A three-game appetizer was great last Saturday, but it’s the extended Labor Day weekend that really gets the FCS college football main course, er season going.

The Week 1 schedule has 89 games that involve FCS programs, including nearly half (42) against FBS opponents, from Thursday night through Sunday.

With an overflow of fun storylines everywhere, here are the FCS’ best Week 1 games (all times ET; team records are 2022 unless noted):

Eastern Washington (3-8) vs. No. 2 North Dakota State (12-3)

FedEx Ground FCS Game of the Week

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN+/ABC North Dakota)

Notable: This is the first collegiate game to be played at U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings. NDSU has won the last four meetings for a 4-1 series lead, with three of the five games occurring in the FCS playoffs. The Bison, the 2022 FCS runners-up, will pound the ground attack with running back TaMerik Williams, having ranked fourth out of 130 FCS teams in rushing yards per game (265.7) last season, while EWU was dead last against the run (289). EWU quarterback Kekoa Visperas directed a season-ending win at Northern Colorado in his first career start.

The Pick: North Dakota State


CAA Football: No. 4 William & Mary (11-2) at Campbell (5-6)

Kickoff: 7 p.m. Thursday (FloSports)

Notable: Campbell’s inaugural CAA game is against 2022 co-champion W&M, which won last year’s first-ever meeting 37-21. Cornerback Jalen Jones (three interceptions, including a pick-six) and 2022 Buck Buchanan Award runner-up John Pius (two sacks) troubled Campbell quarterback Hajj-Malik Williams, while Malachi Imoh rushed for 56- and 20-yard touchdowns.

The Pick: William & Mary

No. 10 Sacramento State (12-1) at Nicholls (3-8)

Kickoff: 7 p.m. Thursday (ESPN+)

Notable: Sac State’s Andy Thompson makes his head coaching debut after being the defensive coordinator for a team that’s won a school-record 19 consecutive regular-season games as well as 10 straight on the road. Hornets All-American Marshel Martin leads active FCS tight ends in career receptions (157), receiving yards (2,078) and TD catches (25). The Colonels counter with RB Collin Guggenheim (1,606 yards, 15 TDs).

The Pick: Sacramento State

No. 21 Rhode Island (7-4) at Georgia State (4-8)

Kickoff: 7 p.m. Thursday (ESPN+)

Notable: URI last posted an FBS win at UMass in 2021. The NCAA granted a seventh season of eligibility for QB Kasim Hill, who has produced a combined 54 passing and rushing TDs in 25 games with the Rams. Georgia State has added transfer wide receiver Jacari Carter, who caught 125 passes in 25 games at Merrimack.

The Pick: Rhode Island

(2023 FCS vs. FBS Game Schedule)

No. 16 UC Davis (6-5) at Texas A&M-Commerce (5-6)

Kickoff: 8 p.m. Thursday (ESPN+)

Notable: Last year’s Big Sky first-team QB Miles Hastings returns for a UC Davis squad that last season scored 43+ points in six wins, but never more than 24 in five losses. New TAMUC coach Clint Dolezel makes the transition from arena football at his alma mater. The Lions features a Daryion Taylor-led secondary after leading the Southland in total defense (305.1 yards per game).

The Pick: UC Davis

(UC Davis is an under-the-radar Top 10 contender)

No. 23 Northern Iowa (6-5) at Iowa State (4-8)

Kickoff: 2 p.m. Saturday (ESPN+)

Notable: UNI is 6-24-3 all-time against Iowa State, losing 16-10 in their most-recent meeting in 2021, but going 3-3 in a stretch from 2007-16 (under 23rd-year coach Mark Farley). Theo Day led the MVFC in passing yards (3,121), TD passes (26) and pass efficiency (169) last year. Matthew Cook kicked four field goals against the Cyclones in his first game in 2019, and sits fourth on the Panthers’ all-time scoring list (325 points), just 59 shy of first place.

The Pick: Iowa State

Merrimack (8-3) at No. 5 Holy Cross (12-1)

Kickoff: 2 p.m. Saturday (ESPN+)

Notable: Merrimack pulled an upset at nationally ranked Holy Cross in 2021, but the Crusaders returned the favor last season, winning 31-17 behind QB Matthew Sluka’s 344 yards of total offense and three total TDs. Sluka went on to post the 15th season in which an FCS player reached 2,000 passing yards (2,489) and 1,000 rushing yards (1,234). As the Warriors tied the school record for wins last season, they went 8-0 when allowing 25 or fewer points.

