It’s odd to say being only two weeks in to the 2023 season, but the FCS playoff picture will be shaped... at least a little... based on what happens this Saturday. It’s not often we’re talking about the postseason in September but with teams like With a Top 3 showdown headlining the whole show, this weekend’s slate of games stacks up to be a wildly entertaining one.
#5 Holy Cross Aims to Play Giant Killer Again
Schedule the Crusaders at your own peril. It’s a warning that Buffalo probably wished it had heard last fall after Holy Cross rolled in and took down the Bulls on a Hail Mary stunner. Fast forward a year and we could be in for a similar scenario this Saturday afternoon in Chestnut Hill, MA. Boston College will open its doors to a really good Holy Cross (1-0) squad. With a stud at quarterback, another at linebacker and all the confidence in the world, the Crusaders have to like their chances to be David again.
The Crusaders will go as Matthew Sluka goes. The senior quarterback has been phenomenal over the last couple seasons, throwing for 2,489 yards and 26 touchdowns a season ago. Sluka is a heck of a runner too, though, having rushed for nearly 2,500 yards in his career as well. He knows how to hurt defenses in a variety of ways and, for a Boston College unit that gave up 338 yards to Northern Illinois last weekend, Sluka could be a game-wrecker here.
Also hoping to wreak some havoc on the BC defense is running back Jordan Fuller who ran for five touchdowns against Merrimack last Saturday. Fuller, a junior, was awarded the FedEx Ground National Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts in Week 1.
On defense, Holy Cross will also field some All-American talent with linebacker Jacob Dobbs. Dobbs missed the majority of last season with an arm injury but last week he had a career day, registering 21 tackles and two QB hits. Look for #27 to be all over the field.
So far this season the FCS is a combined 0-42 against its FBS opponents but the Crusaders have a real shot at getting one back this weekend. All the pieces are there for Bob Chesney’s group; great quarterback play, explosive talent on offense and studs on defense. Can it all come together? We’ll know soon enough.
Holy Cross will take on Boston College at 12:00 PM (ET) on the ACC Network or streaming on ESPN+.
#12 Weber State Meets #21 UNI in Tilt of Playoff Hopefuls
If there’s something you can darn near set your clock by, it’s the fact that Northern Iowa won’t play cupcakes in its non-conference slate. This weekend they hold true to that when they welcome in Weber State. The Wildcats (1-0) are in a very similar boat as the Panthers (0-1) are; they probably won’t finish at the top of their conference but still fully expect to be a playoff team this winter. This game will do a lot for someone in that department.
Weber State comes in with a 35-10 win under Division II Central Washington under its belt but it was a win they had to scrape for for a while. The Wildcats still face many questions in this, their first season under head coach Mickey Mental, the main being at quarterback. Bronson Barron transferred out and it left the door open for someone else to take over under center. Last week, Kylan Weisser got the nod and threw for 116 yards and a touchdown. He’ll need to up those numbers this weekend, though, if WSU is to have a chance.
Going up against Weisser on the other side will be one of the best quarterbacks the FCS has to offer in Theo Day. Day finished as one of the nation’s top passers in 2022 with 3,121 yards and 26 touchdowns. He threw for over 300 yards in a game four times last year. Day currently finds himself on a plethora of watchlists including that of the Reese’s Senior Bowl and Walter Payton Award.
He’ll be throwing to receiver Sam Schnee a lot. Last year, Schnee racked up the most catches for UNI with 48. The redshirt senior has 1,226 career receiving yards and eight touchdowns.
Weber State will combat this pair with one of the best cornerbacks in the country, Maxwell Anderson. In 2022, Anderson grabbed five interceptions and batted away 16 passes, efforts that earned him All-American honors.
Where the Wildcats can really shine, though, is on special teams. They’ll boast arguably the most dangerous return man in all of college football with junior Abraham Williams. Williams, who notched a kick return TD last week, now has five on his career and astonishingly, all five have been for 100 yards. He averaged 37.4 yards per runback last year as well.
