The road will be a bit bumpy for the FCS spring season 2021.
It continues to deliver in the field.
Last weekend alone, Weber State No. 3 gave Northern Arizona a 17-second lead and ended a 50-yard hail Mary when the time ran out. For the first time in 40 years, VMI switched to 5-0 with a touchdown pass from their backup quarterback with a 35-second lead to 5-0. Elsewhere, Austin Peay angered the top 10 in Jacksonville, Nicholls hung 75 points at Incarnate Word in the point-crazy Southland, Idaho defeated Southern Utah with a TD by 7 seconds, UC Davis defeated the state of Idaho with a TD 8th Seconds left, and Tennessee State defeated UT Martin with a late two-point conversion stop. Then there were walk-off field goals from Missouri State (via SIU) and Davidson (via Morehead State). The magic of football in smaller schools is unstoppable between the lines.
The coronavirus still exists outside the lines.
The two biggest games of the week, No. 4 South Dakota State No. 2 North Dakota State and No. 1 James Madison No. 15 Richmond, were both played. The former will take place on April 17th, and we’ll see how the Colonial Athletic Association deals with the latter. Missouri State-North Dakota, Albany-Delaware, and Lehigh-Lafayette, one of the sport’s greatest rivalry games, are also off. Albany, Illinois State, Chattanooga, and Cal Poly have signed out for the remainder of the season.
With three weeks remaining in the regular season, seven of Stats Perform FCS’s top 25 have played three or fewer games and the number of cancellations is worrying. But the show goes on for at least some schools.
Note: The rankings listed below are the STATS FCS Top 25 found on NCAA.comand all times are east.
The biggest games of the week are now in the west
# 3 Weber State Wildcats in Southern Utah (4 p.m., Pluto TV)
# 9 Eastern Washington at # 11 UC Davis (4:05 p.m., Pluto TV)
# 24 Idaho, Idaho (6 p.m., Pluto TV)
Out of 14 Big Sky games this spring, seven were decided with five or less points and ten with 10 or less. Just last week, three were decided in the last 10 seconds. It was amazing.
Weber State took part in two of these seven thrillers, which is great from an observability point of view, but it was difficult to consider the third-placed Wildcats as a truly elitist team. Since a simple cruise over the state of Idaho, they’ve needed late-game magic to get past both UC Davis and Northern Arizona, and while they should hit 5-0 with relative ease, they’re 19-point favorites over 1-3 Southern Utah on Saturday, then against Idaho State again next week – it would certainly be useful if they started looking like their leaderboard.
You couldn’t be that far away. While the Wildcats really struggled to move the soccer ball against UC Davis, last week’s problems were a little tougher: they dumped the NAU 2 and lost a fumble on the 5.
WSU supports Josh Davis, Daniel Wright Jr. and Dontae McMillan averaging 7.1 yards per carry over 25 carries per game. While sacking quarterback Randall Johnson in the first half against NAU, he ended up with an 11v19 pass and was grounded out of key yards in the running game. It’s unclear whether Johnson or freshman Bronson Barron will take the most snaps off the middle. Barron was the starter but missed the NAU game after injuring his wrist against UCD. The WSU should move the ball against a shaky SUU defense, but the Thunderbirds will test the secondary WSU – SUU quarterback Justin Miller completes 70% of his passes with a pass rating of 168.2.
Another Big Sky favorite has switched between dominance and shaky play: EMU was upset at the Idaho spring opener and had to survive a track meeting against Idaho State (46-42) two weeks later, but the Eagles also beat NAU and Cal Poly a combined score of 107-23. The defense doesn’t show up every week, but EMU quarterback Eric Barriere lived up to his pre-season hype: he completed 1,491 yards and 13 touchdowns in four games and increased the pace in the last two games to 69% of his passes 13 yards per degree.
UC Davis has the best defense EMU has faced. The Aggies allow 2.9 yards per rush and have picked up five passes in four games. Linebackers Cole Hansen and Connor Airey have together defended 10.5 TFLs, three sacks, and three passes, and UCD averages nearly four sacks per game. The offense was inconsistent like the EMU defense, but the running game is explosive. The winner of that game is in the best position for a general playoff bid. The loser has two losses and could miss the dance.
There’s one more team with a successful conference record and potential playoff ambitions: Paul Petrinos Idaho Vandals. (Petrino’s brother Bobby saw his Missouri team rise 4-1 in the MVFC last week. The bears are also working their way up to the bladder.) They’ll be playing against a team from Idaho who has played three games in a row Thriller to Lose Two.
