Zach Zenner's humble attitude and team-first mentality has allowed for the sophomore to thrive this season.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Few could have guessed that by Week 10 of the 2012 season a sophomore running back from South Dakota State would be leading the FCS in rushing.
Let alone, that he would help guide his team to its first winning season since 2009 and to become a legitimate playoff contender after two previous 5-6 seasons.
However, like many players in the FCS, Zach Zenner might not fit the prototypical stud running back figure, at 6 feet, 215 pounds, but his humble attitude and team-first mentality have allowed for the sophomore to thrive this season.
Originally from Eagan, Minn., Zenner broke out on the FCS scene after ridiculous performances early in the year. The yards and numbers kept piling up, but his outings remained consistent as well.
He set career highs with 23 carries and 183 rushing yards in SDSU's season- opening loss at Kansas, including a 99-yard touchdown scamper which is now the program's longest play from scrimmage. In the weeks that followed, Zenner had rushing performances of 278, 197, 237, 182, 171, 112 and 87 yards.
While he won't take the credit for his team's success, or his own for that matter, Zenner has been an important factor for the Jackrabbits' achievements through eight games this season.
"I don't really worry about how many yards I've gained, or what my average is and things like that," Zenner said. "Honestly, and more importantly, I'm only worried about how we do as a team."
South Dakota State is 6-2 overall and tied for third in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 4-1 record. Through eight games, Zenner, who has led the FCS in rushing for most of the season, averages 180 yards per game. He has totaled 1,447 yards on the ground, which ranks second in the FCS. Amazingly, he ranks fifth in total rushing yards among all NCAA players this season.
He also has scored nine touchdowns and averages 7.5 yards per carry, but even more impressive? Zenner became just the third running back in Missouri Valley Football Conference history to reach the 1,000-yard mark in five games.
"Before the season started, we knew we had an opportunity to be pretty good, so it's not too much of a surprise to us," Zenner said. "I can't say enough about our defense. I mean, they pretty much won the UC Davis game for us, and I can't say enough about what a great job the guys up front have done. I'm very thankful to have them blocking for me."
As a redshirt freshman in 2011, Zenner made a name for himself as an all- purpose athlete. He returned kicks and saw time at running back and ranked third in the MVC last year with an average of 123.1 all-purpose yards per game, earning him a spot on the conference's all-newcomer team.
For Zenner, the influence of his quarterback, Austin Sumner, and the rest of the playmakers on offense have helped him along the way become more comfortable. Last week, following a tough loss at Northern Iowa, other members of the offense did just that.
Sumner threw for a career-high five touchdowns, including four in the first half, and receiver Aaron Rollin caught three passes for 108 yards and one touchdown in a 41-28 victory over then-No. 21 Youngstown State.
The Jackrabbits were held to a season-low 87 rushing yards, and for the second straight week the defense limited Zenner far below his season average. Still, coach John Stiegelmeier understands Zenner's presence alone can help open up the passing game.
"We came into the season feeling that (the passing game would be fine) because Austin had a good year last year," Stiegelmeier said. "We had a pretty special receiver in Dale Moss and that makes a difference also. But he's (Sumner) had some injury problems and we've had some execution problems and that takes away from confidence, but he sure got it back on Saturday. Hopefully, he can maintain that."
Even opposing coaches are realizing just how scary South Dakota State can be when its run and pass attack can be equally devastating.
"You can't ignore their run game," Southern Illinois coach Dale Lennon said. "When you've got a running back that averages 180 yards per game, that's pretty good. Their run game is the first thing that if you don't shut it down, or not shut it down, slow it down, then you're going to be in for a very long day. The thing that they have really done well now is the passing game. It's a good complement, they are playing with a lot of confidence and are not an easy team to defend."
It might sound boring, cliche, or corny, but Zenner could care less about his statistics or individual rankings.
Even when asked about pregame superstitions or what he eats before games, Zenner's answers are humble and somewhat simple.
He doesn't have any rituals or listen to specific types of music and he definitely doesn't eat anything special or unordinary before kickoff.
"Pizza or a sandwich? I don't know about that," Zenner said. "I'm more of a bran guy, maybe some cereal or something light."
Either way, it's worked out pretty well for Zenner and South Dakota State.
