The last weekend of September brings with it more intriguing games across the FCS landscape. It seems as though every conference has at least one noteworthy game this Saturday. It’s a fun time in the subdivision right now as some teams that don’t usually make a lot of noise are suddenly splashing onto the national scene.
Here’s what’s in store for Week 5.
#1 South Dakota State Opens Conference Play with North Dakota
One of the biggest matchups this weekend will take place in Brookings with South Dakota State (3-0) welcoming in North Dakota (2-1). Both the Hawks and Jackrabbits are coming in off bye weeks and each begin Missouri Valley play with postseason aspirations. UND has played well so far this season but the ‘Jacks are a different beast.
Quarterback play will be big in this one. SDSU’s Mark Gronowski is one of the best signal-callers in the country and he’s been the center piece for what the team does offensively for some time now. Gromowski has only thrown one interception so far this year and has already passed for eight touchdowns.
One thing that makes Gronowski so good is that he has an arsenal of weapons to work with. Jaxon Janke leads the team with 13 receptions and 154 yards. Freshman wideout Griffin Wilde already has three touchdown catches and even running back Isaiah Davis has caught six passes out of the backfield. Gronowski will have his pick of the litter when it comes to throwing.
North Dakota has a pretty solid QB as well in Tommy Schuster. Schuster has passed for 663 yards and five scores this fall and has yet to throw a pick. Like Gronowski on the other side, he will also have a good receiving corps to work with. Bo Belquist is averaging over 12 yards per catch right now and has nearly eclipsed 300 yards already. Red Wilson has hauled in at least three catches in each of the first three games this season.
Defensively, South Dakota State is hoping that star linebacker Adam Bock can return this weekend. Bock, who has missed every game so far this season with an injury, is reportedly nearing his return and that would be huge for the Jacks. He was a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award in 2021 and was instrumental in SDSU’ title run last fall.
The Hawks defense, meanwhile, will be led by junior linebacker Wyatt Pedigo. Pedigo leads the unit with 22 total stops, ten of which he made in a losing effort at Boise State two weeks ago. He also a forced fumble and three fumble recoveries already this season.
This game is likely to have major implications in the MVFC come season’s end. The Jackrabbits... as they are in every game they play lately... are the favorites here but #12 UND is no slouch either. If the Hawks do find a way to pull out some magic the top of the FCS gets put into chaos as does the conference. A SDSU win, though, does not sink the Hawks’ hope for a postseason push by a long shot.
You can catch the game at 3:00 PM (ET) on Saturday steaming on Midco Sports.
EWU Hosts #4 Idaho
With each passing week, the Big Sky gives fans more and more exciting matchups. This week’s biggest conference game will feature upstart Idaho (3-1) paying a visit to the red turf in Cheney to face Eastern Washington (2-2). Both squads are riding in off big wins. The Vandals took down Sacramento State in a heartstopper last weekend while EWU grinded one out on the road at UC Davis.
Idaho quarterback Gevani McCoy is as electric as they come and knows how to hurt opposing defenses in a variety of ways. The sophomore standout nearly has 1,000 passing yards and has thrown for six touchdowns. One of his favorite targets is stud receiver Hayden Hatten who has hauled in 27 catches for 328 yards. The Hatten and McCoy combo has hooked up at least five times in each of the Vandals’ first four contests this year and it’s shown no signs of slowing down.
That means that Eastern Washington’s defense, which allows over 30 points per game, will need to tighten up this week. Cornerback Marlon Jones Jr. and safety Drew Carter will have the tall task of slowing down Hatten but they just may be the men for the job. Jones has two interceptions this year while Carter has five PBUs.
The Eagles offense will be led by Kekoa Visperas under center. The redshirt sophomore is completing passes at a 64.4% clip and has thrown for 1,057 yards along with five scores. Receiver Efton Chism III has been on the other end of 30 of those passes and has a team-high 294 yards.
Idaho’s defense will look to keep Visperas and Chism in check with linebacker Thomas Tre. Tre, who has posted 22 tackles this year, has a sack and 2.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
Playing in the Inferno is not easy and Idaho hasn’t won there since rejoining the FCS back in 2018. Eastern Washington appears as though it’s on the rebound after a dismal 2022 campaign and, although the Vandals are favored here, this has the makings to be a sneaky good game and, as always in the Big Sky, there’s some major playoff implications riding on this one down the road.
The game will start at 4:00 PM (ET) on ESPN+.
Tigers, Panthers Renew “State Fair Classic” in Cotton Bowl
It’s not very often that teams like Prairie View A&M or Grambling take up media attention in the SWAC. Even this year, the two programs aren’t generating a ton of noise in the league but maybe they should be. The Panthers (2-2) are undefeated in conference action as are the Tigers (2-2). This Saturday the two historic programs will meet again in Texas and someone will come out with legitimate hope of reaching the SWAC title game later this year.
Grambling’s offense is producing at a high level thus far in 2023, averaging 33.5 points per game. Quarterback Myles Crawley is a big reason why, as he’s thrown eight touchdowns this year along with 865 yards. Running back Chance Williams has also been explosive with 365 rush yards on 44 totes. Williams has posted two scores while fellow back Floyd Chalk IV has four.
