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Anthony Chiusano | | September 17, 2016

Top FCS games to watch in Week 3

  Illinois State picked up its first win over a Big Ten program with its victory over Northwestern last Saturday.

Week 2 of the FCS season continued to present new storylines and interesting shakeups. No. 1 North Dakota State and No. 8 Eastern Washington went shot-for-shot on offense before the Bison survived in overtime, new top threats emerged with even more upset wins over FBS teams and top teams like No. 3 Northern Iowa fell to shake up the newest top 25 poll.

That leads us into Week 3 where top teams continue to battle each other in the early season in search of statement wins. It's only mid-September, but these regular season matchups will provide a good metric to look at come FCS championship season.

With that said, here are the top FCS games to keep an eye on in Week 3:

North Dakota State vs. No. 13 Iowa – Saturday at noon ET

  No. 1 North Dakota State is 2-0 despite playing two overtime games to open the year.
Yes, North Dakota State seems to be on this list every week. But that’s not only a testament to its on-the-field success as five-time defending champions but also its willingness to fill its schedule with matchups against top FCS programs as well as nationally-ranked FBS schools.

Coming off a spot in last year’s Big Ten title game, Iowa has risen inside the top 15 through the first two weeks this year. C.J. Beathard has led an efficient Hawkeyes offense while defensive back Desmond King highlights an elite defensive unit.

Meanwhile, North Dakota State has remained No. 1 in the FCS coaches poll but had close calls against both Charleston Southern and Eastern Washington in Weeks 1 and 2, escaping with a win in overtime in each game.

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The Bison will enter Saturday’s matinee as the FCS underdog. But they also carry great experience in traveling to FBS sites and coming out on top, as they did against Iowa State two years ago and Kansas State in 2013.

Now, Iowa is an entirely different animal than these past opponents. But I’d count on NDSU giving Iowa all it can handle and making a push for the FCS’ eighth win over and FBS team this year.

Eastern Illinois vs. Illinois State – Saturday at 3 p.m. ET

  Illinois State moved up to No. 5 in the Coaches poll after its win over Northwestern.
Speaking of FCS-over-FBS upsets, how about Illinois State jumping into the top five?

The Redbirds outlasted Northwestern 9-7 in a game that saw 13 combined punts and little offense from either side. Illinois State pulled out the victory behind the leg of Sean Slattery, who connected on a 33-yard field goal with three seconds left.

Chances are the Redbirds will need more than nine points to get past their next opponent, in-state rival Eastern Illinois (1-1). Like Illinois State, the Panthers also come off a win against an FBS program with a 21-17 win over Miami (Ohio).

A win for Eastern Illinois would likely mean a return to the national rankings, as the Panthers sit with the 27th most votes entering Week 3. They are led by Mitch Kimble at quarterback, who threw three touchdowns last week against the RedHawks.

Illinois State’s quarterback Jake Kolbe threw for 287 yards and was 30-of-41 against Northwestern. Neither team has a strong running game, so Saturday’s matchup may come down to defense and the arms of these two signal-callers.

Towson vs. Villanova – Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

  Villanova rebounded from an opening loss to Pitt with a Week 2 win over Lehigh.
Towson and Villanova both started off the season by losing handily to FBS opponents. Then in Week 2, both escaped with narrow wins over FCS teams that are now 0-2.

It hasn’t been the most encouraging start for either program so far but both have a bunch of talent and will look for a statement win Saturday afternoon. The Wildcats stand at No. 18 despite their 1-1 start while the Tigers continue to garner consideration in the polls.

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Villanova will rely on a strong running game which saw three 80-plus yard rushers last week. Javon White leads the pack and exploded for 155 yards and two touchdowns against Lehigh.

Meanwhile, the connection of Ellis Knudson to receiver Christian Summers will be huge in Towson’s passing game. Summers caught six of Knudson’s passes last week for 232 yards and two touchdowns against St. Francis (Pa.).

Northern Iowa vs. Eastern Washington – Saturday at 7:05 p.m.

  Eastern Washington's Gage Gubrud leads the FCS in passing yards through two games.
Despite losing to North Dakota State in overtime, Eastern Washington moved up a spot in the coaches poll thanks to its continued offensive onslaught. UNI, a preseason top five team, also suffered its first loss last week to Montana to drop out of the top 10.

Now both teams will look to return to the win column in Saturday’s primetime matchup in Cheney, Washington.

The Eagles boast the top passing offense in the league behind Gage Gubrud’s 924 yards in two games. They’ve posted 45 and 44 points respectively against the FBS’ Washington State and reigning champs North Dakota State and show no signs of slowing down.

The Panthers have averaged roughly half of EWU’s points per game through two games but the team has the ability to keep pace behind running back Tyvis Smith (130 yard last week against Montana) and dual-threat quarterback Aaron Bailey.

Whether their production will be enough to match Gubrud and the Eagles will be a tough challenge. Both teams figure to be in position for deep postseason runs this year. Saturday’s head-to-head matchup will be a good early-season measure for both programs. 

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