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In the FCS Huddle: Week 9 Preview

By Brandon Lawrence, FCS Associate

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Week 9 in the FCS is littered with intriguing matchups, pitting conference heavyweights against each other in battles for supremacy.

Third-ranked Eastern Washington travels to Missoula to face No. 10 Montana in one of the featured matchups this weekend. Power conferences like the Southern Conference trots out Samford at Wofford, the Ohio Valley Conference has Eastern Illinois at Tennessee State, while the Colonial Athletic Association sports a Maine/Villanova matchup.

But perhaps the most underrated matchup this weekend - one that could easily end up hinting at a conference winner - is South Carolina State traveling to Bethune-Cookman for a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference showdown.

Both MEAC squads are 3-0 in conference play this season. Bethune-Cookman sports a slightly better overall record at 6-1 compared to South Carolina's 5-2.

The conference has belonged to Bethune-Cookman since the hiring of Brian Jenkins as the Wildcats coach before the 2010 season. Jenkins's squad has won at least a share of the MEAC title in two of the past three seasons, but perhaps more impressive is the Wildcats' in-conference record under Jenkins.

Bethune-Cookman has won 16 straight games against MEAC teams dating back to the 2011 season, when the Wildcats lost to North Carolina A&T on Oct. 8. If the team gets its 17th consecutive MEAC win this weekend, it will be one of the larger victories in the streak.

"It's going to be a heavyweight fight," Jenkins said. "You've got a good South Carolina State team that's very aggressive on both sides of the ball and Buddy Pough has that team playing at a high level."

The Wildcats are right where they were expected to be - at the top of the MEAC standings more than halfway through the season. But after a 5-6 campaign in 2012, one in which the Bulldogs went 4-4 in conference play, South Carolina State is enjoying a competitive season again. And the Bulldogs are currently doing something not many teams have done over the years - providing a challenge for the Wildcats.

Jenkins said there are many different factors to B-CU's progress, including the players buying into the system he has helped instill. The team operates without an ego and without any animosity, he said. He, his coaching staff and his players have put together a set of goals, and they continually work toward them each day.

"The success comes from God blessing me with a tremendous coaching staff," Jenkins said. "Everybody always talks about the job that I'm doing but, like I always say, I don't call all our plays and I don't coach all the positions, so therefore you've got to look deep and see what's contributing to our success."

The goal this season is to make it, once again, back to the FCS playoffs. The Wildcats exited last year's postseason with a first-round loss to Coastal Carolina.

But Pough and the Bulldogs are nipping at the heels of the Wildcats, and have a chance this weekend to prove to the nation they belong in the playoffs as well.

The Bulldogs started the season on a rough note, losing back-to-back games against Top 25 Coastal Carolina and FBS giant Clemson. But South Carolina State rebounded with five straight wins, and now faces easily the team's toughest test remaining on its schedule.

One would think having a bye week prior to playing a huge matchup would be helpful to get players rested and extra prepared. But Pough doesn't necessarily think that's the case with a team as talented as Bethune-Cookman.

"Generally when you have an open date, you're excited about the fact that you get a chance to give the kids a few days off and to kind of get your breath a little bit," Pough said. "But in a situation like this, where we thought we were playing pretty good, I don't know if we can keep the momentum going. We practiced pretty good last week, but our practices this week have been more on the stale side.

"I don't know if because we haven't played in a week or so we're not quite up to par, but ... as of right now I'm a little bit concerned."

Pough's Bulldogs currently rank third in the nation in total defense, giving up an average of 271.9 yards per game to opponents. Bethune-Cookman isn't far behind, ranking fifth in the same category and holding its opposition to 280.6 yards per game. Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in the country in scoring defense.

It's a match made in heaven when looking at the numbers, while both teams have historically done well in the conference. Pough and the Bulldogs won a share of the MEAC title back in 2010, but lost in a tiebreaker to, you guessed it, B-CU. But in 2009, it was South Carolina State that was 8-0 in the conference while Bethune-Cookman was 4-4.

