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FCS Football: Week 1 Storylines, Preview, How to Watch

FCS football is back in bulk this weekend.

2019 NCAA Division I Football Championship Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

It seemed like the day may never come but alas it’s here; FCS football returns to our TVs this weekend. Yes, there were some Week 0 contests last Saturday but the main course is fresh up and there’s some real dingers on the slate to kick things off. Who gets their 2023 campaign off on the right foot and who stumbles out of the gate? It’ll all be here in short order.

Welcome to another exciting season in the subdivision, folks.

Campbell Hosts W&M in First CAA Game

The CAA is growing exponentially as of late and one of this year’s two newest additions will kick off its era in the conference right away on Thursday night. Campbell (0-0), after accruing another impressive recruiting class this offseason, will welcome in last year’s league champs William & Mary (0-0). The Tribe are gearing up for what they anticipate to be a repeat run but the Camels have other plans.

William & Mary are, more or less, a carbon copy of what they were a season ago. Quarterback Darius Wilson returns to the fray and with his top running back Bronson Yoder again by his side. Wilson and Yoder were responsible for over 1,800 rush yards and 17 rushing touchdowns in 2022. Also back in the mix will be the team’s second-leading rusher from a season ago in Malachi Imoh.

Campbell’s defense will have its hands full with the three-headed monster on the ground for W&M. The Camels surrendered 176 rushing yards per game last year and were scored on 18 times on the ground. Junior linebacker C.J. Tillman will play a major role in this department as he leads a unit that lost some big time talent from last year including All-American lineman Brevin Allen.

Redshirt senior Hajj-Malik Williams will pilot the Camels offense and they’ll go as far as he can take them. Williams threw for 2,221 yards and ran for another 338. In total he’s authored a staggering 61 touchdowns in his Campbell career including a couple receiving. Williams may be the most dangerous guy on the field Thursday evening in Buies Creek and if the Tribe defense isn’t ready they could be on upset alert.

Fortunately for the William & Mary D, they have arguably the best defensive player in the entire FCS on their roster in linebacker John Pius. Pius, who is currently on the Buck Buchanan Award watchlist, put up stellar numbers last fall including 11.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and 12 QB hits. The junior has a built in quarterback radar and can get to opposing passers in a blink. Watching him duel Williams will be the game within the game here.

This contest shapes up to be a real tone setter. The Camels would immediately raise some eyebrows if their first-ever conference win in the CAA was over last year’s champs and the team that’s projected to be a seed come playoff time again. It’ll be W&M that comes into this one with the pressure. A victory here sets the cogs in motion for another run at a league title but a loss puts you behind before the season even gets going.

The Tribe and the Camels will kick off at 7:00 PM (ET) on FloSports.

Tennessee State to Make History as Notre Dame’s First-Ever FCS Opponent

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 17 Tennessee State at Middle Tennessee Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When the whistle blows on Saturday in South Bend, Tennessee State (0-0) will etch its name into a small footnote of Notre Dame’s rich history. In 116 years of football, the Fighting Irish have never played a program from the subdivision but that’s about to change when the Tigers roll into town this weekend. Eddie George and company have their sights on a monumental upset and, while that likely won’t happen, this will still be one of the biggest games in TSU history.

Tennessee State struggled in 2022, winning just four games and going 2-3 in Ohio Valley Conference play. For a team that hasn’t posted a winning record since 2017, they are really hoping this fall can be a springboard to better days.

Senior quarterback Draylen Ellis will lead the team into this milestone game. Ellis, who transferred in from Austin Peay following the 2021 season, threw for 1,807 yards and eight touchdowns last fall. He’ll have one of his favorite receivers by his side in Karate Brenson. Brenson hauled in 25 passes for 329 yards last year.

The area that Tennessee State will be hurting on the most will be defense. The Tigers lost several big name playmakers from last season including defensive lineman Terray Jones who’s now with Akron. But TSU fans should fret not because guys like Terrell Allen are still around. Allen tallied 12 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in 2022 and is primed for an even bigger year this time out.

