FCS offered up a loaded Week 2 on paper, and it delivered on the field. The Game of the Week — Eastern Washington’s visit to North Dakota State — was every bit as good as advertised, going into overtime with the host Bison escaping on a touchdown run.
Despite the heart-break, Beau Baldwin has to like what he saw from his EWU Eagles. He’ll probably like it more if, this week, he gets a win against another Missouri Valley Football Conference opponent.
Northern Iowa visits The Inferno Week 3 for the marquee matchup in the FCS, coming off its own heartbreaking, Week 2 loss. The Panther defense held up nicely against Bob Stitt’s uptempo Montana offense, limiting the Griz to just 20 points. But the offense managed just 14, dropping UNI to 1-1 on the season.
Northern Iowa’s very much a Playoff team; ditto Eastern Washington. A win Saturday isn’t a necessary for either to get into the field of 24, but home-field advantage come December does hinge largely on this outcome.
UNI’s always-stout defense limited Brady Gustafson to just 14-of-30 passing for 118 yards. Containing EWU’s Gubrud, the leading passer in FCS at 924 yards, will again test the Panther defense. Containing Gubrud also means holding Cooper Kupp in check, arguably the best wide receiver at any level in college football.
The reigning Walter Payton Award winner has 17 catches for 268 yards with a staggering five touchdowns through the Eagles’ first two games. Cornerback Jamison Whiting could draw the Kupp most, while NFL draft prospect Karter Schult’s ability to pressure Gubrud — as he did Gustafson a week ago to the tune of two sacks — will set the tone for UNI.
You can follow this game live at 7:05 p.m. ET on Watch Big Sky.
COASTAL CAROLINA at JACKSONVILLE STATE
Kickoff at 1 p.m. ET; Streaming via OVC Digital Network
Coastal Carolina’s ineligible for the FCS Playoffs, a condition of the Chanticleers upcoming transition to FBS and Sun Belt membership. The Chants’ Week 3 trek to Jacksonville State might be the best chance this team has to make a statement in 2016, so expect Joe Moglia’s crew to go all-out.
Jax State reached the FCS championship game in January. Before getting drilled by North Dakota State, the Gamecocks looked like the best team in the Subdivision. Their return for more in 2016 began with a D-II powerhouse, North Alabama, then an SEC power in LSU. How the swing in competition prepared JSU for the best of FCS will be readily evident Saturday.
Coastal Carolina has yet to see any significant challenge, beating Lamar and FAMU by a combined 59 points. The Chants run game looks as nasty as Jacksonville State’s did a year ago, with De’Angelo Henderson pacing CCU’s 270 yard per game output. JSU averaged a whopping 300.7 in 2015, but has dipped to a still solid 196 thus far this year. With 120 of the Gamecocks’ 392 coming in the LSU loss, however, JSU should start trending in the right direction soon.
If that comes Saturday, advantage Jacksonville State. This game should come down to establishing rushing threats, which both teams have plenty of. Henderson’s supplemented quarterback Josh Stilley and change-of-pace back Osharmar Abercrombie, while Auburn transfer Roc Thomas has provided JSU a nice counter-punch to complement quarterback Eli Jenkins, a preseason favorite to compete for the Walter Payton Award.
SOUTH DAKOTA at NORTH DAKOTA
Kickoff at 5 p.m. ET; Streaming via Watch Big Sky
South Dakota scored one of the most remarkable wins of Week 2, rallying with 21 fourth-quarter points to force overtime against Weber State. The Coyotes held off the Wildcats in the extra frame, thanks to four passing touchdowns from quarterback Chris Streveler, with another 125 yards rushing and two more scores on the ground.
Streveler earned MVFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts. Duh.
South Dakota made a huge statement with its upset of North Dakota State last season, and USD’s an intriguing dark-horse in the loaded MVFC this season. Another win against a Big Sky opponent — and another flag planted in the state of North Dakota — would serve the Yotes well before embarking on a challenging conference schedule.
Streveler and running back Trevor Bouma have to figure out a way to solve a UND defense allowing just 75 yards per game on the ground, though.
The Fighting Hawks, ranked in the Top 25 heading into the season, are desperate for a win after starting 0-2. Their two losses — at Stony and at Bowling Green — came by a combined five points. Near-misses are still misses, though, and an 0-3 start before Big Sky play begins likely dooms UND’s Playoff aspirations.
NORTH DAKOTA STATE at IOWA
So, the FCS Showcase isn’t really designed to highlight crossover games; more give shine to the best of the FCS exclusively.
However, I’d be remiss were I not to spotlight North Dakota State’s visit to Iowa given the five-time national champion’s ongoing run against FBS competition. The Bison have been as successful against FBS opponents, including Power Five, as they’ve been the FCS — more so, even, given North Dakota State loses an FCS game at least once a season.
This particular Iowa is the best FBS opponent North Dakota State will have seen during this run. The defending Big Ten West champions might be better than they were a season ago, returning key contributors like Desmond King, C.J. Beathard and the running back tandem of LeShun Daniels Jr. and Akrum Wadley.
The mirroring styles would make for an interesting pairing. Both teams employ similarly physical philosophies, choosing to complement outstanding defense with a power running game and efficient quarterbacking. NDSU’s Easton Stick’s rushing ability brings another element, which could be the Bison’s X-factor.
Without question, this is North Dakota State’s biggest FBS challenge since traveling to Kansas State in 2013. This one kicks off in the noon ET window on ESPN — big-time placement for a big-time game.