In the FCS Huddle: Week 8 Preview

11:16 AM, Oct 17, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - It wasn't exactly the start to the season Villanova coach Andy Talley had hoped for this year, but a string of wins has put his team right back into the thick of the conversation in the FCS.

The Wildcats, now ranked No. 12 in the nation, are almost miraculously 4-2 and have a 3-0 record in the Colonial Athletic Association despite starting the 2013 season with losses to Boston College and Fordham. They took down Towson's perfect record with a 45-35 upset win last Saturday.

Villanova won not because of anything special the team added to its playbook, but because of a sophomore quarterback who stepped up his leadership skills and sparked the flame that ignited his team to victory.

John Robertson's 182-yard, two-touchdown passing performance was topped only by his feet. Last season's Jerry Rice Award winner as the nation's top freshman reverted back to his former self and scampered for 150 yards and three touchdowns to bury the Tigers on the road.

Injuries limited the Wildcats early on this season, but that didn't affect Robertson so much. What did get to him, though, was the way the offense strayed from what made him so effective last year - how Talley and the offensive playcalling got away from having him run the football.

"Well, John, of course, is one of those dual-threat quarterbacks as we know, and we tried to protect him a little early in the season," Talley said. "But he came back to us and said he needs to run the ball more to feel comfortable. That's what he did, and we hold our breath all the time.

"But you know, he was a real force on Saturday. I think he was the player of the week in the CAA, and he ran the ball great and threw the ball well. He was 17-of-18 throwing the ball and just had a great day running the ball. He's a real force."

Talley has coached plenty of great players over the years, who have all had plenty of great single-game performances. Although the years become a bit cloudy, he said, Robertson's performance against a highly touted team like Towson is up there as one of the best he's seen.

Robertson's spectacular play was the hinge in Saturday's win, but Talley said he was certainly impressed with his defense and its ability to slow down Terrance West.

West finished with 61 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The Villanova coach credited early Tigers turnovers and his team's ability to capitalize on them as the reason the Wildcats jumped so far ahead in the first half. And when a team gets behind like Towson did, it's usually forced to throw the ball more in order to catch up.

Towson quarterback Peter Athens attempted 41 passes Saturday - his most in a single game all season, and eight more than his previous single-game high. West's 16 carries tied his fewest this season.

"They had to get into a drop-back mode a little more which helped us," Talley said. "We picked off three passes and our defense stepped up when they had to. But there was a lot of ebb and flow in the game."

Villanova has won four straight games and looks to make it a fifth straight win Saturday when the team travels up to New Hampshire for another CAA showdown.

But Talley knows winning in New Hampshire is never easy, regardless of the other team's record.

"Winning four in a row gives you a certain amount of momentum," Talley said. "But you come off a win against the number two or three (team) in the country, and now you've got to go to New Hampshire, which is not a great place to play. It's very difficult to win up there, and they are one of the best teams in the country. Then we've got Maine here, and we've still got to go to James Madison. So we've got a few hurdles to get over, but I think we're in the best position."

As the weeks roll on, Villanova's two losses don't seem as impactful as they once did earlier in the season. The loss to Boston College is still a loss to an FBS squad, while unbeaten Fordham continues to win and move up the national rankings.

For now, Villanova is in the driver's seat of the CAA. But Talley knows the unpredictability of the conference and knows that the tough matchups won't stop after New Hampshire. And he knows his sophomore quarterback will keep asking for the ball.

"You've just got to keep on trucking," he said.

The following is a game-by-game breakdown for The Sports Network FCS Top 25 and other select games (all times ET):

Saturday, Oct. 19

No. 8 Fordham (7-0) at Yale (3-1)

Kickoff: noon

What to know: We've seen Yale pull off a win over previously ranked Cal Poly this season, so why should the Bulldogs be counted out against No. 8 Fordham?

It's the end of the non-conference schedule for Yale, which recently lost at Dartmouth, 20-13. Fordham will prove to be the Bulldogs' biggest challenge yet, as the Rams average 40 points per game, and have outscored their opponents 82-44 in the fourth quarter this season.