This one feels like a must win for both of these teams because the schedules won’t get any easier when conference play begins in either the Big Sky or the Missouri Valley. You don’t want to go into Week 3 already 0-2 if you’re UNI but if you’re Weber State, 1-1 isn’t fantastic either as FBS Utah and Montana State loom next on the slate. This game could end up being the reason someone gets in the playoffs later this year and also the reason someone gets left out.
ESPN+ will have the game at 5:00 PM (ET) on Saturday night.
Jackson State, Southern Renew Rivalry in Baton Rouge
Jackson State has been tough to peg down so far in the early goings this year. The Tigers (1-1) dominated SC State in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge back in Week 0 but last weekend themselves got manhandled by Florida A&M. Now they’ll get a big bounce opportunity against an old rival. Southern (0-1) too is looking to rebound after falling to Alabama State. Who is going to get it right this Saturday?
If T.C. Taylor’s Jackson State squad is going to turn it around, they’ll need better play from the defense which gave up too many big plays last week. Florida A&M had eight plays go for at least 15 yards. In total the Rattlers were able to rack up 358 yards.
Southern's offense will be piloted by senior quarterback Harold Blood. Blood, too, will need improve his play from a week ago as he tossed two interceptions in the loss to Alabama State. He saw minimal playing time last year, appearing in five games and attempting only 19 passes.
Gary Quarles and Kobe Dillon should get the bulk of the work on the ground. The running back duo combined for 17 carries and 50 of the Jaguars’ 69 rushing yards last Saturday. Both are still seeking their first TD of the season.
The Tigers will likely try out their pair of quarterbacks again in this game. Virginia Tech transfer Jason Brown had a great first game, tossing three touchdowns against SC State. He fell back to earth last weekend, however, as he threw for a mere 82 yards. Zy McDonald made his first appearance for JSU against Florida A&M and passed for 149 yards and a score.
These two teams actually met up twice in 2022, once in the regular season and once in the SWAC championship. Jackson State took both games easily last year but with each already having suffered a conference loss, it really feels like the loser this time around won’t have much of a shot of reaching the SWAC title game this year.
The Jaguars lead the all-time series known as the “Boombox Classic” with the Tigers 35-32 but they haven’t won a game against Jackson State since the spring season in 2021. If JSU wants to remain afloat in a SWAC race it already trails in, it needs a win here. Southern, too, can ill-afford a loss for the same reasons.
ESPN+ will carry the contest at 7:00 PM (ET) on Saturday night.
#1 SDSU Hosts #3 Montana State in Huge Semifinal Rematch
It’s starting to feel like South Dakota State and Montana State are honorary rivals just because of how much they see each other. The pair met in both the 2021 and 2022 semifinal games with each winning once. But pump the brakes, because now the ‘Cats and Jacks will clash in September in a game that’s been on the schedule for a while. When the programs signed a home-and-home several years ago, few probably anticipated that it would result in an early-season Top 3 matchup, but here we are.
The Jackrabbits (1-0) come into this contest as the premier team in FCS football. Last year’s national champs just put an expected beatdown on Division II’s Western Oregon and are predicted by many to run the table this season to take home the trophy again. The biggest obstacle in their way? Possibly these very Bobcats (1-0).
Montana State enters on the heels of its own lopsided win, beating Utah Tech 63-20 in the opener last Saturday. The vaunted rushing attack was on full display as the ‘Cats ran for 407 yards and seven touchdowns. Freshman running back Scottre Humphrey lit it up is his debut with 114 yards and three scores while both quarterbacks, Tommy Mellott and Sean Chambers, racked up nearly 100 more yards.
South Dakota State, however, is really good at stopping the run and, specifically, that run game. Last year the Jacks defense smothered MSU in the semifinals and surrendered a mere 52 rushing yards. If they are to do the same this time out, they’ll need linebacker Adam Bock. Bock didn’t play in Week 1 and was the second leading tackler for SDSU in 2022.
