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Maya Ellison | | September 14, 2023

The 9 best nonconference games for the 2023 FCS season

South Dakota St. QB Mark Gronowski breaks down thrilling win over Montana St.

The 2023 FCS football season is here, and it's only right to highlight some of the best nonconference games you can't miss. These matchups could make or break your favorite team's season, either with playoff seeding or bragging rights.

Here are the top nonconference games for the 2023 season.

Week 0 

South Carolina State vs. Jackson State (in Atlanta) | 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday, Aug. 26 

South Carolina State and Jackson State are meeting in this year's MEAC/SWAC Challenge. This game is a rematch of the 2021 Celebration Bowl, when Jackson State fell short to S.C. State. For the Tigers, they enter this matchup with a new team, staff and head coach, T.C. Taylor. As for the Bulldogs, they look to start anew after slipping to 3-8 in 2022.

FOLLOW ALONG: 🏆 Everything to know about the 2023 MEAC/SWAC Challenge

Week 1 

Eastern Washington vs. North Dakota State (in Minneapolis) | 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2

The preseason No. 2 team is battling an opponent that's no stranger. Eastern Washington and North Dakota State have a history of facing each other, including the 2018-19 FCS Championship game and the first round of the 2020-21 FCS Playoffs. Eastern Washington will try to pull the upset from U.S. Bank Stadium at a neutral site.

Merrimack at Holy Cross | 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2 

No. 5 Holy Cross beat Merrimack last season, but both teams come in with high hopes. Holy Cross is the four-time defending Patriot League champion, while the Warriors could make history and qualify for the FCS playoffs for the first time.

Holy Cross Athletics Holy Cross player during game | Holy Cross Football Twitter

Week 2

Montana State at South Dakota State | 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9

Preseason No. 1 South Dakota State and No. 3 Montana State last faced each other in the semifinals of the 2022 FCS playoffs. Montana State returns Tommy Mellott and Sean Chambers for a dynamite QB tandem. They'll have to try to take down the defending champions on their home field.

RANKINGS: 👀 Check out the 2023 preseason FCS Coaches' Poll

Weber State at Northern Iowa | 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9

No. 10 Weber State finished the 2022 season 10-3, getting knocked out in the second round of the playoffs. The Wildcats hold on to a few strong returners, including Damon Bankston. UNI brings back starting quarterback Theo Day, among others.

Elon at Gardner-Webb | 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9

No. 24 Gardner-Webb and Elon face off for the 15th time in program history. Both programs made the playoffs a year ago, with Gardner-Webb outscoring Eastern Kentucky for a wild 52-41 win in the first round.

🏈 QB1: The top 10 returning FCS quarterbacks in 2023

Week 3

Southern Illinois at Southeast Missouri State | 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16

Southern Illinois landed the No. 5 spot in the 12-team Missouri Valley Football Conference preseason poll and return quarterback Nic Baker. Southeast Missouri State brings back quarterback Paxton DeLaurent and Geno Hess, one of the top running backs in the FCS.

Week 5

Campbell at North Carolina Central | 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30

Campbell went just 5-6 in 2022, but the Camels can score, brought in a talented recruiting class and bring back offensive tackle Mike Edwards. North Carolina Central is coming off a big finishing run by winning the 2022 Celebration Bowl against Jackson State. While it's hard to say where both teams will stand come this time in the schedule, this should be an interesting matchup as both teams bring returning favorites and new heavy hitters to the field.

🚨 2023 HBCU FOOTBALL: Schedule, scores, rankings and updates

Week 8

Eastern Kentucky at Gardner-Webb | 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21

This game is a rematch of the first round of the 2022 FCS playoffs, making this the second time both teams will face each other in program history. The two combined for 93 points and more than 1,000 yards of offense as Eastern Kentucky's rally from down 25 in the final quarter fell short, 52-41.

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