It's been a back-and-forth rivalry between the MEAC programs over the years, and the meeting this weekend could prove to be one of the more influential matchups in recent conference history.

Pough knows that there aren't a whole lot of opportunities to make the FCS playoffs without the MEAC's automatic bid, so from here on out, especially this weekend, every game is vitally important.

"We still don't have a lot of margin for error," he said. "I would imagine, after having not played all that well last year, that we would not be all that highly thought of. And to be able to get into the playoffs, we've almost got to win our league. In a situation like ours, where you've got to go on the road to the defending conference champion, it makes it extremely, extremely hard to get done.

"I think we've been driven by that to a certain degree. We know that we don't have a lot of opportunities other than to win our league. From that point, we've been just trying to do the very best we could."

The following is a game-by-game breakdown for The Sports Network FCS Top 25 and other select games (all times ET):

Saturday, Oct. 26

No. 8 Towson (7-1, 3-1 CAA) at Richmond (2-5, 0-3)

Kickoff: noon

What to know: Oh, how far the Spiders have fallen.

It's a sign that something is off with an offense when a team loses two games in a season to an opponent that only scores on field goals. The Spiders dropped a 12-10 contest in Week 3 to Gardner-Webb after Runnin' Bulldogs kicker Jordan Day drilled four field goals for the win. And last weekend against Rhode Island, kicker Dylan Smith gave the Rams the victory with his four field goals.

Richmond, now 0-3 in the CAA, won't have an easier time handling Towson this weekend. Though the Spiders are 19th in the FCS in run defense, Towson's ground attack is a different story.

Terrance West still leads the nation with 19 rushing touchdowns, while the Tigers as a team are 19th in the FCS and third in the CAA in rushing offense, averaging 225 yards per game.

It's odd that at 2-5 and 0-3 in conference play, the Spiders are still ranked 10th in the FCS in scoring defense. That says a lot about the productivity of the team's offense.

Prediction: Towson 31, Richmond 14

Princeton (4-1, 2-0 Ivy) at Harvard (5-0, 2-0)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

What to know: Harvard is one of four unbeaten teams in the FCS through eight weeks (well, five weeks because the Ivy League started later). The Crimson are tied with Princeton - the team they face this weekend - and Penn for the top spot in the Ivy League.

This game features two of the top offenses in the country. Princeton, ranked third in scoring offense, averages 42.4 points per game, while Harvard, ranked 13th, scores 38.6 points per game. But Harvard has a playmaker on defense in Zach Hodges who can be quite intimidating.

Hodges ranks first in the country in forced fumbles per game, second in tackles for loss per game and fourth in sacks per game. His defensive prowess has not only helped Harvard maintain its unbeaten record, but earned him a spot on the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List.

This meeting will be the 106th contest in the history of this series. Princeton leads 53-45-7, but Harvard has won five of the last six against the Tigers. This game should be a shootout, and favors the Crimson at Harvard Stadium.

Prediction: Harvard 34, Princeton 28

No. 15 Lehigh (6-1, 1-0 Patriot) at Bucknell (2-4, 0-2)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

What to know: The Mountain Hawks built their most dominant win last weekend against Georgetown on the foundation of a strong first half. Lehigh led 38-3 at the midway point, and didn't need senior quarterback Brandon Bialkowski to lead a comeback charge or throw the ball nearly 50 times to maintain a lead.

Instead, the Mountain Hawks kept the ball in the hands of senior running back Keith Sherman, who had his best game statistically this season. Sherman rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns in a much more relaxed setting than he was accustomed to at the beginning of the season.

Now Lehigh travels to Bucknell, a team the Mountain Hawks own a 15-game win streak over. But the Bison are coming off a win themselves over Dartmouth - a game in which Bucknell held a standout offense to 252 total yards.

That should be much more of a challenge against Lehigh, with the FCS' leading receiver in terms of yards (1,011) and receptions (71) in Lee Kurfis, and one of the more efficient quarterbacks in Bialkowski.

