The final week of the FCS football season always seems to have a flare for the dramatic. This year, it might just be downright insane.
The Big Sky, CAA and SoCon championships could be decided through a myriad of tiebreaker scenarios if those leagues’ current first-place teams lose their finals games on Saturday. With conference titles and playoffs berth on the line in the final week before Sunday’s selection show, here are the five can’t-miss FCS games for Week 12.
Picked to finish eighth in the conference, the Maine Black Bears (7-3, 6-1) are a win away from its first CAA championship and FCS playoffs berth since 2013. There are just a couple issues to be concerned about: a loss leaves them on the bubble for the playoffs and they have to play the Phoenix (6-3, 4-2), which could get a first-round bye with a win.
Maine has had an incredible season. Running back Ramon Jefferson and quarterback Chris Ferguson lead the Black Bears offense as one of the conference’s leading runners and passers while the defense continues to be the backbone of the team, ranked first in the CAA in total defense. The Black Bears will face the conference’s best rushing attack, spearheaded by running back Jalen Thomas and quarterback Jalen Greene, both of whom took over for Malcolm Summers and Davis Cheek when they got hurt mid-way through the season.
Elon is out of the CAA championship picture since its game with William & Mary was canceled due to Hurricane Florence. If Maine loses, there’s a potential for a four-way tie with the winner of Towson-James Madison, Stony Brook and Delaware. There are currently five CAA teams ranked ahead of Maine in the FCS coaches poll. No conference has ever had six teams make the playoffs.
James Madison (7-3, 5-2) was thought to be the runaway favorite for its fourth straight conference championship heading into this season. Towson (7-3, 5-2) was picked a distant 10th. Ahead of their meeting in the season finale, the Dukes and Tigers each can have a share of the conference title with a win and Maine loss, and each could has the chance of earning the conference’s automatic bid to the playoffs.
This will be a game of strengths. Towson owns the best offense in the CAA behind the arm of quarterback Tom Flacco. The Dukes own the CAA’s best pass defense and top scoring defense with two of the best defensive back in the country, Jimmy Moreland and Adam Smith. Moreland has five interceptions, including three he returned for scores.
Get to know more about QB1 before the No. 15 Tigers entertain No. 7 James Madison tomorrow afternoon! pic.twitter.com/nUYmooro5K— Towson Football (@Towson_FB) November 15, 2018
Assuming Maine losses to force a tiebreaker, James Madison can only claim the automatic bid if Delaware loses to Villanova because it would lose a tiebreaker to the Blue Hens. If Stony Brook wins to join the tiebreaker, or if the Seawolves lose, William & Mary must finish above New Hampshire for the Dukes to earn the bid. Towson can only win the CAA automatic bid if Stony Brook wins and it is the highest rated CAA first-place team in the Sagarin Ratings. The Tigers would lose a tiebreaker to Delaware if the Blue Hens win this week.
There’s no need to worry about crazy tiebreaker scenarios in this one. Just a couple really good teams that have already clinched automatic bids to the playoffs vying for playoff positioning.
Kennesaw State (9-1, 5-0) won the Big South last week with a dominant 51-14 win against Monmouth. The Gamecocks (8-2, 7-1) won the Ohio Valley last week by beating Tennessee State, 41-14. Anyone can argue these teams are national championship contenders. The Owls rank second in scoring offense and defense while Jacksonville State ranks seventh on offense and eighth on defense.
Clemson transfer quarterback Zerrick Cooper has completed 62 percent of his passes and thrown for 23 touchdowns to just nine interceptions for the Gamecocks. But Kennesaw State has the toughest defense he’ll see this season. Bryson Armstrong is one of the best linebackers in the country as only a sophomore.
The Wildcats (8-2, 6-1 Big Sky) seem likely to be one of eight teams to earn a bye to the second round. If they beat Idaho State on Saturday, it’s practically a lock with the Big Sky automatic bid (Weber State would win a tiebreaker against UC Davis and Eastern Washington). If Idaho State wins, the Bengals (6-4, 5-2) also need losses from Eastern Washington and UC Davis to earn a share of the conference title.
Weber State ranks last in offense in the Big Sky, yet there’s no doubt it’s a championship contender due to its defense, which ranks atop the conference. Though the Wildcats only average 313 yards per game, running back Josh Davis has been nothing short of spectacular in his redshirt freshman season with 1,160 yards and eight touchdowns. On defense, watch for linebackers LeGrand Toia, Landon Stice and defensive end Adam Rodriguez to constantly be in the backfield. The three each have 10.5 tackles for loss this season.
Just a few of the highlights of Josh Davis, the National Freshman of the Week, from Saturday's win. @Davis20Josh is 2nd in the nation in all-purpose yards and 5th in rushing. #WeAreWeber #BigSkyFB pic.twitter.com/GSXAHTh4XY— #️⃣3️⃣ Weber State Football 🏈 (@weberstatefb) November 12, 2018
That defense held the league’s top offense, Eastern Washington to 247 yards — albeit before Eric Barriere hit the stride he is in now. This week that defense, which allows 323 yards per game, will face the league’s second-best offense (508.1 ypg). The Wildcats’ pass defense has been susceptible to big games at times, so it’ll be interesting to see if Idaho State receiver Mitch Gueller, the nation’s fourth-ranked player in receiving yards, can exploit that secondary.
You shouldn’t need a reason to watch Devlin Hodges in his likely last game in college, but in case you do, consider that a monster game from him could spoil East Tennessee State’s (8-2, 6-1) hopes for the playoffs and an automatic bid. The only way ETSU wins the auto bid from the SoCon is with a win over Samford (5-5, 4-3).
The Buccaneers have put themselves in a win-and-you’re-in scenario. Running backs Quay Holmes and Jacob Saylors have provided enough offense while the defense continues to disrupt the backfield. ETSU averages almost three sacks a game and nearly 8.5 tackles of loss per game, which ranks fourth in the nation. Linebacker Dylan Weigel leads the way with 13.5 this season.
The key in this game will be how much ETSU can disrupt Hodges or how quickly Hodges can get rid of the ball. Last week, Hodges became the SoCon all-time leader in total yards with 15,181. He is currently 316 passing yards away from tying Steve McNair’s all-time FCS passing yards record (14,496). Expect a heavy dosage of wideout Kelvin McKnight from the Bulldogs, who now holds the school record for touchdowns in a single season with 32.