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FCS Game of the Week Preview: No. 3 Sam Houston State at No. 12 Central Arkansas

The winner puts itself in the driver’s seat in the Southland Conference

NCAA Football: Central Arkansas at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Game Time: Saturday, September 30, 2017, 7 p.m. ET

Location: Estes Stadium, Conway, Arkansas

Where To Watch: ESPN3/Watch ESPN

Betting Odds: Sam Houston State -4, O/U 71

Odds via sportsbooks monitored by GamblersPalace.com


The Central Arkansas Bears are looking for their first Southland Conference title in five years. Central Arkansas has been pretty successful since making the leap from Division II to FCS 10 years ago, winning two conference titles and making the postseason three times.

This might be the best team that Central Arkansas has ever had and the Bears are looking to capitalize on it. They have yet to make it out of the second round of the FCS playoffs, but think they stand a good chance this year. An early season game against the Sam Houston State Bearkats will show how ready this team really is.

Reasons to Like Central Arkansas

Quarterback Hayden Hildebrand has looked sharp against other FCS opponents. He justifiably struggled in the Bears’ season opener against Kansas State, but has rallied in the team’s last two games. He averaged over 11 yards per throw in big wins over Murray State and Southeastern Louisiana and completed over 70 percent of his passes in those two games combined.

Reasons Not to Like Central Arkansas

To beat Sam Houston State, you need to follow the James Madison model. You have to be able to control the clock by running the ball and play solid defense. Central Arkansas hasn’t shown an ability to do either.

The Bears haven’t had a very strong effort from the running game. Leading rusher Carlos Blackman is averaging less than four yards per carry and that’s not good enough. Surprisingly, his best performance was in the opener against Kansas State and his numbers have declined dramatically since that one.

More concerning is this team’s porous pass defense. Central Arkansas has allowed 9.54 yards per pass this season and now must take on perhaps the best passing attack in the nation.

Reasons to Like Sam Houston State

Jeremiah Briscoe will be licking his chops when he eyes this defense. Briscoe won the Walter Payton Award last season and put up gaudy numbers all throughout the regular season in 2016. He lit up every conference opponent he faced and is off to a strong start this year.

Briscoe already has over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns through the first three games of this season. That’s not quite the pace he was at last season, but it’s pretty darn good nonetheless.

His numbers have been dinged by a good reason too. Sam Houston State actually has a running game this year. The Bearkats are averaging 6.46 yards per carry and have the 20th best run game in the nation in terms of yards per game. Their inability to run the ball killed them last year, but the coaching staff seemed to fix that in the offseason.

Reasons Not to Like Sam Houston State

This defense is still iffy at best. The Bearkats looked fine on defense last week against Nicholls State, but both Richmond and Prairie View A&M were able to move the ball pretty well on this defense.

The Bearkats might have an eye towards next week too. That’s when they take on their biggest rival, Stephen F. Austin. These two teams have met 91 times and Sam Houston State takes the rivalry very seriously. This is usually the most attended game of the season for Sam Houston State and the one they are usually the most fired up about.

Prediction

This line feels too short. Sam Houston State might have a hard time stopping Hildebrand, but that’s nothing compared to what Central Arkansas will go through in trying to shut down Briscoe.

Final Score: Sam Houston State 45, Central Arkansas 24