Prediction: Lehigh 30, Bucknell 17

No. 11 Maine (6-1, 3-0 CAA) at No. 18 Villanova (4-3, 3-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

What to know: Maine is certainly proving itself as one of the top teams not just in the CAA, but in the nation as well. After disposing of William & Mary last weekend, the Black Bears will face a serious test Saturday in Philadelphia against Villanova.

The Wildcats are coming off a roller coaster loss to New Hampshire - one in which UNH jumped ahead early, then 'Nova tied the score and took a late-game lead only to allow New Hampshire to score again for the win. But what's been evident as of late for the Wildcats is that John Robertson's play-making ability has returned.

The sophomore quarterback has accounted for six rushing touchdowns in the last two weeks, including a career high in rushing last Saturday when he dashed for 256 yards.

The Black Bears are 44th in the FCS in rushing defense, but they have yet to hit a team as run-dominant as Villanova. Maine quarterback Marcus Wasilewski will have to be very much on his game to take down the Wildcats on the road. It's a tall order.

Prediction: Villanova 35, Maine 28

No. 22 Samford (5-2, 3-0 Southern) at No. 12 Wofford (5-2, 4-0)

Kickoff: 1:30 p.m.

What to know: It's an odd year when Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are playing each other and yet that isn't the matchup to focus on this week in the Southern Conference.

Wofford and Samford are no doubt the two teams vying for the top spot in SoCon play, which could ultimately result in the league's automatic bid into the FCS playoffs. True, there are still a handful of weeks left in the regular season with potential shakeups on the horizon, but with identical 5-2 records and both perfect in the conference, it seems like these two teams will be the last ones swinging when all is said and done.

Samford has the rest factor working in its favor after a bye last weekend, while Wofford struggled in the first half to take care of Western Carolina. Sophomore quarterback Michael Weimer entered the game and stole the show with an 83-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to put the Terriers down by just a field goal.

Wofford's defense is tough, but the relative lack of offense against the Catamounts and in several other contests this season could be cause for some concern. Samford's offense, led by Andy Summerlin and Fabian Truss, averaging 35.7 points per game, should be able to find the end zone Saturday. The Wofford defense hasn't faced a team averaging over 26 points per game since Georgia Southern in Week 3.

Prediction: Samford 32, Wofford 25

The Citadel (2-5, 2-3 Southern) at Chattanooga (5-2, 3-1)

Kickoff: 2 p.m.

What to know: The Mocs are on a roll, having won their last three contests by no fewer than 11 points. Their last loss came about a month ago to fellow Southern Conference squad Georgia Southern.

Things seem to be looking up for this former Top 25 team. Running back Keon Williams has been one of the offensive sparks, but Chattanooga is primarily known for its strong defense. Against Elon, the Mocs held the Phoenix to 56 rushing yards and 293 yards of offense altogether.

The Citadel is coming off a much-needed bye week after the wheels started to come off in games past. The Bulldogs lost on Oct. 12 to Georgia Southern, needed overtime to beat struggling Appalachia State a week before that, and suffered a series of losses at the end of September. But there's still firepower on that Bulldogs offense, especially in the backfield.

If the Mocs defense can keep its consistency going, this should be a much- appreciated SoCon win for Chattanooga.

Prediction: Chattanooga 27, The Citadel 18

Northwestern State (3-4, 0-2 Southland) at No. 7 Sam Houston State (5-2, 1-1)

Kickoff: 3 p.m.

What to know: So the nation's former top-ranked rushing offense had a minor setback. That's fine, it happens.

Even with just 84 rushing yards against McNeese State Saturday, the Bearkats still pulled out an offensive attack that featured 399 total yards of offense, primarily courtesy of Brian Bell's 315 passing yards and two touchdowns. Sam Houston State now has losses this season to Texas A&M and the Cowboys - two very strong football programs.

The setback wasn't too dire, either. Instead of the No. 2 ranking in the poll, the Bearkats are featured this week at No. 7. Unfortunately for the Demons this week, Sam Houston State hasn't lost back-to-back games since the beginning of the 2012 season, when they dropped consecutive contests to Baylor and Central Arkansas.

