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FCS: Week 1 Preview & How to Watch

South Dakota State is gunning for an upset, NAU is looking to topple a P5 opponent in Arizona, and Jackson State clashes with Florida A&M for SWAC supremacy.

NCAA Football: Celebration Bowl-Jackson State at South Carolina State Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Week Zero gave FCS fans an appetizer for what lies ahead this weekend. Week One is finally here and there’s a full slate of games to consume in the coming days. Whether your team is taking on an FBS powerhouse, at home hosting a DII school or just gearing up for a big showdown, there’s certainly a game for you over the next four days.

Rhode Island, Stony Brook Meet in Early Conference Tilt

The CAA got a little roomier at the top this offseason when James Madison left for the FBS. Teams like Rhode Island and Stony Brook will have a chance to get an early leg up in the conference race on Thursday night.

The Rams went 7-4 last season, but just missed out on a playoff berth after losing four of their final six games. URI has not been in the playoffs since 1985 but many think this might be the year they finally snap that streak. For the first time in program history, season ticket packages sold out.

Eighth-year head coach Jim Fleming, though, isn’t getting ahead of himself just yet.

“I’ve called it rat poison before and it is rat poison,” Fleming said of his team coming into this matchup with a national ranking (#22 per the STATS poll). “All it’s done is make sure Stony Brook has a ranked opponent to try to beat on the first week of the season.”

The Seawolves, despite a 5-6 campaign in 2021, have been exceptionally good at home lately, not losing a contest at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium since September 25 of last season. Part of that home win streak includes an impressive triumph over a then-#14 Delaware squad.

Rhode Island will be led by redshirt senior QB Kasim Hill. Hill played in all 11 games for the team last year and passed for 2,170 yards and 18 touchdowns. Senior tight end Caleb Warren will likely be one of Hill’s go-to targets, coming off a season in which he averaged 48.3 yards per game (led team) and caught three touchdowns

For Stony Brook running back and preseason CAA Offensive Player of the Year Ty Son Lawton will be toting the rock. Lawton is coming off a very impressive 2021 season that saw him rush for a CAA-best 1,088 yards. He also found the end zone ten times last year.

The Seawolves and the Rams will kick off at 7:00 PM (ET) on FloFootball.

Texas A&M-Commerce Hosts First Game as FCS Program

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 16 Division II Football Championship - West Florida v Texas A&M-Commerce Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The long journey for Texas A&M-Commerce to Division I is nearly over. On Thursday night, the Lions will play their first game as an FCS institution when they welcome DII’s Lincoln (CA) to Memorial Stadium.

Formerly of the Lone Star Conference, A&M-Commerce announced their move up this offseason and will play in the Southland. It is the first time the Lions are changing conferences since 1931. During their transitionary period, the team can qualify for a Southland title but they will be unable to participate in the FCS playoffs.

David Bailiff, the former head man at Rice, will begin his fourth season as the program’s head coach. Last year he led the Lions to a 7-4 record. In their history, A&M-Commerce has won two national titles, one at the DII level (2017) and one at the NAIA level (1972).

Thursday's game against the Oaklanders will mark the first in an 11-game schedule for the team. Their first FCS-vs-FCS game will be next weekend at Tennessee Tech and their first conference game will be against Southeastern Louisiana on October 8.

ESPN+ will have this game which kicks off at 8:00 PM (ET).

NAU Looks for Another In-State Upset to Start Season

Last year the Lumberjacks put themselves on the map in a big way when they pulled off a shocking two-point win over in-state FBS foe Arizona. The Wildcats’ loss to NAU was one of four by an FBS school to a Big Sky underdog in 2021. On Thursday night Northern Arizona will have the chance to do it again, this time to another rival from within their state: the Sun Devils.

Arizona State has not lost to an FCS opponent this century and will look to keep that streak alive on Thursday night. Last year the Sun Devils went 8-5 and played in a bowl game. NAU compiled a 5-6 record in 2021.

This game will serve as a homecoming of sorts for Lumberjacks head coach Chris Ball. Ball, who has been with NAU for four seasons, was an assistant at ASU from 2012 to 2015 before leaving for Memphis and eventually winding up in Flagstaff.

“It’s going to be a walk down memory lane a little bit,” Ball said of Thursday night’s contest. “A lot of emotions going back to Sun Devil Stadium.”

RJ Martinez will start at QB for NAU and, coming off a season in which he passed for 1,713 yards and 14 touchdowns, there are high expectations around him and the program this fall. Martinez was also second on the team in rushing yardage last year with 286 yards on 53 carries.

Also returning for the Lumberjacks will be sophomore running back Kevin Daniels. Daniels had an outstanding freshman season last fall, rushing for 1,146 yards (6th best in FCS) and seven touchdowns. He did all that while missing a game due to injury.

