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FCS Game of the Week Preview: No. 13 Nicholls State at No. 16 McNeese State

Southland Conference rivals square off in a Top 25 clash

NCAA Football: Nicholls State at Kansas Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

Game Time: Saturday, September 15, 2018, 7 p.m. ET

Location: Cowboy Stadium, Lake Charles, Louisiana

How To Watch: ESPN3

Betting Odds: McNeese State -4.5, O/U 50.5

When the McNeese State Cowboys and Nicholls State Colonels met in each team’s season opener last year, neither team knew that an eventual spot in the FCS playoffs would be decided by the game’s outcome.

In a thrilling back-and-forth affair where both teams combined for 29 fourth quarter points, Nicholls State edged McNeese State 37-35 thanks to a 32-yard field goal from Lorran Fonseca as time expired.

At the end of the year, that win led to Nicholls State being given an at-large berth in the playoffs with an 8-3 record while 9-2 McNeese State was left at home. Both teams know what the stakes are entering this year’s battle.

Reasons to Like McNeese State

McNeese State are 2-0 entering this game and boast one of the better quarterbacks in the Southland Conference in James Tabary. Tabary was named Second Team Preseason All-Southland back in July, and he bounced back in a big way after struggling in the season opener against Northern Colorado. He went 25-32 for 355 yards with four touchdowns in a win over Houston Baptist last Saturday.

The Cowboys should have one of the nation’s top defenses this year. McNeese State did lose a number of starters from the front seven that led the nation in rushing yards per game allowed (54.5) in 2017, but they looked great in their opener against Northern Colorado. They allowed just 1.5 yards per carry against the Bears, however they did allow some big plays last week against Houston Baptist.

Reasons Not to Like McNeese State

McNeese State is still having trouble running the ball. That nearly cost them as Northern Colorado roared back from a 17-point deficit to come within a field goal in the fourth quarter in their opener, and it also led to them being unable to put Houston Baptist away after jumping out to a 37-14 halftime lead last week. If the Cowboys can’t run the ball at home against Nicholls State, that will put a lot of pressure on Tabary.

Reasons to Like Nicholls State

While Tabary was named to the second team, Chase Fourcade was named the best quarterback in the Southland Conference back in July. Fourcade is a dual-threat quarterback that can beat teams through the air or on the ground, and he led the Colonels to a win over Kansas in their season opener. He was held somewhat in check by Tulane last week, but he still managed to lead an offense that racked up over 400 yards against the Green Wave.

The Colonels defense should be lights out this year. Nicholls State put a whopping six players on the Preseason First Team All-Conference defense, and they will be happy to not have to deal with FBS teams anymore.

Reasons Not to Like Nicholls State

This is the Colonels third straight road game, and the defense looked gassed in the second half last week. Nicholls State ended up allowing almost 300 yards on the ground, and the school wasn’t able to pick up the stops they needed to in the second half. Although the Colonels haven’t had to travel too far, three straight road games is never the way you want to start the season.

Prediction

Nicholls State will get off on the right foot with Fourcade leading the way in a narrow win over McNeese State. The Colonels defense will stuff the run and make the Cowboys one-dimensional.

Final Score: Nicholls State 24, McNeese State 21

Keep an eye on two other games this week. I think Kennesaw State will be able to run it up on Alabama State in their home opener, and I’m expecting Zach Bednarczyk to have a big day in a Villanova win over Towson.