The FCS season is rolling along and this week may be the biggest yet, at least in terms of the magnitude of games. Conference play is starting for several teams and lots of those teams have very important games on the slate this week. Here's what to watch this week around the subdivision.
#10 Chattanooga Tries to Topple Illinois
The Mocs (3-0) have gotten off to a strong start to their 2022 campaign, a strong start that was expected. Chattanooga was picked by several to win the SoCon this season and now, after wins against Wofford, Eastern Illinois and North Alabama, they’ll have a true test this Thursday night against Illinois (2-1) out of the Big Ten.
Chattanooga has proven they can play with P5 teams as just last year they gave Kentucky a mighty scare in Lexington. The Mocs, though, have not beaten an FBS team since they took down Georgia State in 2013.
If they are to have a shot against Illinois, Chattanooga must maintain its current level of play on defense. So far this season they’ve surrendered 34 total points over the span of three games and are holding opposing offenses to just 78 rush yards per contest. That’s thanks to guys like Preseason SoCon Defensive Player of the Year Devonnsha Maxwell. Maxwell has three tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks so far this fall. He could have a big day against an Illini team that’s given up six sacks already this season.
On the other side of the ball, junior running back Ailym Ford will pace the offense. Ford, who rushed for 1,071 yards in 2021, has 331 yards so far this year along with four touchdowns. Quarterback Preston Hutchinson will look to build on his season-high performance from last week in which he threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns.
Fourth-year head coach Rusty Wright has the makings of a really good team down in Tennessee this year. The Mocs have been hovering around that #10 ranking all season and this game serves as a giant opportunity to prove their legitimacy in the FCS landscape. If they pull this one off, believe that they will skyrocket up the polls and right into the national championship conversation.
The game will get started at 8:30 PM (ET) on the Big Ten Network.
#2 Jacks, #6 Bears Meet in Huge MVC Clash
The Missouri Valley will see a big one go down on Saturday when #2 South Dakota State (2-1) collides with #6 Missouri State (2-1) in Springfield. Both teams come into this game having had similar seasons up to this point. Each has only lost one game and that defeat came at the hands of a P5 squad that had to work for every ounce of it.
MSU quarterback Jason Shelley is playing fantastic ball right now. He has thrown for 920 yards, seven touchdowns and has yet to toss a pick. The Bears will need another big day from him if they are to outpace a very talented Jacks defense that's holding its opponents to under 200 pass yards per contest.
The Jackrabbits own offense is without one of its best players right now in tight end Tucker Kraft. Kraft went down with an ankle injury earlier this season against Iowa but, so far, SDSU is still getting it done in the passing game thanks in large part to the play of QB Mark Gronowski. Gronowski, who didn’t play last year due to his own injury issues, threw three touchdowns in the team’s win over Butler last week.
Isaiah Davis will lead the way on the ground for the Jacks. He’s toted the ball 54 times this year for 236 yards but has yet to find the end zone. Gronowski leads the team with three rushing scores.
This game will likely have major implications down the line in both the Missouri Valley and FCS playoff races. Both the Bears and the Jackrabbits are expected to be postseason teams again this fall after reaching the playoffs last year and both are making early vies for playoff positioning with this game. The winner here will not only likely have a little clearer shot to a seed when all is said and done but also will get a leg up in the crowded MVC. With NDSU looking unstoppable again, it seems as though even one conference loss may spell doom for anyone’s MVC title hopes.
The Jacks and the Bears will get underway at 3:00 PM (ET) on ESPN3.
EWU Hosts Montana State to Open Big Sky Play
Every win in the Big Sky is important and this weekend #4 Montana State (2-1) and #15 Eastern Washington (1-1) each get their first opportunity for a coveted conference victory on Saturday afternoon. The Bobcats are looking to bounce back after a 68-28 loss last week against Oregon State while EWU is coming off an early bye and has had extra time to prepare.
Montana State beat the Eagles in Cheney last year but they were also at full strength when they did that. This time, MSU is coming in thin at running back. Last year's star Isaiah Ifanse is still tending to an injury from last spring and Week 1's standout Lane Sumner also has missed time with an elbow injury he suffered in practice a couple weeks ago.
Offensively the Bobcats will likely run two quarterbacks. Tommy Mellott and transfer Sean Chambers have both seen significant time so far this season. Chambers has already ran for seven touchdowns, tying for the best mark in the FCS right now. Mellott has passed for 548 yards and four touchdowns. He did, however, throw three interceptions last week.
The Bobcats defense is hoping to rebound after allowing 538 yards and 68 points to OSU last Saturday. They had no answers on third down as the Beavers converted 10 of their 12 tries. Staying on the field that long will not get it done against a team like EWU.
Conversely, if Eagles want to get by the 'Cats defense, they'll need a good showing from quarterback Gunner Talkington. Talkington has thrown seven touchdowns this fall in just two games, including five in the Week 1 win against Tennessee State. Montana State has allowed just one passing touchdown to FCS opponents this year.
Eastern Washington’s special teams unit will need to be wary of MSU in the return game. Already this season the Bobcats have taken a punt and a kickoff back for a score.
This game will have big implications in the Big Sky race this season. Montana State and Eastern Washington both look to be contenders for a conference title this year as well as participants in the FCS playoffs yet again. The winner here will position themselves nicely for a potential seed come December.
The game will kick off at 4:00 PM (ET) on ESPN+.
