The 2023 FCS season is already almost at its midway point and the games, as they always do, are becoming more and more impactful. October brings with it a newfound sense of urgency for some and a renewed feeling of hope for others. The matchups on the slate this week are again exciting and will have implications that will be felt down the line in November.
Let’s see what’s in store for Week 6 around the subdivision.
NC Central, Elon Meet in Top 25 Clash
#25 Elon (3-2) cracked its way into the national rankings last week after upsetting league-favorite William & Mary at home to the tune of 14-6. The Phoenix have plenty of reasons to be excited in light of that major victory but things won’t get any easier this Saturday when MEAC power NC Central (4-1) comes to town. The Eagles are in off the heels of an impressive comeback win over Campbell and are hoping to take down their second CAA opponent in as many weeks.
Senior signal-caller Davius Richard is the engine that makes the NC Central offense go and if he plays like he did last week, Elon could be in for a long afternoon. Against the Camels, Richard turned on the jets for four rushing touchdowns and was responsible for well over 300 all-purpose yards. NCCU will go as far as he can take them.
Elon, meanwhile, will have Matthew Downing at quarterback. Downing has thrown for six touchdowns and 576 yards this year. Two of said touchdowns have gone to receiver Jordan Bonner. Bonner averages 10.8 yards per catch and leads the team with 19 receptions.
Running back Latrell Collier will handle the work on the ground for the Eagles. Collier has 367 rushing yards and five scores while averaging 73.4 yards a game. He and Richard could have a big day against a Phoenix defense that has given up over 800 rushing yards this fall.
This is arguably the biggest out of conference game of the week and serves as a big one for Elon’s playoff hopes. A win over a Top 15 team like NC Central would do wonders for the Phoenix’s resume. The Eagles, though, are steamrolling their way to what they hope is another MEAC title and they’ve shown no signs of slowing down.
The conteset will kick off Saturday afternoon at 2:00 PM (ET) on FloSports.
Mocs Host Catamounts in Big SoCon Showdown
Perhaps no squad has surprised FCS fans more this season so far than Western Carolina (4-1). The #11 Catamounts have rocketed up the rankings thanks to big win after big win and suddenly they’re right in the thick of the SoCon championship conversation. This weekend, though, they just so happen to meet another SoCon team that’s on the rise. #24 Chattanooga (4-1) is hoping to slow down high-flying WCU but that may be easier said than done.
The Mocs will need to focus much of their defensive attention on standout sophomore running back Desmond Reid. So far this year Reid has been almost impossible to stop, rushing for 636 yards and an FCS-leading 10 touchdowns. He’s gone for 100+ yards in each of his last four games including a monster 177-yard performance against EKU on September 16. Last week he ran for five touchdowns against The Citadel.
Reid could give the Chattanooga defense troubles as could quarterback Cole Gonzalez. Gonzalez has thrown for 1,256 yards and 11 scores. He’s also only tossed two interceptions in five games this year and hasn’t thrown one since Week 3. Playing mistake-free is what he’ll have to do against a Mocs defense that has eight takeaways this season.
Linebacker Alex Mitchell will be patrolling the middle for Chattanooga and he’s one Gonzalez and Reid will need to watch out for. Mitchell posted 11 tackles a week ago against Wofford and has a forced fumble and a pick to his name.
On offense, the Mocs have a pretty solid running back of their own in Ailym Ford. The senior was an all-conference first-team selection in 2019, 2021 and 2022 and was a Walter Payton Award finalist last year. Ford has carried the ball 89 times this season for 358 yards and three scores.
The winner of this game becomes a clear frontrunner in the race to challenge SoCon-favorite Furman for a conference crown. Both the Mocs and the Catamounts are undefeated in league action and have their eyes set on the postseason. Whoever walks out with the victory will be one big step closer to it.
The game will kick off at 4:00 PM (ET) on Saturday on ESPN+.
SIU Looks for Fifth-Straight Win at Youngstown State
You’d be hard-pressed to find a team that’s had a better start to the 2023 campaign than #6 Southern Illinois (4-0). The Salukis are off to their best start since 2007 and are showing no signs of letting up. Standing in their way this weekend will be conference foe Youngstown State (2-3). The Penguins are trying to bounce back after an upset loss to Northern Iowa last weekend but will have a tall order against unbeaten SIU.
The Salukis have been so good this year thanks in large part to the play of senior quarterback Nic Baker. Pound for pound Baker is one of the best passers in the subdivision right now, completing throws at a 71.4% clip and has thrown for 1,110 yards.
Baker may be leaned on heavily in this one as Southern Illinois could be without running back Ro Elliot who left last week’s game with a toe injury. Elliot has five touchdowns on 42 carries this year.
On the other side, YSU will be led by quarterback Mitch Davidson. Davidson has four passing touchdowns and has thrown for 899 yards on the season. He will likely look to guys like Bryce Oliver and C.J. Charleston on the outside. The receiver duo has hauled in 40 passes for 582 yards and two touchdowns this fall.