The Lumberjacks and Sun Devils haven’t met since 2016, a game that ASU won easily 44-13.

NAU will kick off against ASU at 10:00 PM (ET) on the Pac-12 Network.

Jacks take on Hawkeyes

South Dakota State v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

South Dakota State is seen by many to be one of the best teams in the country this year at the FCS level. On Saturday, the #2 Jackrabbits will have the chance to prove just how good they are when they travel to Iowa City for a date with the Hawkeyes in a marquee FCS-vs-FBS matchup.

Iowa is no stranger to playing host to some high-quality FCS competition. In 2016 the Hawkeyes, who were at the time ranked #13 in the FBS polls, famously welcomed in and infamously lost to North Dakota State in a stunner. This time it will be NDSU’s rivals from the south that will get their crack at pulling off a similar upset.

The Jacks are coming off an 11-win season and an appearance in the national semifinals last fall with an appearance in the national championship months earlier in the spring. Despite losing star running back Pierre Strong Jr. to the NFL, SDSU will still field one of the more talented offenses in the nation. Tucker Kraft is a monster at tight end, the offensive line is as stout as any, and running back Isaiah Davis is set to pick up right where Strong left off.

Last season the Jackrabbits made light work of their FBS opponent in Colorado State. SDSU dispatched the Rams 42-23. Of course Iowa is a much different monster however head coach John Stiegelmeier and his teams have shown they can play right there with the Big Ten. In 2019, South Dakota State fell to Minnesota by just a touchdown.

The game will be aired on FS1 and will kick off at 12:00 PM (ET).

North Carolina A&T Clashes with NC Central in Duke’s Mayo Classic

The Duke’s Mayo Classic will get renewed on Saturday and this year’s edition will resurrect an old rivalry between North Carolina A&T and North Carolina Central. It will mark the first time that the game, which typically features at least one team from the state of North Carolina, will be played by FCS schools. The Aggies and the Eagles are already slated to take part again in 2027.

North Carolina A&T is beginning its final season of Big South play before departing for the CAA next year and is picked by many to win the conference. Led by fifth-year head coach Sam Washington, the Aggies are looking to improve on a 5-6 record and return to the postseason for the first time since 2016.

Washington is eager for his team to take the field on Saturday against a familiar foe...

NC Central went 6-5 last year and finished second in the MEAC. Head coach Trei Oliver is hoping to lead his team back to the Celebration Bowl, a place the Eagles haven’t been since 2016.

Junior QB Davius Richard, who has been named to the 2022 Black College Football Player of the Year Award watchlist, will guide the NCCU offense that averaged over 200 passing yards per game in 2021. Richard is coming off a season in which he passed for 2,133 yards and 15 scores.

This contest will serve as the 93rd all-time meeting between the Eagles and the Aggies dating all the way back to 1922. North Carolina A&T leads the series 53-35-5 and has not lost to NCCU since 2016.

The Duke’s Mayo Classic kicks off at 7:30 PM (ET) on ESPN3.

Salukis Kick Off Season at Incarnate Word

Two playoff teams from a year ago will battle it out on Saturday evening when #9 Southern Illinois heads to San Antonio to take on #14 Incarnate Word. The Cardinals are coming off the best season in recent memory after they went 10-3 and won the Southland title last fall. UIW also picked up its first playoff win ever and nearly took out the 1-seed Sam Houston in the second round.

Fresh faces dot the UIW program, though, after last season’s stud QB Cameron Ward hit the transfer portal and eventually wound up in Washington State as did former head coach Eric Morris. Now it will be G.J. Kinne making his coaching debut and trying to lead the team back to the postseason.

Stud receiver Taylor Grimes is still around catching passes for the Cardinals, though, and that’s a welcomed sight. Last year Grimes snagged 87 catches for 1,145 yards and 15 touchdowns. He will likely be a major target again this year.

For Southern Illinois, Nick Hill is entering his seventh season as head coach and has his Salukis primed to go back to the playoffs as well. Last year’s quarterback Nic Baker will lead the charge. Baker threw for over 3,000 yards in 2021 and led SIU to an 8-5 record and a trip to the second round of the playoffs.

This will be the only matchup of the weekend that features two ranked FCS teams and it shapes up to be an excellent one. The game kicks off at 7:00 PM (ET) on ESPN+.

Rattlers, Tigers’ Early-Season SWAC Duel Has a Lot On The Line

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 05 Orange Blossom Classic - Jackson State vs. Florida A&M Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last year when Jackson State met up with Florida A&M in Miami’s “Orange Blossom Classic”, it was a defensive battle. The Tigers came away with a narrow 7-6 victory and it was a win that ultimately propelled JSU to an appearance in the SWAC title game (which they won) and a showing in the Celebration Bowl. The Rattlers, despite missing out on those opportunities because of the loss, still ended up making an appearance in the FCS playoffs.