Incarnate Word Faces SLU in Heavyweight Southland Battle
One of the most prolific teams this season so far has been #4 Incarnate Word (3-0). The Cardinals have blown their way through FCS and FBS competition alike and now face their first inter-league challenge of 2022; Southeastern Louisiana (1-2).
UIW quarterback Lindsay Scott Jr has been scorching opposing defenses so far this season. He's passed for 1,069 yards and 13 touchdowns; numbers that have him in the early conversation for the Walter Payton Award. Receivers Taylor Grimes and Darion Chafin have helped greatly.
Chafin is averaging 26.20 per catch (15 receptions) this season and has at least one touchdown in every game so far. Grimes leads the team with 17 receptions and has three scores. These two will be looking for a big night against a Lions defense that’s allowing over 200 pass yards per game.
SLU’s 1-2 record, however, is not quite indicative of how good they are. Frank Scelfo’s team has faced two FBS squads this season before dominating Central Connecticut last weekend. The Lions scored 70 points and only allowed six in the win as they seem to be turning a corner on their season.
Quarterback Cephus Johnson III is completing passes at a 61.2% rate right now and has thrown for 463 yards and two touchdowns. He’ll spread the ball around to a variety of pass catchers. No Lions receiver has hit 100 yards yet this season but 14 different ones have caught the ball.
Carlos Washington Jr. will see the bulk of the work on the ground if Johnson isn’t running it himself. Washington has carried the ball 23 times for 124 yards and three touchdowns.
Long term, this game could likely yield the Southland champion. Both Southeastern Louisiana and Incarnate Word were favorites to win the league title entering this season and both made trips to the second round of the playoffs last fall. If UIW wins here, its hard to see anyone catching them past this point, but if SLU takes the victory then things get a lot more interesting as they’d hold a tiebreaker.
The Saturday contest will kick off at 5:00 PM (ET) on ESPN3.
Hawks, Salukis Collide as Each Tries to Keep Momentum Rolling
Both #19 North Dakota (2-1) and #24 Southern Illinois (1-2) picked up big wins last week. The Hawks took down Northern Arizona in the final minute for their second straight victory while SIU got back into the national rankings after upsetting Northwestern. The question now is, whose momentum will carry them further?
UND already has one MVC win in the chamber thanks to a gutsy performance against Northern Iowa a couple weeks ago. In that game Tommy Schuster completed 20 of his 23 pass attempts for 275 yards and two touchdowns. He’ll need another performance like that if the Hawks want another victory this time out. On the year, Schuster has thrown five touchdowns and just one pick.
Expect the Salukis to try and keep the ball away from North Dakota’s CJ Siegel on both defense and in the return game. Stiegel is averaging 37.3 yards per runback on punts (three returns) and has an interception along with a PBU. He could very well be the difference maker if SIU isn’t careful.
That being said, if Southern Illinois signal-caller Nic Baker plays like he did last week, his team will probably be just fine. Against Northwestern, Baker aired the ball out for 241 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for another. He found nine different receivers with his longest throw going for 57 yards.
The Salukis will try and improve in the kicking game. Last week kicker Jake Baumgarte struggled, making only one of his three field goal attempts. They left six points on the field last time and it turned out okay. This week, though, it might not.
Down the line this game could easily determine playoff position or possibly who gets in/left out of the field altogether. North Dakota is trying to get to the postseason for the first time since the 2020 spring season while SIU wants to go back after making the second round a year ago.
These two will kickoff on Saturday at 3:00 PM (ET) on ESPN+.
Other Week 4 FCS Games
SATURDAY - Furman @ Charleston Southern, East Tennessee State @ Robert Morris, Rhode Island @ Pittsburgh, Columbia @ Georgetown, Harvard @ Brown, Holy Cross @ Colgate, Morehead State @ Stetson, Bryant @ LIU, Lafayette @ Penn, San Diego @ Valparaiso, Stony Brook @ Richmond, Fordham @ Ohio, North Dakota State @ South Dakota, Dartmouth @ Sacred Heart, Lincoln (CA) @ St. Thomas, Mississippi Valley State @ Jackson State, Merrimack @ Delaware State, St. Francis @ Norfolk State, Marist @ Drake, Yale @ Cornell, Idaho State @ Northern Colorado, Western Carolina @ Samford, Central Arkansas @ Southeast Missouri State, Lehigh @ Princeton, Central Connecticut State @ Albany, Texas Southern @ UTSA, Monmouth @ Villanova, Elon @ William & Mary, Northern Iowa @ Western Illinois, Portland State @ Montana, Jacksonville State @ Nicholls, Grambling State @ Bethune Cookman, New Hampshire @ Towson, Sacramento State @ Colorado State, Lamar @ Northwestern State, Eastern Illinois @ Murray State, Hampton @ Delaware. Mercer @ Gardner-Webb, Alabama A&M @ Florida A&M, Prairie View A&M @ Alabama State, Wofford @ Kennesaw State, Tarleton State @ North Alabama, North American @ Texas A&M-Commerce, South Carolina State @ North Carolina A&T, Davidson @ Presbyterian, Arkansas-Pine Bluff @ Alcorn State, Lindenwood @ UT Martin, Warner @ Stephen F. Austin, Houston Baptist @ Texas State, Western New Mexico @ Abilene Christian, Mississippi College @ McNeese, Utah Tech @ Southern Utah, Weber State @ UC Davis