Three conferences have top-25 matchups that could have big implications on the playoffs, including a highly anticipated top-10 game with the No. 1 team in Fargo, North Dakota. On the East Coast, one of college football's oldest rivalries features a potential upset for one of the last undefeated FCS teams.
Here are the 5 games to watch this week in FCS football.
No. 1 North Dakota State vs. No. 7 Illinois State, 3:30 p.m. ET | WATCH
National champion North Dakota State (6-0, 3-0 MVFC) reigns at the top of the Missouri Valley Football Conference. There are five teams a game behind the Bison at 2-1, one of which is Illinois State (5-1, 2-1 MVFC).
The Redbirds have one of the best running backs in FCS in James Robinson. He ranks sixth in FCS with 807 rushing yards and is tied for fourth with nine touchdowns. In a win over FBS Colorado State earlier this season, Robinson ran for 184 yards and two touchdowns. This week will likely be more difficult in a top-10 matchup with significant FCS Playoffs implications in front of a raucous Fargo crowd. And the road toward the playoffs don’t get any easier for the Redbirds with games against South Dakota State and Northern Iowa the next two weeks.
North Dakota State has already handled South Dakota State and Northern Iowa. Now with a win against Illinois State, the Bison will have beaten the toughest three teams on its schedule. However there are still questions if Easton Stick has another playmaking receiver outside of Darrius Shepherd, who has five of Stick’s 10 touchdown passes. In the backfield Bruce Anderson and Lance Dunn are as good a duo as any in the country. These two teams also have two of the top scoring defenses in the country.
No. 3 South Dakota State at Northern Iowa, 5:00 p.m. ET | WATCH
Three weeks removed from its loss to North Dakota State, South Dakota State has a challenging road contest against a Northern Iowa team that recently fell out of the rankings.
The Panthers (3-3, 2-1 MVFC) knocked off the Jackrabbits (4-1, 2-1 MVFC) in Brookings, South Dakota, last season and have historically played well on their home turf. Northern Iowa ranks second-to-last in total offense in the MVFC and its passing and rushing defense rank fourth in the conference. Meanwhile, South Dakota State is the second-highest scoring offense in the country at 48.4 points per game.
Jackrabbits quarterback Taryn Christion is second in the nation with 16 touchdown passes and has completed 67.2 percent of his passes. Wideout Cade Johnson was spectacular early in the season but has cooled off since, catching just one pass for 23 yards last week against Youngstown State. For Northern Iowa to pull off a massive upset that will boost its playoff resume, quarterback Eli Dunne and running back Trevor Allen will need to have their best games of the season against a defense that gave up 51 points to Indiana State. The Sycamores rank a spot ahead of Northern Iowa in scoring offense.
No. 12 Wofford vs. No. 21 East Tennessee State, 1:30 p.m. ET | WATCH
Wofford (4-2, 3-1) is coming off the week’s most shocking loss and has to rebound with a critical SOCON matchup against the Buccaneers (6-1, 4-0). With Furman’s upset of the Terriers, East Tennessee State jumped into the conference lead, but Wofford still has the metaphorical target on its back.
The Buccaneers have played well, but this game is still going to be the bellwether for just how good the team can be, given it won its four conference games by a combined 11 points. ETSU has already won as many SOCON games as it did the previous two years combined since it joined the conference in 2016.
The offensive advantage will undoubtedly be on Wofford’s side, for ETSU ranks eighth in the conference in total offense while the Terriers rank second. However, this game could be a defensive slugfest between the two top defensive teams in the conference. Wofford and SOCON rushing leader Andre Stoddard versus the conference’s top rushing defense is the matchup to watch. Running back Quay Holmes has been exceptional in his freshman campaign for the Buccaneers this season as well.
No. 17 Stony Brook vs. No. 23 Rhode Island, 6:00 p.m.
It’s anyone’s guess who will come away with the CAA conference title this year, with Maine and Towson the only teams undefeated in conference despite being picked to finish eighth and 10th, respectively, in the preseason. The matchup on Saturday between Stony Brook (5-2, 3-1) and Rhode Island (4-2, 2-1) could separate a couple teams that might find themselves fighting for a spot in the playoffs.
Rhode Island has been a bit of a surprise this season after winning just two games in the CAA last year. Its opening-season win against Delaware looks better after the Blue Hens knocked off then-No. 6 Elon last week, but the Rams had a similar chance last week against Maine and they fell in a heartbreaking loss at home. Quarterback Vito Priore started for a second straight week with starter JaJuan Lawson injured and threw for 256 yards and two scores, but completed 19 of his 40 passes.
For the Seawolves, Donald Liotine and Jordan Gowins have gained nearly 600 rushing yards each and have combined for seven touchdowns. Stony Brook has a run-heavy offense that is sure to challenge the Rams who rank in the middle of the pack in rush defense in the CAA. Expect this game to be decided up front. Rhode Island defensive end L.B. Mack III is one of the top pass-rushers in the conference with 5.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
No. 18 Princeton at Harvard, Noon ET | WATCH
The undefeated Princeton Tigers (5-0, 2-0 Ivy) have blown out their first five opponents, but could face a much tougher test in this meeting of one of the oldest college football rivalries with Harvard (3-2, 1-1).
The Tigers lead the FCS in total offense at almost 600 yards per game. They also rank atop the FCS in scoring offense (52.0 ppg), second in scoring defense (8.6 ppg) and sixth in total defense (253 ypg). Princeton is also the fewest penalized team in the country.
Harvard has Ivy league leading rusher Aaron Shampklin. However, Princeton has three of the best players in the conference with dual-threat quarterback John Lovett, who has 12 touchdowns through that air and six on the ground, running back Charlie Volker and wideout Jesper Horsted, who might break his own school record of 14 receiving touchdowns (He has eight this season).
This will likely be the toughest game to date for the Harvard defense.