The last time these two teams met back in 2010, Yale came away with a 7-6 victory. But no matter how productive quarterback Henry Furman and running back Tyler Varga are this weekend, it'll be nearly impossible to match the outstanding play of Walter Payton Award candidate Michael Nebrich.

Nebrich is the nation's leader in completion percentage (74.2 percent) and is third in passing yards. This Yale team could possibly be the last real test standing in the way of an undefeated season for the Rams.

Prediction: Fordham 38, Yale 24

No. 12 Villanova (4-2, 3-0 CAA) at No. 25 New Hampshire (2-3, 1-1)

Kickoff: Noon (CSN-PHI)

What to know: Robertson was instrumental in the Wildcats' win over previously unbeaten Towson last weekend, leading his team in rushing yards with 150 and adding three rushing touchdowns. Not to mention his 182 passing yards and two scores in the win. His defense also held Terrance West to 61 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Next up for Villanova is a trip to New Hampshire, where the (other) Wildcats are coming off a convincing win over Rhode Island, 59-19. New Hampshire made a switch at quarterback against the Rams, with Sean Goldrich getting the exclusive action under center.

Villanova and New Hampshire didn't meet up last season, but squared off every season between 2008 and 2011. The last time New Hampshire lost to 'Nova in the regular season was back in 2008 in Philadelphia, and dropped a 2009 playoff contest on 'Nova's home turf. But New Hampshire has owned the rest of the matchups, especially in Durham (Villanova hasn't won at Cowell Stadium since the 2003 season). The all-time series is deadlocked at 11 wins apiece.

New Hampshire's run defense will have a hard time trying to contain Robertson. Who would've thought after such a slow start Villanova would bounce back and take charge of a tough CAA?

Prediction: Villanova 30, New Hampshire 24

Georgetown (1-5, 0-0 Patriot) at No. 18 Lehigh (5-1. 0-0)

Kickoff: 12:30 p.m.

What to know: Although last weekend's loss to Fordham didn't count against the team's Patriot League record, Georgetown must face a ranked conference team for the second week in a row.

The Hoyas are struggling, to say the least, especially against opponents' passing attacks. The Hoyas defense allowed 405 yards last weekend to Nebrich, and fell behind quickly in the contest.

Brandon Bialkowski is no slouch, either. The senior left-hander is tied for fourth in the country with 17 passing touchdowns this season, and is second behind only Eastern Illinois signal caller Jimmy Garoppolo in passing yards in the FCS.

The Mountain Hawks own a 12-game win streak over Georgetown, and have outscored the Hoyas by an average of 38-10 in that span. And if Lehigh wins, it will be the sixth straight season the Mountain Hawks have opened their Patriot League schedule at 1-0.

Prediction: Lehigh 40, Georgetown 18

William & Mary (4-2, 1-1 CAA) at No. 14 Maine (5-1, 2-0)

Kickoff: 12:30 p.m.

What to know: Maine, like many other teams in CAA Football, is just beginning its slide into conference play, and faces some very difficult opponents that will test the team's durability and talent going forward.

William & Mary is certainly one of those teams. The Tribe is on the verge of breaking the Top 25 themselves, but a loss to Villanova a few weeks ago set them back.

The Tribe control the all-time series, 7-3. They also sport the nation's top scoring defense, limiting opponents to a mere 11.8 points per game. But Maine's offense has been stellar this season, averaging 32.2 points per game and 455.2 total yards per game.

In Orono, the Black Bears can be deadly. They've won both games at home this season, and are already looking to outdo their win total from last season's 5-6 season.

Prediction: Maine 27, William & Mary 21

No. 15 South Dakota State (4-3, 1-2 Missouri Valley) at Missouri State (1-6, 1-2)

Kickoff: 2 p.m. (MediaCom)

What to know: History isn't on the side of the Bears for this one. Missouri State is 0-5 against South Dakota State all-time, including 0-2 in Springfield, where the Bears play.