All in all, it may be a rough one to watch if you’re hoping for a Tigers win. It’s hard to envision the Notre Dame squad that just decimated Navy fumbling this one away. It would probably be the upset of the year if they did. But, what TSU fans can and should appreciate is the rarified opportunity to watch their team under the big lights. The Fighting Irish pose one of the grandest stages in all of college football and for three hours on Saturday, little ole Tennessee State gets to be a part of it.

TSU and Notre Dame will get underway on NBC (or streaming on Peacock) at 3:30 PM (ET).

NDSU, EWU Meet in Minneapolis

Perhaps the most anticipated game of the opening weekend in FCS football is North Dakota State’s (0-0) neutral site battle with Eastern Washington (0-0) at U.S Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Both the Eagles and the Bison have a lot to prove this year. After falling flat in 2022, EWU is searching for its footing in a Big Sky Conference that only seems to get tougher by the year. NDSU, meanwhile, is licking its wounds after a beatdown in last year’s national championship. This contest will go a long way in helping someone’s bounce back hopes.

The Bison have a lot of questions to answer and in short order, the main being how well they will do without many guys from last year’s team. The transfer portal was not kind to NDSU this offseason. Among those leaving were household names like Kobe Johnson, Marques Sigle, Courtney Eubanks and Phoenix Sproles, all of whom found FBS opportunities.

Now it will be up to those who stuck around, guys like quarterback Cam Miller, tight end Joe Stoffel and defensive tackle Eli Mostaert to carry the torch. Miller, who threw for 1,975 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago, has received some criticism about seemingly unable to perform in the big games in the same way NDSU quarterbacks of the past did. His critics are quick to mention that he only attempted one pass in the semifinal last year against UIW and that he underperformed in both meetings against rival SDSU.

It’s worth noting, though, that North Dakota State is built to run more than it is to pass and Miller should perform well against an Eastern Washington defense that surrendered 215 pass yards and 42.3 points per contest in 2022. The Eagles need to tighten up their defense this season if they are to have any prayer of being competitive and the Bison serve as a big test out of the gates.

Offensively, EWU should be fine. Receivers Efton Chism III and Nolan Ulm are both back and there’s a lot of optimism around sophomore signal-caller Kekoa Visperas who was named the starter in fall camp.

All in all, this game is a massive one for both teams as they enter what could be a program-defining 2023 campaign. Neither is accustomed to what it experienced last year, whether it be the long, slow burn that plagued the Eagles or the ugly ending that haunted the Bison. However you dice it, someone will feel a big weight off their shoulders with a win here.

And it’s pretty cool that it’ll be in an NFL stadium also.

ESPN+ will carry the game at 3:30 PM (ET) on Saturday.

Florida A&M Takes on Jackson State in Orange Blossom Classic

Florida A&M v Jackson State Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

It’s odd to say that a conference could be decided in Week 1 but that may very well be the case when Jackson State (1-0) meets up with Florida A&M (0-0) on Sunday afternoon in the Sunshine State. According to many, the SWAC title will come down to the Tigers and the Rattlers and with an early-season bout, there’s a lot on the line already. Can T.C. Taylor’s JSU squad keep it up after dominating SC State last week or will Willie Simmons and FAMU get their long-awaited revenge in the “Orange Blossom Classic”?

The biggest story for Jackson State coming into this season is what things look like in a post-Deion Sanders era. Coach Prime left an irrefutable mark on the program and, despite taking several players with him to Colorado, his footprint is still very much there. Taylor, who was on Sanders’ staff, had a heck of a showing in his debut last weekend and the Tigers look as good as ever right now. Everything was a full go in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge and the 37-7 rout has folks thinking they haven’t missed a beat.

The Tigers really seem to have something in Virginia Tech transfer quarterback Jason Brown. Brown torched SC State last week to the tune of 362 yards and three scores. There’s still a plethora of playmakers on that Jackson State offense and Brown appears as though he could be another star in the making.

All that being said, for Florida A&M, it has to feel that this is the golden opportunity to take control of its SWAC destiny. The main bugaboo over the last few seasons has been this JSU team and now it finally feels like the Rattlers have the upper hand in this rivalry but they need to prove it on the field. Simmons has a team built to win and winning itself isn’t the issue. FAMU went 9-2 last fall, their fourth winning season in a row. One of those two losses, however, was in blowout fashion to Jackson State. You can pinpoint that loss as to why they didn’t get a spot in the conference title game last fall.

