FCS predictions: Don’t hit the panic button

Mississippi State linebacker Montez Sweat (9) prepares to sack Charleston Southern quarterback Shane Bucenell (6) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)

(STATS) – The start of conference schedules provides a reminder, and for some teams that are favored to win titles yet are struggling, it can be much-needed:

Take a deep breath, you haven’t lost a league game yet.

That may not seem like the case to teams off to an underwhelming, even jarring start to the season, but their goals are still in front of them, and intact.

Lehigh has gone from the 2016 Patriot League title to being 0-3 and ousted from the national rankings. Charleston Southern, which has won at least a share of the last two Big South titles, is out as well following an 0-2 start.

Ivy League power Harvard was stunned in its season opener by Rhode Island. San Diego (1-2) has looked anything like last year’s Pioneer Football League champ. Big Sky favorite North Dakota (1-2) was just pounded by border rival South Dakota 45-7 – the kind of loss coach Bubba Schweigert said the Fighting Hawks haven’t experienced in a while.

But they’re all 0-0 in conference games. A win Saturday and Harvard, San Diego and North Dakota will be on track in conference play. Charleston Southern and Lehigh open conference play next month, and when those days roll around, they’ll still control their destiny.

“Coaches go through very similar emotions (as players), in my opinion,” Schweigert said. “There’s disappointment, there’s maybe something like, ‘Hey, what could we have done differently?’

“But the one thing that I always look at is, hey, if you have a consistent belief and philosophy about how you go about your business is going to be successful, then you talk to the young men about that.”

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WEEK 4 FCS TOP 25 PICKS=

All Times ET

X – Predicted Winner

Week 3 Record: 16-3 (.842); Season Record: 56-5 (.918)

Saturday, Sept. 23

Maine (1-1, 0-0 CAA) at X-No. 1 James Madison (3-0, 1-0), 1:30 p.m. – Maine coach Joe Harasymiak says “one of the things that separates us is they win big-time games in the fourth quarter and we don’t.” Don’t be fooled, the Black Bears, who are plus-eight in turnover margin, are a live underdog.

Gardner-Webb (0-3) at X-No. 9 Wofford (2-0), 1:30 p.m. – Coach Mike Ayers is going for his 200th career win at Wofford.

X-No. 14 Illinois State (2-0, 0-0 Missouri Valley) at Missouri State (1-2), 3 p.m. – Former junior college All-American Tyree Horton has stepped in at linebacker to make an already strong Redbirds defense even better.

Rhode Island (1-2, 0-1 CAA) at X-No. 15 New Hampshire (2-1, 1-0), 3:30 p.m. – The Wildcats must still be exclaiming, “Holy, Cross!”

Montana State (0-2, 0-0 Big Sky) at X-No. 17 North Dakota (1-2, 0-0), 3:30 p.m. – Will the real UND squad please stand up?

Robert Morris (2-1) at X-No. 2 North Dakota State (2-0), 3:30 p.m. – The Robert Morris defense and special teams might have a better chance of scoring points than the offense.

No. 18 Samford (2-1, 0-0 Southern) at X-Western Carolina (2-1, 0-0), 3:30 p.m. – This game has 45-42 written all over it.

No. 20 Tennessee State (3-0, 0-0 OVC) at X-No. 24 UT Martin (2-1, 0-0), 5 p.m. – The FCS Game of the Week features two stingy defenses.

Elon (2-1, 0-0 CAA) at X-No. 8 Richmond (2-1, 0-0), 6 p.m. – The Spiders’ 68 points against Howard were the most against any Division I opponent in program history and their highest output since 1943.

X-No. 19 Western Illinois (2-1) at Coastal Carolina (1-1), 6:30 p.m. – In each of its first two games, Western Illinois bettered last year’s best time of possession. The Leathernecks rank second nationally at 38 minutes, 11 seconds.

No. 7 Villanova (2-1, 0-0 CAA) at X-Albany (2-1, 0-0), 7 p.m. – The Great Danes are happy to be running again with Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, but ‘Nova quarterback Zach Bednarczyk has been lights out this season.

X-No. 25 Holy Cross (2-1) at Dartmouth (1-0), 7 p.m. – The Crusaders loved their most recent result against a team from New Hampshire.

No. 16 Liberty (3-0) at X-No. 5 Jacksonville State (1-1), 7 p.m. – The host Gamecocks have won 32 straight non-FBS games in the regular season since 2013.

X-No. 22 Grambling State (2-1, 1-0 SWAC) at Mississippi Valley State (0-2, 0-0), 7 p.m. – In SWAC regular-season games since the start of the 2014 season, Grambling State has lost only twice and MVSU has won only three times.

X-No. 21 North Carolina A&T (3-0, 0-0 MEAC) at Morgan State (0-3, 0-0), 7 p.m. – Morgan State has yet to score this season, losing by a combined 101-0 to Towson, Albany and Rutgers.

Nicholls (2-1, 1-0 Southland) at X-No. 3 Sam Houston State (2-0, 0-0), 7 p.m. – Sam Houston’s 1,104 offensive yards in two games look great, but, oops, they’ve surrendered 1,103.

UC Davis (2-1, 1-0 Big Sky) at X-No. 23 Weber State (2-1, 0-0), 7 p.m. – The Wildcats head into Homecoming Day leading the Big Sky in total offense and total defense.

X-No. 11 Eastern Washington (1-2, 0-0 Big Sky) at Montana (2-1, 0-0), 8 p.m. – This is not two teams easing into the conference schedule. Montana redshirt freshman quarterback Gresch Jensen is making his first career start.