The Jackrabbits suffered through three straight losses before jumping back in the win column Saturday against Western Illinois, but are still looking to rebound and help their 1-2 conference record out. And this may be the perfect matchup to get back to .500 in the Missouri Valley Conference.

The Bears are tied for 80th in the nation in turnovers lost with 13. That's not good news for them because the Jackrabbits lead the MVC and the nation with 15 interceptions, and have a second-in-the-nation plus-13 turnover margin. Though Missouri State ranks fifth nationally in red-zone defense, it's too tough to stop Zach Zenner from scoring.

Prediction: South Dakota State 41, Missouri State 20

No. 24 Tennessee State (6-1, 3-0 OVC) at UT Martin (4-2, 2-1)

Kickoff: 2 p.m.

What to know: Tennessee State returned all 11 starters from an Ohio Valley Conference-leading defense in 2012. Has that become evident yet?

It should be, because that same OVC-leading squad in total defense now leads the nation in 2013, giving up an average of 255 yards per game and a miniscule 4.01 yards per play through seven contests. And for the first time this season, the Tigers are now part of the nation's Top 25.

They travel to face UT Martin this weekend - a team that once sat in the Top 25 but fell out after a loss to Jacksonville State, the same team TSU defeated to earn the spot.

Tennessee State holds a 15-7 series lead on UT Martin, and if the Tigers can get some offense going against the Skyhawks, they shouldn't have much trouble. UT Martin quarterback Dylan Favre might have some, though, against Stephen Godbolt III, David Van Dyke and the rest of the Tennessee State defensive backfield.

Prediction: Tennessee State 27, UT Martin 18

Charleston Southern (7-0) at Colorado (2-3)

Kickoff: 2 p.m.

What to know: Is Charleston Southern possibly the most underrated team in the FCS? The Buccaneers are certainly the least talked-about unbeaten team in the country.

The Bucs have been flying under the radar, but could be in danger of suffering their first loss this weekend against FBS Colorado. CSU opted to schedule a 13th game during the team's planned bye week after record rainfall and flooding canceled the Buffaloes' game with Fresno State back in mid-September. When the opportunity arose to add the game against the FBS opponent, CSU coach Jamey Chadwell jumped at the chance. He said this game will provide long- term benefits to the program.

The Buffaloes started the year strong with wins over Colorado State and Central Arkansas, but have since dropped contests to Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona State. Aside from a win against Appalachian State (if you want to count the Mountaineers as a good team despite their record), the Bucs have defeated teams they should have in the first place.

This test against Colorado will be a measuring stick to weigh Charleston Southern's ability.

Prediction: Colorado 28, Charleston Southern 20

Southeast Missouri State (1-5, 1-2 OVC) at No. 3 Eastern Illinois (5-1, 2-0)

Kickoff: 2:30 p.m.

What to know: Jimmy Garoppolo was once again fantastic as his Panthers tore up Austin Peay's defense last Thursday in a 63-7 win. Garoppolo threw for five touchdowns and 306 yards, and had a touchdown carry as well.

Garoppolo and receiver Erik Lora get most of the (much deserved) attention on offense, but running back Taylor Duncan was a star against the Governors, lighting it up for 128 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Duncan will be looking to at least duplicate his stats against Southeast Missouri's 110th- ranked rushing defense, which gives up an average of 248.8 yards per game.

Last season, Eastern Illinois's win over SEMO was the Ohio Valley Conference clincher for the Panthers. The Redhawks are coming off their first victory of the season - a triple overtime game against Murray State - but the Panthers offense will be way too much to handle.

Prediction: Eastern Illinois 50, Southeast Missouri State 17

No. 1 North Dakota State (6-0, 3-0 Missouri Valley) at Southern Illinois (4-3, 2-1)

Kickoff: 3 p.m. (NBC-ND, ESPN3.com)

What to know: Southern Illinois is playing the role of David pretty well at the moment, after taking down two straight Goliath teams in the FCS in South Dakota State (previously ranked seventh) and Northern Iowa (previously ranked fourth).

For a remarkable third consecutive game, the Salukis will be taking on a Top 10 team. And this is no ordinary Top 10 squad.