Northwestern State is 0-2 in Southland play, but can put up yards regardless. The Demons outgained Southeastern Louisiana by over 100 yards (490-387) last weekend, yet lost, 37-22. The Bearkats will rebound from last weekend's loss, and Timothy Flanders will likely be a big reason why.

Prediction: Sam Houston State 45, Northwestern State 21

No. 17 Northern Iowa (4-3, 0-3 Missouri Valley) at No. 25 South Dakota State (4-4, 1-3)

Kickoff: 3 p.m.

What to know: Let's officially refer to this matchup as the "Battle of the Sucker Punched," because no one - not even these two teams - saw what was coming this season.

South Dakota State and Northern Iowa both, at one point this season, owned Top 10 spots in the national polls with unbeaten records. Now the two squads have a combined 1-6 record in the Missouri Valley Conference.

It's likely because of their overall records and their playmakers in the offensive backfield that they retain spots in the Top 25 altogether. But things have to change for both teams if they still want a shot at the postseason.

The problem for the Jackrabbits is they've been figured out offensively. If an opposing defense can at least limit Zach Zenner, then they limit the offense as a unit. Northern Iowa has struggled defensively without Jake Farley manning the linebacking corps and anchoring the defense.

Northern Iowa has won the last three meetings between the two programs and holds a 28-17-2 all-time series lead. The Jackrabbits lead the nation in passes intercepted and will need its defense working at 100 percent Saturday to hold down the explosive David Johnson and Sawyer Kollmorgen.

Prediction: Northern Iowa 31, South Dakota State 27

No. 1 North Dakota State (7-0, 4-0 Missouri Valley) at Indiana State (1-6, 0-3)

Kickoff: 3:05 p.m.

What to know: With the news that Indiana State star running back Shakir Bell's career with the Sycamores is over, this game appears even more in favor of the Bison.

Bell finished the 2011 season tied for second in the Walter Payton Award voting, but had been struggling through injuries in 2013. Granted, if Bell were to play, the Bison defense could likely still do enough to stop him.

North Dakota State is ranked first in the nation in rushing defense and is the only team able to hold opponents' rushing totals under 80 yards per game. We saw it in action against Zenner and South Dakota State.

With no Bell, the Sycamores, who have lost four straight games and are 1-6 overall, will likely struggle to get anything going against the nation's top- ranked defense. And they are the most recent team to beat NDSU - 17-14 last season.

Prediction: North Dakota State 35, Indiana State 13

No. 19 James Madison (5-2, 2-1 CAA) at William & Mary (4-3, 1-2)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m.

What to know: The Tribe didn't exactly have a weekend to remember in Orono on Saturday, as the team managed only 279 yards of offense and didn't get a 100- yard performance out of any one player versus the Black Bears.

William & Mary has lost two of the team's last three games - both losses to CAA opponents. That's not promising considering the start the team had to the season.

Now up is James Madison, fresh off a bye week. The Dukes have only suffered losses to FBS Akron and Delaware at Delaware Stadium (the only two road games the team has played this season). Their third road game will be in Williamsburg on Saturday. They're hoping the road losing trend doesn't continue.

Things have quieted off for running back Dae'Quan Scott, who at one point was in the top three in the nation in rushing yards and touchdowns. He still ranks 20th with 773 rushing yards, and against a Tribe team that gave up 228 yards on the ground to Maine, he should have a day much like his early season matchups.

Prediction: James Madison 27, William & Mary 20

No. 24 Georgia Southern (4-2, 2-2 Southern) at Appalachian State (1-6, 1-3)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m.

What to know: After a bye week, Georgia Southern will look to maintain its Top 25 ranking against one of the most surprising stories this season in Appalachian State. And surprising isn't a good thing, in this case.

The Mountaineers have had all sorts of trouble since the season began, losing key players like quarterback Jamal Londry-Jackson to injury and receiver Sean Price and defensive lineman Ronald Blair to suspension. Now Price is off the team for repeated violation of program rules. First-year coach Scott Satterfield cannot catch a break.

