The road to the 2021 FCS spring season will be a bit bumpy.
On the ground, he continues to act.
Last weekend, No. 3 Weber State gave Northern Arizona a 17-second lead before making a 50-yard Hail Mary on the final play of the game. For the first time since 1960, VMI took a 5-0 lead on a touchdown pass from the backup quarterback with 35 seconds left to play. Elsewhere, Austin Peay defeated top-10 candidate Jacksonville State, Nicholls scored 75 points against Incarnate Word in a scoreless game in the Southland, Idaho State defeated Southern Utah State with a TD with seven seconds left, UC Davis defeated Idaho State with a TD with eight seconds left, and Tennessee beat UT Martin with a late stop on the 2-point conversion. Missouri State (via SIU) and Davidson (via Morehead State) then got goals. The magic of small town football is unstoppable between the lines.
Outside the lines, the coronavirus still exists.
The two most important games of the week, no. 4 South Dakota State vs. 2 North Dakota State and no. 1 James Madison vs. no. 15 Richmond, both went to zero. The first will take place on the 17th. April does, and we’ll see how the Colonial Athletic Association handles the latter. The Missouri-North Dakota, Albany-Delaware and Lehigh-Lafayette games, one of the biggest rivalries in the sport, have also been canceled. Albany, Illinois, Chattanooga and Cal Poly were chosen to finish the rest of the season.
Three weeks into the regular season, seven of the top 25 FCS stats have played three games or less, and the number of cancelled games is concerning. But the show goes on, at least for some schools.
Message: Below are the STATS FCS Top 25 rankings on NCAA.com, all times are East Coast.
Most important games of the week now in the West.
#3 Wildcats of Weber State, Southern Utah (4 p.m., Pluto TV)
#9 Eastern Washington, 11 UC Davis (4:05 p.m., Pluto TV)
#24 Idaho, Idaho (6 p.m., Pluto TV)
Of the 14 Big Sky games so far this spring, seven were decided by five points or less and 10 by 10 or less. Last week alone, three were resolved in the last 10 seconds. It was incredible.
Weber State was involved in two of those seven thriller games, which is great from an observer’s perspective, but that made it hard to see the third-seeded Wildcats as a true top team. After easily beating Idaho State, they needed some magic in the late games to beat UC Davis and Northern Arizona, and although they should get to 5-0 relatively easily – they’re 19-point favorites against Southern Utah (1-3) on Saturday and play Idaho State again next week – it would certainly help if they started to look like their place in the rankings.
Maybe they’re not so far apart. If the Wildcats really struggled against UC Davis, last week’s problems were a little more undulating: They threw an interception at the NAU 2 and lost the ball at the 5.
WSU’s Josh Davis, Daniel Wright Jr. and Dontay McMillan are averaging 7.1 yards per carry on 25 carries per game, and while quarterback Randall Johnson struggled with sacks in the first half against NAU, he finished the game with 11-for-19 passing and a key one-yard touchdown run. It is not yet known if Johnson or junior Bronson Barron will make most of the appearances behind center; Barron was the starter but missed the NAU game after suffering a wrist injury against UCD. WSU will have to run the ball against SUU’s shaky defense, but the Thunderbirds will test WSU’s defense. SUU quarterback Justin Miller passes in 70 percent of his passes for a 168.2 rating.
Weber State is a 19-point favorite against Southern Utah on Saturday. Photo: Chris Gardner/Getty Images
Another Big Sky favorite balances between dominance and shaky play: EWU was defeated by Idaho in the spring opener and had to face a game against Idaho State, 46-42, two weeks later, but the Eagles also defeated NAU and Cal Poly by a combined score of 107-23. The defense doesn’t show up every week, but EWU quarterback Eric Barrier has lived up to his preseason expectations: He has thrown for 1,491 yards and 13 touchdowns in four games, and he has picked up the pace in the last two games, completing 69% of his passes for 13 yards per completion.
UC Davis has the best defense EWU has ever had. The Aggies are allowing 2.9 yards rushing and have intercepted five passes in four games. Linebackers Cole Hansen and Connor Airey combined for 10.5 TFLs, three sacks and three deflected passes, giving UCD an average of four sacks per game. The offense, like EWU’s defense, has been inconsistent, but the running game has been explosive. The winner is in a better position to make the playoffs; the loser has two losses and could miss the dance.
There is one more team with a record and possible playoff aspirations: The vandal from Idaho, Paul Petrino. (Petrino’s brother Bobby saw his Missouri State team go 4-1 in the MVFC last week – the Bears are also on the bubble). They will be up against an Idaho State team that has been to three consecutive scrimmages and lost two.
