(Stats Perform) – The strength of the FCS spring schedule is on display this week even if all the games are not on it.
There are a season-high nine games postponed for COVID-19 issues, including some pivotal conference matchups in Richmond at James Madison and Delaware at New Hampshire in CAA Football, Fordham at Holy Cross in the Patriot League and Monmouth at Gardner-Webb in the Big South.
Yet there are plenty of big games to go around with conference races heating up.
Here are five must-see games in Week 6 on Saturday (all times ET; TV coverage subject to change):
Southern: No. 11 Chattanooga (2-1, 2-0) at No. 13 Furman (3-1), noon (Nexstar/ESPN+)
Five of the nine SoCon teams have two or more conference losses, so the title picture is shrinking quickly. Furman coach Clay Hendrix has won each of his three matchups against Chattanooga, and there’s no doubt he wants the ball in the hands of running back Devin Wynn, who has three 100-yard performances this spring, kept out of the end zone only in the Paladins’ 14-13 loss at unbeaten VMI. Paladins ball carriers will be stalked by Mocs’ All-SoCon defensive end Devonnsha Marshall, who is off to a huge start with 16 tackles and four sacks in two spring games. The Mocs have gotten by without running back Ailym Ford, with Tyrell Price and Gino Appleberry grinding out yards while quarterback Drayton Arnold becomes increasingly comfortable with directing the offense.
MVFC: No. 6 South Dakota State (3-1) at No. 5 Southern Illinois (4-1, 3-1), 1 p.m. (ESPN+)
Southern Illinois has two top-five wins for the first time in school history and seeks to extend it to a top-six list. Injuries have led to the Salukis utilizing three different quarterbacks since the fall, and each – Kare Lyles, Nic Baker and Stone Labanowitz – has led a victory over a ranked opponent. The Salukis have not had an answer for South Dakota State junior running back Pierre Strong Jr., who’s averaged 12.3 yards per carry while racking up 417 yards and four touchdowns in the last two meetings. The Jackrabbits have scored on their first possession in all four games, with QB Mark Gronowski finishing it off with a scoring pass or run three times. The Jackrabbits had a 13-game streak with an interception end in the season opener, but they’ve responded with six picks in the last three games, including free safety Josh Manchigiah with a pair.
Southland: No. 16 Southeastern Louisiana (2-1) at No. 22 UIW (2-0), 3 p.m. (ESPN+)
With four Southland teams in the picture for FCS playoff bids, this is a must-win for Southeastern and nearly that even for unbeaten UIW given its schedule ahead. UIW won 27-21 in the 2019 matchup behind a 6-0 turnover difference. Cardinals freshman quarterback Cameron Ward has been a revelation, throwing four touchdowns in each road win and guiding an offense that ranks second nationally in yards per game (572). Ward has help, though, and senior Kevin Brown’s 13.6-yard average on 23 carries leads the FCS. Of course, Southeastern is all about offense as well, ranking fourth nationally in passing yards per game (369.7) and fifth in offensive yards per game (501.7). Quarterback Cole Kelley’s No. 1 target is C.J. Turner, who since the 2019 playoffs has gone over 125 receiving yards in four of five games, totaling 46 receptions for 669 yards and six TDs in that time. Incredibly, the Lions blocked three kicks in last week’s tight win over Northwestern State.
MVFC: No. 2 North Dakota (4-0) at No. 4 North Dakota State (4-1, 3-1), 3:30 p.m. (NBC ND/MidCo SN/ESPN+)
In this first meeting as conference opponents since 2003 (Division II North Central Conference), North Dakota State needs to win to retain a realistic chance of claiming a 10th straight Missouri Valley Football Conference title. The Bison have a 31-game home winning streak, which is tied for fourth-longest in FCS history. Still, the three-time defending national champ has looked vulnerable and may be undergoing a change at quarterback with true freshman Cam Miller cutting into Zeb Noland’s playing time. NDSU has committed eight turnovers (one on special teams) in its last three games, and its four-game spring averages for offensive yards (319.8) and points (21.3) would represent their Division I seasonal lows (the Central Arkansas game in the fall counts statistically, though). Conversely, North Dakota has enjoyed offensive efficiency behind redshirt freshman QB Tommy Schuster, who directs an offense that averages nearly 36 minutes in time of possession. The Fighting Hawks are seeking their first 5-0 start on the Division I level.
Big Sky: Cal Poly (0-1) at No. 21 UC Davis (1-1), 4 p.m. (CW31/Pluto TV 1063)
UC Davis is playing its 1,000th all-time game – how cool is that? Also, the Aggies, who are 525-441-33, are playing their home opener and taking on a rival in the “Battle for the Golden Horseshoe.” Their five-point loss at No. 2 Weber State was so impressive that it rose in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25 earlier this week. Running back Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. has 300 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns in two career games against Cal Poly. While the visiting Mustangs will have growing pains as first-year coach Beau Baldwin transitions the offense from the triple option to three-, sometimes four-wide receiver sets, he does have the most Big Sky conference wins (58) among active coaches. Before Jalen Hamler sets career highs for completions (22), attempts (34) and passing yards (243) against Southern Utah last week, his previous bests plus his career-long TD pass (69) to Quentin Harris were in a 2019 loss against UC Davis.