With a week of rest, the Eagles will look to continue its reputation of a run- first offense, especially after quarterback-turned-running back Jerick McKinnon is now coming out of the backfield. Redshirt freshman Kevin Ellison has shown he has more of an arm than McKinnon.

As these two teams meet one last time on the FCS level before transitioning upward, it just won't be the same rivalry as it used to be with the struggles 2013 has presented, almost primarily for the Mountaineers.

Prediction: Georgia Southern 28, Appalachian State 17

Alabama A&M (2-5, 2-3 SWAC) at Alabama State (5-2, 5-1) at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m.

What to know: The Magic City Classic between these two teams will be one of the more intriguing matchups in the SWAC this season despite the 2-5 Alabama A&M record. Birmingham will be buzzing, especially as the Hornets look to really take control of the conference.

Alabama State running back Isaiah Crowell, who suffered an injury two weeks ago and was replaced by junior Malcolm Cyrus in the team's overtime win against Prairie View A&M, will be back in the lineup Saturday. Crowell is still tied for fourth in the FCS with 12 rushing touchdowns.

After starting the season 0-2, Alabama State has bounced back with five straight wins against SWAC teams, and looks to make it a sixth before the team travels to face FBS Kentucky on the first weekend of November. With wins over lowly Grambling State and Texas Southern, the two-game losing streak for A&M looks like it may continue this weekend.

Prediction: Alabama State 40, Alabama A&M 18

No. 3 Eastern Washington (5-2, 3-0 Big Sky) at No. 10 Montana (6-1, 3-1)

Kickoff: 3:40 p.m.

What to know: In one of the biggest weekends in FCS football, this matchup between two highly touted Big Sky teams serves as one of the national spotlights, and the only contest featuring two Top 10 teams.

Eastern Washington and Montana are both balanced teams with extremely efficient and dangerous quarterbacks, with leaders on the defensive side of the football as well. The specific matchup people will be watching is Vernon Adams and the Eagles' offensive attack versus the speedy, athletic and very strong Montana defense.

Montana defensive end Zack Wagenmann is tied for second in the conference in averaging 1.6 tackles for loss per game. The Grizzlies also are tied for sixth in the FCS in averaging 1.4 turnovers forced per game.

Adams has thrown six interceptions this season, which, when you take into consideration his high number of pass attempts, isn't bad at all. But his counterpart in this contest, Jordan Johnson, flat out does not give the ball away. The only interception he's thrown this season came last weekend against Cal Poly.

The winner of this game will be the team making the fewest mistakes because both teams should be able to put up points in this one.

Prediction: Montana 30, Eastern Washington 28

No. 20 New Hampshire (3-3, 2-1 CAA) at Stony Brook (3-3, 1-2)

Kickoff: 4 p.m.

What to know: While Stony Brook was at home relaxing last weekend and recovering from bumps and bruises during the team's bye week, New Hampshire was in a fight for its playoff future with Villanova.

An extremely gutsy two-point conversion attempt was converted with 14 seconds left in the game, which gave the Wildcats a 29-28 advantage over 'Nova. Had the conversion failed, New Hampshire's playoff hopes could have been all but gone.

This weekend, the Wildcats travel to face the Seawolves - the first time these two teams have hooked up in CAA play. The Stony Brook run game sans Marcus Coker shouldn't have too much difficulty running against this 93rd-ranked rushing defense. The trouble for the Seawolves will be containing an explosive Wildcats offense now led by sophomore quarterback Sean Goldrich.

Against its last two CAA opponents, Stony Brook has given up 70 total points (35 in each contest). While both teams are still fighting for a potential postseason berth, the New Hampshire offense appears to be hitting this season. In six games, the fewest points scored by the Wildcats in a single game was 21 against Central Michigan.

Prediction: New Hampshire 34, Stony Brook 27

No. 4 McNeese State (6-1, 2-0 Southland) at Nicholls (4-3, 1-1)

Kickoff: 4 p.m.

What to know: The Cowboys dominated Sam Houston State's former top-ranked rushing offense by limiting Flanders and the rest of the ball carriers to a meager 84 rushing yards in last Saturday's 31-23 upset win.

