The playoff push is officially underway for several FCS programs across the country and there could be a lot decided during this weekend’s slate of games. The top is as tight as it’s ever been but there’s bound to be some separation after this Saturday as we have two Top 10 meetings (both coincidentally in the Big Sky). Week 8 is almost here.
Princeton Duels Harvard for Ivy League’s Top Spot
Friday night will pit two of the Ivy League’s best teams against each other when Harvard (4-1) squares off with Princeton (5-0). The Tigers captured a share of the conference title in 2021 after losing only one game last fall but the Crimson have only lost one game all year and are unbeaten in league play.
One big key to Harvard’s success in this one will be the play of senior running back Aidan Borguet. Borguet leads the team in rushing with 620 yards and seven touchdowns. When he runs for over 100 yards, the Crimson are 4-0 but when he doesn’t they are 0-1. Borguet is averaging 20.2 touches per game and will likely be a big part of the Crimson’s game plan in this one.
Princeton will look to subdue Borguet with a stout running defense. The Tigers are surrendering just 46 yards on the ground per contest this season and have not given up a rushing score this season.
On the other side, the Tigers will lean on the play of Blake Stenstrom under center. Stenstrom is coming off a season-high three-touchdown performance against Brown last week in which he threw for 258 yards and completed over 70% of his passes. Stenstrom has not tossed an interception since Princeton’s second game of the season back in September.
A victory here would put Princeton in a really good spot in the Ivy standings and would allow them to keep pace with Penn who is also undefeated at the moment. If Harvard wins, however, they’d leapfrog the Tigers and would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The contest will start at 7:00 PM (ET) on ESPNU.
#5 Weber State Clashes with #3 Montana State
The Big Sky picture will get a little clearer on Saturday afternoon when undefeated Weber State (6-0) heads to Bozeman for a date with Montana State (6-1). The #3 Bobcats have not lost to an FCS opponent this fall and have a 16-game winning streak at home but the #5 Wildcats are playing some of their best ball right now.
If Montana State wants to preserve their unblemished home record this season they will need to find an answer for Weber State QB Bronson Barron. Barron is completing 65.7% of his passes and has over 1,400 passing yards to his name this fall. The MSU defense has given up 212.4 pass yards per contest.
Offensively, the Bobcats will run the ball a lot with a lot of different players. Quarterbacks Tommy Mellott and Sean Chambers often split duties on the ground and Lane Sumner sees a lot of touches too. Chambers leads the FCS with 16 rushing touchdowns and Sumner, despite only playing in three games this season due to injury, has notched over 100 yards in each outing he’s had.
The Wildcats defense is one of the stingiest in the country, however, with 16 takeaways this fall. 12 of said takeaways have been interceptions and five of those picks have come at the hands of DB Maxwell Anderson. Anderson’s five picks leads the FCS right now and if Mellott/Chambers doesn’t know where he is at all times, then he could have more than that when this one is done.
The winner of this game could very well be the Big Sky champion when all is said and done. If Weber State walks out with the win then they’ll be 7-0 with perhaps their toughest game behind them while MSU would be playing catch-up. If Montana State wins, however, they’ll position themselves nicely down the stretch as they have a bye week after this followed by two winnable games against Northern Arizona and Cal Poly.
The game will kick off at 3:00 PM (ET) on ESPN+.
Chattanooga Hosts Mercer in Huge SoCon Battle
The SoCon could get decided this weekend in Macon when Mercer (6-1) gets a visit from Chattanooga (5-1). The Bears find themselves at #11 in the rankings right now with their only loss coming to Auburn back in Week 2. The Mocs, similarly, sit at #10 in the national poll and have also only suffered one defeat (to FBS Illinois in Week 4). Something will have to give in this one.
The much-anticipated game shapes up to be a fireworks show between one of the FCS’ best quarterbacks in Mercer’s Fred Payton and one of the better defensive lines led by Chattanooga’s Devonnsha Maxwell. Payton has only thrown one interception all season and that came last week against ETSU. He is fourth in the nation right now with 21 pass TDs.
Maxwell will lead a Mocs defensive unit that’s accumulated 21 sacks so far this year. He and teammate Jay Person are responsible for 11 of those QB takedowns and, if they want to keep Payton in check, they’ll each need to apply pressure often on the elusive Mercer signal-caller.
Quarterback Preston Hutchinson will lead Chattanooga’s offense. Hutchinson has thrown eight touchdowns this year but has also struggled with ball security as he’s tossed five interceptions as well. Turnovers that give the ball back to a high-scoring offense like Mercer’s will likely prove to be costly so Hutchinson needs to be careful, especially seeing as the Bears lead the country in picks (15).
It might be fair to dub this the unofficial SoCon Championship. A win here would almost guarantee Mercer a spot in the playoffs (for what would be the first time in program history) at the very least and put them firmly in the driver’s seat for a league title. A Chattanooga win would likely do the same for them, even with Samford hot on their heels.
The game will begin at 1:30 PM (ET) on Saturday on ESPN+.
North Dakota Welcomes Top Dog SDSU
For the second time in as many weeks, South Dakota State (6-1) will have a big game in the state of North Dakota. The #20 Hawks (4-2) are fresh off a bye week and will play host to the #1 Jackrabbits this Saturday afternoon as they look to win their fourth MVC game.
