The second half of the FCS season is almost underway and a lot will be decided over the next six weeks. One of the biggest games left on the schedules, though, goes down this weekend in Fargo when the Bison and Jackrabbits clash once more in the “Dakota Marker” rivalry with a whole awful lot on the line. Outside of that there’s other big games in the CAA and Big Sky. Week 7 is sure to be a fun one.
#1 NDSU Hosts #2 SDSU in Huge “Dakota Marker” Game
Every year it seems like the “Dakota Marker” gets bigger and bigger. It’s going to be hard to top 2022's version, though, as North Dakota State and South Dakota State will meet as the nation’s #1 and #2 teams respectively. The Bison (5-1) and Jackrabbits (5-1) each have similar records with each’s only loss coming to an FBS P5 team. Fans in Fargo are in for a doozy this Saturday.
It’s no secret that NDSU’s bread and butter is running the ball. Fullback Hunter Luepke is making a serious case for himself as this year’s Walter Payton Award winner as he’s carried it 73 times for 482 yards and eight touchdowns. The 6-1, 232-lbs Luepke is a wrecking ball when he has the ball but, if there’s one things South Dakota State is really good at it’s stopping the run.
The Jacks are allowing only 57.5 rush yards per game this year, the third-best mark in the FCS. Only once this season has an opposing rusher had a run of over 15 yards and only twice has the SDSU defense given up a touchdown on the ground.
It isn’t just South Dakota State’s run defense that’s great though. Their own running game is solid as well thanks to the explosive Isaiah Davis. Davis is sixth in the country with 626 rush yards and five touchdowns.
North Dakota State will be quarterbacked by Cam Miller who has thrown for 806 yards and six touchdowns. On the other side, Mark Gronowski will lead the Jacks. He’s completing passes at a 59.1% rate and has thrown ten touchdowns.
For all the weapon SDSU boasts on offense, though, they may still be without their star tight end. Tucker Kraft suffered an ankle injury during the first game this season and has not played since. Reports surfaced earlier this week that he may come back for this game although nothing is confirmed yet.
This game, though, is bound to be one of the best of the weekend and no game will likely have bigger impacts nationally than this one. The winner here will probably lay claim the #1 spot in the country and could end up with #1 seed by the time the playoffs come around. With both expected to make the postseason and receive byes, homefield advantage throughout is what’s likely on the line and everyone knows how tough the Bison are in Fargo.
South Dakota State has won the last two “Dakota Marker” games but all-time NDSU leads the series 63-44-5. The Bison are looking for their first win over the Jacks at home since 2018 while SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier is after his 11th win against North Dakota State. No matter how you cut it, this is going to be a good one.
The Bison and the Jackrabbits will kick off at 3:30 PM (ET) on ESPN+.
Idaho, Montana Renew Rivalry in Missoula
The Griz are fresh off a bye week and are returning home to welcome in an old foe this Saturday. That seems like it should be a winning recipe but let’s remember, Montana (5-0) did struggle with Idaho State and this Idaho squad (3-2) isn’t exactly a slouch. The Vandals have won three straight as UM is looking to stay unbeaten.
Jason Eck is making his head coaching debut with the Vandals and its going well so far. His team is 2-0 in Big Sky action thanks in large part to their standout freshman on offense. Quarterback Gevani McCoy and running back Anthony Woods have been making a name for themselves. McCoy has thrown for 1,088 yards and 10 touchdowns this fall while Woods is averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
Montana will counter with one of the country’s best defenses. Linebacker Patrick O’Connell and safety Robby Hauck spearhead the unit that's allowing under 100 rush yards per game and just 11.4 points per contest. Hauck is the program’s all-time tackles leader and has 45 to his name this year while O'Connell has seven sacks.
UM is a threat to score in all three phases of the game. The offense, led by San Diego State transfer Lucas Johnson, is lethal but so is the special teams unit. So far this year the Griz have recorded two punt return TDs and a house call on a missed field goal. They boast one of the most dangerous returnmen in the country in Malik Flowers.
If Idaho is to have a chance here, they'll need to find a way past the Grizzlies defense. One way of doing that will be getting the ball to receiver Jermaine Jackson. Jackson averages over 21 yards per reception and has two touchdowns. He is third in the Big Sky with 450 receiving yards on 21 catches.
The “Little Brown Stein” rivalry between these two programs started clear back in 1903 and Idaho has won 55 of the meetings. Montana, though, has not lost to the Vandals since the the 1999 season. Of course there is a lengthy gap when Idaho went FBS from 1996-2017 and the two didn't meet every year. The last time Idaho won in the series, it was in Missoula.
An upset here would position the Vandals nicely for a potential playoff spot. They’d have four wins on their resume with an impressive one over a Top 5 team. Montana would also benefit greatly from a victory here as they’d move to 6-0 on the season and could even jump into the #2 national spot depending on what happens in the aforementioned “Dakota Marker” game.
The contest will begin at 3:00 PM (ET) on ESPN+.
Elon Battles Rhode Island
Elon has been on some kind of roll as of late. The Phoenix (5-1) have won five in a row and are looking to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2018 and they may have just the team to do it. This Saturday, however, they’ll face off with Rhode Island (3-2) who is seeking its second straight victory to get back into the postseason conversation.
