The nation’s elite are starting to solidify themselves entering the final two weeks before the FCS playoffs kick off. But with that said, there’s still plenty of movement that can happen with some of the second or third-tier teams looking for a chance to earn some respect.
Many of those opportunities will be available in Week 11, where a lack of ranked matchups is made up for by a wealth of hungry teams in interesting matchups.
Here are the top FCS games to watch this upcoming Saturday:
James Madison vs. Villanova – Saturday at 1 p.m.If there was any doubt about James Madison’s legitimacy as it ran through the easier part of its schedule, that was likely dashed this past weekend when the Dukes went into Richmond, Virginia and defeated the then-No. 6 Spiders 47-43.
Now James Madison must do the same in its Week 11 road matchup against No. 11 Villanova.
The Wildcats have only lost once – to those same Spiders – since falling to Pittsburgh out of the ACC in the opening weekend of play in 2016. Their standout defense has held opponents to just 14.9 points per game (third in the nation) but it hasn’t yet faced an offense as potent as the Dukes and their 49 points per game average.
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Therefore, Saturday’s early afternoon battle should provide a better look at where Villanova stacks up in the FCS. A win would solidify its current spot in the top 15; a loss by a handy margin would be cause for concern with less than two weeks to go until the FCS playoff bracket is revealed.
Look for great quarterbacking to be on display from both sides Saturday. James Madison’s Bryan Schor and Villanova’s Zach Bednarczyk each passed for three touchdowns while completing at least 74 percent of their passes in last week’s respective victories.
Wofford vs. Chattanooga – Saturday at 2 p.m.Wofford is a sneaky good team that’s proven it can play competitively with some of the nation’s best, although its 6-3 record has the Terriers just outside the top 25 in the latest coaches poll.
Wofford nearly handed The Citadel its first loss of the season three weeks ago in a game it ultimately lost 24-21 in overtime and battled tough against No. 21 Samford earlier in the year on the road before falling short 28-26.
Needless to say, Wofford is a dangerous team that SoCon rivals should be weary about down the stretch – as well as any potential playoff matchups if the Terriers creep in.
Wofford’s latest upset attempt will come on the road against No. 7 Chattanooga, where it will be a clash of similar styles.
Both programs rank in the top 12 for rushing yards per game in the FCS while featuring versatile running backs that take turns picking up huge gains on the ground. Each defense also stresses stopping the run on defense, although Wofford has a significant edge there, allowing only an unworldly 67.2 rushing yards per game.
Both teams will continue to hand it off and rely on the rushing unit that’s carried each respective offense this far into the season. But when it does come to the few passing situations that either team will draw up, efficiency in that department will be imperative.
Another key stat to keep in mind before Saturday’s SoCon matchup: Chattanooga has outscored its opponents a combined 127-17 in the second quarter of its games this season.
With that crucial frame often setting the tone and momentum for the rest of the game, Wofford must stay competitive and not lose intensity over the final minutes before the halftime whistle blows.
Charleston Southern vs. Liberty – Saturday at 3:30 p.m.It’s fitting that as the FCS postseason race heats up, the Flames have only gotten hotter as Liberty moved into the coaches top 25 for the first time in 2016 this past week.
The Flames started 1-3 this season (with two FBS losses) but have rebounded with five straight wins, including four in conference play.
Perhaps those two early losses against FBS teams Virginia Tech and SMU served as the proper warmup for FCS play. Since then, Liberty has proven it could win in a variety of ways – blowing opponents away on offense, shutting teams down on defense or outlasting competitive battles.
Liberty is led by its running back duo of Carrington Mosley and Todd Macon, who each rushed for more than 100 yards in last week’s 16-0 win over Presbyterian and each have more than 600 yards for the season.
Meanwhile, freshman quarterback Stephen Calvert has seized control under center in the five games he’s started for the Flames, posting a 132.2 passing efficiency rating.
No longer underdogs, Liberty will try to prove its national legitimacy against the Big South’s top dog Charleston Southern.
The No. 14 Buccaneers will try to regain form after posting only 10 points in a 17-10 loss to Gardner-Webb last week. Prior to its Week 10 defeat, Charleston Southern averaged more than 45 points in its now-broken four-game winning streak.
A missed field goal and three turnovers doomed the Bucs against Gardner-Webb. Those miscues must be avoided in a crucial conference game between the Big South’s only two ranked opponents Saturday.
Nicholls vs. Central Arkansas – Saturday at 4 p.m.Central Arkansas ever so slowly keeps moving up in the rankings with win after win, often by a healthy margin. And although the Bears sit at just No. 10 in the FCS Championship Committee poll (No. 13 in coaches poll), they’re one of the most dangerous programs in the country.
But no one should look past their Week 11 matchup with Nicholls on the horizon.
Don’t let the Colonels’ 5-4 record fool you; two years removed from an 0-12 finish, this year’s Nicholls has been a feisty group – just look at its near Week 1 upset over Georgia for reference.
Since starting the year 1-3, the Colonels have won four of their last five with that one loss coming to No. 1 Sam Houston State. Nicholls’ defense has held its last two opponents to 24 combined points and freshman quarterback Chase Fourcade has shined with eight total touchdowns in the past three games.
As for Central Arkansas, it hasn’t allowed more than 14 points since its Oct. 1 matchup with Abilene Christian while its offense has picked it up on its end. So there shouldn’t be too much panic among the Bears faithful.
But expect the Colonels to make some noise as they attempt to clinch their first winning season in a decade.