The universe is eager to take the field.
For several weeks in March, it seemed that the two best college football teams in the Missouri Valley might be the stars of North Dakota and Southern Illinois. The Fighting Hawks and Salukis went a combined 7-1 in conference play, while heavyweights North Dakota and South Dakota were both held to losses of 38-14 (SJU vs. SJU) and 28-17 (SJU vs. SJU), respectively, on the 27th. February looked very fragile. The spring season for this unique football team has seen some turbulence and it looked like it was going to see more.
Then came last weekend. NDSU defeated North Dakota 34-13 in the Fargodome, while SDSU traveled to Carbondale and defeated SIU 44-3. The Bison and Jackrabbits forced their opponents to rush for a combined 708 yards.
Of course, the vulnerability has not gone away. For example, NDSU quarterback Zeb Noland completed two of his first four passes for 49 yards against UND, but then he completed just 3-of-9 passes and two interceptions. At some point in the playoffs, he’s going to have to make a big move, and we don’t know if he will. But last week reminded us that we probably shouldn’t go too far in talking about CHAOS. In the end, the top four teams according to Stats Perform are James Madison, NDSU, Weber State and SDSU – pretty much how it started a few weeks ago.
The sixth week of the spring season brings some calm before the approaching storm. Next Saturday – hoping for no postponements – SDSU plays NDSU and JMU plays Richmond, Eastern Washington plays UC Davis, Southern plays Jackson State and the rivalry of rivalries, Lehigh plays Lafayette. But this week, the program is a little easier.
The Storyline cabinet is never empty! Let’s see what we have in store for the weekend.
Message: Below are the STATS FCS Top 25 rankings on NCAA.com, all times are East Coast.
#1 still has something to prove.
James Madison v William & Mary (1 p.m., FloFootball.com)
The Colonial Athletic Association season has been repeatedly postponed; to date, only two teams (Stony Brook and Elon) have played three games in the conference, and both are 0-3. With four weeks left in the regular season, we’re still trying to learn more about some of the highest-ranked teams in the country.
Percy Agyei-Obese will be key to James Madison’s rustic attack for William & Mary. Tim Heitman-USA Sports Today
First-seeded JMU faced two postponed games and has not played since narrowly escaping a loss against Elon three weeks ago. The Dukes’ opponent, however, defeated Elon by three touchdowns last Saturday.
JMU has defeated William & Mary four times in a row, by an average score of 42-11. The Dukes’ offense took a while to warm up – no points in the first five tries against Robert Morris, two scores in the first nine tries against Elon – but the defense was impenetrable. Big linebacker Mike Green has 6.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in three games. JMU is averaging over nine TFLs per game and allowing just 2.8 yards per play.
W&M wasn’t much more generous. The Tribe allowed just 31 points against Richmond and Elon, and while he didn’t score that many behind the line, he had already defended 13 passes, intercepted one and broken up 12 others. Malcolm Spencer accounted for three of those breaks and one of the team’s nine TFLs. JMU’s Gage Moloney is now considered the starting quarterback after Cole Johnson’s four interceptions; this sticky secondary will be his biggest test yet.
With the defense of this dynamic, whoever generates the most shots will likely win. JMU’s Percy Agee-Obese averaged 6.2 yards per carry and scored four points, while W&M freshman Malachi Imoh had 137 yards and three scores in just 10 carries last week against Elon. Easy points will be an important trade-off, as it will be hard to get readers.
#13 Incarnate Word to #17 Nicholls (afternoon, ESPN+)
Cameron Ward, who has a number of offensive weapons at his disposal, has put up great statistics in his first season with Incarnate Word. Marvin Pfeiffer/San Antonio Express-News via AP.
Nicholls and Sam Houston were widely considered the favorites in the Southland this spring, and they did not disappoint with a combined record of 6-1. (Nicholls’ only loss: against SVSU, but in inflated form).
But another candidate has entered the scene. Incarnate Word has just one win in the last four seasons, but the Cardinals are 3-0 this spring and are averaging 49 points per game.
Quarterback Cameron Ward throws for 351 yards per game, receivers Tre Wolfe and Jalyn Campbell average 18.3 yards per catch and running back Kevin Brown has amassed 585 yards on just 47 combined throws and receptions. Nicholls is explosive in his own right, but the Colonels allowed 71 points and 556 yards to SHSU when they took their final timeout. This will likely be a track match, and UFO can do enough damage to get to 4-0.
