Sometimes the playoffs that occur before the playoffs are the best thing going in FCS college football.
Everybody’s dreaming the dream of putting on their dancin’ shoes.
The final full week of the regular season is full of enticing scenarios, with conference championships and postseason bids at stake from coast to coast.
With anticipation at a high level, here are some of the best games in Week 12 across the FCS (all times ET Saturday unless noted):
FedEx Ground FCS Game of the Week/Big Sky: No. 13 Montana (7-3, 4-3) at No. 3 Montana State (9-1, 7-0)
Kickoff: 2 p.m. (Montana TN/Scripps/ESPN+)
Notable: ESPN’s “College GameDay” crew members may want to stick around after their broadcast because arguably the fiercest FCS rivalry turns 121 with Montana State seeking a perfect Big Sky season (Sacramento State also is 7-0) and Montana perhaps needing a win to qualify for a record 26th FCS playoff appearance. The visiting Griz, who hold a 73-41-5 series lead, have shaken off three straight losses with a 120-7 scoring advantage over their last two games, and running back Nick Ostmo has totaled 469 yards and six touchdowns from scrimmage. The matchup boasts MSU’s Big Sky-leading offense (505.8 yards per game) against UM’s No. 1 defense (290.7). Against Cal Poly last week, Bobcats sophomore Marqui Johnson rushed for 242 yards and four TDs on 13 carries, joining quarterbacks Tommy Mellott and Sean Johnson above the 200-yard mark in games this season.
The Pick: Montana State
Southland: No. 23 Southeastern Louisiana (7-3, 4-1) at Nicholls (3-7, 3-2)
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Thursday (ESPN+)
Notable: The River Bell Classic is tied 16-16 all-time. With a win, SLU will earn a share of the Southland title and an automatic playoff bid. The QB rotation of Cephus Johnson III and Eli Sawyer have combined to average 311.5 yards of total offense during the Lions’ four-game winning streak. Nicholls senior Julien Gums has three straight games of 100+ rushing yards and 3,334 career yards entering his final game. Linebacker Eli Ennis is the reigning FedEx Ground FCS National Freshman Player of the Week.
The Pick: Southeastern Louisiana
(Here’s our FCS playoff bracket projection heading into Week 12 games)
Northeast: Saint Francis (8-2, 6-0) at Merrimack (8-2, 6-0)
Kickoff: Noon (ESPN3)
Notable: The winner will claim the NEC title, but Saint Francis is playoff-bound regardless because Merrimack isn’t playoff-eligible until next year. SFU’s NEC-leading offense is one of five in the FCS with three 500+ yard receivers (Makai Jackson, 804; Elijah Sarratt, 587; and Dawson Snyder, 535). Merrimack’s +11 turnover margin is tied for fifth-best in the nation.
The Pick: Saint Francis
Big South: North Carolina A&T (7-3, 4-0) at Gardner-Webb (5-5, 4-0)
Kickoff: Noon (ESPN+)
Notable: The winner will secure the Big South’s outright championship and automatic playoff bid. N.C. A&T is in its second and final Big South season, while G-W won the conference’s first two titles in 2002 and ’03, but none since then. A&T RB Bhayshul Tuten (1,552 yards, 14 TDs from scrimmage) seeks a 10th straight game with 100+ rushing yards, which would tie the conference record. In G-W’s three-game winning streak, QB Bailey Fisher has averaged 376.7 passing yards with nine TDs versus one interception.
The Pick: Gardner-Webb
CAA: No. 8 William & Mary (9-1, 6-1) at No. 11 Richmond (8-2, 6-1)
Kickoff: Noon (NBC Sports Washington/FloSports)
Notable: Richmond holds a 64-63-5 edge in the tight series. The Capital Cup winner will earn at least a share of the CAA title, with Richmond definitely (and W&M perhaps) adding the conference’s automatic playoff bid. W&M’s Bronson Yoder is 28 rushing yards shy of 1,000 for an offense that has four straight games of 300+ on the ground. The Spiders’ Tristan Wheeler-led defense has allowed only 92.6 rushing yards per game to FCS opponents.
The Pick: William & Mary
Ivy: Yale (7-2, 5-1) at Harvard (6-3, 4-2)
Kickoff: Noon (ESPNU)
Notable: Yale holds a 68-61-8 series lead as “The Game” returns to Harvard Stadium for the first time since 2016. Yale will gain at least a share of the league title with a win. Harvard running back Aidan Borguet (1,120) leads the Ivy League in rushing yards, while Bulldogs QB Nolan Grooms (682) and RBs Tre Peterson (650) and Joshua Pitsenberger (585) are 2-3-4. Borguet rushed for a career-high 269 yards and four TDs on just 11 carries in the 2019 matchup.
