The FCS spring season will have its biggest schedule to date this weekend, giving hope to it being the best one as well, although the action has been sizzling already.
The Big South Conference and Patriot and Pioneer leagues will join all the others with the start of their conference schedule in what’s basically a sprint to the finish line.
With plenty of good games left off the following list, here are five must-see games on Saturday (all times ET; TV coverage subject to change):
Southern: No. 20 Wofford (1-1) Samford (1-2), 1 p.m. (ESPN+)
This game defines anxious feelings felt in the shortened spring season. With the national playoffs shrunk by 25 percent to 16 teams (10 conference champs and six at-large selections), a team such as Wofford, which has won three straight SoCon titles and made four straight postseason appearances, will be playing with fire with a second loss. Seeking to pass the ball more often, the Terriers are averaging 174.5 rushing yards per game, down from a No. 3 national ranking of nearly 306 per game in 2019. Samford is a Wofford nemesis, too, with the Bulldogs having won the last five meetings under coach Chris Hatcher. In the post-Devlin Hodges passing era, they have committed to the ground game behind running back Jay Stanton, with the team’s small sample of 187.3 rushing yards per game the program high since 2000.
Big South: Charleston Southern (0-0) at No. 9 Kennesaw State (1-0, 0-0), 1 p.m. (ESPN+)
This matchup features Kennesaw’s powerful triple option run game, which ranked sixth or better nationally (twice No. 1) in each of the Owls’ first five seasons from 2015-19, against Charleston Southern’s stout defensive line, featuring ends Nick Salley and Anton Williams and tackle Shaundre Mims. The Buccaneers’ athletic program was in the midst of a COVID-19 pause when Kennesaw cruised past Shorter in its spring opener. In that game, quarterback Tommy Bryant rushed for three touchdowns, giving him 16 on the ground in his last seven games. The Bucs, though, figured out a lot to close coach Autry Denson’s first campaign (6-6) in 2019, with their season-ending, four-game win streak their first since 2016 and now tied for the third-longest active streak in the FCS.
Missouri Valley: No. 4 Northern Iowa (2-1) at No. 10 (tie) Southern Illinois (3-1, 2-1), 1 p.m. (ESPN+)
UNI has allowed only one offensive touchdown in its last 10 quarters heading into the visit with big-game hunter Southern Illinois, which in its last home game ended North Dakota State’s FCS-record 39-game winning streak. UNI linebacker Spencer Cuvelier is coming off earning MVFC defensive player of the week, but a balanced defensive effort reflects in the Panthers having 10 players with double-digit tackles, but none more than 20. At SIU, former safety Jeremy Chinn is off to NFL stardom, but note how the Salukis have reloaded in the secondary with opponents completing only 51.2 percent of passes and averaging only 106 passing yards per game. SIU has moved into the national Top 10 for the first time since 2010, and an upset here would be another step toward a potential first playoff bid since 2009.
Southland: No. 7 Nicholls (3-0, 2-0) at No. 12 Sam Houston (1-0), 1 p.m. (ESPN+)
Nicholls better hope star running back Julien Gums has his sea legs because his 36 carries in last Saturday’s 31-24 win at Northwestern State were the most by a Colonel since 1996. Of course, the two-time defending Southland champ has a variety of offensive firepower, including quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr. averaging nearly 308 yards of total offense with 12 total touchdowns through three wins. The Colonels are running into a Sam Houston defense that last season was the best of the K.C. Keeler era, but the Bearkats instead were back to their old’ offensive ways in a season-opening, 43-38 shootout against Southeastern Louisiana, with signal caller Eric Schmid having a hand in 516 (passing and rushing) of their 672 yards of total offense. The Bearkats’ 17-0 shutout of Nicholls in 2019 marked their seventh straight home win against a Top 10 opponent.
Big Sky: No. 23 UC Davis (1-0) at No. 2 Weber State (1-0), 3 p.m. (KJZZ TV/Pluto TV 1054)
Both teams have had a game postponed due to prior COVID-19 issues in Cal Poly’s program. When they were on the field, they received a great initial answer to their biggest question – quarterback: Weber State freshman Bronson Barron passed for four touchdowns at Idaho State in his first action since fall 2017, and UC Davis junior Hunter Rodrigues threw for three scores at Idaho in his first game as former standout Jake Maier’s successor. Among active FCS players, UC Davis running back Ulonzo Gilliam (119.7) and Weber counterpart Josh Davis (107.1) rank 1-2 in career scrimmage yards per game. Weber, three-time defending Big Sky champ and holding its highest all-time FCS ranking, has won 28 of its last 32 home games under seventh-year coach Jay Hill. He’s also 4-0 against UC Davis.