Five must-see games in FCS college football this weekend
By CRAIG HALEY
(Stats Perform) - McNeese's double-overtime win at Tarleton last Saturday to kick off the FCS spring season has whet the appetite for more excitement.
This weekend, a number of other schools will jump into the unusual season, although the original schedule has shrunk due to COVID-19 and weather reasons. The Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule particularly stands out.
Following are five must-see games on the FCS schedule between Feb. 19-21 (all times ET; TV subject to change):
South Dakota State at Northern Iowa, 8 p.m. Friday (MyUTV/CW/Panther SN/ESPN+)
This is the FCS Game of the Week. UNI eliminated South Dakota State, 13-10, in the second round of the 2019 playoffs just three weeks after getting hammered by the Jackrabbits, 38-7. Panthers coach Mark Farley is on the doorstep of a milestone with 99 all-time Missouri Valley wins - already the conference record. He's hoping for a revival of the run game after the 2019 season marked the Farley era low in rushing yards per game (110.9), with the previous two the next-lowest of his 19 seasons. Conversely, SDSU junior Pierre Strong Jr. eats up rushing yards: Since his arrival in 2018, he ranks second in the FCS in rushing average (8.2 on 260 carries) among players with 100 or more carries.
Southern Illinois at North Dakota, 1 p.m. Saturday (Midco Sports Network/ESPN+)
UND is glad to be inside the Alerus Center for its first game as a Missouri Valley member. The Fighting Hawks have won 33 straight home openers (the active high among FCS programs) as well as their last seven home games since 2018, an excellent 24-9 overall in the friendly confines under seventh-year coach Bubba Schweigert. SIU sophomore Javon Williams Jr. is working on four straight games over 100 rushing yards, including 135 in a Top 25 win over Southeast Missouri in October, and has accounted for a touchdown on a run, reception or pass in 12 of his last 14 games - 23 overall in that span.
Edward Waters at Jackson State, 2 p.m. Sunday (ESPN3)
It's been Prime Time all the time at Jackson State since the SWAC school hired Deion Sanders as head coach in September. As he makes his debut against a Division II opponent, the Tigers are seeking to reverse a run of six straight seasons without a winning record (it includes a 5-5 mark in 2018). SWAC opponents surely took notice in the preseason when linebacker Keonte Hampton, the conference's 2019 defensive player of the year, told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, "I honestly think we should dominate every opponent we play, and we should go undefeated."
Austin Peay at Tennessee Tech, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN+)
Austin Peay's C.J. Evans opened the college football season in August with a 75-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage in the FCS Kickoff game, but it basically then went downhill for the 2019 Ohio Valley Conference co-champ (0-3), which later hired 31-year-old Scotty Walden as the youngest head coach in Division I. Wide receivers DeAngelo Wilson and Baniko Harley had a hand in 27 touchdowns in 2019, but were shut out this past fall. The Govs will be hard-pressed to shut down TTU quarterback Bailey Fisher, who as a sophomore set numerous school records, including total offensive yards (3,132) and total touchdowns (32) in a season.
Youngstown State at North Dakota State, 3:30 p.m. (NBC North Dakota/ESPN+)
Youngstown State first-year coach Doug Phillips wasn't exactly given a cupcake for his debut. It may be more his Penguins trying to avoid getting devoured inside the Fargodome. The three-time defending FCS champion Bison have won 29 straight home games, including 24 by an average of 27.5 points during their FCS-record 38-game winning streak. Zeb Noland, who once threw for 360 yards against Oklahoma as Iowa State's quarterback, will make his first start as a Bison, and he can dish to wide receiver Christian Watson, whose 21.5-yard average on 34 receptions in 2019 is the high during NDSU's Division I era (since 2004).
Updated February 18, 2021