VMI watch: brave, bold and yet invincible
No 14 VMI – Wofford (1 p.m., ESPN+)
You have a chance to make your first 4-0 start in 40 years, and you just scored to get within one point of overtime. Will you let the game play out or go for two points and the win?
VMI head coach Scott Wachenheim opted for the latter. And it worked.
First time since 1981 4-0 in extension @VMI_Football @ESPN_BillC pic.twitter.com/6YCZ6kriAq
– Blake Gardner (@_BlakeGardner) March 20, 2021
Reece Udinski’s two-point conversion to Jacob Herres gave the Keydets a 38-37 victory over Samford and the aforementioned 4-0 record. They had a half game on the road at Chattanooga in the Southern Conference race, and after winning three games on defense, their fast-paced offense got the better of Samford when it needed to.
The road will not get any easier on Saturday. Wofford is just 1-2, but the Terriers have made the FCS playoffs four times in a row and suffered a loss against Samford two weeks ago. Like everyone in the FCS, they have an explosive game, and linebacker Michel Mason has five PFLs and three sacks in three games. Can fumbling defender Connor Riddle and company keep VMI on their toes?
It’s still rivalry week somewhere in.
Randolph-Macon v Hampden-Sydney (1pm, Boxcast.TV)
Pandemic season has temporarily sidelined many rivalry games in recent months, but one of the oldest sports kicks off its 125th season Saturday afternoon. Hampden-Sydney and Randolph-Macon (Division III) have played each other since 1893, and while HSC leads the overall series by four points (58-54-11), RMC has won eight of its last nine games – including a 45-3 crushing in 2019 – to significantly close the gap.
Both teams are 3-0 in this shortened spring season and have performed equally well against common opponents: HSC beat Shenandoah and Guilford by 57 points and OMC by 58. The omens point to an exciting match, and the contrasts are great: HSC is allowing 4 points per game and 3 yards per play, while RMC is scoring 40 points per game and gaining 5.7 yards per play.
More games to watch
Saturday afternoon: No 6 North Dakota to Youngstown (noon, ESPN+). Despite the loss in Fargo, UND is still tied with NDSU and SDSU atop the MVFC standings and remains in good position for the playoffs….. At least as long as the Hawks take care of business going forward.
Saturday afternoon: Mercer, at home to #9 Chattanooga (noon, ESPN+). Rusty Wright’s mocs remain undefeated in the SoCon race…. narrowly. They return home to meet Mercer with a total of three points after wins on the road against The Citadel and Furman.
Saturday afternoon: Duquesne to Bryant (noon, ESPN3). Duquesne is 3-0 in the Northeast Conference and has already defeated one of its other NEC opponents (Stony Brook). And now the other. Bryant is 2-1 after back-to-back one-point victories.
Saturday afternoon: North Dakota (2nd) – South Dakota (2 p.m., ESPN+). Last week, all was revealed: NDSU can always force opponents to give up. We can probably assume that will be the case this week, especially since Youngstown State allowed 304 yards rushing last week.
Saturday afternoon: Northern Arizona v. #3 Weber State (3 p.m., Pluto TV). The Wildcats should have a chance to build some rhythm offensively against the NAU defense that allowed 607 yards and 45 points against EWU in the previous game.
Saturday afternoon: Cal Poly, 12 Eastern Washington (4:05 p.m., Pluto TV). EWU star Eric Barrier has thrown for 1,207 yards in three games, and the Eagles needed it. After a loss against Idaho, they narrowly survived Idaho State last time, 46-42.
Saturday night: Alabama State v. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (8 p.m., ESPN3). The potentially fantastic game between Jackson State and Prairie View A&M has been postponed, but the SWAC still has a top seed. ASU handed JSU Deion Sanders its first defeat in a thrilling game last week, thanks to Ezra Gray’s 195 yards on the ground and three scores, but now the Hornets must contend with the surprising West Division leader, UAPB. The Golden Lions have already won over Southern and Grambling this spring.
Sunday afternoon: Austin Peay, home opener against No. 7 Jacksonville (3 p.m., ESPN+). Sunday is OVC day again, and it’s APSU’s turn to try something the other four OVC teams aren’t doing: staying close to JSU. They won four conference games by an average of 31-12.
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