The final weekend of the FCS regular season always brings with it a lot of drama, anxiety and stress because, not only is it rivalry weekend for many schools, it’s also the last chance several teams have to earn a playoff spot. This year is as wide open as it’s ever been on the at-large side of things but that’s not to say auto-bids aren’t up for grabs either. Week 12 is here and there’s so much on the line for so many.
Davidson Welcomes Dayton in Fight for Pioneer League Auto-Bid
There’s just a few games this weekend that will outright decide who gets a playoff spot and who gets left out and one of said matchups is Dayton (8-2) traveling to take on Davidson (7-3). St. Thomas has actually already claimed the Pioneer League title but per NCAA rules they can’t qualify for the playoffs in their transitionary period which lasts until 2025. This means the next best team will get the conference’s auto-bid making the stakes simple here; the winner is in.
No team in the country is better at running the ball than the Wildcats who put up 357.4 per game. Running backs Dylan Sparks and Coy Williams each have over 600 yards rushing this season and the duo has combined for 14 touchdowns. Davidson is truly a “by-committee” team as 15 different players have carried the ball this fall.
Dayton also boasts a solid ground attack led by senior running back Jake Chisholm. Chisholm is 31 yards away from his third 1,000-yard season. He also has 11 touchdowns under his belt, all on a whopping 214 carries.
With two prolific rushing attacks coming head to head, this game may very well come down to which quarterback makes fewer mistakes. Neither Davidson’s Jayden Waddell nor Dayton’s Dante Casciola throw the ball often. Waddell only tossed one interception this year while Casciola has thrown four.
Davidson was the Pioneer League’s lone representative in the last two postseasons while Dayton has only been to the playoffs once in their history (2015).
The Flyers and Wildcats will kick at 1:00 PM (ET) on Davidson All-Access.
Harvard Hosts Yale in Latest Edition of “The Game”
One of the most stories rivalries in all of college football is the yearly clash between Harvard and Yale. The Bulldogs (7-2) and the Crimson (6-3) come together again on Saturday and each has an outside shot of nabbing a portion of the Ivy League crown.
Yale is fresh off a huge win over previously-undefeated Princeton and will look to continue riding the big play of their quarterback Nolan Grooms. Grooms put up his highest rushing total of the season last week against the Tigers with 152 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He leads the Bulldogs in rushing for the season but can also sling it when he needs to.
Stopping Grooms is a must for Harvard and the Crimson are excellent against the run. They surrender just 2.6 yards per carry and not even 90 per game. Guys like linebacker Matt Hudson play a big role in that department. Hudson has 44 tackles (27 solo). Right behind him is fellow linebacker Jake Brown with 41 total stops (27 solo).
On offense Harvard will be led by quarterback Charlie Dean. Dean has thrown for 1,872 yards and 16 touchdowns this fall and is coming in hot off a big game against Penn a week ago in which he found the end zone four times and didn’t throw a pick. He had his highest completion percentage of the season against the Quakers as well (76.3%).
There’s always a ton of pride on the line here and, since the Ivies don’t participate in the playoffs, this is it for both Yale and Harvard. If the Crimson win then there exists a possibility for a four-way tie for the conference title, pending on what happens in the Princeton-Penn game. If Yale takes it, though, then they’ll at least be a co-champion.
ESPNU will carry the game at 12:00 PM (ET).
North Carolina A&T Clashes with Gardner-Webb for Big South Title
As is the case with Davidson and Dayton, North Carolina A&T (7-3) and Gardner-Webb (5-5) will meet on Saturday with similar stakes. The Bid South still needs to crown a champion and award an auto-bid and there’s only two teams that are 4-0 in league play; the Aggies and the Bulldogs.
If Gardner-Webb wants to win its fourth straight and reach the playoffs for the first time in school history, it will need another big performance from senior quarterback Bailey Fisher who has been on fire as of late. Over the last three games, Fisher has thrown for 1,130 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Aggies will look to counter Fisher with a defense that’s recorded 14 interceptions this season. Defensive back Karon Prunty alone has four while teammates Aaron Harris, Jacob Roberts and Avarion Cole each have two. This is a unit that knows how to snipe opposing quarterbacks but Fisher has only tossed one pick over the last month.
On offense, NC A&T will be paced by running back Bhayshul Tuten. Tuten ranks fifth in the subdivision with 1,255 yards and 12 scores. He’s only had one game all year in which he hasn’t hit 100 on the ground and that was Week 1 against NC Central. Stopping Tuten will be key for the Bulldogs defense that gives up 131 yards per game.
Again, this one is straightforward; win and you’re in. Although Gardner-Webb is just 5-5 overall, the auto-bid is theirs with a victory thanks to their perfect record in Big South action. North Carolina A&T is looking to get one last conference crown, though, before they leave for the CAA next year.
The game will start at 1:30 PM (ET) on ESPN+.
Montana State Seeks “Brawl of the Wild” Revenge on Montana
There is no game quite like the annual duel between Montana State and Montana. As seems to be typical of this contest, there’s a ton riding on Saturday’s bout between the Bobcats (9-1) and the Grizzlies (7-3) when they get together in Bozeman. To make things even bigger, College GameDay will be on site also. For MSU, there’s a shot a Big Sky title while UM needs to win just to avoid landing on the dreaded Selection Sunday bubble.