The Bison sport the third-best scoring defense and total defense in the country, while Southern Illinois has enjoyed an efficient passing offense under the leadership of quarterback Kory Faulkner. Faulkner is tied for fourth in the nation with 17 passing touchdowns.

But quite possibly the most underrated aspect of this Salukis team is its defense, which allowed just 235 total yards to Northern Iowa, including holding Walter Payton Award candidate David Johnson to 19 rushing yards on 11 carries.

Is there a chance the Salukis can pull it off? Sure. But the Bison haven't lost on the road since the 2010 FCS playoffs, and that streak likely won't come to an end this weekend.

Prediction: North Dakota State 30, Southern Illinois 20

No. 7 Towson (6-1, 2-1 CAA) at Albany (1-6, 0-3)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m.

What to know: For the first time this season, Towson is spending its week figuring out how to cope with a loss. And not just any loss, but one to a team now ahead of the Tigers in the CAA Football standings.

Next up is a trip to Albany - a team coach Bob Ford said before the season would likely struggle a bit adjusting to life in the CAA. But the CAA portion of the team's schedule makes up only half of the team's losses.

In fact, two of Albany's six losses have come against Northeast Conference teams - Albany's former football home base. The Danes have struggled to put any sort of winning combination on the field, although they only lost to Delaware by three points, 33-30, in Newark last weekend.

Towson, with its 23rd-in-the-country rushing attack, can bury the Great Danes' season by dropping them to 0-4 in the CAA this weekend.

Prediction: Towson 38, Albany 17

No. 13 Wofford (4-2, 3-0 Southern) at Western Carolina (1-6, 0-3)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. (ESPN3.com)

What to know: The Terriers have steadily been taking care of their assignments week in and week out, and find themselves now in control of the Southern Conference with Samford, which gets a bye this week.

So the Terriers can get a quick leg up on the Bulldogs with a win before Samford and Wofford meet up on Oct. 26. And this matchup with Western Carolina should do the trick.

The Catamounts have struggled to stop anyone defensively this season, allowing an average of 43.9 points per game to opponents - ranked 117th in the nation. The Terriers have scored 82 points in three games against SoCon opposition this season while giving up 57 points.

It's hard to think Wofford players and coaches aren't looking just a little bit down the road to their matchup with Samford. With Samford, Chattanooga, Appalachian State and Furman to end the season, a win over Western Carolina could actually go a long way.

Prediction: Wofford 42, Western Carolina 21

No. 6 Coastal Carolina (6-0, 1-0 Big South) at Liberty (3-3, 0-0)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. (LFSN, ESPN3.com)

What to know: At the beginning of the season, many pundits had this game pegged as the Big South game of the year between two teams that would arguably be battling for the conference title.

It can still be that way, as Liberty has yet to play in a Big South game and Coastal Carolina is 1-0 in conference play. The Flames' three losses this season came at the hands of very talented opponents in Old Dominion, Richmond and FBS Kent State.

Although Coastal is still undefeated and ranked No. 6 in the nation, the Chanticleers have had their fair share of struggles in Lynchburg against Liberty in the past. They have a 1-4 record at Williams Stadium - that one win being a triple overtime decision in 2005. The all-time series between the two squads is tied at five games apiece.

This matchup is pretty enticing regardless. Coastal Carolina has rushed for over 200 yards as a team 12 times in its last 14 games, and is 11-1 when going over the 200-yard mark. But Liberty sports the 27th-ranked run defense in the FCS, only giving up 126 yards per game. But still, Chanticleers quarterback Alex Ross has made teams pay when Lorenzo Taliaferro isn't his normal superhuman self.

Prediction: Coastal Carolina 31, Liberty 27

Cal Poly (3-3, 2-0 Big Sky) at No. 10 Montana (5-1, 2-1)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. (Max Media, KKFX)

What to know: The Mustangs followed up their 24-10 loss at home to Yale with a beating unleashed against Weber State, 47-0. Apparently the frustration from the Yale game had been mounting all last week up to the Weber State contest.

