There are always many scenarios surrounding FCS conference championships and postseason bids heading into the final Saturday of the regular season, but occasionally the game results bring everything into a nice, neat package.
Not this year.
A schedule of pivotal matchups and rivalry games offers the chance for upset results on Saturday, then upset feelings on Sunday, when the playoff selection committee announces the 24-team pairings.
Seven of the 10 automatic qualifying bids and all 14 at-large bids, of course, remain up in the air. So, too, are the MEAC bid to the Celebration Bowl and one of two spots in the SWAC Championship Game.
As we head to the big weekend, here is a look at some of the FCS’ best Week 12 matchups (all times ET on Saturday).
Big Sky: No. 4 Montana State (8-2, 6-1) at No. 3 Montana (9-1, 6-1)
FedEx Ground FCS Game of the Week
Kickoff: 2 p.m. (ESPN+/Scripps/Montana TV Network)
Notable: Cat/Griz, aka “The Brawl of the Wild,” is the fiercest rivalry among FCS fan bases, and this year’s 122nd meeting marks the first with both teams ranked in the FCS top-5, and will provide an outright Big Sky championship and surely a No. 2 or 3 seed in the playoffs. UM holds a 73-42-5 series lead, having vacated its 2011 win due to NCAA sanctions. MSU, with quarterbacks Sean Chambers (23 total touchdowns) and Tommy Mellott (10) at the controls, often steamrolls opponents, ranking No. 1 in the FCS in points per game (43.8) and No. 2 in rushing yards per game (302.5) and total offensive yards per game (489.5). UM ranks No. 1 in the Big Sky and No. 4 in the FCS in both fewest rushing yards (84.8) and points (15.2) allowed per game, led by linebacker Braxton Hill (83 tackles, three takeaways). Notably, the Griz have taken off under QB Clifton McDowell, who’s 6-0 as a starter.
The Pick: Montana State
Patriot: No. 24 Lafayette (8-2, 4-1) at Lehigh (2-8, 1-4)
Kickoff: Noon (ESPN+)
Notable: This is the 159th renewal of college football’s most-played series, with Lafayette holding an 81-72-5 all-time lead and each of the last four meetings decided by seven or fewer points. The Leopards will claim an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs as long as they earn at least a share of the Patriot League title. They rank first in the league in scoring defense (22.3 points per game) and second in total defense (348.8 yards per game); Lehigh’s offense is last in both statistical averages (18.2 and 298.4, respectively).
The Pick: Lafayette
Ivy: No. 23 Harvard (8-1, 5-1) at Yale (6-3, 4-2)
Kickoff: Noon (ESPNU)
Notable: Both rivals are completing their 150th seasons, and Yale has a 69-61-8 series lead before “The Game” turns 139. A win would give the Bulldogs a share of the Ivy League title alongside Harvard (Dartmouth also remains alive for a title share). Harvard tops the league in scoring average (33.3), with sophomore QB Jayden Craig coming off offensive player of the week honors in his second career start. Yale’s No. 2 scoring offense (30.7) boasts Nolan Grooms (Ivy-high 20 TD passes) and wide receiver Mason Tipton (755 yards, 10 TDs – both league highs).
The Pick: Yale
Northeast: Duquesne (7-3, 5-1) at Merrimack (5-5, 4-2)
Under-the-Radar Game of the Week
Kickoff: Noon (NEC Front Row)
Notable: The winner receives the NEC’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs, and Duquesne seeks to rebound after failing to clinch it at home against Stonehill. It’s feast or famine with Dukes QB Darius Perrantes, who has NEC highs in passing yards (2,073) and TD passes (18), but also the FCS high in interceptions (17). Merrimack relies on running the ball with Tyvon Edmonds Jr. (NEC-leading 1,170 rushing yards) and stopping the run (conference-low 133.2 rushing yards allowed per game).
The Pick: Merrimack
Pioneer: Drake (7-3, 7-0) at Butler (7-3, 5-2)
Kickoff: Noon (FloFootball)
Notable: Drake is seeking a first-ever bid to the FCS playoffs to add to its first league title since 2012 (a Davidson loss to Dayton also would give the Bulldogs the bid). Defensive end Finn Claypool (16.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks) anchors a defense that is allowing only 12.6 points per game to league opponents. However, Butler QB Bret Bushka tops the league in total TDs (20) and RB Jyran Mitchell is No. 1 in rushing yardage (1,213).
The Pick: Butler
CAA: Richmond (7-3, 6-1) at William & Mary (6-4, 4-3)
Kickoff: 1 p.m. (FloFootball)
Notable: The series, renamed the Capital Cup in 2009, is tied 64-64-5 entering the 134th matchup (fourth-most among FCS rivalries). Richmond, part of a four-way tie atop CAA Football, has allowed only one rushing TD in seven wins, but nine in three losses. Linebacker Tristan Wheeler is up to 466 career tackles, with 100+ in a season four times. W&M redshirt freshman QB Tyler Hughes, in for regular starter Darius Wilson, accounted for three TDs in a 31-10 win at Hampton last Saturday (the Tribe trailed 10-7 after three quarters).