Prairie View A&M’s defense will need to be better than it has been if it wants to slow down the Tigers’ litany of playmakers. The Panthers allow 42 points per outing with the pass defense being the biggest area of concern. Opponents are putting up over 300 yards a game and have scored 16 TDs through the air. Cornerback Freddie Byrd III will be leaned on heavily here. Byrd has one pick and four defended passes this season.
The Panthers offense is led by signal-caller Trazon Connley. Connley has 708 passing yards and three touchdowns, two of which have gone to junior receiver Tre’jon Spiller. On the ground, Prairie View A&M will boast the talents of running back Ahmad Antoine. Antoine has at least nine carries in each of the first four games and has ran for 294 yards this fall.
Grambling is hoping to snap a five-game losing streak to their “State Fair Classic” rivals and pick up their first win in the series since October of 2017. Another Panthers victory, though, would mean that Prairie View A&M would be 3-0 in the SWAC and would keep pace with league-favorite Florida A&M. There’s plenty at stake in Dallas this weekend.
The contest will kick at 7:00 PM (ET) on ESPN+ on Saturday evening.
UT Martin, Tennessee State Battle for Early OVC-Big South Edge
One of the hottest rising teams in the FCS right now is UT Martin (3-1). The Skyhawks only loss has come at the hands of Georgia and they’ve won three in a row coming into their conference opener with Tennessee State (2-1). Likewise, the Tigers only loss also came to an FBS powerhouse in Notre Dame and it seems that Eddie George finally has the tides turning for TSU. It’s a pivotal one when the two teams come together this weekend.
Right now UT Martin’s Sam Franklin is one of the best running backs in the country. He leads the nation in rushing yards with 653 and has six touchdowns under his belt. The sophomore has put up two 200+ yard rushing performances this season including a monster 259-yard day against Missouri State a few weeks back.
That could spell good news against a Tigers defense that struggles against the run, allowing nearly five yards per carry to opposing rushers. TSU has given up five touchdowns by way of the run this year. Linebacker Monroe Beard III will look to help improve those numbers against Franklin and company this week. Beard has posted double digit tackles in each of the last two games.
The Tennessee State offense will function largely around quarterbacks Deveon Bryant and Draylen Ellis. Bryant was impressive in the team’s win over Gardner-Webb two weeks ago, rushing for 53 yards and a touchdown while Ellis threw for 154 yards and another score. The duo compliment each other nicely and, when both are clicking, can make life difficult on opposing defenses.
UT Martin knows how to get into the backfield, though. Their defense has registered nine sacks this year and 34 tackles for loss (tied for fourth best in the FCS). That’s thanks in large part to guys like defensive end Daylan Dotson. Dotson has 2.5 sacks and six tackles for loss this fall as well as seven QB hits.
It’s early but the Skyhawks can take a commanding poll position in the OVC-Big South auto bid race with a win here. A 4-1 start would be their best since 2021, the last time the team made the playoffs. TSU, meanwhile, can also make a big statement with a victory. With SEMO reeling, it seems as though the driver’s seat in the conference is up for grabs. Someone here will take control.
The Skyhawks and the Tigers will kick off on Saturday night at 7:00 PM (ET) on ESPN+.
Other Week 5 FCS Games
FRIDAY - Columbia @ Princeton
SATURDAY - Stetson @ Marist, Duquesne @ LIU, Morgan State @ Yale, Howard @ Robert Morris, Central Connecticut State @ Brown, St. Thomas @ Dayton, Presbyterian @ Butler, Bryant @ Rhode Island, St. Francis @ Stonehill, Lehigh @ Monmouth, Merrimack @ Sacred Heart, Dartmouth @ Penn, East Tennessee State @ Samford, Virginia-Lynchburg @ Delaware State, San Diego @ Davidson, Austin Peay @ Lindenwood, Colgate @ Cornell, Hampton @ Richmond, North Carolina A&T @ Norfolk State, South Dakota @ North Dakota State, William & Mary @ Elon, Youngstown State @ Northern Iowa, Western Carolina @ The Citadel, Southwest Minnesota State @ Valparaiso, Drake @ Morehead State, Fordham @ Georgetown, Lincoln (CA) @ Texas Southern, Tuskegee @ Alabama A&M, Weber State @ Northern Colorado, Towson @ New Hampshire, Bucknell @ Lafayette, Stony Brook @ Maine, Villanova @ Albany, Wagner @ Rutgers, Campbell @ North Carolina Central, Idaho State @ Montana, Portland State @ Montana State, Tarleton State @ Southeastern Louisiana, VMI @ Mercer, Harvard @ Holy Cross, Missouri State @ Southern Illinois, Southern @ Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Alcorn State @ Alabama State, Kennesaw State @ Charleston Southern, Chattanooga @ Wofford, Eastern Illinois @ Northwestern State, Eastern Kentucky @ North Alabama, Indiana State @ Murray State, Lamar @ Houston Christian, Texas A&M-Commerce @ Stephen F. Austin, Utah Tech @ Colorado State, Florida A&M @ Mississippi Valley State, Abilene Christian @ North Texas, Central Arkansas @ Southern Utah, Nicholls @ McNeese, UC Davis @ Cal Poly, Northern Arizona @ Sacramento State