The following is a game-by-game breakdown for The Sports Network FCS Top 25 (all times ET):
No. 19 Towson Tigers (3-2, 4-4 CAA) at No. 23 Delaware Blue Hens (2-3, 5-3), noon (NBCSN)
Series record: Delaware leads, 9-4
Last meeting: Delaware 35, Towson 30 (Oct. 29, 2011)
What to know: With all the distractions off the field entering last week's game at Villanova, Towson responded well. The Tigers offense exploded for a 49-35 victory and improved to 4-4, keeping the team's postseason hopes alive.
Senior quarterback Grant Enders is certainly making a case for being one of CAA Football's top offensive players. Against Villanova, he had a career day, throwing for four touchdowns and rushing for 122 yards and one touchdown. Likewise, running back Terrance West stepped up, despite missing the prior week's game. He rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns and added a 78-yard touchdown reception in the win.
Delaware fell at Old Dominion last week and dropped to 5-3. The Blue Hens still have three games remaining (including this week), but a win versus Division II West Chester early in the season could hurt their playoff chances yet again. The good news for UD is that Towson is 3-6 all-time at Delaware Stadium and hasn't won in Newark since 2006. Plus, Delaware has won five straight games in the series.
Ultimately, Towson's offense has been more productive this season and its defense ranks first in the CAA in allowing only 308 yards per game.
Prediction: Towson 38, Delaware 33
William & Mary Tribe (1-4, 2-6 CAA) at No. 11 New Hampshire Wildcats (5-1, 7-2), noon (Comcast SportsNet)
Series record: William and Mary leads, 13-2
Last meeting: William & Mary 24, New Hampshire 10 (Oct. 15, 2011)
What to know: On paper, New Hampshire looks to have the easiest path to the CAA title as it faces 2-6 William & Mary this week, with a bye week in between a season-ending matchup with Towson. And both games are at home.
However, if any team has the edge over the Wildcats, it has to be the Tribe. Call it luck, or coincidence, or whatever you want, but coach Jimmye Laycock always seems to have something up his sleeve when he has faced UNH coach Sean McDonnell. W&M is the lone CAA team the Wildcats have not beaten in the Sean McDonnell era (0-9).
The Tribe have been a bit disappointing this season, but they have suffered two one-point defeats and two three-point defeats. Laycock's squad has been inconsistent at the quarterback position and, as a result, the Tribe rank 11th in the CAA in passing offense with just 164 yards per game.
In a 40-20 victory over Rhode Island last week, New Hampshire utilized signal- callers Sean Goldrich and Andy Valais, not only with snaps under center - but also in unique two-quarterback formations - which allowed for each player to be dangerous running and throwing the ball.
The Wildcats, who average 240 rushing yards per game, rank second in the CAA and are 11th in the FCS on the ground. Senior linebacker Matt Evans needs just eight tackles to become the program's all-time leader, a record held by Steve Doig (434 from 1978-81).
The 'Cats play well at home and are 23-2 at Cowell Stadium since Nov. 17, 2007. However, both of those defeats came against William & Mary in 2008 and 2010.
Prediction: William & Mary 28, New Hampshire 27
No. 18 Tennessee State Tigers (4-1, 8-1 OVC) at Murray State Racers (2-3, 3-5), noon (Fox College Sports)
Series record: Murray State leads, 12-11
Last meeting: Murray State 58, Tennessee State 27 (Sept. 17, 2011)
What to know: The outlook didn't look great for Tennessee State last week when it trailed for most of the game versus rival Tennessee Tech. However, thanks to place-kicker Jamin Godfrey's school-record five field goals and a touchdown with no time remaining, the Tigers escaped with a 22-21 victory.
TSU quarterback Michael German completed the 6-yard touchdown pass to A.C. Leonard to tie the game and, fittingly, Godfrey nailed an extra point to steal the win.
Due to a scheduling issue, the contest versus Murray State will be a road game for the Tigers for the third straight season. Although the Racers are 3-5 on the season, make no mistake, this game defines "trap" for Ohio Valley Conference co-leader Tennessee State.
Murray State has won the last four contests in the series, including 58-27 a season ago. In that game, the Racers racked up 707 yards of total offense as Casey Brockman passed for an OVC record 600 yards and seven touchdowns.
Brockman and Co. lost a tough game last week against Jacksonville State and are hungry for a big win. The senior gunslinger has thrown for 2,926 yards and 20 touchdowns this season and been intercepted just eight times.