In just three games, Idaho has thrown three different quarterbacks with at least 20 passes. Starter Mike Beaudry missed last week’s win against SUU and newcomer CJ Jordan left the game in the third quarter with an injury. That let third stringer Nikhil Nayar down the track and damn if he didn’t. He completed 11 of 19 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and his 7-yard hit against Cutrell Haywood by 7 seconds won the game.
Petrino isn’t sure who will play at QB, but whoever is behind the center may need to develop some scoring drives to keep up with a productive ISU passing game. Wyoming transfer Tyler Vander Waal averages 294 yards per game, and wide receivers Tanner Conner, Jalen Henderson and Xavier Guillory have combined 818 yards and 19.5 yards per catch. We call the ISU defense polite charitable, but the offense is absolutely solid.
If EMU-UCD is a potential playoff elimination game, next week’s EMU-Idaho rematch could be one too. But the Vandals have to get past a team they beat by 34 points on their last trip to Pocatello.
Projected scores over the Caesars from William Hill betting lines: Weber State 33.5, Southern Utah 14.5 (WSU-19, over / under 48); UC Davis 34.5, EMU 33.0 (UCD -1.5, over / under 67.5); Idaho 30.5, Idaho State 25.0 (UI -5.5, over / under 55.5).
Prime time for Coach Prime
South of Jackson State (5 p.m., ESPN)
Deion Sanders has been headline news since he took office as head coach in Jackson State last fall. First, he signed a motherlode for FBS transfers in his 2021 recruiting class. Then, before most of those transfers were even eligible, he got JSU off to an exciting start that spring. His Tigers are 3-1 and only suffered a narrow loss to Alabama State two weeks ago. That gave potential control of the SWAC East Race to ASU, but if they win they could still be well positioned for a spot in the SWAC Championship on May 1st.
Easier said than done.
In the three remaining games they face Southern and Prairie View A & M, two of the better teams in the West, and unbeaten on April 10 against Alabama A & M (OK, 1-0).
Southern was the West’s favorite in the preseason. The Dawson Odum Jaguars gave Alabama State their only break in the season opener but suffered a loss the next week to get UAPB going. Both the SU defense and quarterback Ladarius Skelton have been slow to get rolling this spring – although Skelton is still a great runner, he struggled to throw the ball and saw backup John Lampley giving him that took away some of these tasks.
The Jags can still let the ball go, and they’re only 1.5 point underdogs per Caesars. This one is on ESPN, and it could get on the wire. It’s the FCS way.
VMI Watch: A Cinderella story becomes Cinderella
ETSU at No. 10 VMI (1.30 p.m., ESPN +)
Nothing ends a Cinderella story with more cruelty than a quarterback injury. Two weeks ago, VMI went 4-0 for the first time since 1981 with a sweeping OT win against Samford – Reece Udinski threw the game-winning two-point switch to a torn ACL. The school kept the severity of the injury under wraps for the most part last week leading up to the Keydets victory over Wofford, but backup Seth Morgan continued the run with a late comeback, and this week Udinski was officially expelled for the rest of the spring.
After a slow start, Morgan looked really good. He finished 25-for-34 for 375 yards and four points, leading the Keydets to points on five of their last six runs to convert a 17-7 half-time deficit into a 36-31 win. Now he faces a strong ETSU defense that allows 18 points per game and 4.2 meters per game.
With the Chattanooga opt-out, VMI (5-0) and ETSU (3-1) are the two best teams in the Southern Conference rankings. Can the keydets keep the story going?
See other games
Friday Night: # 23 North Iowa, South Dakota (7 p.m., ESPN +). 3-3, UNI is likely to finish in the playoff race, but the Panthers defense is still worth the price of entry.
Saturday afternoon: # 16 Villanova, Maine (noon, FloFootball.com). We’ve only seen Villanova twice this season and once had a dramatic loss to Rhode Island. The Wildcats don’t have much time to create a playoff case, but they stick with a win in the CAA race.
Saturday afternoon: Robert Morris at No. 7 Kennesaw State (1:00 p.m., ESPN +). KSU is the Great South class, but the owls haven’t exactly lit the fires of the world against Charleston Southern and Dixie State lately. Can the owls find fourth or fifth gear?
Saturday afternoon: # 13 Nicholls in McNeese (1 p.m., ESPN +). Nicholls allowed 71 points in one week and scored 75 the next. The Southland is the ultimate basketball score conference this year, and you should check out every single fucking Southland game.
Saturday afternoon: # 14 Murray State in Austin Peay (3:00 p.m., ESPN +). Murray State has won five straight wins this spring. The racers face the state of Jacksonville next week, right after getting the team that upset the JSU last week.
Saturday night: Lamar, southeast Louisiana # 25 (7 p.m., ESPN +). See above. Check out every Southland game you can.