Now the Mustangs must travel to Missoula to take on the Grizzlies, who are coming off a one-sided win of their own, a 42-7 crushing of UC Davis. Between receiver Ellis Henderson's two-touchdown day and the team's four total rushing scores, the Grizzlies looked once again as dangerous as their Grizzly mascot.

Cal Poly started quarterback Dano Graves - the third player to start under center this season - against Weber State, as he helped the team to its first shutout in seven years. Running back Kristaan Ivory leads the Big Sky in rushing, averaging 114 yards per game, while as a whole Cal Poly collected 365 rushing yards last weekend versus the Wildcats.

But Montana's stingy run defense won't be intimidated. The Grizzlies rank 20th in the nation, allowing 114.8 rushing yards per game to opponents and just four rushing touchdowns. Considering the high number of times Cal Poly runs the football, players like Zack Wagenmann and Alex Bienemann will likely have a field day stopping the run.

Prediction: Montana 32, Cal Poly 23

Savannah State (1-6, 0-3 MEAC) at No. 17 Bethune-Cookman (5-1, 2-0)

Kickoff: 4 p.m.

What to know: Bethune-Cookman, with such a talented defense and high-flying offense, has almost quietly had success this season. The Wildcats were picked as favorites to win the MEAC, but the story out of that conference has been the recent play of South Carolina State.

While SCSU continues to make headway into its schedule, Bethune-Cookman can keep up its steady pace this weekend with a matchup against MEAC basement- dweller Savannah State. The Tigers have had a particularly rough schedule this season, losing games to Georgia Southern, FBS Troy and Miami (Fla.), and then dropping a trio of MEAC games.

Teams aren't doing anything fancy to beat Savannah State - they're just waiting for the Tigers to make mistakes. Turnovers have been a huge cause for concern, and Bethune-Cookman this weekend will be waiting to pounce with its 11 turnovers gained this season.

Prediction: Bethune-Cookman 34, Savannah State 17

Western Illinois (3-4, 1-2 Missouri Valley) at No. 16 Youngstown State (6-1, 3-0)

Kickoff: 4 p.m. (ESPN3.com)

What to know: The Penguins easily disposed of Missouri Valley Conference foe Illinois State, 59-21, last Saturday, and maintain their perfect 3-0 record in conference play.

The 59 points scored against the Redbirds marks the third time this season Youngstown State has recorded at least 59 points against an opponent. The Penguins are now on a four-game winning streak and will host Western Illinois, a team coming off a loss to South Dakota State.

Leathernecks quarterback Trenton Norvell, a freshman, tossed four interceptions against the Jackrabbits, who lead the nation with 15 picks on defense. The Penguins have shown proficiency on defense as well, ranking 20th in the FCS with 14 turnovers gained.

Senior quarterback Kurt Hess has been nothing short of great this season, while Youngstown State knows it has a current and future star at running back in Martin Ruiz. Getting a fourth MVC win would be huge for the Penguins moving forward.

Prediction: Youngstown State 34, Western Illinois 23

South Dakota (3-3, 2-1 Missouri Valley) at No. 11 Northern Iowa (4-2, 0-2)

Kickoff: 5 p.m.

What to know: Perhaps the thought of letting North Dakota State take a come- from-behind win two weeks ago crept back into the minds of the Northern Iowa players last weekend, as the team squared off with apparent giant killer Southern Illinois.

The Salukis entered the game having just a week earlier upset South Dakota State, and made it two Top 25 teams in a row by defeating the Panthers - certainly a more shocking defeat than at the hands of NDSU.

But this week the Panthers host South Dakota, a team that already has two Missouri Valley Conference wins compared to last year's zero. Mark Farley's group should be ready to bounce back, though. When the two teams met last season, Northern Iowa not only came away with a win, but then-sophomore back David Johnson led the squad with 130 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Farley has a career 4-0 mark against the Coyotes, while the Panthers are 4-1 against them in the UNI-Dome.

Although South Dakota is riding a two-game win streak while Northern Iowa is experiencing the inverse, the Panthers have too much in the way of offensive weaponry for the Coyotes to handle safely. South Dakota hasn't scored more than 17 points in a game this season, and will need to do so in order to defeat the Panthers.