Last meeting: Lehigh 14, Holy Cross 7 (Nov. 5, 2011)
What to know: Lehigh, the only remaining undefeated team in the FCS, tries to push forward without looking ahead before huge games against Colgate and Lafayette to end the regular season. If Colgate defeats Lafayette this weekend, the matchup on Nov. 10 will determine the Patriot League's automatic playoff berth.
Lafayette still controls its own destiny and can win the Patriot crown and playoff berth with wins over Colgate on Saturday and Lehigh on Nov. 17.
The Mountain Hawks enjoyed a bye week, and despite the damage of Hurricane Sandy around Pennsylvania they were still able to practice and prepare for their game this week.
The Mountain Hawks own a 17-game regular season winning streak, which leads the FCS. Last year's contest, versus a much more competitive Holy Cross team, Lehigh played one of its closest Patriot games, but squeaked out a 14-7 victory.
Holy Cross may have just one win, but the Crusaders are well aware of the opportunity they have to take down the league's cream of the crop.
Prediction: Lehigh 38, Holy Cross 28
Wagner Seahawks (5-3, 5-1 NEC) at No. 20 Albany Great Danes (5-0, 7-1), 12:30 p.m.)
Series record: Albany leads, 12-1
Last meeting: Albany 24, Wagner 0 (Oct. 29, 2011)
What to know: Albany survived a scare last week versus Sacred Heart. After getting off to a slow start, the Great Danes pulled out a critical 23-20 victory.
The Great Danes are in first place in Northeast Conference play, but trailing behind them is a Wagner team that has been a bit of a surprise this season with a 5-1 conference record.
Wagner's defense has been its strong point through eight games. The Seahawks lead the NEC in scoring defense, allowing 16 points per game; pass defense, with 164 yards per game; and total defense, with 321 yards per contest.
Likewise, Albany leads the NEC in scoring with 34 points per game, while running back Drew Smith is a touchdown machine. The senior has been slowed down a little bit in the Danes' last couple of games, but he has rushed for 783 yards and scored 15 touchdowns, including one on a reception.
Albany's offense should get back on track this week, but expect an on-going battle at the line of scrimmage throughout the game. If the Great Danes should slip, the NEC might could have a few teams competing for the automatic playoff bid.
Prediction: Albany 33, Wagner 21
No. 1 North Dakota State Bison (4-1, 7-1 MVC) at Missouri State Bears (3-3, 3-6), 2 p.m. (Mediacom)
Series record: Tied, 2-2
Last meeting: North Dakota State 51, Missouri State 21 (Oct. 15, 2011)
What to know: North Dakota State regained its early season No. 1 ranking by taking down Southern Illinois, 23-17, last week. Once again, NDSU's defense came up huge, limiting SIU to 177 total yards and only 11 rushing yards - the lowest rushing total for a Bison defense since 2001.
Missouri State has suddenly won three straight games after convincingly beating Western Illinois, 42-3, last week. Quarterback Kierra Harris has led the team to three wins since he took over as the starter. The Bears have won two of the last three meetings in the series, including a 3-0 victory in 2010, which was also the last matchup at home for MSU.
This is a potentially dangerous game for the Bison because of the history in the series. In conference play, the Bears defense gives up 290 yards per game and only 135 of which come through the air. However, NDSU running back Sam Ojuri looks to be back and healthy. The Bison are a completely different team on offense with a injury-free backfield.
Prediction: North Dakota State 35, Missouri State 14
No. 25 Eastern Kentucky Colonels (4-2, 6-3 OVC) at Southeast Missouri State Redhawks (3-5, 2-3), 2 p.m.
Series record: Eastern Kentucky leads, 19-3
Last meeting: Eastern Kentucky 41, Southeast Missouri State 17 (Oct. 15, 2011)
What to know: Eastern Kentucky dropped a costly game versus Eastern Illinois last week, which could come back to haunt the Colonels. They are now 4-2 in OVC play, one game behind Eastern Illinois, Tennessee State and UT Martin and most likely, the conference won't have more than two teams selected to the FCS playoffs.
In the loss, EKU forced four turnovers, but it was unable to score any points as a result. The Colonels also have outscored OVC opponents 45-7 off turnovers this season.
Running back Matt Denham and quarterback T.J. Pryor were held relatively in check last week, but the team can still make a statement with only two contests left this year.
Southeast Missouri broke out for a nice win against Austin Peay last week. The Redhawks not only snapped a 10-game road losing streak, but also totaled season highs of 399 rushing yards and 48 points.
