As September bleeds on, conference play kicks off around the FCS and, as one might imagine, there’s already some monster matchups on the slate. The Big Sky, CAA and SoCon will take center stage this weekend with a handful of games that will likely play a major part in deciding playoff positioning and auto bids way down the line.
From Idaho to North Carolina and everywhere in between, here’s the biggest games going down in the subdivision this Saturday.
Furman Hosts Mercer in Big SoCon Matchup
It seems like year after year, the SoCon eats itself alive by season’s end and that pattern might start early this season. Furman (2-1) has been picked by several outlets to be the top dog in the conference this year and so far the #8 Paladins are living up to that billing. Mercer (2-1), though, has other plans and is eying a run of their own. The #21 Bears head to Greenville this weekend with the hopes of knocking off the favorites.
Furman will boast a hard-hitting defense that’s allowing just over 100 rushing yards per contest. The unit is led by a pair of standout DBs in free safety Hugh Ryan and Travis Blackshear. Blackshear has an interception and three PBUs in his first three games this year while Ryan leads the team with 28 tackles.
Combating that Paladins defense will be Mercer quarterback Carter Peevy. Peevy has thrown for 521 yards and two touchdowns this season, both of which went to star wideout Ty James. James has a team-high 232 receiving yards and averages nearly 18 yards per catch.
Tyler Huff will lead the Furman offense. The grad senior QB has 2,737 career passing yards since joining the Paladins back in 2022 and has 16 touchdowns in that span. Huff has rushed for four scores this year. He is aided greatly by running back Dominic Roberto who has three TDs of his own on the ground and has rushed for 152 yards over the first three games.
Mercer will try to set itself apart in the special teams battle. Return man Devron Harper is scary when he gets the ball in his hands. He averages 24.9 yards per kick return and he has three total return TDs (one kickoff, two punt). Harper could be the X factor in this game if it ends up being close.
The SoCon race is always one that comes right down to the end and it’s usually difficult to pinpoint a single matchup that decides it. This contest is huge for both teams. Furman needs to show it comes by its preseason prestige honestly here while Mercer has to find a way to get over that postseason hump. Someone’s playoff dream will get a little brighter after Saturday.
The game will kick off at 1:00 PM (ET) on ESPN+.
Rhode Island Duels ‘Nova in Philadelphia
Rhode Island (2-1) has been steadily climbing the rankings here in the early goings of the season. The #17 Rams haven’t tasted playoff action since clear back in 1985 but this may be the team to finally end that drought. The CAA path is never easy, though, and standing in their way this weekend is a stout Villanova (2-1) squad that’s fresh off a tough loss to UCF. The #25 Wildcats are looking to bounce back from their tough time at the “Bounce House” while URI wants to keep things rolling on the road.
The Rams offense will go as far as senior QB Kasim Hill can take them. Last season Hill threw for 2,588 yards and 19 TDs and this year he’s on pace to top those numbers. Three games in, he’s at 948 yards and eight scores. That’s thanks to guys like receiver Kahtero Summers. Summers is a speedy, athletic playmaker on the outside that leads URI with 332 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Covering Summers will be a task that’s left to Wildcats senior DB Tyrell Mims. Mims, who already has a pick this year, has 56 total tackles on his Villanova career along with nine PBUs. He and fellow DB Ty Trinh will need to have their heads on a swivel to slow down Hill and Summers.
‘Nova’s own passing attack will be led by quarterback Connor Watkins who has thrown for 573 yards and four touchdowns this year. Watkins will look to grad senior Rayjuon Pringle often. Pringle has three receiving scores so far this fall and averages 76.3 yards per game. On the ground, the Wildcats will use running back Jalen Jackson heavily. Jackson has 236 rush yards on 31 carries this season and already has three scores.
It’s still early, but it’s safe to say that someone’s playoff hopes will take a hit this weekend. These are the games that Rhode Island has lost in the past that have come back to haunt them in November. get an at-large bid from the CAA, eight wins is the magic number. Likewise, for Villanova, this game will be pivotal in the postseason chase down the line.
The Rams and the Wildcats will get underway at 2:00 PM (ET) on Saturday. The game can be streamed on FloSports.
Idaho Welcomes Sac State for Huge Big Sky Tilt
Sacramento State (3-0) made its way through the college football news cycle last weekend when it toppled Stanford. The #4 Hornets victory over the Cardinal also came at the expense of their former head coach who’s now calling the shots there. That was last week, though, and now a new challenge awaits. Idaho (2-1) has been the talk of the FCS to start this season and, despite their loss at Cal last Saturday, the #7 Vandals look as scary as anyone. It may be the first conference bout for both these squads, but already there’s a ton on the line.
Sacramento State will be led by quarterback Kaiden Bennett who’s been electric so far this season. Bennett has a team-high 239 rushing yards and has been responsible for eight total touchdowns thus far in 2023. He likes to spread the wealth to several different receivers including Devin Gandy, Carlos Hill and Jared Gipson. The trio has hauled in 27 passes.
For Idaho there is also a deadly QB-to-receiver connection. Sophomore signal-caller Gevani McCoy will look to Hayden Hatten often. McCoy is the defending Jerry Rice Award winner and he’s following it up nicely so far this year. He’s thrown for 756 yards and four touchdowns. Hatten, the Big Sky preseason Offensive Player of the Year, has been on the receiving end of 20 passes and two touchdowns.