Prediction: Northern Iowa 27, South Dakota 14

No. 5 Montana State (4-2, 2-0 Big Sky) at Weber State (1-6, 0-3)

Kickoff: 5:30 p.m. (ROOT-NW)

What to know: The Wildcats have been hard-pressed to slow any opposing offense this season, regardless of conference or division level. The most recent blanking at the hands of Cal Poly is especially troubling, considering the quality of some opponents coming up for Weber State.

Montana State is coming off a bye week, and travels to Odgen to face the worst scoring defense in the country. The Wildcats have allowed an average of 48.9 points per game, including 40 in the team's season-opening win over Stephen F. Austin.

Though it appears this season is heading quickly toward a lost cause, there's reason for optimism looking ahead. Weber State starts a slew of freshmen, and a total of 26 freshmen played in last Saturday's contest with Cal Poly.

The Bobcats, however, are anything but out of this season's race. Looking to improve to 3-0 in the Big Sky, keep an eye on running backs Cody Kirk and Shawn Johnson once again against Weber State's last-in-conference and 115th- in-the-nation run defense.

Prediction: Montana State 45, Weber State 16

Princeton (3-1, 1-0 Ivy) at Brown (3-1, 0-1)

Kickoff: 6 p.m.

What to know: Stiff competition is usually what you get when you start your football season several weeks later than the rest of the country. But it's an especially competitive season in the Ivy League through the first four weeks, with six of the eight Ivy teams at or above the .500 mark overall.

Princeton and Brown are two of those six teams, though Brown has lost its only Ivy League matchup against unbeaten Harvard. Since that loss, the Bears have been stellar, beating Rhode Island by 17 points and Bryant by 27. Now Princeton is in town, sporting an identical 3-1 overall record but with a win over Columbia.

Both the Bears and Tigers enjoy efficient passing attacks, as Patrick Donnelly led Brown over Bryant with 339 yards and four passing scores, while Connor Michelson and Quinn Epperly successfully split time under center for the Tigers.

Should Princeton win, the Tigers would be knotted with the Crimson at 2-0 in the conference standings. Look for Princeton's 23rd-ranked FCS scoring defense to keep not only Donnelly but running back John Spooney at bay.

Prediction: Princeton 27, Brown 21

Duquesne (3-2, 1-0 NEC) at Robert Morris (2-3, 0-0)

Kickoff: 6 p.m.

What to know: The Battle for Pittsburgh. the Steel City Showdown. Whatever you want to call it, this game represents which FCS team located in Pittsburgh gets city bragging rights, not to mention a Northeast Conference win.

Robert Morris is coming off a bye week, and a much-needed one at that. The Colonials lost 35-9 to Monmouth prior to their bye week, and needed overtime to finally quell VMI. It was certainly an underwhelming performance defensively against Monmouth, as the Colonials allowed Hawks receiver Neal Sterling to score on three touchdown passes, while running back Kwabena Asante notched two rushing touchdowns.

Duquesne has been productive offensively and, for the most part, more so defensively. In their last two contests (both wins), the Dukes surrendered just 14 points to West Liberty and seven to defending NEC champion Wagner.

The all-time series between the two Pittsburgh-based schools stands a draw, 7-7, although Duquesne has won five of the past eight meetings between the programs.

Prediction: Duquesne 24, Robert Morris 14

No. 21 Central Arkansas (3-3, 0-1 Southland) at Lamar, (3-3, 0-1)

Kickoff: 7 p.m. (CSN-HOU)

What to know: Unfortunately for Lamar, the program's schedule just so happens to work out that the Cardinals play back-to-back weeks against two preseason and current Top 25 squads - two of the best in the Southland Conference.

Central Arkansas has been beat up, losing games to FBS Colorado, UT Martin and McNeese State. But the Bears used a matchup against Division II Nebraska- Kearney to get back in the win column.

