You can look high and low, east and west, basically anywhere in FCS college football this week.
Conference games with title race implications abound.
Like last week, there are a few possibilities for FedEx Ground FCS Game of the Week, but it’s hard to ignore No. 1 South Dakota State facing arguably its biggest road test of the season at No. 4 South Dakota.
Here’s a look at the FCS’ best Week 9 matchups (all times ET on Saturday with one noted exception):
MVFC: No. 1 South Dakota State (7-0, 4-0) at No. 4 South Dakota (6-1, 4-0)
FedEx Ground FCS Game of the Week
Kickoff: 2 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: First place in the MVFC is on the line. SDSU holds either a 56-53-7 or 56-52-7 all-time lead (yes, depending on the school) in a rivalry that dates to 1889. The defending national champion Jackrabbits posted a 28-3 victory last season as part of their 21-game winning streak, which is tied for the eighth-longest in FCS history. Columbia ranks first in the subdivision in fewest points allowed per game (12.3), but then it’s SDSU (12.6) second and USD (14.4) third. The ‘Rabbits will mix the run of Isaiah Davis (19 career games with 100+ rushing yards) with the pass of QB Mark Gronowski (16 TD passes, FCS-best 181.0 passing efficiency). Coyotes QB Aidan Bouman (10 TDs to one interception) also has benefited from strong pass protection to play with consistency. A missing link last year due to injury, RB Travis Theis is coming off his third 100+ game of the season.
The Pick: South Dakota State
MEAC: South Carolina State (3-4, 1-0) at No. 13 North Carolina Central (6-1, 1-0)
Under-the-Radar Game of the Week
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Thursday (ESPNU)
Notable: SCSU has won three straight meetings, including the last two by a combined five points. Coach Buddy Pough is seeking his 150th career win against an NCCU program that’s off to its best start since 2006. Eagles quarterback Davius Richard is nearing 10,000 yards of total offense (9,536) and 100 combined passing and rushing touchdowns (94) in his career.
The Pick: North Carolina Central
Patriot: No. 21 Lafayette (6-1, 2-0) at Georgetown (4-4, 2-1)
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: Lafayette’s 38-35 upset at four-time defending Patriot League champion Holy Cross earned FedEx Ground FCS Team of the Week and its first Top 25 ranking since 2009. Running back Jamar Curtis (929) is nearing just the Leopards’ third 1,000-yard rushing season in the last 16 years (Ross Scheuerman in 2013 and ’14). Georgetown, which owns a home win over Fordham, seeks ball control as one of three FCS teams to have a pair of 500+ yard rushers (Joshua Stakely and Naieem Kearney).
The Pick: Lafayette
Patriot: Holy Cross (4-3, 2-1) at Fordham (5-2, 1-1)
Kickoff: 1 p.m. (SNY/ESPN+)
Notable: Holy Cross’ 53-52 overtime win over Fordham last year was its sixth straight in the series. Crusaders senior Matthew Sluka is coming off 330 rushing yards against Lafayette, a Division I single-game record for a quarterback. Among FCS QBs, Fordham’s CJ Montes has thrown the most TD passes without an interception (17, and the next-best is only five).
The Pick: Holy Cross
MVFC: No. 23 Northern Iowa (4-3, 3-1) at Illinois State (4-3, 2-2)
Kickoff: 1 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: The host Redbirds have won the last two meetings, sacking UNI QB Theo Day 10 times in the process. This season, linebacker Amir Abdullah ranks third in the FCS with 8.5 sacks. UNI’s Matthew Cook is 11-for-12 on field goal attempts this season and has made 78 in his career – the second-most in FCS history behind former James Madison PK Ethan Ratke (101).
The Pick: Illinois State
Big South-OVC: No. 14 UT Martin (6-1, 3-0) at Gardner-Webb (3-4, 1-1)
Kickoff: 1:30 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: Sam Franklin has been over 100 rushing yards in five of UTM’s six games against FCS opponents. Meanwhile, the Skyhawks defense has allowed only seven points in the second half of its last five games, and only one of those opponents had 100+ rushing yards overall (just barely, Tennessee State with 105). G-W, facing a must-win in the conference race, has won its last five home games. Linebacker William McRainey has reached double-figure tackles in three straight games and defensive end Ty French is nearing the school’s all-time sacks record with 28.5.
The Pick: Gardner-Webb
Pioneer: Marist (4-3, 4-1) at St. Thomas (5-3, 4-1)
Kickoff: 2 p.m. (Midco Sports Plus/FOX 9+)
Notable: Both teams face a must-win in the PFL race with Davidson and Drake off to 4-0 starts. Marist is averaging just 285.9 yards per game, the lowest average of any FCS team with a winning record. St. Thomas RB Hope Adebayo is coming off a career-best 197 rushing yards against Stetson and is joined by fellow junior Shawn Shipman with six career games over 100.