The biggest question for the Grizzlies right now is Lucas Johnson’s status. The senior signal-caller was injured in last week’s win over Eastern Washington and was spotted on the sideline in crutches late in the game. If he can’t go then UM will likely go with freshman Daniel Britt. Britt played the second half against the Eagles and threw a touchdown and a pick.
Montana State’s QB situation is much more solid with Tommy Mellott and Sean Chambers each at their disposal. Mellott has taken the bulk of the snaps this season and has thrown for 1,206 yards and nine touchdowns. Chambers, who has missed some time with an injury, is good to go according to head coach Brent Vigen. Chambers has run for 16 touchdowns this fall.
The Bobcats may also have the talents of star running back Isaiah Ifanse back in their graces. Ifanse has missed all of this season while dealing with an injury he suffered last winter but he traveled with the team last week to Cal Poly and is reported to be close to returning. Ifanse was one of the FCS’ best backs last year with 1,623 yards.
The Griz will have a tall order in thwarting MSU’s prolific ground game, no matter who’s running the ball, as the ‘Cats boast the second-best rushing attack in the country with 314.9 yards per contest. Montana, though, is holding opposing offenses to just 97.3 yards per game.
Montana State lost last year’s battle on the road 29-10 but won the previous four meeting before that. The Grizzlies have not won in Bozeman since 2015 and, while MSU has revenge on their side, Bobby Hauck’s team has desperation on theirs as they may not make the playoffs without a win. As always, the “Brawl” is set to be a fun one.
The game will kick off at 2:00 PM (ET) on ESPN+.
Florida A&M, Bethune-Cookman Renew “Florida Classic” in Orlando
Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman are preparing to duel for the 77th time on Saturday afternoon in Orlando and, as was the case last year, there’s a whole lot more than just pride on the line, at least for the Rattlers. FAMU (8-2) has a chance to get an at-large selection to the postseason with a win. The Wildcats (2-8), however, would love nothing more than to play spoiler to those aspirations.
After losing their first two games (to very good opponents in North Carolina and Jackson State), Florida A&M has spun off eight straight wins to get themselves in this position and that’s been thanks in large part to the play of their defense. Isaiah Land, last year’s Buck Buchanan Award recipient, has seven sacks this season as does teammate Kamari Stephens. Those two account for 66% of all of the defense’s sacks this season.
On the other side for FAMU, receiver Xavier Smith has also been a game changer. He nearly has 1,000 yards on 82 catches and has racked up 10 touchdowns. Quarterback Jeremy Moussa looks Smith’s way often as over half of his passing touchdowns have gone the wideout’s way.
Bethune-Cookman could have a long afternoon trying to slow down the tandem as they’ve surrendered nearly 200 passing yards per contest. Quarterback Jalon Jones has been sacked 18 times this fall which also isn’t great news with the aforementioned Land and Stephens on the opposite line.
The Wildcats lost badly to the Rattlers last season but before that they won nine straight in the “Florida Classic” series. If they can pull the upset of Willie Simmons’ squad this weekend then FAMU’s season is over, even at what would be an 8-3 record. It’s not easy for an HBCU to reach the FCS playoffs, despite these Rattlers doing so last year, and a loss would certainly derail that dream.
The contest will begin at 2:30 PM (ET) on ESPN3.
Other Week 12 FCS Games
THURSDAY - Southeastern Louisiana @ Nicholls
SATURDAY - Stony Brook @ Monmouth, Wagner @ Duquesne, The Citadel @ VMI, Wofford @ Furman, Howard @ Morgan State, St. Thomas @ Butler, LIU @ Sacred Heart, St. Francis @ Merrimack, New Hampshire @ Maine, East Tennessee State @ Mississippi State, William & Mary @ Richmond, Bryant @ Robert Morris, Austin Peay @ Alabama, Southern Illinois @ Youngstown State, Holy Cross @ Georgetown, Lehigh @ Lafayette, Western Illinois @ Illinois State, Missouri State @ Indiana State, Presbyterian @ Stetson, Chattanooga @ Western Carolina, Colgate @ Fordham, Penn @ Princeton, Cornell @ Columbia, Southern Utah @ Sam Houston, Central Connecticut State @ Stonehill, Albany @ Rhode Island, Hampton @ Towson, Delaware @ Villanova, Drake @ Valparaiso, Marist @ Bucknell, San Diego @ Morehead State, Mercer @ Samford, Brown @ Dartmouth, Norfolk State @ South Carolina State, Northern Iowa @ South Dakota, Incarnate Word @ Northwestern State, Murray State @ Southeast Missouri State, Prairie View A&M @ Mississippi Valley State, North Alabama @ Memphis, Campbell @ Delaware State, Texas Southern @ Alabama A&M, North Carolina Central @ Tennessee Tech, Jackson State @ Alcorn State, Houston Christian @ Tarleton State, Kennesaw State @ Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee State @ Texas A&M-Commerce, Eastern Illinois @ UT Martin, Weber State @ Northern Arizona, Idaho @ Idaho State, Stephen F. Austin @ Abilene Christian, Utah Tech @ BYU, North Dakota @ North Dakota State, Northern Colorado @ Eastern Washington, UC Davis @ Sacramento State, Jacksonville State @ Central Arkansas, Portland State @ Cal Poly, Lamar @ McNeese