That’s how much can potentially be at stake in this game. On Sunday, the two teams will renew their rivalry in Miami Gardens yet again for 2022’s rendition of the contest.

FAMU, after falling to North Carolina last weekend, is coming in with lots of questions swirling. Due to eligibility issues, the team was without 20 players in Chapel Hill including defending Buck Buchanan Award recipient Isaiah Land. Despite being so depleted, though, Willie Simmons’ team put up a gallant effort against the Tar Heels.

Since the issues last weekend, 89 student athletes at FAMU signed a five-page letter to university president Dr. Larry Robinson stating their frustrations. Athletes felt they had been misadvised, underrepresented and unappreciated by the university and its governing bodies both academically and athletically.

Jackson State is facing their own share of uncertainty as the game looms. Several reports have surfaced that the city of Jackson is seeing their water systems failing due to flooding, meaning that the community will be with little to no water indefinitely. Of course this will not affect the game site but will greatly affect JSU’s team moving forward.

“We don’t have water," said head coach Deion Sanders. "Water means we don’t have air conditioning. We can’t use toilets. We don’t have water, therefore we don’t have ice, which pretty much places a burden on the program. So right now we’re operating in crisis mode.”

All issues aside, however, the game is still on for this weekend and there’s plenty to play for. Being the two favorites in the SWAC, the winner here will likely have an open path to the Celebration Bowl while the loser will be playing catch-up.

The Rattlers’ offense will be piloted by quarterback Jeremy Moussa who threw two touchdowns in their loss to UNC. Land is hoping to make his season debut for the FAMU defense but it’s unclear right now whether or not his eligibility issues will be worked out in time.

Meanwhile the Tigers will have the talents of last year’s Jerry Rice Award winner at their disposal in QB Shedeur Sanders. Sanders had a sensational freshman season in 2021, throwing for 3,231 yards and 30 touchdowns.

The game will kick off on ESPN2 at 3:00 PM (ET) on Sunday afternoon.

Other Week 1 FCS Games

THURSDAY - North Alabama @ Indiana State, St. Francis U @ Akron, The Citadel @ Campbell, Fordham @ Wagner, LIU @ Toledo, Monmouth @ New Hampshire, Kennesaw State @ Samford, SC State @ UCF, Bryant @ FIU, North Greenville @ Furman, Western Illinois @ UT Martin, Mars Hill @ ETSU, VMI @ Wake Forest, Missouri Valley State @ Tarleton State, Eastern Illinois @ NIU, Lamar @ Abilene Christian, Western Oregon @ Weber State, Missouri State @ Central Arkansas, St. Thomas @ Southern Utah, Alabama A&M @ UAB, Portland State @ San Jose State, Cal Poly @ Fresno State

FRIDAY - Lehigh @ Villanova, Eastern Kentucky @ Eastern Michigan, Holy Cross @ Merrimack, William & Mary @ Charlotte, Tennessee Tech @ Kansas

SATURDAY - Sam Houston @ Texas A&M, Georgetown @ Marist, Dayton @ Robert Morris, Central Connecticut @ UConn, Delaware @ Navy, Western Carolina @ Charleston Southern, Richmond @ Virginia, Sacred Heart @ Lafayette, Northern Iowa @ Air Force, St. Thomas (FL) @ Butler, Southeast Missouri State @ Iowa State, Duquesne @ Youngstown State, Stonehill @ Bloomsburg, Davidson @ Jacksonville State, Lincoln (PA) @ Delaware State, Northwestern State @ Montana, Drake @ North Dakota State, Bethune-Cookman @ Miami (FL), North Dakota @ Nebraska, Norfolk State @ Marshall, Tennessee State @ Eastern Washington, Houston Baptist @ Northern Colorado, UC Davis @ California, Nicholls @ South Alabama, Towson @ Bucknell, Morgan State @ Georgia Southern, Howard @ Hampton, Concordia @ Stetson, Wofford @ Chattanooga, Miles College @ Alabama State, Florida Memorial @ Southern, Mercer @ Auburn, Elon @ Vanderbilt, Limestone @ Gardner-Webb, Lane College @ Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Texas Southern @ Prairie View A&M, Albany @ Baylor, Indiana Wesleyan @ Valparaiso, Illinois State @ Wisconsin, Stephen F. Austin @ Alcorn State, Presbyterian @ Austin Peay, Southeaster Louisiana @ Louisiana, South Dakota @ Kansas State, Colgate @ Stanford, McNeese @ Montana State, Maine @ New Mexico, Murray State @ Texas Tech, La Verne @ San Diego, Utah Tech @ Sacramento State, Idaho @ Washington State