The first football weekend of October is practically here and there’s lots on the line this week for the FCS. Several key conference matchups highlight the list of games this week including Saturday night’s ESPNU spotlight of Montana State and UC Davis. It isn’t just the Big Sky, though, that has marquee matchups. The SoCon, CAA and Ivy League all have contests with major implications.
It’s not all good news this week, however. Hurricane Ian is wreaking havoc on the east coast and has already affected a few FCS games across the country. Eastern Washington’s contest against Florida has been moved to Sunday and Stetson’s meeting with San Diego has been canceled altogether.
Here’s what to watch for this week.
Penn Defense Looks to Stymie Dartmouth on Friday Night
Pennsylvania has not beaten the Big Green since 2016 but they'll have their chance to snap that streak on Friday evening in Hanover. Dartmouth (1-1) is coming in off a loss to Sacred Heart last week but is the defending Ivy League co-champion while Penn (2-0) has not lost a game yet this year and just shut out Lafayette last Saturday.
The Quakers come into this game with the best defense in the conference in terms of total yards allowed with 434. Last week against the Leopards, Penn’s D allowed just a single rushing yard on 26 attempts. That’s the sort of smothering performance they’ll want to repeat against a Dartmouth team that already has eight rushing touchdowns and 700 yards on the ground.
Defensive lineman Jake Heimlicher will be key in shutting down the Big Green rushing attack. With just two games under his belt this season, Heimlicher already has five tackles for loss, three sacks and a forced fumble. He leads the team with 15 total stops.
Quarterback Nick Howard will try to keep that dominant ground game going for Dartmouth. Howard has ran the ball (39) more times than he’s thrown it (26). He leads the team in rushing with 243 yards and four touchdowns. Behind him is running back Zack Blair with 223 yards and a score.
Something will have to give as Penn’s stout defense has now pitched a shutout for over six quarters. The last time the team accomplished that feat was in 2009.
The game will kick off at 7:00 PM ET on ESPNU.
Richmond, Elon Meet in Battle of Rising CAA Teams
It's hard to say who's coming into this one with more confidence; Richmond (3-1) who just beat conference rival Stony Brook 51-7 or Elon (3-1) who is fresh off an upset of William & Mary. Both programs are hot right now and someone will need to budge on Saturday when the #17 Spiders and #23 Phoenix meet up.
Elon will be led by transfer quarterback Matthew McKay who came over from Montana State this offseason. McKay has thrown for 1,030 yards and nine touchdowns this fall. Through four games, the elusive signal-caller has only been sacked three times and has also rushed for 200 yards and two scores.
Running back Jalen Hampton is the engine that truly makes Elon’s offense go, though. He sparked the big win last week with 145 yards and three touchdowns. Hampton is third in the CAA with 107.7 rush yards per game.
The Spiders will be looking to keep up a defensive effort that only has opponents scoring 17 points per contest. That average is even lower (11.3) against FCS competition. Those numbers are thanks in large part to guys like linebacker Tristan Wheeler. Wheeler has 43 tackles to his name this year and 24 of them are solo.
On the back end, Aaron Banks has made life difficult for opposing passers. With three interceptions, Banks is tied for the lead mark in the conference with picks this season.
Offensively, quarterback Reece Udinski is hoping to replicate his performance from last week. Udinski had a monster day against Stony Brook, throwing for 357 yards and five touchdowns while completing 83.3% of his throws (42 attempts). Those efforts earned him FCS National Player of the Week honors. On the season Udinksi has now thrown for 1,118 yards and 11 touchdowns.
This game is the only FCS game this week between two STATS Top 25 teams and, while it’s difficult to see anyone catching Delaware in the conference race right now, the winner here will be 2-0 in CAA action and 4-1 overall. That’s a pace that will definitely land someone in the playoffs and could even have them vying for a seed down the line.
The contest will begin at 2:00 PM ET on FloFootball.
Furman Hosts Samford in SoCon Showdown
They may not be in the rankings (yet) but Furman is making a case for themselves this season. The Paladins (3-1) have won two straight and their only loss is to Clemson. Samford (3-1) has also won two in a row and their only defeat came at the hands of Georgia. The two will meet on Saturday in a game that will be pivotal in the SoCon race.
Furman currently boasts the best rushing offense in the SoCon with 855 total yards on the ground. Last week against Charleston Southern, the Paladins ran for 216 yards and held the ball for over 38 minutes. They’ll look to do that again against a Bulldogs squad that’s allowing 156.8 rush yards per game.
Dominic Roberto will likely see the brunt of the ground work as he leads Furman with 247 rush yards and three touchdowns. The freshman has carried the ball 50 times this fall already and is averaging nearly five yards per pop.
Samford QB Michael Hiers will be one to watch on the other side. Hiers leads the conference with 970 passing yards and 12 passing touchdowns. He put up big numbers in last week’s win over Western Carolina where he threw for 292 yards and four scores. Hiers also has only tossed one interception this season.
If there’s one area the Bulldogs are struggling in right now, it’s sacks allowed. Samford has given up nine already in 2022 for a total of 64 yards lost. Furman averages nearly two sacks per game.
This contest may go a long way in deciding a playoff spot at the end of the season. Right now the SoCon looks strong enough to possibly send three teams to the postseason but Samford and Furman are both surprises so far this year. The two were picked to finish fourth and sixth in the conference respectively in the preseason coaches poll. The winner in this one will have a leg up in the race and a quality win to boot.
This one will kick off at 2:00 PM ET on ESPN+.
UC Davis, Montana State Take National Spotlight on Saturday Night
It wasn’t that long ago that fans saw Montana State play in front of a national audience on an ESPN network. Just last winter, MSU’s FCS semifinal bout with South Dakota State on ESPN2 drew in nearly 800,000 viewers. On Saturday night, the country will turn its eyes to Bozeman yet again as the #4 Bobcats (3-1) will welcome in Big Sky foe UC Davis (1-3) for a primetime battle on ESPNU.