Very few know of running back Levi Terrell, who ranks ninth in the FCS with 122 yards per game and is 19 yards away from 1,000 on the season. Similarly, senior linebacker Blake Peiffer needs 12 tackles to reach 100 on the season and could become the first back-to-back 100-tackle performer in the program since 2007.
Since 1990, EKU has won 19 of the 22 meetings in the series.
Prediction: Eastern Kentucky 33, Southeast Missouri State 21
No. 15 Appalachian State Mountaineers (6-3, 6-3 SoCon) at No. 2 Georgia Southern Eagles (6-1, 7-1), 2 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
Series record: Appalachian State leads, 14-12-1
Last meeting: Appalachian State 24, Georgia Southern 17 (Oct. 29, 2011)
What to know: It seems every year in the Southern Conference, this contest between bitter rivals Georgia Southern and Appalachian State has conference title implications. With a win, GSU could clinch at least a share of the SoCon and earn the conference's automatic playoff bid.
Five of the last six games in the series have been decided by seven points or less, with two overtime contests as well. From 2006-08, the visiting team came away victorious, but in the last three matchups the home team has ended up with a win.
App State has some choices to make because starting quarterback Jamal Jackson went down early last week, but his backup, freshman Logan Hallock, was impressive. He finished the contest with 230 passing yards and two touchdowns on 20-of-21 attempts. Hallock also completed the first 20 passes of his career.
If Jackson isn't 100 percent, coach Jerry Moore will have a tough decision, especially versus a rival who also happens to be in first place in the SoCon.
Georgia Southern had to defeat Chattanooga in three overtimes last week, but its defense ranks top in the SoCon, allowing 279 yards per game. ASU on the other hand, ranks first in the conference with 465 yards per game, so something has to give.
An App State loss would put the Mountaineers in a rare situation. If they lose - if being the big question - ASU would have to win out to finish 7-4. After the road game at GSU, the Mountaineers play Furman to end the regular season.
The Eagles have a lot to gain with a win before finishing the year with Howard at home and SEC foe Georgia on the road.
Prediction: Georgia Southern 33, Appalachian State 28
No. 17 Illinois State Redbirds (4-2, 7-2 MVC) at No. 14 Indiana State Sycamores (5-1, 7-2), 2:05 p.m. (Comcast SportsNet)
Series record: Illinois State leads, 32-29-2
Last meeting: Illinois State 17, Indiana State 14 (Oct. 22, 2011)
What to know: Illinois State got the job done defensively last week at Northern Iowa. The Redbirds forced four turnovers and tied a season high with five sacks in a 33-21 win. They improved to 4-0 on the road this season - the most during coach Brock Spack's four years with the program - and a victory at Indiana State would give them their first perfect road record since the 1937 season.
Like the Redbirds, Indiana State is having a very solid season. The Sycamores are 5-1 in MVC play for the first time ever and they have won their last five games since a Week 4 loss - three of which have come on the road.
Senior cornerback Johnny Towalid helps headline a very underrated Indiana State defense. Towalid recorded his third career interception return for a touchdown last week versus South Dakota, setting a new school record for a season and for a career, in which he has a total of four.
Illinois State receiver Tyrone Walker has become the school's all-time leader in receiving yards with 3,038, and he needs two touchdowns to pass former standout Laurent Robinson (29) to become the new leader in that statistical category.
Expect a cat and mouse contest between two stout defenses and offenses which like to run the ball first.
Prediction: Illinois State 24, Indiana State 21
No. 21 South Dakota State Jackrabbits (4-1, 6-2 MVC) at Southern Illinois Salukis (4-2, 5-4), 3 p.m. (Saluki Sports Network)
Series record: Tied, 2-2
Last meeting: South Dakota State 45, Southern Illinois 34 (Nov. 5, 2011)
What to know: Since the series started in 2008, the teams have traded back-to- back wins. SIU won the first two contests and SDSU has won the last two games.
Last week versus Youngstown State, South Dakota State had to rely on quarterback Austin Sumner's arm rather than stud running back Zach Zenner's legs. Sumner threw for 351 yards and five touchdowns - four of which came in the first half - and receiver Aaron Rollin caught three passes for 108 yards and one touchdown.
Zenner is still as dangerous as any back in the FCS, but teams have suddenly started to shut him down more effectively in recent weeks. The sophomore leads the FCS in rushing (180 yards per game), but he was held to a season-low 87 rushing yards versus Youngstown State last week.
