While following the leads of Florida A&M and Furman, a bunch of FCS college football teams are ready to ask this week, “Why wait?”
Why wait, that is, until the final full week of the regular season when the penultimate Saturday offers the chance for teams to clinch a conference title and a postseason bid – like FAMU in the SWAC East Division and Furman in the Southern Conference already.
A handful of teams figure to do both during an important schedule of games.
Here’s a look at the FCS’ best Week 11 matchups (all times ET on Saturday):
Big South-OVC: Southeast Missouri (4-5, 3-1) at No. 21 UT Martin (7-2, 4-1)
FedEx Ground FCS Game of the Week
Kickoff: 3 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: Whoa, Nellie, the series is tied 19-19. After meeting three times in under eight months during the 2021 calendar year, these Ohio Valley rivals did not square off last year, so after they tied for the conference title, a coin flip tiebreaker led to SEMO advancing to the FCS playoffs and UTM missing out on them. UTM would claim the new combo league’s automatic playoff bid with a victory over SEMO and a Gardner-Webb loss in either of its final two regular-season games. UTM’s offense features running back Sam Franklin (1,095 rushing yards, No. 4 in FCS), but quarterback Kinkead Dent is coming off his second game with five touchdown passes. Snakebitten SEMO has suffered four losses against FCS competition by a combined 10 points. Geno Hess rushed for 150 yards against Robert Morris last Saturday, and needs 59 more to reach 5,000 in his career, but he’s facing a UTM defense that limits opponents to a conference-low 92.8 rushing yards per game. Linebacker Bryce Norman (9.1) and safety Lawrence Johnson (7.1) rank second and fifth, respectively, in the Big South-OVC in tackles per game.
The Pick: UT Martin
MVFC: No. 1 South Dakota St. (9-0, 6-0) at No. 22 Youngstown St. (6-3, 4-2)
Kickoff: Noon (ESPN+)
Notable: South Dakota State, which is on a 23-game winning streak, has won the last four meetings and is 12-3 against Youngstown State during its Division I era (since 2004). With LBs Jason Freeman (60), Isaiah Stalbird (49) and Saiveon Williamson (48) leading the team in tackles, the Jackrabbits rank No. 1 in the FCS in scoring defense (11.9 points allowed per game) and No. 2 in total defense (264.6 yards allowed per game). YSU, behind QB Mitch Davidson (162.9 passer rating), has won time of possession in eight of nine games, ranking second in the FCS in overall average (34 minutes, 46 seconds). The Penguins have allowed 355 passing yards on average in losses, but only 188.7 in wins.
The Pick: South Dakota State
Patriot: Fordham (6-3, 2-2) at No. 25 Lafayette (7-2, 3-1)
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: Despite an upset loss to Colgate last Saturday, Lafayette controls its destiny with the PL’s automatic playoff bid (two more wins guarantee it). The Leopards have been slipping defensively, allowing 68 combined points to their first five FCS opponents, but 25+ and 97 overall to the last three. Sophomore Jamar Curtis is 37 yards shy of being their first 1,000-yard rusher since 2014. Fordham’s Julius Loughridge is already there with 1,039 rushing yards. Junior linebacker James Conway has surpassed 100 tackles for the third straight season.
The Pick: Lafayette
MVFC: No. 10 North Dakota (6-3, 4-2) at No. 6 South Dakota (7-2, 5-1)
Kickoff: 1 p.m. (ESPN+/Midco Sports)
Notable: There’s strong history between the coaches: USD’s Bob Nielson hired UND’s Bubba Schweigert to be his successor at Minnesota Duluth after Nielson moved from head coach to athletic director following the 2003 season. In this 101st all-time meeting of the programs, USD faces its third straight top-10 opponent in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25 Poll. The Coyotes rank fourth in the FCS in scoring defense (16.1-point average), with Brendan Webb coming off a program-record four sacks at Southern Illinois and fellow LB Brock Mogensen posting 12+ tackles in three straight games. UND (64-31-5 series lead) is 5-0 at home, but only 1-3 on the road. Tommy Schuster has become the Fighting Hawks’ all-time TD pass leader (61) after back-to-back career highs (four versus Indiana State, then five at Murray State).
The Pick: South Dakota
Ivy: Penn (6-2, 3-2) at No. 24 Harvard (7-1, 4-1)
Kickoff: 1 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: With a win, Harvard will clinch at least a share of the Ivy League title. Jaden Craig made his first career start behind center (298 yards of total offense, two total TDs) as the Crimson topped Columbia for their 900th all-time win. They’ve committed only eight turnovers, but six have come in their last three games. Penn’s Malachi Hosley rushed for 261 yards against Cornell – the third-most in program history – while earning Week 10 FedEx Ground FCS National Freshman Player of the Week.
The Pick: Harvard
CAA: Elon (5-4, 5-1) at Richmond (6-3, 5-1)
Kickoff: 2 p.m. (FloFootball)
Notable: These are two of five teams tied for first place in the CAA (also UAlbany, Delaware and Villanova). Elon enters off two consecutive wins, with QB Matthew Downing averaging over 20 yards per completion and passing for three TDs in each game. Richmond figures to dent the Phoenix defense on the ground, and wide receiver Nick DeGannaro (51 receptions) leads the CAA with eight TD catches. Linebacker Tristan Wheeler needs 11 tackles to reach 100+ for the fourth time. Elon won last year’s matchup 30-27 in two overtimes.