If Florida A&M is going to take that next step they need to get past the Jackson State hurdle and doing so won’t be easy. They’ll need exceptional play from QB Jeremy Moussa. Moussa was awarded the starting job last year and threw for 2,730 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Also needing a big game will be senior linebacker Isaiah Major. #0 led the team last year with 83 stops and 13.5 tackles for loss. With Kamari Stephens now gone, the brunt of the work will fall on Majors to bottle things up through the middle. If the Florida A&M defense isn’t up to snuff we could see a similar result as last year.

Now, of course it’s not a forgone conclusion that the winner here is guaranteed a spot in the SWAC Championship down the line in December. Looking at how the conference is expected to shake out, though, will tell you that the loser of this one is going to have some really tough sledding to get there. It’s only been one game but so far Jackson State appears as though it could be the crème de la crème once again.

What happens in Miami on Sunday will decide a lot.

The “Orange Blossom Classic” kicks off at 3:00 PM (ET) on ESPN.

Other Week 1 FCS Games

THURSDAY - North Greenville @ Charleston Southern, Eastern Illinois @ Indiana State, Shorter @ Samford, Sacramento State @ Nicholls, Tusculum @ Kennesaw State, West Virginia State @ Morehead State, Tennessee Tech @ Furman, St. Francis @ Western Michigan, Rhode Island @ Georgia State, Elon @ Wake Forest, Delaware @ Stony Brook, Valparaiso @ Youngstown State, Western Oregon @ South Dakota State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff @ Tulsa, Central Washington @ Weber State, Northern Colorado @ Abilene Christian, South Dakota @ Missouri, Wisconsin-Stevens Point @ Lindenwood, UC Davis @ Texas A&M-Commerce, North Carolina A&T @ UAB, Idaho @ Lamar, Southern Utah @ Arizona State

FRIDAY - Howard @ Eastern Michigan, Missouri State @ Kansas

SATURDAY - Villanova @ Lehigh, LIU @ Ohio, Edinboro @ Duquesne, Marist @ Georgetown, Dayton @ Illinois State, Robert Morris @ Air Force, Bowie State @ Delaware State, New Hampshire @ Stonehill, Davidson @ VMI, Mercer @ Mississippi, Virginia State @ Norfolk State, Northern Iowa @ Iowa State, Merrimack @ Holy Cross, East Tennessee State @ Jacksonville State, Butler @ Montana, Black Hills State @ St. Thomas (MN), Portland State @ Oregon, Grambling vs. Hampton (Harrison, NJ), Eastern Kentucky @ Cincinnati, Gardner-Webb @ Appalachian State, Towson @ Maryland, Wofford @ Pittsburgh, Western Carolina @ Arkansas, Bryant @ UNLV, Central State vs. Mississippi Valley State (Chicago, IL), Winston-Salem State @ North Carolina Central, Southeastern Louisiana @ Mississippi State, Colgate @ Syracuse, Drake @ North Dakota, UT Martin @ Georgia, St. Thomas (FL) @ Stetson, Albany @ Marshall, San Diego @ Cal Poly, Southern @ Alabama State, Wagner @ Fordham, American International @ Central Connecticut State, The Citadel @ Georgia Southern, South Carolina State @ Charlotte, Morgan State @ Richmond, Monmouth @ Florida Atlantic, Lafayette @ Sacred Heart, Bucknell @ James Madison, Maine @ FIU, Arkansas Baptist @ Houston Christian, Alcorn State @ Southern Mississippi, Chattanooga @ North Alabama, Stephen F. Austin @ Troy, Southeast Missouri State @ Kansas State, Central Arkansas @ Oklahoma State, Presbyterian @ Murray State, Bethune-Cookman @ Memphis, Austin Peay @ Southern Illinois, Alabama A&M @ Vanderbilt, Northwestern State @ Louisiana, Tarleton State @ McNeese, Utah Tech @ Montana State, Prairie View A&M @ Texas Southern, Incarnate Word @ UTEP, Western Illinois @ New Mexico State, Northern Arizona @ Arizona, Idaho State @ San Diego State