While depth may be an issue on defense, offensively things should be just fine. Quarterback Mark Gronowski picked up where he left off last year with a solid showing last week, throwing for 121 yards and a touchdown. Jaxon Janke is still around to catch passes and there’s a plethora of backs that can get it done on the ground.
This game will be won and lost up front, just as it was last year. Has Montana State done enough on its offensive line to step up to the plate? Or is it still the Jacks who run things in the trenches? Last week MSU gave up no sacks and four tackles for loss. SDSU, meanwhile, posted no sacks of their own but did make three stops behind the line.
This game, albeit at this juncture of the year, will very likely influence playoff seeding down the road. A Montana State victory here would do wonders for the Bobcats’ hopes of landing a Top 2 seed come playoff time (pending what happens the rest of the way, of course). For South Dakota State, a win here would give a real leg up in the race for the #1 overall seed. Someone’s hopeful road to Frisco will get a little easier after Saturday night.
Simply put, there’s a ton riding on what happens in Brookings this weekend.
You can catch the game at 7:00 PM (ET) this Saturday on ESPN+.
Other Week 2 FCS Games
THURSDAY - Murray State @ Louisville
FRIDAY - Stony Brook @ Rhode Island, Indiana State @ Indiana
SATURDAY - Youngstown State @ Ohio State, Delaware @ Penn State, Stonehill @ Central Connecticut State, Delaware State @ Army, Sacred Heart @ Georgetown, South Carolina State @ Georgia Tech, Virginia-Lynchburg @ Presbyterian, Taylor @ Butler, Central State @ Dayton, New Hampshire @ Central Michigan, Eastern Illinois @ Bowling Green, St. Thomas @ South Dakota, Charleston Southern @ Clemson, Samford @ Western Carolina, Campbell @ The Citadel, Eastern Kentucky @ Kentucky, Southern Utah @ BYU, Wagner @ Navy, Southern Illinois @ Northern Illinois, Texas Southern @ Toledo, Richmond @ Michigan State, Maine @ North Dakota State, Colorado Mesa @ San Diego, Cal Poly @ San Jose State, Illinois State @ Western Illinois, Lehigh @ Merrimack, Northern Arizona @ North Dakota, Portland State @ Wyoming, Incarnate Word @ Northern Colorado, Savannah State @ Bethune-Cookman, Austin Peay @ Tennessee, Southeastern Louisiana @ South Alabama, Carson-Newman @ East Tennessee State, VMI @ Bucknell, Valparaiso @ Indiana Wesleyan, St. Francis @ Robert Morris, Monmouth @ Towson, Wofford @ William & Mary, Norfolk State @ Hampton, Miles College @ Alabama State, Morgan State @ Akron, Kennesaw State @ Chattanooga, LIU @ Bryant, Fordham @ Buffalo, Elon @ Gardner-Webb, Duquesne @ West Virginia, Colgate @ Villanova, Lafayette @ Duke, Morehead State @ Mercer, Texas College @ Central Arkansas, Barton @ Davidson, Webber International @ Stetson, Morehouse @ Howard, Lane College @ Alabama A&M, Northwestern State @ Louisiana Tech, Northwestern (IA) @ Drake, North Carolina Central @ North Carolina A&T, North Alabama @ Tarleton State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs. Tennessee State (Memphis, TN), Missouri State @ UT Martin, Alcorn State @ Stephen F. Austin, Abilene Christian @ Prairie View A&M, Florida A&M @ South Florida, Houston Christian @ Western Kentucky, Idaho @ Nevada, Lindenwood @ Southeast Missouri State, Furman @ South Carolina, Grambling @ LSU, McNeese @ Florida, Tennessee Tech @ New Mexico, Idaho State @ Utah State, Lamar @ Louisiana-Monroe, Nicholls @ TCU, Montana @ Utah Tech, UC Davis @ Oregon State, Eastern Washington @ Fresno State, Texas A&M-Commerce @ Sacramento State, Albany @ Hawaii