McNeese State reaped the rewards of the victory and registers the No. 4 ranking in this week's poll. After putting up 482 yards of offense against the Bearkats, the Cowboys shouldn't have too much trouble against Nicholls, a team that just lost to Stephen F. Austin by double-digit points.

Stephen F. Austin quarterback Brady Attaway is having a great season statistically, which makes the looming task of containing Cody Stroud that much more of an obstacle for the Colonels. Stroud connected on 15-of-25 pass attempts for 267 yards and three scores against Sam Houston State. He'll be looking to build on his performance and his team's conference record. McNeese State and Southeastern Louisiana are in the driver's seat at 2-0.

Prediction: McNeese State 41, Nicholls 25

South Carolina State (5-2, 3-0 MEAC) at No. 14 Bethune-Cookman (6-1, 3-0)

Kickoff: 4 p.m.

What to know: It's not too often that an at-large playoff bid goes to a team in the MEAC, so there's a lot of emphasis on this game.

South Carolina State dropped its first two contests to Coastal Carolina and Clemson, but has rebounded for five straight wins and will look to challenge Bethune-Cookman, a team that has won at least a share of the past three MEAC titles. The Wildcats are ready for this Homecoming matchup in Daytona Beach.

This game features two of the better defenses in the country, so a heavy emphasis will be placed on offensive efficiency and production. It's always tough to prepare for three quarterbacks who will see the field for B-CU, which is a run-heavy team.

The Bulldogs feature some of the quicker linebackers in the conference, including Joe Thomas, so they'll be ready and rested after the bye week. These are two relatively mistake-free teams, so whichever team's defense forces a miscue or two is the one that will win the game.

Prediction: Bethune-Cookman 27, South Carolina State 24

Stephen F. Austin (3-4, 1-1 Southland) at No. 23 Central Arkansas (4-3, 1-1)

Kickoff: 4 p.m.

What to know: Central Arkansas scraped out a win against Lamar last Saturday, despite the absence of quarterback and the senior leader of the offense in Wynrick Smothers. The Cardinals put up a fight, as can be expected from Stephen F. Austin this weekend.

It's inevitable the Lumberjacks will put up points. That's been the identity of the Stephen F. Austin team this season, led by Brady Attaway under center. Attaway is fourth in the nation in passing yards (2,393), passing touchdowns (19) and third in passing yards per game (341.9).

Only two teams this season have limited the Lumberjacks to under 40 points in a game. Even if Central Arkansas's defense can hold Stephen F. Austin to around 30 points, the Bears offense has to be able to match the Lumberjacks' production. That'll be hard to do without Smothers.

Prediction: Stephen F. Austin 32, Central Arkansas 27

Butler (6-2, 4-0 Pioneer) at San Diego (4-3, 3-1)

Kickoff: 4 p.m.

What to know: Butler quarterback Matt Lancaster didn't play last weekend with a concussion, but it didn't make much of a difference as the Bulldogs easily handled Drake under the conduction of Wade Markley.

Markley threw for 253 yards and a touchdown in Lancaster's absence, and he may be asked to do so for a second straight week if Lancaster can't go against the Toreros, although he is expected to be back in time.

San Diego, on the other hand, has quarterback Mason Mills healthy and ready to go. But the Toreros are coming off a double-overtime loss to PFL foe Dayton, in which Mills threw for five touchdowns but also tossed two interceptions.

It's the first time since 2010 the Bulldogs and Toreros are meeting. San Diego holds the lead in the all-time series, 13-5, including the most recent matchup. The last time Butler won at Torero Stadium was way back in 2001, but with a senior-laden offense and the playmakers to put up points, Butler could very well be 5-0 in the PFL after this one.

Prediction: Butler 28, San Diego 24

UC Davis (3-5, 3-1 Big Sky) at No. 5 Montana State (5-2, 3-0)

Kickoff: 4:35 p.m.

What to know: UC Davis is right up in the hunt for first place in the Big Sky Conference, although some difficult matchups lie ahead for the Aggies.