The Pick: Richmond
Southern: Samford (5-4, 4-3) at No. 23 Mercer (7-3, 5-2)
Kickoff: 3 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: Samford won last year’s matchup 50-44 in two OTs: Bulldogs QB Michael Hiers passed for 454 yards and four TDs, but was knocked out of the game in the first OT, and Mercer’s Ty James set a SoCon single-game record with 351 receiving yards. Mercer seeks a fourth straight win to end the regular season and perhaps lock up its first FCS playoff bid. James ranks second in the FCS with 982 receiving yards. Samford sits fifth and in the middle of the standings, with wins over teams below them and losses to teams above them.
The Pick: Mercer
Big Sky: No. 4 Idaho (7-2, 5-1) at Weber State (4-5, 2-4)
Kickoff: 3 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: Two of the younger FCS squads are meeting for only the fourth time, with Weber State leading 2-1 and winning the lone matchup in Ogden, Utah (25-19 in 1995). In his two seasons, Idaho is 13-0 when Anthony Woods has 63+ rushing yards and 11-0 when he has 13+ carries. In just his third start, Weber State freshman Richie Munoz accounted for 262 yards of total offense and three TD passes as the Wildcats won 33-21 at Idaho State last Saturday. The ‘Cats have 25 sacks (second-most in 12-team Big Sky), while the Vandals have allowed 24 (third-most).
The Pick: Idaho
MVFC: No. 11 Southern Illinois (6-3, 3-3) at No. 12 North Dakota State (6-3, 3-3)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. (ESPN+/ABC ND)
Notable: The winner probably guarantees itself of an at-large bid playoff bid, while the losing team will fall below .500 in the MVFC and face a must-win in its regular season finale. SIU’s Nic Baker (8,642 passing yards, 62 TD passes in career) was the Salukis’ QB when they ended NDSU’s FCS-record 39-game winning streak in the spring 2021 season. NDSU went with a heavy dose of QB Cam Miller (29 pass attempts, 17 rushes) out of 64 offensive plays in a 33-16 loss at South Dakota State last Saturday.
The Pick: North Dakota State
MEAC: No. 7 North Carolina Central (8-1, 3-0) at Howard (4-5, 2-1)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Notable: NCCU holds its highest-ever FCS ranking, and with a win will clinch at least a share of the MEAC title and the conference’s bid to the Celebration Bowl for a second consecutive season. Although they wound up sharing the 2022 MEAC title, the Eagles beat Howard 50-21 for the 10th straight time since 1995. Both QBs have had huge careers: NCCU’s Davius Richard with a combined 11,115 yards and 105 TDs on runs and passes, and Howard’s Quinton Williams at 7,755 and 66, respectively.
The Pick: North Carolina Central
Southland: Lamar (5-4, 4-1) at Nicholls (4-4, 5-0 including Southland forfeit)
Under-the-Radar Game of the Week
Kickoff: 4 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: Nicholls, coming off Week 10 FedEx Ground FCS National Team of the Week, would clinch a share of the Southland title and the conference’s automatic playoff bid with a win, but Lamar would forge a three-way share of first place along with UIW by winning on the road. Nicholls’ Collin Guggenheim has rushed for 11 TDs in the Colonels’ last four games. In Lamar’s last three games, its defense has scored three touchdowns.
The Pick: Nicholls
UAC: Eastern Kentucky (4-5, 3-1) at Central Arkansas (6-3, 3-1)
Kickoff: 5 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: Both teams trail Austin Peay (7-2, 4-0) in the standings, with UCA needing to sweep the other pair in the next two weeks to claim the UAC’s automatic playoff bid. EKU QB Parker McKinney (12,117 passing yards, 91 TD passes in career) is 3-0 in his career starts against UCA, missing a loss on Nov. 14, 2020. While UCA is known for its deep running backs unit, QB Will McElvain has passed for 20 TDs against just three interceptions. Defensive end David Walker has 113 tackles, 38.5 tackles for loss and 20 sacks over 20 games the last two seasons.
The Pick: Central Arkansas
Big Sky: No. 3 Montana (8-1, 5-1) at Portland State (4-5, 3-3)
Kickoff: 9 p.m. (ESPN+/Scripps)
Notable: Montana has the inside track to the Big Sky’s automatic playoff bid – guaranteed of it with a win here followed by one over Montana State. Running back Eli Gillman is coming off back-to-back 100+ games and is second in the Big Sky with 727 overall. The Griz rank third in the FCS in scoring defense (15.8) after posting a 34-7 win over Sacramento State, which marked the Hornets’ lowest point total against an FCS opponent since their 2016 matchup. Among FCS teams, PSU has the most points scored (91, North American) and allowed (81, Oregon) this season.
The Pick: Montana
Last Week’s Record: 7-6 (.538)
Overall Record: 95-44 (.683)