Potential Playoff Shakeup Ahead in FCS Week 10

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Week 10 promises potential Playoff unrest with a docket of high-stakes conference games. It’s true in the FCS as much as the FBS.

The original Div. I Playoffs are virtually impossible to predict at present, both because of the volume of pivotal matchups still remaining and the simple fact that this has been one of the more volatile FCS seasons.

Whereas North Dakota State and a small handful of favorites stood out in recent years, this season lacks a clear front-runner. Top-ranked Coastal Carolina was knocked from its perch last week by Big South Conference counterpart Charleston Southern around the same time Fordham lost to Colgate in a battle of Patriot League supremacy.

Jacksonville State is No. 1 in both FCS polls ahead of Week 10, but recent results suggest the top spot is nowhere any team wants to be this season. And, true to form, the Gamecocks go on the road in one of the FCS Week 10 matchups that could throw the Playoffs into chaos just a few weeks before brackets are revealed.

JACKSONVILLE STATE AT EASTERN ILLINOIS

Ohio Valley Conference

Kickoff: 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT

How Can I Watch? ESPN3

Setting The Scene

Jacksonville State caught the nation’s attention Week 2 when it took Auburn to overtime — and frankly, should have won. Conservative play-calling cost the Gamecocks that afternoon on the Plains, but hasn’t impacted them since. That remains JSU’s only blemish on the season.

Jacksonville State has since rolled through the Ohio Valley Conference, and sports a win over Southern Conference-leading Chattanooga. The Gamecocks are a slam dunk for the Playoffs, but are seeking both a conference championship and No. 1-overall seeding.

Eastern Illinois rebounded nicely from an 0-3 start, which included a hard-fought loss to reigning national runner-up Illinois State, but a confounding blowout defeat to Western Illinois, as well.

The Panthers’ five-game win streak

DAYTON AT MOREHEAD STATE

Pioneer Football League

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT

How Can I Watch? OVC Digital Network

Setting The Scene

The non-scholarship Pioneer Football League gained an automatic berth into the FCS Playoffs with the field’s expansion to 24 teams in 2013. In two tries, the league’s champions lost postseason games by score of 31-0 (Butler vs. Tennessee State in 2013) and 52-14 (San Diego vs. Montana in 2014).

The Pioneer is unquestionably a one-bid conference, which makes Dayton’s trip to Morehead State Saturday a must-win.

The Flyers are 8-0 on the season, but their perfect record hasn’t come without stress. Half of Dayton’s wins are by single digits, including a one-point win over defending PFL champion, San Diego.

Dayton sports an astounding 411-game streak scoring at least once, which dates back to the program’s time in Div. III. That’s likely to extend to 412 against a Morehead State defense allowing more than 26 points per game, but the more important matter is Dayton outscoring the home-standing Eagles.

A Dayton win puts the Flyers two games ahead of Morehead State in the loss column, and keeps San Diego at arm’s length. A Morehead State win, coupled with a San Diego win Week 10, forces a three-team tie atop the Pioneer heading into the final two weeks.

Keep an eye on Morehead State quarterback Austin Gahafer, sixth in the FCS in passing yards at 2,319.

ILLINOIS STATE AT SOUTH DAKOTA STATE

Kickoff: 3 p.m. ET/12 noon PT

How Can I Watch? ESPN3

Setting The Scene

Illinois State came one drive shy of ending North Dakota State’s dynasty last January. Now, the Redbirds are on the cusp of a second consecutive Missouri Valley Football Conference championship — and this time, they wouldn’t have to share the distinction with NDSU.

The teams avoid one another in the regular season for a second straight year. With no losses in league play, Illinois State’s road to the conference championship is completely clear.

South Dakota State’s odds of competing for the MVFC championship are slim. With a loss to NDSU already on the Jackrabbits’ ledger, SDSU needs the Bison to lose twice Not likely.

Still, ranked 11th nationally, the Jackrabbits are competing for home-field through a decent portion of the Playoff. Knocking off second-ranked Illinois State would certainly bolster South Dakota State’s case.

As open as the race for the Playoffs looks now, competition for the Walter Payton Award is similar. James Madison’s Vad Lee had been playing like a prohibitive favorite before sustaining a season-ending injury two weeks ago against Richmond.

Illinois State running back Marshaun Coprich is one contender who can break into the conversation now. South Dakota State’s rush defense isn’t particularly strong, and with the Jackrabbits ranking seventh nationally against the pass, the Redbirds are likely to attack on the ground early.

SAM HOUSTON STATE AT MCNEESE STATE

Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT

How Can I Watch? ESPN3

Setting the Scene

Aside from North Dakota State, no FCS program has been as consistent over the last half-decade as Sam Houston State. Former Bearkats head coach Willie Fritz parlayed two national championship game appearances into the job at Georgia Southern, where the Eagles are flourishing as members of the Sun Belt Conference.

Sam Houston State athletic brass tabbed former Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler as Fritz’s replacement. Keeler promptly abandoned the option-based offense with which Fritz’s Bearkat teams thrived and installed a spread currently producing more than 46 points per game.

Though not as frenzied, the McNeese State offense isn’t too shabby at 32 points per game. The Cowboys are undefeated, which they can thank a Week 1 cancellation with LSU for. Good as this McNeese State is, I doubt it would have slowed Leonard Fournette.

But then, the Cowboys have a potent run game of their own. Running back Ryan Ross and quarterback Daniel Sams, formerly of Kansas State, have combined for almost 1,300 yards.

Sams put together a five-touchdown game recently, having thrown for a season-best three scores and 242 yards against Northwestern State.

Sam Houston State counters with its own one-two rushing punch. Cory Avery — a transfer from Kansas — and Jalen Overstreet — formerly of Texas — are both over 500 yards on the season.

Combined with quarterback Jared Johnson, whose thrown 13 touchdowns and just one interception, Sam Houston State has a dangerously balanced offense.

I recommend streaming this game on your computer or tablet while tuning into Alabama-LSU. The juxtaposition of a likely shootout for the advantage in the Southland Conference against a likely defensive battle for supremacy in the SEC West should be staggering.