The Pick: St. Thomas
Southern: Mercer (5-3, 3-2) at No. 10 Western Carolina (5-2, 3-1)
Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: Even with the dynamic wide receivers duo of Ty James and Devon Harper, Mercer’s 331.9 yards per game rank as the lowest of the Bears’ 12 Division I seasons, and down from last year’s single-season-high 472.7. WCU seeks to bounce back from its first FCS loss (29-17 to Furman) and stay on track for a potential first playoff appearance since 1983. Cole Gonzales has 14 TD passes and only one interception in the Caamounts’ wins, but it’s two and three, respectively, in the losses.
The Pick: Western Carolina
CAA: Campbell (4-3, 3-2) at Richmond (5-3, 4-1)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. (FloSports)
Notable: The winning margin in each of Campbell’s last four games is six points or less. Hajj-Malik Williams’ 74.9 completion percentage ranks second in the FCS, and he’s thrown for 15 TDs against just three interceptions. Richmond is one of three teams with an FCS-high four defensive touchdowns. Linebacker Tristan Wheeler is up to 443 career tackles, just three shy of tying for the second-most in school history. He’s the active leader in all levels of NCAA football.
The Pick: Richmond
SWAC: Alabama A&M (4-3, 2-2) vs. Alabama State (3-3, 2-2)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. in Birmingham (ESPN+)
Notable: ASU beat its rival 24-17 last year when the Magic City Classic drew 67,532 to Legion Field – the FCS season high in attendance. A&M has converted over 46% of its third downs and is averaging 34 points per game (way up from last year’s 20.5 average). ASU, behind LB Colton Adams (74 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss) is allowing just 18.3 points per game. The many events surrounding the game include a parade, tailgate party and halftime bands show.
The Pick: Alabama State
CAA: No. 5 Delaware (6-1, 4-0) at Towson (3-4, 2-2)
Kickoff: 4 p.m. (FloSports)
Notable: The first-place Blue Hens, the only unbeaten in the 15-member CAA, have gone 10 straight quarters without surrendering a touchdown, and they’re allowing just 13 points per game to FCS opponents. Running back Marcus Yarns has scored two TDs in five different games and has 11 overall (tied for the fifth-most in the FCS). Towson, under first-year coach Pete Shinnick, is 0-3 at home, but its road wins include 2022 CAA co-champs New Hampshire and William & Mary. Do-everything back D’Ago Hunter ranks second in both the CAA and FCS in all-purpose yards per game (159.8).
The Pick: Delaware
SWAC: Prairie View A&M (3-4, 3-1) at No. 16 Florida A&M (6-1, 5-0)
Kickoff: 4 p.m. (ESPNU)
Notable: FAMU would clinch the East Division spot in the SWAC championship game with a win coupled by an Alabama A&M loss to Alabama State. The Rattlers have won 17 straight games inside Bragg Memorial Stadium, and QB Jeremy Mousa is averaging nearly 279 passing yards with 17 TD passes to three interceptions in seven home starts the last two years. PVAMU, tied for the West Division lead with Alcorn State and Southern, has allowed just six TD passes in its last four games after surrendering 14 in the first three outings.
The Pick: Florida A&M
Southland: No. 8 UIW (6-1, 3-0) at Lamar (4-3, 3-0)
Kickoff: 4 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: Nicholls joins these two teams in a three-way share of first place. With QB Zach Calzada sidelined last week, UIW freshman Richard Torres came off the bench to produce four second-half TDs in a 35-24 rally past McNeese. Brandon Porter is averaging an FCS-best 104.3 receiving yards per game. Lamar, under first-year Pete Rossomando, has gone from allowing 37.7 points per game last year to 22.4 this season. After facing a difficult early schedule, QB Robert Coleman has passed for seven TDs and no interceptions during a four-game winning streak.
The Pick: UIW
Big Sky: No. 2 Montana State (6-1, 4-0) at No. 9 Idaho (5-2, 3-1)
Kickoff: 4 p.m. (ESPN+/Scripps/Mountain Television Network)
Notable: This is the first meeting when both teams are nationally ranked (45 overall, 12 on FCS level). MSU is facing back-to-back top 10 opponents on the road following a win at Sacramento State. The Bobcats, who so capably utilize two QBs in Tommy Mellott and Sean Chambers, lead the FCS in rushing yards per game (325.6). Idaho, coming off a bye following a home loss to Montana, is minus-three in turnover margin in each of its two losses. The Vandals, behind QB Gevani McCoy, seek ball control, as they average a Big Sky-best 33 minutes, 26 seconds (also ninth in the FCS).
The Pick: Montana State
UAC: Tarleton (5-3, 1-2) at No. 18 Central Arkansas (5-2, 2-0)
Kickoff: 5 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: Both offenses boast breakaway threats, with UCA averaging 36.7 points per game (11th among all 128 FCS teams) and Tarleton 31.4 (25th). UCA RB ShunDerrick Powell was all-world in September, but QB Will McElvain has come on strong with 12 TDs passes in a four-game winning streak. Kayvon Britten (840 yards and 10 TDs from scrimmage) leads the way, but the visiting Texans also get touches to fellow RBs Derrel Kelley III and Caleb Lewis.
The Pick: Central Arkansas
Last Week’s Record: 6-4 (.600)
Overall Record: 77-34 (.694)