FCS Top 25 preview: Nobody's safe
(STATS) – Where has the regular season gone? Well, if November has snuck up on FCS fans, this week's national schedule will get their attention.
There's nowhere for anybody, including Top 10 teams, to hide.
Top-ranked Sam Houston State faces rival McNeese, last year's Southland Conference champ.
No. 2 Jacksonville State is at Southeast Missouri State – potentially a tricky road game.
No. 3 Eastern Washington visits No. 14 Cal Poly – dangerous indeed.
No. 4 North Dakota State hosts No. 15 Youngstown State.
No. 5 The Citadel puts its unbeaten record on the line against No. 20 Samford.
No. 6 Richmond and No. 7 James Madison face each other.
No. 8 Charleston Southern? OK, it's probably safe at home against Gardner-Webb. But not as safe as No. 9 Chattanooga, no doubt glad to be on a bye.
No. 10 Villanova goes to surging Maine, the first team sitting outside the Top 25.
Keep going? OK, No. 11 North Carolina A&T hosts perennial MEAC power South Carolina State. No. 12 Western Illinois hosts an Illinois State squad that just went into the Top 10 and won (versus South Dakota State).
You know about Cal Poly, Youngstown State and Samford. There's also tough conference road games for No. 16 North Dakota (Northern Colorado) and No. 17 Central Arkansas (Stephen F. Austin).
The weeks will grow with importance, but within the FCS Top 25, the first Saturday in November is scarier than Halloween.
FCS GAME OF THE WEEK=
The Matchup: No. 7 James Madison (7-1, 5-0 CAA) at No. 6 Richmond (7-1, 4-1)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET at Robins Stadium (8,700) in Richmond, Virginia
Television: Comcast SportsNet Plus
Series: Richmond leads 18-15 (most recent meeting: Richmond won 59-49 at JMU on Oct. 24, 2015)
The Skinny: Last year's game drew ESPN's “College GameDay” show to JMU, but the stakes are similar with this year's matchup. The first-place Dukes are the lone unbeaten team in CAA Football play, but five teams are within one game of them. Last week, the Dukes scored 84 points against Rhode Island – a record for a CAA game – with quarterback Bryan Schor (FCS leader with 71.3 completion percentage) winning conference player of the week honors for the third time in five weeks. The Dukes rank in the national top 10 in 11 different offensive categories, and their opportunistic defense has helped them to a plus-13 turnover margin. Richmond had last week off to prepare even more for its rival. Freshman Deontez Thompson is the Spiders' third different starting running back because of injuries, but he's rushed for over 100 yards in two of the last three games. Still, the offense revolves around the Kyle Lauletta-Brian Brown passing combo. Opponents have completed under 47 percent of their passes and the Spiders defense has 12 interceptions.
Prediction: The bye week was important as Richmond healed up some more. But Schor in combination with running backs Khalid Abdullah and Cardon Johnson might give the Dukes too much offense. James Madison, 31-28.
STATS FCS TOP 25 SCHEDULE=
Saturday, Nov. 5
All Times ET
Gardner-Webb (3-6, 1-2 Big South) at X-No. 8 Charleston Southern (5-2, 2-0), 11:45 a.m. – Charleston Southern is the best in the Big South in stopping the run, but Gardner-Webb has a formidable rushing duo in quarterback Tyrell Maxwell and running back Khalil Lewis.
X-No. 10 Villanova (6-2, 4-1 CAA) at Maine (5-3, 4-1), noon – The host Black Bears, on a five-game winning streak, are the first team sitting outside the STATS FCS Top 25. Their coach, 30-year-old Joe Harasymiak, wasn't born when Andy Talley started coaching at Villanova 32 seasons ago.
Bucknell (3-5, 2-1 Patriot) at X-No. 24 Lehigh (7-2, 4-0), 12:30 p.m. – The defensive Bison can still have a say in the Patriot League title race, but Lehigh is on too much of a roll, averaging 48.3 points during its seven-game winning streak. With a win, the Mountain Hawks would clinch a share of its first league title since 2011 and the first bid to the FCS playoffs.
Columbia (2-5, 1-3 Ivy) at X-No. 23 Harvard (6-1, 4-0), 1 p.m. – The Crimson are always strong at tight end. This season, senior Anthony Firkser (34 receptions, 528 yards, six touchdowns) is among the best in the FCS.