The Pick: Yale
Patriot: Lehigh (2-8, 2-3) at Lafayette (3-7, 2-3)
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: College football’s most-played series turns 158, with Lafayette holding an 80-72-5 all-time lead. Lafayette defensive end Malik Hamm (49 tackles for loss and 31 sacks in career) is the most-feared pass rusher in the game, but the Leopards have surrendered 39 sacks, the fourth-most in the FCS and surely to the liking of Lehigh linebacker Mike DeNucci (16.5 TFLs, 8.5 sacks).
The Pick: Lehigh
Pioneer: Dayton (8-2, 6-1) at Davidson (7-3, 5-2)
Kickoff: 1 p.m. (Davidson All-Access)
Notable: The winner will secure the PFL’s automatic bid to the playoffs, but only Dayton has a chance to claim a share of the league title, and a St. Thomas loss to Butler also is necessary. Dayton RB Jake Chisholm has come on strong with 530 scrimmage yards and eight TDs in the last three games. Davidson, which is on a 12-game home winning streak, has the FCS’ No. 1 rushing offense, but the average splits in wins (412.3) and losses (229.3) is big. The visiting Flyers are allowing 91.5 rushing yards per game.
The Pick: Davidson
SoCon: No. 19 Mercer (7-3) at No. 9 Samford (9-1, 7-0)
Kickoff: 1 p.m. (ESPN3)
Notable: Samford, the SoCon’s automatic playoff qualifier, is seeking to complete an outright championship, while Mercer needs a win to have a chance for its first-ever playoff appearance. Mercer’s offense, led by QB Fred Payton (30 TD passes), has lacked the run in losses (under 75 yards each time). Devron Harper, who’s fourth in the FCS with 16 TDs, has scored via receiving (10), rushing (four), kick return (one) and punt return (one). Samford QB Michael Hiers has 31 TD passes with just three interceptions, and his 76.7 completion percentage (286 of 373) is ahead of the FCS single-season record (75.2).
The Pick: Mercer
WAC: Stephen F. Austin (5-5, 2-2) at Abilene Christian (7-3, 4-0)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: While the winner will claim the WAC title, who earns the AQ from the conference’s partnership with the ASUN is very much undecided. Chris Campus’ walk-off field goal gave SFA a 41-38 win over ACU on Oct. 8, but the matchup didn’t count in the WAC standings. SFA WR Xavier Gipson (4,092 receiving yards, 36 TDs in career) is the headliner, but either Miles Reed or Jerrell Wimbley has given the Lumberjack 99+ rushing yards in five straight games. ACU’s tackling is by committee, with 14 players between 22 and 44 tackles, led by safety Elijah Moffett.
The Pick: Abilene Christian
MVFC: No. 16 North Dakota (7-3, 5-2) at No. 4 North Dakota State (8-2, 6-1)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. (ABC North Dakota/ESPN+)
Notable: In a series that dates to 1894, UND leads 62-49-3, but NDSU has won all four games at the FCS level since 2015. While NDSU’s leading rusher Hunter Luepke could be sidelined by a shoulder injury, TaMerik Williams and Kobe Johnson have handled more of the recent workload. UND’s average time of possession (34 minutes, 42 seconds) ranks fourth in the FCS, although the Fighting Hawks’ opponents average two more yards per game than them.
The Pick: North Dakota State
ASUN: Jacksonville State (8-2) at Central Arkansas (5-5, 3-1)
Kickoff: 5 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: Central Arkansas has clinched a share of the ASUN title and would make it outright with a victory, but it heads into the weekend trailing WAC teams Abilene Christian and Stephen F. Austin in the power rankings that will determine the automatic playoff bid from the ASUN-WAC. Sophomore Darius Hale needs 55 rushing yards for his second 1,000-yard campaign. DEs David Walker (11 sacks) and Logan Jessup (7.5 sacks) will pressure JSU QB Zion Webb in the Conference USA-bound Gamecocks’ final FCS game.
The Pick: Central Arkansas
Big Sky: No. 24 UC Davis (6-4, 5-2) at No. 2 Sacramento State (10-0, 7-0)
Kickoff: 5 p.m. (CW31/ESPN+)
Notable: All the Hornets do is win in the Big Sky, baby – their 18 straight wins mark the second-longest streak in Big Sky history, and they’re 22-1 in conference games during coach Troy Taylor’s three seasons. A win not only completes a perfect regular season, but it would likely give them one of the top two seeds in the playoffs, which assures home-field advantage through the semifinal round. Once 1-4, UC Davis enters on a five-game winning with a 52-point average in them. RB Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. (1,132 rushing yards this season, 4,567 in career) is the reigning FedEx Ground FCS National Offensive Player of the Week.
The Pick: Sacramento State
Last Week’s Record: 8-7 (.533)
Season Record: 99-49 (.669)
(There is still more: Tracking FCS conference champions and postseason qualifiers)