The Pick: Holy Cross

Grambling State (3-8) vs. Hampton (4-7)

Kickoff: 3 p.m. Saturday in Harrison, New Jersey (NFL Network)

Notable: They’re playing football, not futbol, but doing so at Red Bull Arena, home of the New York Reds Bulls. Grambling needs stronger play behind center after a season with 11 TD passes to 11 interceptions and a minus-9 turnover margin. Hampton, which went 3-0 out of conference last season, returns leading rushers Darran Butts, Elijah Burris and Christopher Zellous and QB Malcolm Mays.

The Pick: Hampton

Tennessee State (4-7) at Notre Dame (2023: 1-0)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday (NBC/Peacock)

Notable: Notre Dame opened its 2023 season by defeating Navy 42-3 in Dublin, Ireland. This game is more about the storyline than a potential upset – it’s the first time Notre Dame will face both an HBCU and FCS program. Tennessee State QB Draylen Ellis, in his second season directing the Tigers, has 41 career TD passes, with seven games of three or more.

The Pick: Notre Dame

Austin Peay (7-4) at Southern Illinois (5-6)

Kickoff: 7 p.m. Saturday (ESPN+)

Notable: This game offers a playoff resume-builder for two programs that haven’t met since 1992. Points won’t be a problem with Austin Peay returning QB Mike DiLello (2,893 yards of total offense, 29 total TDs) and running backs CJ Evans Jr. and Jevon Jackson, and the host Salukis featuring QB Nic Baker (6,663 yards, 50 TDs in career), RB Ro Elliott and wide receiver D’Ante’ Cox.

The Pick: Southern Illinois

Chattanooga (7-4) at North Alabama (2023: 0-1)

Kickoff: 7 p.m. (ESPN+)

Notable: UNA, a mere 1-10 last season, was competitive in a 17-7 loss to No. 20 Mercer to open the Brent Dearmon coaching era. Safety Edwin White Schultz prevented a potential score by forcing a fumble inside the Lions’ 5, and he posted a game-high 14 tackles. Mocs All-American Ailym Ford has 3,443 rushing yards and 34 TDs in his career, ranking second among active FCS players in both statistics.

The Pick: Chattanooga

SWAC: Prairie View A&M (6-5) at Texas Southern (5-6)

Under-the-Radar Game of the Week

Kickoff: 8 p.m. Saturday (ESPN+)

Notable: The Florida A&M vs. Jackson State matchup is drawing much of the attention in the SWAC, but the 38th Labor Day Classic also is big, as both teams were in the middle of last year’s West Division title race until late November. PVAMU has added Mississippi Valley State transfer Caleb Johnson to its conference-leading rushing attack, which already boasted Ahmad Antoine and QB Trazon Connley. TSU will try to keep its defense off the field with dual-threat QB Andrew Body (5,236 total yards of offense).

The Pick: Prairie View A&M

No. 7 UIW (12-2) at UTEP (2023: 0-1)

Kickoff: 9 p.m. Saturday (ESPN+)

Notable: UIW seeks a third FBS win in as many seasons in Clint Killough’s head coaching debut (UTEP opened with a 17-14 loss at Jacksonville State). Transfer QB Zach Calzada, who led a Texas A&M win over top-ranked Alabama in 2021, takes over for 2022 Walter Payton Award recipient Lindsey Scott Jr., and an offense whose 51.5 points per game marked the second-highest seasonal average in FCS history.

The Pick: UIW


SWAC: Jackson State (2023: 1-0) vs. Florida A&M (9-2)

Kickoff: 3 p.m. Sunday in Miami Gardens, Florida (ESPN)

Notable: Jackson State gave new coach T.C. Taylor a win in his first game, 37-7 over South Carolina State. The SWAC opener against FAMU has meant everything the last two seasons as the Tigers went unbeaten in conference to advance to the title game and the Rattlers settled for second in the East Division despite going 7-1 each time. Saint Francis QB transfer Jason Brown (26 of 30 for 356 yards and three TDs) was awesome in his JSU debut, and is now matched against FAMU’s Jeremy Moussa, the SWAC preseason offensive player of the year.

The Pick: Florida A&M

Last Year’s Record: 127-58 (.687)

Last Week’s Record: 3-0 (1.000)