Defensively, Youngstown State will have to keep Baker contained if it wants a shot an upset. Tyjon Jones will play a big role in that area. Jones is responsible for two PBUs and an interception this season as well as 21 total tackles. The junior DB is coming off a big performance against UNI where he registered seven solo takedowns.
SIU’s defense is headed up by one of the best safeties in the nation in P.J. Jules. Jules has knocked away seven passes this year and leads the team by a mile with 41 stops (the next closest is 26). Jules is excellent in coverage and has the speed and athleticism to run down opposing ball carriers.
The Salukis can start to make a real argument for a seed in the playoffs this year if they can come up with another win this week. They’ve already established themselves as one of the contenders in the Missouri Valley and a win over YSU would improve them to 2-0 in league play. The Penguins feel like they need a victory just to stay afloat in the postseason conversation after falling from the Top 25 last week.
ESPN+ will have the contest at 6:00 PM (ET) on Saturday night.
UC Davis Welcomes Montana for Saturday Night Big Sky Battle
There’s been a lot of buzz lately on whether or not #17 Montana (4-1) comes by its ranking honestly. The Griz are fresh off a 28-20 win over Idaho State but have surprisingly struggled so far this season, most notably losing to previously-winless Northern Arizona just two weeks ago. They’ll have the chance to prove themselves this week against a solid UC Davis (3-2) squad. The Aggies are eying their second straight win after dispatching Cal Poly last week.
The big question for UC Davis is how well can they perform without star running back Lan Larison who went down with a knee injury a couple weeks back. Last week QB Miles Hastings and company were just fine in Larison’s absence but the Griz provide a deferent test than Cal Poly did. Hastings took to the air often, completing 27 passes for 242 yards and touchdown.
The Grizzlies will likely go with Clifton McDowell under center although they will have options there. McDowell, who has split snaps with Boise State transfer Sam Vidlak, got the nod last week and led Montana to a much-needed victory. He threw for 160 yards and a TD. Whoever is quarterback will need guys like receiver Junior Bergen to step up. Last week Bergen, who is also dynamic in the return game, hauled in seven passes for 100 yards.
The Aggies defense will need to corral Bergen and Rex Connors will be called for the job. The sophomore DB leads the Aggies with 36 tackles and has five defended passes along with an interception this season.
Montana’s defense, which allows under 20 points per contest, is spearheaded by linebacker Braxton Hill. Hill has 45 stops, an interception, a fumble recovery and 2.5 sacks under his belt thus far in 2023.
This game is a big one for both teams’ playoff hopes which, might be odd to say for a 4-1 Montana team especially. But the Big Sky has proven year after year that even one conference loss likely eliminates you from the league crown and both UM and UC Davis already have suffered one. The at-large race is still very much in play for both and whoever comes out on top in this showdown will be one step closer to it.
The Aggies and the Griz will begin at 7:00 PM (ET) on Saturday evening.
Other Week 6 FCS Games
FRIDAY - Cornell @ Harvard
SATURDAY - William & Mary @ Virginia, Sacred Heart @ LIU, Rhode Island @ Brown, Marist @ Columbia, Dayton @ Morehead State, Lafayette @ Princeton, Butler @ St. Thomas, Holy Cross @ Bucknell, Stonehill @ Merrimack, Stetson @ Presbyterian, Delaware State @ Central Connecticut State, Stony Brook @ Morgan State, Lehigh @ Fordham, Georgetown @ Penn, Yale @ Dartmouth, Samford @ Wofford, The Citadel @ Furman, Valparaiso @ Drake, Virginia-Lynchburg @ South Carolina State, NC Central @ Elon, Western Illinois @ North Dakota, Tennessee Tech @ Lindenwood, Campbell @ Hampton, Bethune-Cookman @ Alabama State, UT Martin @ Eastern Illinois, Tennessee State @ Kennesaw State, North Dakota State @ Missouri State, Murray State @ South Dakota, Howard @ Northwestern, Duquesne @ Delaware, Maine @ Richmond, Mercer @ East Tennessee State, Grambling @ Alcorn State, Houston Christian @ Nicholls, Northwestern State @ Lamar, Albany @ Towson, Villanova @ North Carolina A&T, Jackson State vs. Alabama A&M (Mobile, AL), Southeastern Louisiana @ Incarnate Word, Southeast Missouri State @ Central Arkansas, Robert Morris @ Gardner-Webb, Montana @ UC Davis, Northern Iowa @ Indiana State, South Dakota State @ Illinois State, Southern Utah @ Tarleton State, Mississippi Valley State @ Prairie View A&M, Florida A&M @ Southern, Idaho @ Cal Poly, McNeese @ Texas A&M-Commerce, Northern Arizona @ Weber State, Stephen F. Austin @ Utah Tech