The Pick: William & Mary
CAA: No. 10 Villanova (8-2, 6-1) at No. 7 Delaware (8-2, 6-1)
Kickoff: 1 p.m. (FloFootball/Delaware Sports Network)
Notable: The winner is guaranteed at least a share of the CAA title and it could claim the conference’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. Villanova has won eight straight visits to Delaware, and 15 of the last 17 overall meetings. Wildcats WR Rayjoun Pringle leads the FCS with 27.8 yards per catch, and it’s a 49.6-yard average over his eight TDs. With RB Marcus Yarns (14 TD runs, three TD catches) slowed by injury the last two weeks, the Blue Hens have been below 100 rushing yards for the only times against FCS foes.
The Pick: Delaware
(CAA Football title race reflects across the Stats Perform FCS Top 25 Poll)
CAA: Monmouth (4-6, 3-4) at No. 12 UAlbany (8-3, 6-1)
Kickoff: 1 p.m. (FloFootball)
Notable: In its 11th CAA season, UAlbany stands a win away from sharing the conference title for the first time. The Great Danes are the only FCS team playing 12 regular-season games, and it’s helped QB Reece Poffenbarger to a CAA-high 27 TD passes (WRs Brevin Easton and Julian Hicks have caught eight each). However, Monmouth knows offense as well, boasting the FCS leaders in rushing yards (Jaden Shirden, 1,429, 142.9 per game) and receiving yards (Dymere Miller, 1,243, 124.3 per game).
The Pick: UAlbany
MEAC: Morgan State (4-5, 3-1) at Howard (5-5, 3-1)
Kickoff: 1 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: After Howard routed then-No. 7 North Carolina Central 50-20 to earn FedEx Ground National FCS Team of the Week, the Bison can clinch their first trip to the Celebration Bowl by defeating Morgan State, something they’ve done five straight times. Quarterback Quinton Williams has surpassed 250 yards of total offense and passed for two TDs in each of his three career games against MSU. The Bears would complete an even bigger surprise – their first Celebration Bowl bid – by winning here and having NCCU upset by Delaware State.
The Pick: Howard
UAC: Central Arkansas (7-3, 4-1) at No. 15 Austin Peay (8-2, 5-0)
Kickoff: 2 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: Fresh off a game-winning Hail Mary pass, UCA seeks to earn a share of the United Athletic Conference title, with the winner gaining the automatic playoff bid. Will McElvain has come on strong, passing for 2,309 yards and 23 TDs against just four interceptions. APSU has lost all four previous meetings with the Bears, but it’s on an eight-game winning streak this season. Mike DiLiello is tied for second in the FCS with 27 TD passes, but he’s been sacked 29 times and must avoid UCA DEs David Walker and Logan Jessup. Both teams have a 1,000-yard rusher: UCA’s ShunDerrick Powell (1,001) and APSU’s Jevon Jackson (1,119).
The Pick: Central Arkansas
Southland: UIW (7-2, 5-1) at Houston Christian (5-4, 4-2)
Kickoff: 3 p.m. (ESPN+)
Notable: Both teams have a forfeit win over Northwestern State, which counts only toward their conference record, but HCU is guaranteed of a first .500-or-better record in program history. UIW was a national semifinalist last season, but its at-large resume doesn’t include a win over a team currently above .500. The Cardinals, behind QBs Zach Calzada and Richard Torres, average 313.8 passing yards per game (No. 4 in the FCS). Their Stephen Parker-led defense is 7-0 when allowing under 150 rushing yards and has surrendered over 300 in each loss. HCU LB Rodney Dansby has 339 tackles in just 31 career games.
The Pick: UIW
MVFC: No. 9 North Dakota State (7-3, 4-3) at No. 22 Northern Iowa (6-4, 5-2)
Kickoff: 5 p.m. (ESPN+/ABC North Dakota)
Notable: UNI would surely power into the FCS playoffs if it ends a nine-game losing streak against NDSU. The Panthers’ four lowest offensive yardage and point totals have occurred in their losses, and those games have included 15 of their 19 turnovers. NDSU only had one turnover in its first five games, but has committed at least one and eight overall in its last five games. The Bison seek ball control behind QB Cam Miller, with their 33-minute, 38-second average time of possession ranking fifth in the FCS.
The Pick: North Dakota State
Big Sky: No. 8 Sacramento State (7-3, 4-3) at UC Davis (6-4, 4-3)
Kickoff: 5 p.m. (ESPN+/KQCA My58)
Notable: Sac State has defeated its rival three straight times in the Causeway Classic, scoring 27 points in each win. This year’s game offers UC Davis the chance for a signature win on its playoff resume (none of the six wins are against a team above .500). Hornets RB Marcus Fulcher, who missed three-plus games, has come back with his two highest rushing totals: 87 yards against Montana and 121 versus Cal Poly. UC Davis’ Lan Larison is healthy after missing four games, and he’s averaged 28 carries and 189 yards while scoring seven TDs in his last four games.
The Pick: UC Davis
Last Week’s Record: 11-2 (.846)
Overall Record: 106-46 (.697)