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Anthony Chiusano | | November 15, 2016

FCS: Top games to watch in Week 12

  No. 1 Sam Houston State faces its first opponent with a winning record this weekend in Central Arkansas.

While a handful of playoff tickets were punched last week, that doesn’t mean Week 12 will lack any excitement in FCS play.

Here are the four top games to watch during the final weekend of the regular season:

Kennesaw State vs. Charleston Southern – Saturday at 11:45 a.m.

  Kennesaw State slotted into the No. 22 spot in the latest FCS coaches poll.
Kennesaw State was a major winner in the latest polls, moving from unranked status to No. 22 after a fourth straight win. The Owls offense has heated up at the right time and has put up at least 45 points in each game during their recent streak.

But Charleston Southern is no stranger to halting momentum. Just last week, the Buccaneers thwarted then-newly ranked Liberty’s bid at a sixth straight win in a 48-26 game.

WATCH: Top FCS plays of Week 11

With last week’s win over the Flames, Charleston Southern now controls its own destiny in the Big South Conference. With a win, the Buccaneers would clinch their second straight title and an automatic bid into the FCS playoffs; a loss would give Liberty the top spot.

Kennesaw State will embrace the role of spoiler and look to knock off the defending Big South champs with that aforementioned dangerous offense led by quarterback Chandler Burks and running back Chaston Bennett.

Bennett has nine touchdowns this season while Burks is the team’s leading passer and rusher with nearly 2,000 combined yards, 21 total touchdowns and just one interception.

So it’ll be a tough order for the Bucaneers and their 15th ranked defense in their pursuit back into the playoffs.

North Carolina Central vs. North Carolina A&T – Saturday at 2 p.m.

  Aggies running back Tarik Cohen is second in the FCS in rushing yards and touchdowns.
A regular season finale battle between the Tar Heel state’s two best FCS programs to decide the winner of the MEAC conference? Yes, please.

North Carolina Central and North Carolina A&T enter their critical Week 12 matchup each boasting unblemished records in FCS play and will be fighting for the conference crown for the third straight year. Both programs shared the title in each of the past two seasons.

Needless to say, these two rivals are more than familiar with each other and are used to competing with a lot on the line.

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North Carolina Central is a bit turnover prone on offense and relies on a solid defense led by pass rushers Antonio Brown (seven sacks) and Frederick Henry-Ajudua (6.5 sacks). Reggie Hunter is the heart of the Eagles’ secondary with a team-best four interceptions.

Meanwhile, North Carolina A&T has shown a bit more balance, scoring at a 40-point per game clip while holding opponents to under 20.

Aggies running back Tarik Cohen is second in the league in both rushing and rushing touchdowns and the N.C. A&T defense has seven players with at least seven sacks.

There won’t be any sharing of the MEAC title this year. And it all comes down to Saturday’s late afternoon bout.

South Dakota State vs. Northern Iowa – Saturday at 5 p.m.

  UNI has won two straight to move back to .500 this season.
Time is ticking for Northern Iowa (5-5), once a preseason top five team, to make a statement in what has seemingly become a lost season.

But after winning two in a row, upsetting the No. 10 team in the nation at home to close out the regular season would leave a positive outlook moving forward.

South Dakota State heads into the Cedar Falls, Iowa meeting with a 7-3 record and will play for at least a share for the Missouri Valley Conference crown in a stacked conference headlined by North Dakota State – who the Jackrabbits defeated in their midseason head-to-head matchup.

SDSU quarterback Taryn Christion continued his monster season last week with two rushing touchdowns – incuding the game-deciding score in the final five minutes – to top in-state rival South Dakota 28-21.

Christion now has 32 combined touchdowns in his sophomore campaign and gives the Jackrabbits a steady hand under center.

MORE: FCS Committee releasing top 10 rankings

It’s been a different story for the Panthers this year, who have lost a string of close matchups against the upper echelon of teams like North Dakota State, Eastern Washington and Montana. Some of these struggles falls on the shoulders of UNI’s quarterback play.

A season after accumulating a program-record 19 rushing touchdowns, dual-threat quarterback Aaron Bailey hasn’t seen action since Oct. 15 due to injury. In his place, Eli Dunne has been inconsistent with six touchdowns and five interceptions this year.

But Dunne gave the Panthers hope in last week’s win over Western Illinois, finishing 19-of-27 with two touchdown passes. Bailey’s absence has certainly hurt UNI this year, but the Panthers will look for Dunne to use this possible momentum to finish the year on a high note.

Central Arkansas vs. Sam Houston State – 7 p.m.

  The winner of Saturday night's game will be crowned Southland Conference champions.
Sam Houston State has been spotless this season and has held a firm grasp on the No. 1 spot in the coaches poll ever since North Dakota State was toppled by South Dakota State in Week 7.

But with this rise in the rankings came a rise in criticism, as people have pointed at the Bearkats’ rather soft schedule that’s included zero teams with a winning record thus far.

Doubters will get a clearer picture at the No. 1 Bearkats this weekend, however, as SHSU’s first game against an above-.500 foe will come in its season finale vs. a top 12 team in Central Arkansas (8-1).  

Both teams come in with a top 15 scoring offense and a perfect 8-0 conference record. The Bearkats boast the top offense in the nation with 53.7 points per game while the Bears come in at No. 14 with 36.2.

So Saturday night’s high-scoring affair will decide the winner of the Southland Conference and who gets an automatic bid to the ensuing playoffs.

Both teams are presumably safe in terms of advancing to the playoffs. However, Week 12’s finale can have a major influence in all-important seeding.

Who knows how far an untested SHSU will fall if it drops its first game of the season. It likely won’t be too far but likely below other one-loss teams with tougher schedules like Jacksonville State, Eastern Washington and North Dakota State.

On the flip side, Central Arkansas has been trending up all season and can set itself up with a comfortable playoff position with this potential upset over No. 1.

While both teams likely have nothing to worry about in terms of bids, there’s still a lot to lose on Saturday. Add in the offensive fireworks in store on both sides, and this matchup is sure to be a fun one. 

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