SIU competed well at North Dakota State last week and led 14-10 at halftime. Ultimately, the Salukis didn't get much going on offense and fell, 23-17. They totaled a mere 177 yards and managed just 11 rushing yards on 17 attempts.
The Salukis have the edge on returns, having scored seven touchdowns on either defense or special teams this season, and they have blocked a kick (punt or field goal) in four consecutive games.
The Jackrabbits secured their first winning season since 2009 with the win versus YSU, but they have bigger plans.
Prediction: South Dakota State 33, Southern Illinois 25
Last meeting: Wofford 38, Samford 23 (Sept. 24, 2011)
What to know: Last week versus The Citadel, Wofford jumped out to a 24-7 lead at halftime before holding on for a 24-21 win. Senior fullback Eric Breitenstein had his sixth multiple-touchdown game of the season and recorded his 27th career 100-yard rushing game. His 4,923 career rushing yards are just 205 yards behind Shawn Graves (5,128 yards) for the program's all-time record.
The Terriers lead the SoCon in rushing offense and scoring as well as rushing defense. They average 38 points per game and run for 392 yards per game and give up 122 rush yards per contest.
Samford has had an extra week to prepare for the Terriers. It has faced two triple option teams this season in Georgia Southern (a loss) and The Citadel (a win). Quarterback Andy Summerlin ranks third in the SoCon is passing with 236 yards per game, but Wofford's defense should control the line of scrimmage to give Samford a lot of problems.
Prediction: Wofford 38, Samford 26
Southeastern Louisiana Lions (3-1, 3-5 Southland) at No. 4 Sam Houston State Bearkats (4-1, 6-2), 3 p.m.
Series record: Sam Houston State leads, 9-4
Last meeting: Sam Houston State 38, Southeastern Louisiana 9 (Nov. 5, 2011)
What to know: Southeastern Louisiana finds itself still in good shape in the conference title race, even after a 34-14 home loss versus Central Arkansas last week. It's very rare that a team with five losses could still make the FCS playoffs, but if the Lions win their remaining games against Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin and Nicholls State, they still have a shot.
Of course, winning this week alone will be a difficult task against a very solid Sam Houston State squad. The Bearkats are riding a conference-best five- game win streak after beating Lamar, 56-7, last week. If coach Willie Fritz' team can win two of its last three games, SHSU should find itself in the postseason again.
Quarterback Brian Bell threw his 40th career touchdown pass in the win versus Lamar to become Sam Houston's all-time leader and the Bearkats in general have looked like the team which reached the national championship game in 2011. Safety Darnell Taylor needs seven tackles to become the program's all-time leader, as Stan Blinka (1975-78) finished with 215.
The Lions haven't won versus Sam Houston since 2008 and have lost eight of the last 10 games in the series.
Prediction: Sam Houston State 40, Southeastern Louisiana 20
No. 10 James Madison Dukes (4-1, 6-2 CAA) at Maine Black Bears (2-3, 3-5), 3:30 p.m. (Comcast SportsNet)
Series record: James Madison leads, 10-5
Last meeting: Maine 25, James Madison 24 (Oct. 8, 2011)
What to know: James Madison should feel lucky to enter the game with a 6-2 record after surviving a late Georgia State rally last week. The Dukes didn't play their best game of the season, but they now have a chance to grab momentum with huge games at Maine this week, at Villanova in Week 11 and home versus Old Dominion on Nov. 17.
Freshman quarterback Michael Birdsong made his first collegiate start and completed 11-for-23 passes for 119 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Clearly, there is room for improvement.
JMU's talented defense ranks first in the CAA in scoring, allowing 18 points per game, and second in total defense with 330 yards against per contest.
Maine earned its third win by defeating William & Mary on the road, 24-10. Signal-caller Marcus Wasilewski seems to be getting more comfortable each week, and he has now passed for 1,816 yards and 13 touchdowns versus eight interceptions on the season. The Dukes could be on upset alert, but after playing down to their opponent last week, expect coach Mickey Matthews to have his squad focused during the long trip up north.
Prediction: James Madison 32, Maine 21
No. 5 Old Dominion Monarchs (4-1, 7-1 CAA) at Georgia State Panthers (1-8, 0-0), 3:30 p.m.
