This year’s kickoff to the FCS season presents over 90 games through the first full weekend of play, filled with matchups between teams looking to move up in the rankings, in-state battles and even some sure-to-be exciting games with FBS programs.
Here’s how to sift through the best of the bunch with these top Week 1 matchups:
Youngstown State vs. Duquesne
Thursday, Sept. 1 at 7:30 p.m.Neither Youngstown State nor Duquesne cracked the top 25 in the FCS Coaches or STATS polls this preseason, but both received a steady amount of votes. This makes their Week 1 matchup a little extra important as each tries to prove its value and move up in the rankings.
Led by Bo Pelini in his second year at the helm, YSU looks toward quarterback Hunter Wells (14 touchdowns in 2015) and sparkplug Jody Webb (857 rushing yards, nine rushing touchdowns, two kickoff return touchdowns) to return to over .500 play in a tough division with NDSU.
Duquesne, who lost in the opening round of last year’s postseason, is favored to win the NEC and is led by preseason All-American linebacker Christian Kuntz and a Dukes defense that forced 26 turnovers in 2015.
William & Mary at NC State
Thursday, Sept. 1 at 7:30 p.m.The first FCS-FBS matchup to keep an eye on should be when the Tribe heads to Raleigh, North Carolina, to face the Wolfpack out of the ACC.
William & Mary comes into the season ranked No. 10 in the coaches poll and reached the second round of last year’s playoffs. It features an experienced offense with returning quarterback Steve Cluley, running back Kendell Anderson and No. 1 receiving target DeVonte Dedmon.
This offensive cohesiveness should fare well during the Tribe’s playoff push despite its incomplete defense.
As for the opening matchup against NC State, it could be an interesting game. The Wolfpack went just 7-6 last season, and the Tribe has a propensity to play competitive against ACC teams, including in last year’s 35-29 loss to Virginia.
Northern Iowa at Iowa State
Saturday, Sept. 3 at 8 p.m.Perhaps the biggest chance at an FCS-over-FBS upset will come in Ames, Iowa, where the Panthers try to knock off their in-state counterpart Cyclones.
Iowa State handled UNI easily in last year’s opener 31-7, but the Panthers head into the new season as the No. 5-ranked team with a chance to make some noise come playoff time.
Aaron Bailey enters his final season as the Panthers’ leader on offense, throwing for 1,656 yards and rushing for 1,134 more in 2015. That bodes well for UNI as it faces an Iowa State defense that ranked 86th last year in rushing defense.
Meanwhile, Iowa State comes off a 3-9 season and starts its first season under Matt Campbell, who left Toledo to become the Cyclones’ head coach. Campbell may have to be on upset alert in his first game.
Eastern Washington at Washington State
Saturday, Sept. 3 at 8 p.m.This matchup in Pullman, Washington, presents another intriguing in-state opener. Washington State is an exciting offensive team to watch out of the Pac-12 with quarterback Luke Falk throwing to standout receiver Gabe Marks (15 touchdowns in 2015).
But Eastern Washington has equal offensive talent that may keep this game interesting.
The Eagles posted 42 points on Oregon — featuring former EWU quarterback Vernon Adams — to open last season and averaged nearly 35 points a contest in 2015 despite losing five games. This year, the Eagles open at No. 17 and look for a return to the postseason.
If you enjoy watching offensive fireworks with little defense on either side, this game is a must-watch.