If UND wants a chance at upending the country’s best team they will need a solid game from quarterback Tommy Schuster. Schuster has three multi-touchdown games this season and all were victories. He has only tossed two picks so far this year and will need to keep that number there against a very good SDSU defense.
The Jackrabbits were able to defeat NDSU last weekend because they stopped the run effectively. No Bison rusher got over 60 yards on the ground and they’ll need to replicate that performance against North Dakota’s Tyler Hoosman. Hoosman has rushed for 473 yards and seven touchdowns this season on 76 attempts.
Mark Gronowski and Isaiah Davis will look to continue leading the Jackrabbits on methodical drives that eat up clock. South Dakota State is holding the ball for nearly 35 minutes per game and that’s because guys like Davis are able to keep the chains moving. SDSU’s standout RB averages 5.7 yards per run on 120 carries this year.
North Dakota would make a major case for themselves as a playoff-worthy team if they can pull the upset. The Hawks would have a win over the top team in the country and would be 4-1 in MVC play. If South Dakota State does what they’re expected to, however, then they’ll be one big step closer to a conference title and the top overall seed in the playoffs.
The Hawks and Jacks will kick off at 4:00 PM (ET) on ESPN+.
#2 Sac State Meets #7 Montana in Primetime Slot
Montana (5-1) suffered a rare home loss last week and, unfortunately for the #7 Grizzlies, the road only gets tougher as they head to Sacramento to face the #2 Hornets (6-0) on Saturday night. Sacramento State will be trying beat the Griz for the second straight year while UM is looking to bounce back.
Lucas Johnson has to shake off his rough outing and have near-perfect performance if Montana is to stay within reach of Sac State’s potent offense. The Hornets are putting up over over 48 points and 500 yards per game this year. The Griz boast a strong defense but the offense will need to do their part. Johnson threw two interceptions last week, a season-high.
Sacramento State running back Cameron Skattebo will be looking to build off of his temendous game against Eastern Washington last weekend where he ran for over 200 yards and got himself some SportsCenter recognition in the process. Montana’s defense is allowing 76.2 rush yards per game this season.
STOP. IT. @camskattebo5 is not real#ExperienceElevated pic.twitter.com/jYwYwwQ7IR— Big Sky Conference (@BigSkyConf) October 15, 2022
Quarterback Jake Dunniway will team up with Asher O’Hara a bunch in this game, as he’s done all year. The two QBs have combined for 26 total touchdowns and over 1,800 yards of offense via the pass and run. Dunniway and O’Hara will have a tall task against UM’s defense which is led by All-American linebacker Patrick O’Connell and safety Robbie Hauck. O’Connell and Hauck account for 105 of the Griz’s 471 total stops this year.
It certainly seems that if Montana loses this one they also lose any hope of a Big Sky championship. Two conference losses would be a lot to overcome with just a month to go and Sac State would almost be a shoo-in for the postseason. If the Griz pull it off, though, things get much more interesting. The Hornets would slip behind them in the league standings and almost surely the national rankings next week as well.
The game will get underway at 11:00 PM (ET) on ESPN2.
Other Week 8 FCS Games
FRIDAY - LIU @ Wagner
SATURDAY - Bucknell @ Lehigh, UT Martin @ Tennessee, North Carolina A&T @ Robert Morris, Duquesne @ Central Connecticut State, Georgetown @ Colgate, Cornell @ Brown, Delaware State @ Howard, Illinois State @ Indiana State, Yale @ Penn, Marist @ Butler, Stonehill @ St. Francis, St. Thomas @ Presbyterian, Rhode Island @ Monmouth, Stetson @ Dayton, Sacred Heart @ Merrimack, Furman @ VMI, North Carolina Central @ South Carolina State, Dartmouth @ Columbia, Davidson @ Drake, Murray State @ Lindenwood, Richmond @ Hampton, Southeast Missouri State @ Northwestern State, Valparaiso @ Morehead State, The Citadel @ Western Carolina, Southeastern Louisiana @ Jacksonville State, North Alabama @ Eastern Kentucky, Houston Christian @ Texas A&M-Commerce, Southern Illinois @ South Dakota, Faulkner @ Incarnate Word, Eastern Illinois @ Tennessee State, Texas Southern @ Alcorn State, Campbell @ Jackson State, Northern Arizona @ Idaho State, Tennessee Tech @ Kennesaw State, Morgan State @ Delaware, UC Davis @ Northern Colorado, Portland State @ Idaho, Stephen F. Austin @ Southern Utah, Samford @ East Tennessee State, Maine @ Stony Brook, Albany @ Villanova, Holy Cross @ Lafayette, William & Mary @ Towson, Youngstown State @ Western Illinois, McNeese State @ Nichols, Bethune-Cookman @ Mississippi Valley State, Missouri State @ Northern Iowa, Prairie View A&M @ Lamar, Virginia-Lynchburg @ Southern, Gardner-Webb @ Charleston Southern, Southwest Baptist @ Tarleton State, Eastern Washington @ Cal Poly, Sam Houston @ Utah Tech