Clock’s ticking: Must-see matchups in the FCS this week

NCAA Football

(Stats Perform) – The changing of the clocks late Saturday night is a tell-tale sign that time is ticking away on FCS college football’s regular season.

When teams wake up Sunday morning, they hope to still be alive for conference titles and postseason bids.

This weekend’s schedule of FCS games is among the best of the season, with key games impacting all 14 conference title races. Week 10 even proved too difficult to stop with 10 must-see matchups (times are ET – all games except Princeton at Dartmouth are on Saturday):

1. No. 4 Montana State (7-1, 5-0 Big Sky) at No. 5 Eastern Washington (7-1, 4-1), 4 p.m. (SWX/ESPN+)

It’s surprising EWU has a seven-game winning streak in this series of Big Sky powers, with MSU last winning in 2011 on the red turf. If this was basketball, tempo would be the key factor. The host Eagles, behind quarterback Eric Barriere, rank No. 1 in the FCS in points per game (51.5), total offensive yards per game (603.9) and passing yards per game (430.8). The Bobcats and linebacker Troy Andersen counter with a defense that is top 10 in the nation in each statistic. Also, Isaiah Ifanse is nearing 1,000 rushing yards in the Bobcats’ conference-leading rushing offense. Yes, smash versus flash.

2. No. 2 North Dakota State (8-0, 5-0 MVFC) at No. 9 South Dakota State (6-2, 3-2), 3 p.m. (ABC ND/MidCo SN/ESPN+)

Laws are surely being broken when the Dakota Marker rivalry isn’t ranked No. 1 because it’s right there on any preseason list of the most anticipated games. Run, run, run the ball because the winning team has had a higher time of possession in the last 17 meetings since 2008 – 12 NDSU wins and five by SDSU. NDSU is one of three FCS teams to have six players with over 150 rushing yards, while SDSU’s Pierre Strong Jr. ranks second nationally in rushing yards per game (123.2). NDSU is off to an 8-0 start for the eighth time in its 18 seasons on the FCS level (since 2014), and no team during that time has allowed fewer points per game over a season than the Bison’s average through eight games (8.1).

3. No. 18 VMI (6-2, 4-1 Southern) at No. 14 ETSU (7-1, 4-1), 1 p.m. (ESPN+)

Two orders of offensive fireworks, please. VMI quarterback Seth Morgan set the school record for total offensive yards in a game (516) during a 46-45 rally past Samford last Saturday. No set of FCS teammates has more combined rushing yards than ETSU’s Quay Holmes (926) and Jacob Saylors (581), and they’re also tied for the most combined rushing touchdowns (17). The host Bucs handed VMI its only regular-season loss during the Keydets’ SoCon championship season in the spring.

4. No. 20 Princeton (7-0, 4-0 Ivy) at Dartmouth (6-1, 3-1), 6 p.m. Friday (ESPNU)

This is the 100th all-time meeting between the most consistent Ivy League programs of recent years: Dartmouth is 32-5 since 2017, while Princeton has opened with a 7-0 record for the third straight season and is 25-2 since 2018. Since falling at Dartmouth in the 2017 finale, the Tigers have run off 12 straight road wins, the FCS’ longest active streak. While both teams have efficient QBs – Princeton’s Cole Smith and Dartmouth’s Derek Kyler/Nick Howard combo – the defenses are in the top six nationally in fewest yards allowed per game.

5. No. 6 Southeastern Louisiana (7-1, 5-0 Southland) at No. 22 UIW (6-2, 4-1), 3 p.m. (ESPN3)

With a victory, Southeastern would clinch a share of its third Southland title (2013 and ’14). Of course, this is as big a quarterback matchup as any in the FCS. In the last two seasons, Southeastern’s Walter Payton Award recipient Cole Kelley has accounted for the most total touchdowns in the nation (64 in 15 games) and UIW’s Jerry Rice Award recipient Cameron Ward has the most TD passes (50 in 14 games).

6. Tennessee State (5-3, 3-1 Ohio Valley) at No. 15 UT Martin (7-1, 3-0), 3 p.m. (ESPN3)

First-year coach Eddie George has Tennessee State on its first four-game winning streak since 2016. During the run, quarterback Geremy Hickbottom has produced 12 passing and rushing touchdowns and committed only two turnovers. The Tigers rank No. 1 in the OVC in scoring defense (20.5 points per game) and total defense (327.3 yards per game). UT Martin also knows defense, with defensive end Eyabi Anoma coming off Stats Perform FCS National Defensive Player of the Week. If the Skyhawks claim an eighth straight win, they would match the longest streak in program history (accomplished in 1936, 1988 and 2006).

7. No. 17 Missouri State (5-3, 4-2 MVFC) at No. 7 Southern Illinois (6-2, 4-1), 1 p.m. (ESPN3)

The battle royale in the Missouri Valley continues with the cardiac kids. Missouri State beat SIU 30-27 on Jose Pizano’s game-ending field goal in the spring matchup, one of the six times the Bears have won games in the last two seasons after being tied or trailing in the fourth quarter. But get this, SIU has seven such wins to lead the FCS in that time.

8. Sacred Heart (5-3, 3-1 Northeast) at Saint Francis (4-4, 3-1), noon (NEC Front Row)

With both teams having losses to the NEC’s other tri-leader, Bryant, this could be an elimination game for the conference’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. Sacred Heart reached the spring postseason behind running back Julius Chestnut’s dominance, so it’s been remarkable since he was lost to injury in the fall opener that junior Malik Grant (1,039 yards, 129.9 per game) has developed into the FCS rushing leader. He will surely meet up often with SFU safety Martin Foray Jr., the NEC leader in tackles.

9. No. 20 William & Mary (6-2, 4-1 CAA) at Delaware (4-4, 2-3), 1 p.m. (FloFootball)

William & Mary handled Villanova on the road last Saturday and moved into the Stats Perform FCS Top 25 earlier this week for the first time in over five years, but a trip to Delaware Stadium is daunting. The Blue Hens have won seven of their last eight home losses, with the only loss against CAA kingpin James Madison, and their experienced secondary will make it hard for the Tribe’s sluggish passing attack (115th out of 128 FCS teams at 138.9 yards per game) to get on track.

10.(tie) St. Thomas (5-2, 4-1 Pioneer) at Davidson (6-1, 5-0), 1 p.m. (Davidson All Access)

The new kid on the FCS block isn’t playoff-eligible until 2026, but St. Thomas is having an impact on the PFL race. The Tommies have allowed a PFL-low 10.8 points per game in league matchups and running back Hope Adebayo has 373 yards and six touchdowns on the ground in their last two games. Of course, no PFL team – or FCS team, for that matter – runs the ball better than Davidson, with Coy Williams (548 yards, 11 TDs) and Dylan Sparks (469, 6) fueling a 321.6-yard average, and it’s 336 in PFL games. A win will keep the Wildcats in the driver’s seat for a second straight playoff bid.

10.(tie) Norfolk State (6-2, 2-0 MEAC) at North Carolina Central (3-5, 1-1), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

NSU quarterback Juwan Carter, whose 8,751 career passing yards are seven shy of matching the school’s all-time record, has an incredible touchdown pass split since his arrival in 2017 (he’s played in 41 of 42 games in that time). In 19 career wins, he has thrown a TD pass, and it’s 47 overall against only three interceptions; in 22 losses, it’s 20 TD passes versus 27 interceptions. Of course, the Spartans have done a lot of winning recently – six games in a row to match their program’s second-longest streak. N.C. Central, though, is ranked No. 1 in the MEAC in fewest passing yards allowed.

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