The ‘Cats have not met the Aggies since 2019, a game in which MSU won 27-17 in California, and both teams look vastly different now. The Bobcats will be led by backup quarterback Sean Chambers after usual starter Tommy Mellott suffered a head injury last week against Eastern Washington. Chambers currently holds the FCS lead for rushing touchdowns this season with nine.
MSU is also shorthanded at running back right now. Isaiah Ifanse has not played yet this season due to an injury he suffered last year and Lane Sumner has not seen action since Week 1. Sumner could be back for this contest but Elijah Elliot, along with Chambers, will likely see the bulk of the carries. Elliot rushed for 141 yards in Montana State’s win last week.
The Aggies, on the other hand, will be fine at running back. Preseason Big Sky Offensive MVP Ulonzo Gilliam Jr has had a good season so far. He’s carried the ball 54 times for 371 yards and has found the end zone twice. Gilliam has three 100 yard games this season including one in last week’s loss to Weber State.
Quarterback Miles Hastings will pilot the UC Davis offense. Hastings has thrown for at least 200 yards in each game this year and eight passing touchdowns. He also has not thrown an interception in nearly three weeks.
On the other side freshman DB Rex Connors looks to be the star of the show as he has been all season so far for the Aggies. Connors leads the team in total tackles (28), assisted tackles (14) and interceptions (two).
The Big Sky is going to be a bloodbath again this year and it feels like UC Davis needs a win here to have any hope of making some noise down the stretch. A loss here will dip them to 1-4 overall and 0-2 in league action. Montana State, though, would like to go 2-0 in conference play as some big games against the likes of Weber State and Montana are still coming down the line.
The game will kick off at 10:15 PM ET.
EWU’s Brutal Schedule Presses On with Florida in Wake of Hurricane
Perhaps no team in the FCS has had a more difficult slate to start their season than Eastern Washington. Having already played Oregon earlier this month, EWU is fresh off a deflating home loss to Montana State. Now things only get harder as the Eagles (1-2) turn their focus to another FBS juggernaut; the Florida Gators (2-2).
The game, which was originally to be played on Saturday, was moved to Sunday in light of Hurricane Ian. As of this article’s publication, the contest is still set to take place in Gainesville.
EWU is coming in off of two consecutive defeats and is looking for a bounce back in the worst way. They will likely have a tough time getting that rebound against Florida, though, who is riding in from a loss also.
Gunner Talkington will command the pass-heavy offense for the Eagles. He has thrown 10 touchdowns this season, having completed 57 of his 93 attempts. Eastern Washington averages over 200 pass yards per contest and nearly seven yards per attempt.
That is not to say, however, that the ground game can’t put in work also. Micah Smith ran for 114 yards and two touchdowns last week. Smith currently leads the ground attack with an average of 6.8 yards per carry.
The Eagles’ defense, though, could be in for a long day. Opponents are putting up over 45 points per game and are rushing for over 300 yards per contest. That could spell trouble against a Gators unit that has 11 touchdowns on the ground and four different ball carriers with 100+ yards on the season.
Still, Eastern Washington will collect a hefty $750,000 check if the game can actually be played. Both schools are monitoring the situation with Hurricane Ian closely.
The game is scheduled to start at 12:00 PM (ET) on SECN+ or ESPN+.
Other Week 5 FCS Games
THURSDAY - South Carolina State @ South Carolina
SATURDAY - Duquesne @ Stonehill, St. Thomas @ Marist, Howard @ Yale, Central Connecticut State @ St. Francis, Monmouth @ Lehigh, Virginia-Lynchburg @ Morgan State, Georgetown @ Fordham, Cornell @ Colgate, Princeton @ Columbia, Presbyterian @ Morehead State, Drake @ Dayton, Holy Cross @ Harvard, Butler @ Davidson, Norfolk State @ Sacred Heart, LIU @ Merrimack, Villanova @ Maine, Mercer @ Wofford, Youngstown State @ North Dakota State, Kennesaw State @ Jacksonville State, Lane College @ Tennessee State, Richmond @ Elon, Southeast Missouri State @ Lindenwood, Towson @ Delaware, Tennessee Tech @ UT Martin, Western Illinois @ South Dakota State, Bethune-Cookman @ Alabama A&M, Montana @ Idaho State, Stephen F. Austin vs. Sam Houston (Houston, TX), The Citadel @ Appalachian State, VMI @ Western Carolina, Gardner-Webb @ Marshall, William & Mary @ Stony Brook, Lafayette @ Bucknell, Houston Christian @ Lamar, Nichols @ Northwestern State, Indiana State @ Northern Iowa, Northern Arizona @ Portland State, Wagner @ Syracuse, Austin Peay @ Central Arkansas, Alabama State @ Texas Southern, Brown @ Rhode Island, Robert Morris @ Delaware State, New Hampshire @ Western Michigan, Mississippi Valley State @ Florida A&M, North Carolina Central @ Campbell, Southern Utah @ Eastern Kentucky, Murray State @ Southeastern Louisiana, Prairie View A&M vs. Grambling State (Dallas, TX), Arkansas-Pine Bluff @ Southern, Bryant @ North Carolina A&T, McNeese @ Incarnate Word, Southern Illinois @ Illinois State, Chattanooga @ East Tennessee State, Sacramento State @ Cal Poly, Northern Colorado @ Idaho, Abilene Christian @ Utah Tech
Note: Stetson’s game against San Diego has been canceled due to Hurricane Ian. The Hatters cannot travel to take on the Toreros and the game will go down as a no contest. The two teams do not share an open date so the game will not be rescheduled.