The Vandals offense isn’t just all flash through the air, though. Running back Anthony Woods is effective with the ball as well. Woods is averaging over 88 yards per contest this fall and has found the end zone three times. He’s a bruiser that’ll pancake guys who are in his way, just ask Cal.
The Hornets defense will have a tall order stopping Idaho’s armada on offense and it will have to start with linebacker Armon Bailey. Bailey has 22 stops this year, 1.5 of which have come behind the line. He also has a sack and two QB hits. Four different Sac State defenders have an interception this season but the unit has yet to force a fumble.
This game will likely go a long way in determining playoff positioning, seeding and perhaps even a conference champion. Remember, Sacramento State hasn’t lost a conference game since way back in 2019. Idaho, though, has already shown that they are a very formidable team after blasting FBS Nevada and leading Cal for a good while last week.
The Vandals and the Hornets kick off at 4:00 PM (ET) on Saturday on ESPN+.
Montana State Faces Weber State without Mellott
Last week Montana State (2-1) played without quarterback Tommy Mellott who suffered an injury against South Dakota State back on September 9. That proved to be no problem against Stetson at home. This week, however, the #3 Bobcats will again be without Mellott as they hit the road for their first Big Sky test of the season. Weber State (2-1) is looking to avenge not one, but two losses to MSU last year. It always seems to be a whacky game when these two meet. What’s in store for Saturday night?
Sean Chambers will lead the Montana State offense. While he usually splits snaps with Mellott, this time the senior signal-caller will have the reins to himself. Expect Chambers to run and run a lot. Last week against Stetson, he rushed for 55 yards and two touchdowns. The Bobcats will feature a flurry of ball carriers that includes Chambers as well as running backs Scottre Humphrey, Jared White and Wisconsin-transfer Julius Davis. MSU averages 319 rushing yards per game.
Weber State will need a big day from its defense, specifically star linebacker Winston Reid. Reid currently leads the defense in tackles by a landslide (as he did last season) with 36. He also has 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Standout corner Maxwell Anderson will also need to bring his best. Anderson is one of the best secondary players, grabbing five picks in 2022 and already one this season.
Where the Wildcats can really gain an upper hand here, though, will be on special teams. Abraham Williams is the best return man in the nation with six career 100-yard kickoff return touchdowns to his name, one of which came against Montana State last fall. Bobcats kicker Brendan Hall, who is exceptional at putting the ball through the end zone of kickoffs, will need to continue that trend on Saturday.
The MSU defense will be led by safety Rylan Ortt and linebacker Nolan Askelson. The duo will be responsible for keeping Weber State running back Damon Bankston at bay. Bankston leads the team with 322 rushing yards and averages over seven yards per carry. He also has five touchdowns already this season.
Someone is going to get a leg up in the always-tight Big Sky race with this one. Can the Wildcats dethrone the defending conference champs and the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year? MSU looks to extend a three-game win streak over WSU this weekend while the Wildcats are hoping to send Bobcats head coach Brent Vigen his second-ever conference loss.
ESPN+ will have the game which kicks off at 8:00 PM (ET) on Saturday night.
Other Week 4 FCS Games
THURSDAY - Arkansas-Pine Bluff @ Alabama A&M
FRIDAY - Brown @ Harvard
SATURDAY - Cornell @ Yale, Sacred Heart @ St. Francis, Butler @ Stetson, Georgetown @ Columbia, Lindenwood @ Illinois State, Stonehill @ Fordham, Marist @ Valparaiso, Wofford @ VMI, Lehigh @ Dartmouth, Colgate @ Holy Cross, Morehead State @ St. Thomas, Charleston Southern @ Western Carolina, Texas Southern @ Grambling, Chattanooga @ Samford, Virginia-Lynchburg @ Robert Morris, Mississippi Valley State vs NC Central (Indianapolis, IN), Utah Tech @ Missouri State, McNeese @ Eastern Illinois, Bryant @ Princeton, Delaware State @ Miami (OH), Maine @ William & Mary, Monmouth @ Lafayette, Richmond @ Stony Brook, Texas A&M-Commerce @ Old Dominion, Penn @ Bucknell, Merrimack @ Wagner, Cal Poly @ Portland State, Norfolk State @ Towson, Montana @ Northern Arizona, Dayton @ San Diego, Albany @ Morgan State, Alabama State @ Florida A&M, Southeast Missouri State @ Eastern Kentucky, The Citadel @ South Carolina State, Northern Colorado @ Idaho State, New Hampshire @ Delaware, Gardner-Webb @ East Carolina, Elon @ Campbell, Southwest Baptist @ Tarleton State, Nicholls @ Tulane, St. Andrews @ Davidson, North American @ Incarnate Word, Bethune-Cookman @ Jackson State, Prairie View A&M @ Alcorn State, Austin Peay @ Stephen F. Austin, Lincoln (CA) @ Lamar, UT Martin @ North Alabama, Kennesaw State @ Tennessee Tech, Houston Christian @ Southeastern Louisiana, Abilene Christian @ Central Arkansas, Western Illinois @ Southern Utah, Eastern Washington @ UC Davis