South Carolina State (3-4, 3-1 MEAC) at X-No. 11 North Carolina A&T (7-1, 5-0), 1 p.m. – Incredibly, A&T senior running back Tarik Cohen has won five straight MEAC offensive player of the week awards.
No. 20 Samford (6-2, 4-1 Southern) at X-No. 5 The Citadel (8-0, 6-0), 2 p.m. – If The Citadel can slow Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges and earn a win, it would clinch at least a share of its second consecutive Southern Conference title as well as the automatic bid to the playoffs. The unbeaten Bulldogs have never won nine straight games.
Monmouth (4-5) at X-No. 18 Coastal Carolina (6-2), 2 p.m. – The Chanticleers begin their final month in the FCS with the first of four straight home games. Their two losses are by one point each (Jacksonville State and Charleston Southern).
X-No. 2 Jacksonville State (7-1, 4-0 OVC) at Southeast Missouri State (3-5, 3-2), 2 p.m. – The Gamecocks' defense leads the FCS in fewest yards allowed per game (259.6). Safeties Marlon Bridges and Siran Neal are their leading tacklers.
William & Mary (3-5, 1-4 CAA) at X-No. 25 Stony Brook (5-3, 4-1), 2 p.m. – The Seawolves seek to bounce back from a five-turnover loss at New Hampshire. They've committed 19 turnovers this season – UT Martin is the only FCS team with a winning record that has more.
Illinois State (4-5, 2-4 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 12 Western Illinois (6-2, 3-2), 2 p.m. – These teams know close games: WIU is 4-0 in games decided by five points or less, while Illinois State has played five games decided by three points or less, winning two of them.
X-No. 16 North Dakota (7-2, 6-0 Big Sky) at Northern Colorado (5-3, 3-2), 2:05 p.m. – UND allowed a season-low 12 rushing yards against Weber State in its seventh straight win last week and leads the Big Sky in rushing defense for the third straight season (98.2 ypg).
X-No. 21 Grambling State (5-1, 5-0 SWAC) at Alabama A&M (3-5, 2-5), 3 p.m. – Tigers transfer QB DeVante Kincade has thrown for 19 touchdowns and only one interception.
Missouri State (4-4, 2-3 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 13 South Dakota State (5-3, 4-1), 3 p.m. – The host Jackrabbits seek to bounce back after being knocked from the Top 10 by Illinois State. Tight end Dallas Goedert (937) and wide receiver Jake Wieneke (909) are both on the verge of 1,000 receiving yards this season.
No. 15 Youngstown State (6-2, 4-1 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 4 North Dakota State (7-1, 4-1), 3:30 p.m. – Youngstown State is one of the nation's best in rushing defense, but the power run game is an NDSU staple. The Bison will wear their alternate gold jersey, having gone 22-0 in it since its debut in 2011.
X-No. 17 Central Arkansas (7-1, 6-0 Southland) at Stephen F. Austin (4-4, 3-3), 3:30 p.m. – UCA quarterback Hayden Hildebrand (13 TDs vs. three interceptions) is having a strong season, protected by an offensive line that has allowed only five sacks.
Idaho State (2-6, 1-4 Big Sky) at X-No. 19 Montana (5-3, 2-3), 7 p.m. – The Griz's 135 points over a two-game stretch last month have been quickly canceled out by two straight losses, but Brady Gustafson and Co. should get back on track against the Idaho State defense.
McNeese (5-4, 4-3 Southland) at X-No. 1 Sam Houston State (8-0, 6-0), 7 p.m. – Credit top-ranked Sam Houston's offensive line. The offense has attempted 318 passes, but the Bearkats are tied for the third-fewest sacks in the FCS (three).
No. 3 Eastern Washington (7-1, 5-0 Big Sky) at X-No. 14 Cal Poly (6-2, 4-1), 9:05 p.m. – The nation's No. 1 passing attack (EWU, 439 ypg) meets the nation's No. 1 rushing attack (Cal Poly, 370.2 ypg). After they allowed at least 30 points to each of their first six opponents, the visiting Eagles have surrendered only 33 (versus Montana State and Montana) over the last two weeks.
Idle: No. 9 Chattanooga (8-1, 6-1 Southern) and No. 22 New Hampshire (6-3, 5-1 CAA)