At long last, the final weekend of the FCS regular season is upon us and its going to be a crazy one. Not only are conference championships going to be determined left and right in single-game matchups, playoff seeding is far from decided. That means that there’s a ton on the line this Saturday beyond just filling the trophy cases. From a winner-take-all showdown in the Northeast to a historically huge “Brawl of the Wild” matchup in Montana, this weekend is going to be a treat.
NEC Title Comes Down to Duquesne, Merrimack
In Week 11 Duquesne had a chance to wrap up the Northeast Conference auto bid against Stonehill but couldn’t get it done. Now that sets up a winner-take-all matchup with Merrimack. The Dukes (6-4, 5-1 NEC) can lock up their first trip to the postseason since 2018 if they can bounce back and defeat the Warriors (5-5, 4-2 NEC) who are seeking their first ever playoff appearance.
Merrimack’s offense is paced by one of the most productive backs in the nation in Tyvon Edmonds Jr. Edmonds has run for 1,170 yards and nine touchdowns. The Warriors will run it a lot with him as he has an FCS-best 255 touches this season. Edmonds only has one game in which he's had less than 20 carries and that came last week against Central Connecticut State when he had 19.
Stopping Edmonds will be a job left up to the Duquesne defense that is giving up just 176.8 yards per contest on the ground. Guys like junior linebacker Gianni Rizzo will play a big role. Rizzo leads the team with 8.5 tackles for loss and has a forced fumble to his name.
For the Dukes offense, it will be largely the Darius Perrantes show. The junior signal-caller has thrown for 2,073 yards and 18 touchdowns this fall. A good chunk of those big stats have gone to receiver D.J. Powell who has 667 yards and eight scores through the air. Perrantes, for all he does well though, has struggled with interceptions this year, tossing 17.
That could spell bad news against a Merrimack defense that’s has the talents of DB Tre Jordan III. Jordan has three picks this year along with two defended passes and a forced fumble. The Warriors defense is opportunistic, forcing 20 total takeaways on the year.
Its do or die for these two squads on Saturday. Merrimack has the chance to go to the playoffs in its first year being a full Division I member and claim its first ever NEC conference championship since moving up to the FCS in 2019. Duquesne, meanwhile, is looking for its tenth conference title under longtime head coach Jerry Schmitt.
The game will kick off at 12:00 PM (ET) on Saturday and can be streamed on NEC Front Row.
Blue Hens Host Wildcats for CAA Crown, Playoff Seed
Two CAA powers will spar this weekend in the “Battle of the Blue” rivalry and the winner goes home with the hardware along with, very likely, a bye week in the playoffs. Delaware (8-2, 6-1 CAA) bounced back in a big way last Saturday after stumbling against Elon two weeks back. The Blue Hens have their chance to take home at least part of a league title when Villanova (8-2, 6-1 CAA) rolls in but the Wildcats are one of the hottest teams out there at the moment.
The QB duel in this one will be fun to watch. Delaware’s Ryan O’Connor has been electric this season, averaging 232.5 passing yards per game. Connor Watkins for Villanova, though, is just as good. Watkins has tallied up 17 touchdowns and 2,110 passing yards. Both quarterbacks are more than capable of putting up big time numbers which means fans could be in for a fireworks show.
The Wildcats passing attack is aided tremendously by grad senior receiver Rayjoun Pringle. Pringle is one of the more explosive wideouts in the country, posting 891 receiving yards and eight scores this year. Pringle has four 100-yard outings this season and has at least one score in each game he’s played in dating back to September 30.
The Delaware defense will have its hands full with Pringle but they do boast the very dangerous Khalil Dawsey on the back end. The Harvard-transfer spearheads the UD secondary and has three interceptions this year. He also has four PBUs, a QB hit and a forced fumble.
Running backs Marcus Yarns and Kyron Cumby will handle a pretty balanced workload for the Blue Hens offense. The duo has rushed for a combined 1,143 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2023. Between the two of them they account for 157 of the team’s 350 total rushing attempts this year.
Both teams are probably in the playoffs regardless of outcome here but the real prize, beyond a CAA title, is not having to play Thanksgiving weekend. The winner will be 9-2 overall and more than likely have a strong enough resume to be granted a seed and a bye week. That would be a massive get for either program.
The contest will get underway on Saturday afternoon at 1:00 PM (ET) on FloSports.
"Brawl of the Wild" Serves as Big Sky Championship
One of the most anticipated games in the FCS year in and year out happens when Montana State and Montana come together. The "Brawl of the Wild" always means a whole lot but this Saturday when the Bobcats (8-2, 6-1 Big Sky) and the Grizzlies (9-1, 6-1 Big Sky) meet it'll be for all the marbles in the Big Sky Conference. MSU is fresh off schellacking Eastern Washington while the Griz took down Portland State to set up this mega important game. The two programs have met 121 times but you'd be hard pressed to find one that had more on the line than #122 is going to.
Montana State comes in with the FCS' best rushing attack, averaging 302.1 yards per game. The Bobcats have a committee of guys who can break it lose. Both quarterbacks Sean Chambers and Tommy Mellott are dangerous with the ball in their hands but so is Julius Davis. The trio are responsible for 23 rushing touchdowns this fall.
