McGhee and his accurate arm.
Anything can happen when these two teams meet and it helps that the Griz are playing at home. History says MSU could fall; after all, the Bobcats have just two wins in Missoula since 1986 - 2002 and 2010.
Prediction: Montana State 33, Montana 26
No. 5 Eastern Washington Eagles (8-2, 7-1 Big Sky) at Portland State Vikings (3-7, 2-5), 4:05 p.m. (CSN-NW)
Series record: Portland State leads, 19-14-1
Last meeting: Portland State 43, Eastern Washington 26 (Oct. 29, 2011)
What to know: Eastern Washington needed a blocked field goal in the final seconds of play to survive UC Davis last week, 31-28. The Eagles got some great news after Northern Arizona fell in triple overtime versus Southern Utah, so now EWU can earn a share of the Big Sky title with a win this weekend.
Of course, the Eagles would love nothing more than to go on the road and win convincingly to set themselves up nicely for a possible home game in the playoffs. It probably helps that Portland State got dismantled last week at Montana State, 65-30, but the Vikings do have the ability to scare teams with their pistol offense. Which PSU team shows up is another question.
Eastern should feel all right about being able to win close games. The Eagles have shown they understand what it takes to get a win. They have won three games by three points and another two have come by six points.
Quarterbacks Vernon Adams and Kyle Padron are going to get snaps, depending on whoever is playing better, and the Eagles have improved their run game, which obviously complements its explosive offense.
PSU whipped EWU in Cheney, Wash., last season on Senior Day. The Eagles haven't forgotten that game and have a chance to return the favor.
Prediction: Eastern Washington 38, Portland State 21
No. 24 Eastern Illinois Panthers (7-3) at No. 10 Central Arkansas Bears (8-2), 6 p.m.
Series record: Central Arkansas leads, 1-0
Last meeting: Central Arkansas 37, Eastern Illinois 7 (Sept. 11, 2011)
What to know: Very rarely do two teams from different conference meet toward the end of the season after already punching their tickets to the FCS playoffs. Eastern Illinois defeated Southeast Missouri State, 39-20, last week and quickly learned it had won the Ohio Valley Conference title outright, thanks to UT Martin falling at Tennessee Tech. Central Arkansas has had an extra week to prepare for the Panthers and to soak in its Southland Conference title.
All of a sudden, this game became a lot more interesting as both teams already know their playoff fates, yet a win, or a loss, could shake up who they face in the field of 20.
EIU coach Dino Babers has done a tremendous job replacing former legendary coach Bob Spoo. Not many people in the OVC could have predicted that his team, which finished last in the conference standings in 2011, would be so competitive just one year later.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and receiver Erik Lora have become quite the dynamic duo. Lora set a new OVC single-season record in the win last week and now has 1,479 receiving yards this season. His 115 catches ranks fifth all- time in FCS single-season history. Garoppolo leads an offense which averages 39 points per game and 357 passing yards per contest.
UCA's offense is led by another Walter Payton Award candidate, Wynrick Smothers, who has thrown for 2,517 yards and 27 touchdowns in 10 games. He is also the team's second leading rusher with 360 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bears defense has been overlooked this season and the secondary has allowed just 10 passing touchdowns through 10 games, although it gives up 232 yards per game through the air.
Central Arkansas has been phenomenal when playing at home and has yet to suffer a defeat on its gray-and-purple-striped field since it was installed in 2011.
Prediction: Central Arkansas 42, Eastern Illinois 35
No. 17 Cal Poly Mustangs (8-2, 6-2 Big Sky) at No. 15 Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (8-2, 6-1), 6:05 p.m. (NAU-TV)
Series record: Northern Arizona leads, 8-0
Last meeting: Northern Arizona 24, Cal Poly 7 (2003)
What to know: In a matchup between two Big Sky schools which had a chance to set up a potential "Big Sky title game" earlier in the season, the opportunity is still alive. The winner can clinch at least a share of the conference title and would win the title outright if Montana State and Eastern Washington both lose Saturday.
Cal Poly enters the contest fresh off a big 70-14 win over Idaho State. The Mustangs need 135 rushing yards to set a single-season Big Sky record (Montana rushed for 3,477 yards in 1971). They also need a win to feel completely safe on Selection Sunday.
Both teams live and die by their run attack. Cal Poly's Deonte Williams leads the conference in rushing with 1,319 yards and NAU's Zach Bauman ranks second with 1,138 rushing yards. The Lumberjacks defense allows just 21 points per game, which leads the Big Sky, compared to CP, which averages 38 points per game, good for second in the conference.
Even more similar is the fact that the game could come down to second half adjustments. NAU has outscored opponents 89-28 in the third quarter versus Cal Poly outscoring its foes 85-39. CP hasn't played well on the road this season and NAU can win its first Big Sky title since 2003.
Prediction: Northern Arizona 34, Cal Poly 30
No. 4 Old Dominion Monarchs (9-1, 6-1 CAA) at No. 13 James Madison Dukes (7-3, 5-2), 7 p.m. (NBCSN)
Series record: Old Dominion leads, 1-0
Last meeting: Old Dominion 23, James Madison 20 (Oct. 29, 2011)
What to know: Old Dominion has two great possibilities entering its game at James Madison. First, the Monarchs could grab a playoff seed with a 10-1 record and, second, they have a chance to knock James Madison out of the field of 20.
Certainly, there's still a lot of questions defensively for ODU, which is giving up 28 points and 397 yards of offense per contest. But if the team is in a shootout, the edge has to go to its offense. In 10 games, the Monarchs have scored 60 touchdowns, 451 points and average 45 points per game.
Even the team's run game, which at one point looked in doubt, has benefited in recent weeks. Running back Tyree Lee ran for a career-high 166 yards in a 41-31 victory over William & Mary last week and he's eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in the last three games.
JMU looked to be in the discussion for a possible playoff seed, but after a poor showing last week on both sides of the ball at Villanova, the Dukes need a victory to earn a spot in the playoffs. A loss and a 7-4 record would not be good enough this season.
It helps that this game is at home (in front of a national audience); however, the Dukes need to find some rhythm and consistency on offense if they want any shot at coming away with a victory.
Senior Night at Bridgeforth Stadium means anything can happen. It's do-or-die time for the Dukes.