Although the Cardinals are coming off a 14-3 loss to Sam Houston State, the team can take some pride in knowing it held the Bearkats to their lowest point total (by a long shot) in a single game this season. Whether or not that can translate into an upset win against the Bears is yet to be seen.

But UCA suffered a serious injury bug sometime in the last two weeks. Central Arkansas will be without senior quarterback Wynrick Smothers for the remainder of the season. It's as devastating as an injury can get, but the Bears should still be able to hold off the Cardinals.

Prediction: Central Arkansas 20, Lamar 14

Idaho State (3-3, 1-2 Big Sky) at No. 19 Northern Arizona (4-2, 2-1)

Kickoff: 7:05 p.m. (FSN-AZ+)

What to know: After a very rough outing for Northern Arizona quarterback Kyren Poe against Montana State a few weeks back, the sophomore wide receiver convert didn't exactly pick up the pieces against Sacramento State last weekend. In fact, Poe was replaced in the third quarter after the Hornets jumped out to an extensive lead.

But once junior Chase Cartwright entered the game for the Lumberjacks, the team's fortunes and, best of all, the score began to shift. Northern Arizona, led by Cartwright, completed the comeback.

Now the Lumberjacks return home, where they are 2-0 on the season, to face Idaho State. The Bengals are 3-3 this year, including 1-2 in the Big Sky Conference. But two of the team's wins have come against Dixie State and Western Colorado State - both Division II opponents. The third win was against Northern Colorado - Idaho State's first win against a Division I team since 2011. The Bengals had lost 21 consecutive games to D-I programs prior to that game. They will have to overcome an outstanding defense, especially in the backfield, to beat the Lumberjacks at home.

Prediction: Northern Arizona 34, Idaho State 20

No. 2 Sam Houston State (5-1, 1-0 Southland) at No. 9 McNeese State (5-1, 1-0)

Kickoff: 8 p.m. (ESPN3.com)

What to know: Not only is this a match made in heaven for those who love offensive showdowns in college football, but if you're a fan of the Southland Conference, this is the matchup everyone should be watching.

Since the Southland Conference's inception 50 years ago, McNeese State has been the winningest football program in the league's history. The Cowboys have won 13 conference titles, and own a 11-2 record against Sam Houston State at Cowboy Stadium since the Bearkats joined the conference in 1988.

When it comes to the national leaders in scoring offense, Sam Houston State barely edges out McNeese State for second-best in the FCS behind just Eastern Illinois. The Bearkats average 45.3 points per game, while McNeese registers a 43.8 clip.

Most of Sam Houston's production comes from the running game and Timothy Flanders. The Bearkats are first in the country in rushing offense, averaging 319 yards per game. Despite the rough history for Sam Houston State at Cowboy Stadium, containing its unbelievably impressive offense is one tall order for the Cowboys defense.

Prediction: Sam Houston State 45, McNeese State 38

Southern Utah (5-2, 2-1 Big Sky) at No. 4 Eastern Washington (4-2, 2-0 Big Sky)

Kickoff: 8:05 p.m. (SWX)

What to know: With a 2-0 Big Sky record, the Eagles are tied atop the conference standings with Montana State and Cal Poly. And with a Homecoming matchup this weekend against Southern Utah, Eastern Washington looks to keep pace.

Sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams is ranked first in the nation in passing efficiency with a 188.3 mark, especially after his 307-yard, two-touchdown performance against North Dakota last weekend. Southern Utah enters the game ranked 62nd in the country in passing yards allowed per game at 226.7, including 10.58 per completion.

But the Thunderbirds rank eighth in the FCS in turnover margin with a plus-1.3 per game ratio. And the best way to limit Adams and the Eagles offense is to keep them off the field. Southern Utah ranks eighth in the nation in time of possession.

But with the fifth-ranked total offense and the 17th-ranked scoring offense, the Eagles are going to be a hard team to slow down, especially in front of a very red crowd on a very red field.

Prediction: Eastern Washington 42, Southern Utah 21

Idle teams:

No. 20 James Madison

No. 22 Samford

No. 23 Georgia Southern

Last Week's Record: 20-3 (.870)

Season Record: 120-44 (.732)

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