All that being said, the Griz are darn good at stopping the run. Linebacker Braxton Hill is a huge reason why as he is second in the conference with 83 total tackles. The Montana defense will have its hands full but if any unit has a chance at slowing the 'Cats down its this one.
Quarterback play will be big and UM has a good one in Clifton McDowell. McDowell has thrown for 1,107 yards and eight TDs this year. The Grizzlies have yet to lose since naming him the starter. He’ll be complimented by guys like freshman phenom running back Eli Gillman. Gillman has rushed for 824 yards and nine touchdowns this year.
On the other side, it'll be the aforementioned Mellott and Chambers who will split duties under center. Mellott is the primary passer, throwing for 788 yards and seven scores but that doesn’t mean he can’t break it to the outside and run as well. Mellott has carried it 57 times for 437 yards as well.
There's so much at stake in Missoula; an outright league title, the auto bid and probably the 2-seed is on the table. Montana State is eying its second Big Sky crown in as many years while UM still is in search of its first since 2009. That 'Cats have won five of the last six meetings including the 55-21 beatdown last year. Will Montana get its revenge or is another MSU victory soon at hand?
The "Brawl" kicks off at 2:00 PM (ET) on Saturday on ESPN+.
Central Arkansas, Austin Peay Battle for UAC Hardware
Austin Peay was oh so close to not having their last game be a conference championship. The Governors (8-2, 5-0 UAC) had their business handled last week and just needed a Central Arkansas loss. The Bears (7-3, 4-1 UAC) were on the cusp of losing but a last second Hail Mary yanked them from the jaws of defeat and set the stage for a winner take all matchup with the Govs this weekend. The UAC auto bid is up for grabs in Clarksville.
Central Arkansas’ offense will be commanded by senior signal-caller Will McElvain. McElvain has slung it for over 2,300 yards and 23 touchdowns this year. On top of that, he's thrown just four interceptions all season. His consistency under center has been huge for the Bears this year and he'll need another solid outing this weekend.
The Governors, though, will have a talented QB of their own in Mike DiLiello. DiLiello has tossed a career-best 27 TDs and 2,868 yards this fall and has only had one game this season in which he's been held to under 200 yards passing. He also has yet to have a game in which he hasn't thrown a single touchdown.
UCA's offense, while having McElvain, also will boast one of the best running backs out there in ShunDerrick Powell. Powell has 1,001 rushing yards and six scores this season. He's had some impressive individual performances including 200-yard showings against both North Dakota State and Abilene Christian earlier this year.
The Govs defense will need to hone in on Powell. As a unit they allow just over 150 rush yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry. Linebacker Tyler Long will look to shore things up through the middle. He leads the team with 92 total tackles.
For Austin Peay this is bigger than even a conference championship. What would be the first seed in program history is realistically in play if they win here. UCA, meanwhile, knows it probably needs a victory to make the playoffs altogether and avoid that four-loss threshold that may keep teams out of at-large consideration. The Bears win and they're in for sure and the Govs are probably in no matter what.
The Govs and the Bears will kick off at 2:00 PM (ET) on Saturday on ESPN+.
Other Week 12 FCS Games
THURSDAY - Mississippi Valley State @ Alabama A&M, Nicholls @ Southeastern Louisiana
SATURDAY - Abilene Christian @ Texas A&M, Bucknell @ Marist, Chattanooga @ Alabama, Dartmouth @ Brown, Drake @ Butler, Eastern Illinois @ Robert Morris, Furman @ Wofford, Georgetown @ Holy Cross, Harvard @ Yale, Lafayette @ Lehigh, Post @ Wagner, Sacred Heart @ Connecticut, St. Francis @ Central Connecticut State, San Diego @ Stetson, Western Carolina @ VMI, Campbell @ North Carolina A&T, Charleston Southern @ Gardner-Webb, Columbia @ Cornell, Fordham @ Colgate, Hampton @ Elon, LIU @ Stonehill, Maine @ New Hampshire, Monmouth @ Albany, Morehead State @ Presbyterian, Morgan State @ Howard, Princeton @ Penn, Rhode Island @ Towson, Richmond @ William & Mary, Southeast Missouri State @ Bryant, The Citadel @ East Tennessee State, UT Martin @ Samford, Delaware State @ North Carolina Central, Illinois State @ North Dakota, Indiana State @ Southern Illinois, Portland State @ Northern Colorado, South Carolina State @ Norfolk State, South Dakota @ Western Illinois, Stephen F. Austin @ Eastern Kentucky, Valparaiso @ St. Thomas, Youngstown State @ Murray State, Alabama State @ Prairie View A&M, Alcorn State @ Jackson State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff @ Texas Southern, Missouri State @ South Dakota State, Tennessee Tech @ Tennessee State, Incarnate Word @ Houston Christian, Bethune-Cookman vs. Florida A&M (Orlando, FL), McNeese @ Lamar, Northern Arizona @ Eastern Washington, North Dakota State @ Northern Iowa, Sacramento State @ UC Davis, North Alabama @ Florida State, Idaho State @ Idaho, Weber State @ Cal Poly, Southern Utah @ Utah Tech
Texas A&M-Commerce @ Northwestern State - CANCELED