It starts this weekend with Montana State, a team tied with Eastern Washington at the top of the conference with a 3-0 Big Sky record. Bobcats senior quarterback DeNarius McGhee, who suffered a separated shoulder in Week 2 against Southern Methodist, seemingly returned to form last weekend against Weber State.

McGhee completed 20 of his 29 pass attempts for 313 yards and three touchdowns, while running backs Cody Kirk and Shawn Johnson continue to enjoy solid seasons getting the handoffs, each scoring a touchdown against the Wildcats.

The Aggies struggled earlier in the season against higher-ranked Big Sky teams (though those games didn't count toward their conference record), and the Bobcats trot out the third-best total offense in the conference, averaging 457.4 yards per game.

Prediction: Montana State 38, UC Davis 18

No. 2 Eastern Illinois (6-1, 3-0 OVC) at No. 21 Tennessee State (7-1, 4-0)

Kickoff: 5 p.m.

What to know: Not only does this matchup pit two of the top Ohio Valley Conference teams against each other, but it also features the top offense in the entire FCS going against one of the top defenses in the nation.

Tennessee State's very strong, very physical defense has only allowed more than 20 points to an opponent once this season - a 41-21 victory over Tennessee Tech. The Tigers are ranked second in the country in scoring defense, holding opponents to 13.5 points per game. They're also second in total defense, giving up an average of 264 yards per game.

The Panthers, led by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, have the nation's best scoring and total offense, averaging 48 points per game. The Panthers lead the all-time series by a slim 8-7 margin.

Garoppolo has 96 career touchdown passes, ranking 14th on the all-time FCS list. Against defensive backs like Stephen Godbolt III, Daniel Fitzpatrick and David Van Dyke, he will face his toughest test of the season.

Prediction: Eastern Illinois 30, Tennessee State 23

VMI (1-6, 0-2 Big South) at No. 6 Coastal Carolina (7-0, 2-0)

Kickoff: 6 p.m.

What to know: The Chanticleers needed two overtimes in order to maintain their undefeated record at Liberty last Saturday. After the Chants trailed by 12 points heading into the fourth quarter and scored the game-tying touchdown with 46 seconds to play, it's safe to say a scare was put into Coastal Carolina.

This weekend's matchup with VMI should be a much easier contest for the Chants. The Keydets are 0-2 in Big South play, and don't exactly sport the strongest run defense in the conference.

VMI gives up an average of 218.1 yards per game to opposing running backs, and CCU's Lorenzo Taliaferro, the newest addition to the Walter Payton Award Watch List, is one of the nation's best.

Taliaferro is second in rushing touchdowns, fourth in rushing yards per game, and is the top running back in points responsible for per game. Expect his incredible numbers to continue this weekend.

Prediction: Coastal Carolina 41, VMI 21

No. 16 Northern Arizona (5-2, 3-1 Big Sky) at Cal Poly (3-4, 2-1)

Kickoff: 9:05 p.m.

What to know: The Lumberjacks needed a career day from senior Zach Bauman in order to handle Idaho State Saturday, but improved their conference record to 3-1, good for a third-place tie.

Cal Poly did a nice job limiting Montana to just 73 yards on the ground in the team's overtime loss. The Mustangs are 2-1 in Big Sky play this season.

The potentially troubling matchup for Cal Poly centers around its quarterback position. The Mustangs have started three different players under center in 2013, and last weekend Dano Graves had just 95 passing yards with an interception in the loss to Montana. The Northern Arizona defense has caused 13 turnovers this season, and has scored on either an interception return or a fumble return in four of the team's seven games this season.

If Cal Poly, a team that is tied for 10th in the nation in turnovers lost with eight, gets into the turnover mess yet again, the Lumberjacks can do some damage.

Prediction: Nothern Arizona 32, Cal Poly 27

Idle This Weekend

No. 9 Fordham (8-0)

No. 13 Youngstown State (7-1)

Last Week's Record: 19-4 (.826)

Season Record: 139-48 (.743)

10/24 15:31:25 ET