Series record: Old Dominion leads, 2-0
Last meeting: Old Dominion 40, Georgia State 17 (Sept. 10, 2011)
What to know: Old Dominion travels to the Georgia Dome to take on a struggling Georgia State team after surviving at home last week in rainy and sloppy conditions versus Delaware. Sophomore quarterback Taylor Heinicke threw for 375 yards and did plenty of damage with his feet, rushing for the team's first three touchdowns in the 31-26 win.
Georgia State played much better on both sides of the ball last week against James Madison and rallied for two touchdowns in the final 10 minutes before falling, 28-21.
Interestingly, both schools will be in the transition to the FBS level next season. GSU is moving to the Sun Belt conference and ODU to Conference USA.
Heinicke, a native of Atlanta, leads an offense which ranks first in the FCS in scoring offense (44 points per game) and total offense (565 yards per contest), and is third in passing offense (400).
This game marks the end of a home era for the group of 11 Georgia State seniors and coach Bill Curry. Most of the seniors and their coach have been with the program since it began practicing in 2009 for the first time in program history. Curry announced his retirement earlier this season and will be done coaching after the team visits Maine in Week 11.
Prediction: Old Dominion 45, Georgia State 21
No. 16 Cal Poly Mustangs (5-1, 7-1 Big Sky) at No. 7 Eastern Washington Eagles (5-1, 6-2), 4:35 p.m. (SWX)
Series record: Eastern Washington leads, 3-2
Last meeting: Eastern Washington 53, Cal Poly 51 (Nov. 12, 2011)
What to know: Last season's two-point, three-overtime thriller proved to be a game which had little meaning in the conference race. This season, however, both teams have a lot to gain and a lot to lose when it comes to the Big Sky title picture, because they are tied for second place in the standings behind Northern Arizona.
Although this contest is considered a non-conference game, it could be used in a tiebreaker to determine the Big Sky's automatic bid to the playoffs. Both EWU and Cal Poly are coming off disappointing losses, while the Eagles fell off their perch as the FCS' No. 1-ranked team and the Mustangs fell for the first time in 2012 versus Sacramento State.
Both offenses have the ability to turn up the heat and it really could come down to turnovers and/or whichever team has the ball last. The Mustangs rank third in the FCS with 323 rushing yards per game, while EWU allows 147 yards per game on the ground.
Expect Cal Poly's Deonte Williams (1,094 rushing yards, 136 rushing yards per game, 10 total touchdowns) and Eastern's Brandon Kaufman (47 receptions, 912 yards, eight touchdowns) to lead the way offensively for both teams.
Prediction: Eastern Washington 42, Cal Poly 41 (OT)
Virginia Military Keydets (1-3, 2-6 Big South) at No. 9 Stony Brook Seawolves (4-0, 8-1), 6 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
Series record: Stony Brook leads, 4-0
Last meeting: Stony Brook 42, Virginia Military 14 (Oct. 22, 2012)
What to know: Stony Brook enters the game with a 4-0 Big South Conference record for the fourth consecutive year and it can clinch at least a share of the conference title if it can take care of VMI this week. If both Coastal Carolina and Liberty lose and SBU wins in Week 10, the Seawolves will win the conference title outright.
Senior running back Miguel Maysonet needs two touchdowns to become the Big South's career touchdown record, held by Coastal Carolina's Aundres Perkins (2003-06). He leads the conference in rushing with 166 yards per game and has totaled 1,502 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground through nine games this season.
Quarterback Kyle Essington and receiver Kevin Norrell connected for three touchdowns in a win last week versus Presbyterian. Norrell averages just five receptions per game, but has amassed 1,060 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.
VMI is looking to snap a 13-game road losing streak, including a six-game skid in Big South road games, and its offense only averages 11 points per game. SBU ranks first in the conference in allowing 15 points per game.
Prediction: Stony Brook 40, Virginia Military 13
Rhode Island Rams (0-5, 0-8 CAA) at No. 22 Richmond Spiders (3-2, 5-3), 6 p.m.
Series record: Richmond leads, 13-5
Last meeting: Richmond 15, Rhode Island 6 (Nov. 13, 2010)
What to know: Richmond is coming off a bye week with a lot of momentum after a 35-29 victory over then-No. 2 James Madison in Week 8. It was the first win for an unranked Richmond team over a Top 5 team since the 2001 season.
After URI this week, the Spiders host Delaware and finish the year at William & Mary. If Richmond can win each game, its chances of making the FCS playoffs look solid.