In just three games, Idaho has used three different quarterbacks who have completed at least 20 passes. Starter Mike Beaudry missed last week’s win over SUU, and junior C.J. Jordan left the game with an injury in the third quarter. As a result, third driver Nikhil Nayyar had to be sidelined and he’ll be damned if he doesn’t. He completed 11 of 19 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and a seven-yard pass to Cutrell Heywood with seven seconds left gave him the victory.
Petrino isn’t saying who the QB will be yet, but whoever is behind center will have to think about scoring to keep up with ISU’s prolific passing game. Wyoming transfer Tyler Vander Waal is averaging 294 yards per game, while receivers Tanner Conner, Jalen Henderson and Xavier Guillory are combining for 818 yards, 19.5 per catch. UIS protection is what we’ll politely call charity, but offense is a stumbling block.
If the EWU-UCD game is a possible playoff rematch, then next week’s game between EWU and Idaho could be as well. But the Vandals need to beat a team that beat them by 34 points on their last trip to Pocatello.
Predictable points, via Caesars, on William Hill’s betting lines: Weber State 33.5, Southern Utah 14.5 (WSU -19, plus/minus 48); UC Davis 34.5, EWU 33.0 (UCD -1.5, plus/minus 67.5); Idaho 30.5, Idaho State 25.0 (UI -5.5, plus/minus 55.5).
Prime Time for Coach Prime
Southern v Jackson State (5 p.m., ESPN)
Deion Sanders has been a force since taking over as head coach at Jackson State last fall. First, he signed a maternity transfer to the FBS in his 2021 recruiting class. Then, before most of those transfers were eligible, he led JSU to an exciting start this spring. His Tigers are 3-1 with a tough defeat against Alabama State two weeks ago. That said, ASU has potentially lost control of the SWAC East race, but with a win, they can still earn a spot in the SWAC Championship on opening day. Can win.
Easier said than done.
Jackson State’s game against Southern will be broadcast Saturday at 5 p.m. on ESPN. IT. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
In their three remaining games, they will face Southern and Prairie View A&M, two of the top teams in the West, as well as undefeated Alabama A&M (OK, 1-0) on the 10th. April.
Southern was the preseason favorite in the West; Dawson Odum of the Jaguars handed Alabama State its only defeat in the season opener, but had to sit in UAPB’s starting lineup the following week. SU’s defense and quarterback Ladarius Skelton have been slow to get going this spring – Skelton is still a great runner, but he struggles to throw the ball and had to watch backup John Lampley take on some of those duties.
But the Jaguars can still move the ball around and are only 1.5 points behind, according to Caesars. It’s on ESPN and it could be exciting until the end. This is the way of the CSF.
VMI clock: The Cinderella story becomes Cinderella.
ECU v 10 VMI (1:30 PM, ESPN+)
Nothing ends a Cinderella story with more violence than an injured quarterback. Two weeks ago, VMI got to 4-0 for the first time since 1981 in a win over Samford – Rhys Udinski threw a two-point conversion that turned out to be a torn ACL. The school monitored the severity of the injury during the final week before the Keydets’ win over Wofford, but backup Seth Morgan continued to return late, and this week Udinsky was officially sidelined for the rest of the spring.
After a slow start, Morgan was very good. He finished 25-for-34 for 375 yards and four scores and led the Keydets on five of their final six drives to turn a 17-7 deficit at halftime into a 36-31 victory. He will now face a strong ETSU defense that allows 18 points per game and 4.2 yards per play.
In the case of Chattanooga, VMI (5-0) and ETSU (3-1) are the top two teams in the Southern Conference standings. Can the Keydets preserve history?
Other games to watch
Saturday afternoon: #16 Villanova, Maine (noon, FloFootball.com). We’ve only seen Villanova twice this season, and once they suffered a dramatic loss against Rhode Island. The Wildcats don’t have much time to build a playoff run, but a win will keep them in the CAA race.
Saturday afternoon: Robert Morris, No. 7 Kennesaw State (1 p.m., ESPN+). KSU is the class of the Big South, but the Owls haven’t exactly sparkled lately against Charleston Southern and Dixie State. Can the Owls find fourth or fifth gear?
Saturday afternoon: Nicholls (13th) – McNeese (1 p.m., ESPN+). Nicholls allowed 71 points one week and scored 75 the next. Southland is the biggest conference in basketball this year and you have to watch every Southland game.
Saturday afternoon: No 14 Murray State – Austin Peay (3 p.m., ESPN+). Murray State has won five in a row this spring. The Racers face Jacksonville State next week after beating the team that rocked JSU last week.
Saturday night: Lamar, No. 25 Southeast Louisiana (7 p.m., ESPN+). See above. Watch every Southland game you can.
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