William & Mary vs. James Madison, other top Week 6 FCS games to watch
Week 5 was a rare time this season where there wasn’t a whole lot of movement among the FCS’ top teams.
North Dakota State once again picked up an impressive win to stay unanimously on top and there were no changes among the first eight spots of the latest coaches poll.
But that’s likely to change this week as Week 6 presents a handful of ranked matchups and additional intriguing battles that will once again shift the FCS landscape.
Here is the cream of the crop on this weekend’s schedule:
Youngstown State vs. Illinois State – Saturday at 3 p.m.
Illinois State continues to spiral downward following its hot start to the season.
Since its upset over Northwestern in Week 2, the No. 23 Redbirds have dropped three straight games, including two losses to ranked teams Eastern Illinois and North Dakota State.
Now Illinois State (2-3) is tasked with facing another top program in the country in No. 13 Youngstown State (3-1).
Senior running back Martin Ruiz leads a run-heavy Penguins offense that’s won two straight since falling to West Virginia, who cracked the FBS’ AP Top 25 poll this week.
Ruiz has scored six touchdowns on the ground through four games and is averaging almost six yards per carry, while the Penguins defense has held opponents to fewer than 19 points per game.
While Youngstown State looks to continue ascending in the rankings and build momentum, Illinois State is desperate to stop its skid. If the Redbirds want to make some noise come postseason play, they must begin finding success against some of their ranked opponents on their challenging schedule.
Illinois State gets another opportunity to do so this Saturday.
Northern Iowa vs. South Dakota – Saturday at 3 p.m.
As a top five team entering 2016, Northern Iowa didn’t get off to the grand start it expected as it quickly fell to 1-2 with a pair of losses to fellow FCS national contenders.
But the Panthers returned to form last week in a 42-21 victory over Southern Illinois where dual-threat quarterback Aaron Bailey accounted for 298 yards and a season-high four total touchdowns.
Northern Iowa now looks to build its first winning streak of the year against a South Dakota team that’s 1-3 but still picked up 15 votes in the latest coaches poll. The Coyotes have lost two straight on the road against ranked teams by a combined 13 points.
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South Dakota returns home to host the favored Panthers with a chance to move one step closer to .500 and justify its recognition in the polls.
The Coyotes have a strong running game that has amassed nearly 200 yards per game and has posted 34.2 points per game on offense. But the big issue has been on defense where opponents have scored at a clip of 43.5 points per contest.
That number has Bailey and the Panthers offense salivating at the though of another standout performance.
Richmond vs. Albany – Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
No. 7 Richmond and No. 17 Albany each bring different offensive strengths that have culminated in similar outputs en route to their respective 3-1 and 4-0 starts.
The Spiders roll out the nation’s second-leading passer in Kyle Lauletta, who has aired it out for 1,504 yards and 13 touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Great Danes have instead relied on the legs of running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, who is fourth in the country with 555 yards and eight touchdowns.
So while each team has a different style of play, it’s sure to result in a back-and-forth battle on offense come Saturday.
But what may give Richmond the edge heading into the game is its defense, which has also performed admirably. Through four games, the Spiders have limited their opposition to just 276 yards of offense, which is fourth-lowest in the FCS.
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However, Richmond has shown a hole in its rushing defense at certain points, which may give Albany enough of an opening to keep pace with the Spiders.
It’ll be an interesting chess match between the two teams when they take the field in Albany, New York.
James Madison vs. William & Mary – Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
William & Mary stood in the top eight this year among the FCS’ elite programs just two weeks ago. But following two straight losses to Elon and New Hampshire, the Tribe now suddenly finds itself on the outside of the top 25 looking in.
So what better way to rebound from an early-season skid then to knock off a top in-state rival that’s surged to the No. 8 spot?
William & Mary (2-3) gets this opportunity Saturday afternoon against James Madison (4-1) in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The two programs have alternated head-to-head wins each of the past three seasons and the Dukes lead the overall series 21-17.
James Madison’s lone loss this year came to the ACC’s North Carolina in Week 3. Outside of that 56-28 defeat in Chapel Hill, the Dukes have cruised through their FCS matchups behind a powerful offense.
A two-headed rushing corps of Khalid Abdullah and Cardon Johnson leads this unit while quarterback Bryan Schor has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes under center.
Meanwhile, William & Mary has struggled offensively, posting 10 and 12 points in its consecutive losses. Quarterback Steve Cluley has been picked off five times during this two-game sample.
While the FBS has the Red River Rivalry between Oklahoma and Texas to offer this week, the FCS' showdown between William & Mary and James Madison will likely display equal intensity.