Much of the Spiders' success has been related to their offensive line, which leads the FCS in sacks allowed, having given up just one through eight games this season. Quarterback Michael Strauss completed 27-of-43 passes for 271 yards and four touchdowns in his first career start versus JMU.
Rhode Island ranks last in the CAA in scoring offense (11 points per game), rushing offense (83 yards per game), scoring defense (37 points per game) and total offense (256 yards per game). The Spiders will look to attack URI's secondary first because its passing offense ranks second in the CAA with 279 yards per game. Plus, the Spiders have only thrown two interceptions this season.
Richmond is 52-5 since the start of 2004 when leading at halftime and is 41-6 since 2005 when scoring 30-plus points.
Prediction: Richmond 42, Rhode Island 17
No. 12 Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (5-0, 7-1 Big Sky) at Idaho State Bengals (0-5, 1-7), 6 p.m.
Series record: Northern Arizona leads, 31-17-1
Last meeting: Northern Arizona 20, Idaho State 3 (Sept. 24, 2011)
What to know: If there was any doubt that Northern Arizona is destined to win the Big Sky Conference, it was partly erased after last week's 12-10 victory over Northern Colorado.
NAU utilized a team safety, a 59-yard interception return - which was the Lumberjacks' only touchdown of the game - and a late field goal to escape with a victory. The team is 5-0 in conference play for the first time since 1996 and it controls its own destiny in the Big Sky. NAU finishes the season with games against Idaho State this week and home contests versus Southern Utah and Cal Poly.
Statistically speaking, running back Zach Bauman should have a field day this week versus an Idaho State defense which has been has been porous through eight games this season. The Bengals allow a whopping 339 rushing yards per game and have allowed at least 52 points in their last six games. Bauman needs 24 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the season.
NAU has won seven straight over the Bengals and its defense, which leads the conference in scoring with 21 points per game, is often overlooked.
Prediction: Northern Arizona 45, Idaho State 17
No. 3 Montana State Bobcats (4-1, 7-1 Big Sky) at Sacramento State Hornets (4-2, 6-3), 7:05 p.m. (ROOT NW)
Series record: Montana State leads, 14-6
Last meeting: Montana State 31, Sacramento State 21 (Oct. 1, 2011)
What to know: Sacramento State picked up an enormous win last week versus previously undefeated Cal Poly, 35-29. The victory not only kept the Hornets' hope alive for their first-ever FCS playoff bid, but it was also special because the team played in honor of teammate John Bloomfield, who died on Oct. 21.
In the emotional win last week, Sac State quarterback Garrett Safron completed 31-of-38 passes for 303 yards and four touchdowns. This season, he is completing 67 percent of his passes.
Montana State won handily at home last week versus North Dakota. Even more impressive then the 55-10 score was the fact that running back Cody Kirk was back and healthy for the first time in weeks and the offense thrived. MSU rushed for 436 yards and totaled a school-record 695 yards of offense. Kirk has played in just six games this season, but he is tied for the conference lead with nine rushing touchdowns. MSU leads the Big Sky in scoring offense, total defense and rush defense.
The Hornets are 5-1 in their last six games at home against ranked opponents, but Sac State has lost the last seven meetings in the series.
Prediction: Montana State 35, Sacramento State 32
Northwestern State Demons (2-2, 4-4 Southland) at No. 13 Central Arkansas Bears (5-1, 7-2), 8 p.m. (Southland TV)
Series record: Central Arkansas leads, 3-2
Last meeting: (Central Arkansas 45, Northwestern State 20 (Nov. 5, 2011)
What to know: Central Arkansas can make great strides this week with a win because it can clinch a share of the Southland Conference title. A victory could make the Bears one of the early schools to punch a ticket to the FCS playoffs, due to the conference's automatic qualifier.
UCA quarterback Wynrick Smothers threw three touchdown passes last week versus Southeastern Louisiana, while receiver Jesse Grandy has become his main target over the last couple of games. Grandy has caught five touchdown passes in the past three games, hauling in 24 receptions for 439 yards during that span.
The Bears haven't lost a contest in Conway, Ark., since they installed "The Stripes," the team's gray-and-purple turf field. However, Northwestern State has a lot to play for in terms of being the Southland's spoiler team and the Demons defeated the Bears, 24-19, in 2010 - the last time UCA played host.
Prediction: Central Arkansas 34, Northwestern State 20