If the Rams are to get their revenge for last year’s loss in Elon then quarterback Kasim Hill will need to be sharp. He’s had four multi-touchdown games this year but has also tossed three interceptions. Hill is coming off one of his best games of the season against Brown a couple weeks ago in which he threw for 257 yards and ran for another 78.
Meanwhile Phoenix quarterback Matthew McKay has been tremendous as of late. McKay, who transferred over from Montana State last winter, has yet to have a game in which he passes for less than 200 yards. He’s thrown 14 touchdowns and only two picks this season with a 62.1% completion rate.
McKay is helped greatly by running back Jalen Hampton. Hampton leads Elon’s rushers with 473 yards on 113 carries and has four touchdowns. On the other side, defensive back Cole Coleman has been a turnover machine. Coleman has two recovered fumbles and an interception this year.
Rhode Island’s defense will be led by linebacker Jake Fire. Fire has 48 tackles an interception and two forced fumbles. He will need to find a way to plug gaps because McKay and Hampton can be deadly with their legs.
The Rams barely missed out on the playoff cut last year but an upset over #14 Elon would go a long way in getting them back there. They’ve already lost one conference game and can’t afford to drop another. The Phoenix can really boost their pedigree here with a win as well. If they topple URI they’d be 4-0 in CAA play with three wins over Top 25 teams.
The game will kick off at 1:00 PM (ET) on FloFootball.
Richmond Welcomes ‘Nova
Both the Spiders and the Wildcats should be well rested for this one as each is coming in off their bye week. Villanova (3-2) will be looking to beat Richmond (3-2) for a fourth consecutive time while. The Spiders last won in the series back in 2017 and this time, as the two often are, both programs will both be ranked heading into the matchup on Saturday.
The #17 Wildcats are where they are right now because of guys like senior receiver Jaaron Hayek. Hayek ranks seventh in the FCS right now with 567 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He’s had some big games along the way as well including a massive four-TD performance against Maine just two weeks ago.
Hayek will go up against a Spiders defense that’s allowing 209.8 pass yards per outing and has one of the best defensive backs in the country in Aaron Banks. Banks has three interceptions so far this season along with two fumble recoveries and 16 tackles.
Spiders QB Reece Udinski is also one of the better slingers in the nation. Udinski has only thrown one pick and has 13 touchdowns behind 1,501 yards. If he is playing well then he’ll be tough to stop. Udinski has had three straight 300-yard passing games and did not commit a turnover in any one of those showings.
The Wildcats will be commanded by Connor Watkins. Watkins has thrown for 1,062 yards and 11 touchdowns this season but has struggled with turnovers. He has tossed eight picks and needs to be wary of Banks on the outside.
It really feels like both Richmond and Villanova need this one. Each has lost in upset fashion to a conference rival and each is coming off a bye looking for a strong second half. Both were once favorites in the CAA and now seem to be vying for an at-large playoff bid. Whoever gets this one will be 4-2 and the loser will dip down to .500 and will be in jeopardy of missing the postseason altogether.
The contest will start at 3:30 PM (ET) on FloFootball.
Other Week 7 FCS Games
THURSDAY - Morgan State @ North Carolina Central
FRIDAY - Brown @ Princeton
SATURDAY - Bucknell @ Yale, Colgate @ Army, Dayton @ Marist, Lehigh @ Cornell, Morehead State @ Davidson, St. Francis @ LIU, Wagner @ Merrimack, Monmouth @ Maine, Robert Morris @ Campbell, Edward Waters @ North Carolina A&T, Stonehill @ Sacred Heart, Columbia @ Penn, Central Arkansas @ Kennesaw State, Virginia-Lynchburg @ South Carolina State, New Hampshire @ Dartmouth, VMI @ Chattanooga, The Citadel @ Wofford, Indiana State @ Youngstown State, Delaware State @ Norfolk State, Butler @ Valparaiso, Drake @ St. Thomas, Western Carolina @ Furman, South Dakota @ Illinois State, Lindenwood @ Eastern Illinois, Mississippi Valley State @ Alabama State, Jackson State @ Bethune-Cookman, Florida A&M @ Grambling State, Montana State @ Northern Colorado, Cal Poly @ Idaho State, Western Illinois @ Southern Illinois, Hampton @ Albany, Gardner-Webb @ Liberty, Incarnate Word @ Nicholls, Murray State @ Austin Peay, Harvard @ Howard, East Tennessee State @ Mercer, Charleston Southern @ Bryant, Southern Utah @ Abilene Christian, Weber State @ Portland State, Presbyterian @ San Diego, Utah Tech @ Northern Iowa, Stony Brook @ Fordham, Sam Houston @ Eastern Kentucky, Northern Arizona @ UC Davis, Sacramento State @ Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State vs North Alabama (Madison, AL), Alcorn State @ Southern, Tennessee State @ Tennessee Tech, Tarleton State @ Stephen F. Austin, Northwestern State @ Houston Christian, Texas A&M-Commerce @ McNeese
SUNDAY - Alabama A&M vs Arkansas-Pine Bluff (St. Louis, MO)