Just because the Super Bowl is in our rearview doesn’t mean football season is over. Au contraire, the FCS season in college football is kicking off this weekend.
The Division I subdivision elected to postpone what would’ve been the 2020 fall season to the spring due to COVID-19, creating a unique slate that will culminate with a 16-team taking place from Apr. 18 to May 16.
Each conference is operating under their own guidelines this spring, ranging from leagues like the SoCon having eight conference games to leagues like the MEAC opting to not play altogether.
With the stage set, let’s take a look at some games to keep your eye on as this unique slate begins.
Morehead State at James Madison (-42.5) (Total 55.5)
Sat, 12 p.m. ET on NBC Washington Plus and FloFootball
Kicking off the Saturday slate is powerhouse James Madison, who last took the field last January when falling to North Dakota State 28-20 in the FCS championship game.
Ranked No. 4 in Athlon Sports’ preseason rankings, the Dukes are returning just seven starters from their runner-up squad in 2019 as critical players like All-American Ron’Dell Carter and brief Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback Ben DiNucci graduated. They do, however, return the dynamic backfield of Percy Agyei-Obese and Jawon Hamilton, who combined for over 2,100 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2019.
Coming off a 5-7 campaign, Morehead State will have some continuity with QB Mark Pappas returning under center. He threw for 2,327 yards and 19 touchdowns for the Eagles in 2019.
JMU opens as a heavy 42.5 point favorite, so it’ll be interesting to see if they step on the gas immediately in their quest to get back to the FCS title game.
Southern Illinois (-3.5) at North Dakota (Total 48.5)
Saturday, 1 p.m. ET on ESPN+
North Dakota officially plays their first game in the Missouri Valley Conference on Saturday when welcoming Southern Illinois to the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.
The Fighting Hawks are coming off a 7-5 campaign in 2019 where they snuck into the FCS playoffs as an independent before being bounced in the first round by Nicholls State.
Meanwhile, Southern Illinois technically enters the contest 1-0 after beating rival Southeast Missouri State 20-17 in their lone game of the fall on Oct. 30. The Salukis will be powered by the return of dynamic running back Javon Williams Jr., who rushed for 1,038 yards on 6.4 yards per carry and 19 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman in 2019.
Interestingly enough, North Dakota has won 33 straight home openers so SIU will have their work cut out for them in trying to steal a victory in the Alerus Center.
Youngstown State at North Dakota State (-24) (Total 53)
Sunday, 3:30 p.m. on ESPN+
FCS’ resident dynasty program will kickoff the spring on Sunday when North Dakota State hosts Youngstown State on Sunday.
Fresh off their eighth national championship in nine years, the Bison will have a new signal-caller under center with star QB and 2019 Walter Payton Award winner Trey Lance prepping for the NFL Draft, where he is set to be a top-10 pick. Stepping into the role and looking to make some noise for himself is senior Bison QB Zeb Noland, an Iowa State transfer who appeared in eight games as Lance’s backup in 2019.
After losing head coach Bo Pelini to LSU nearly a year ago, Youngstown State will finally kickstart the Doug Phillips era. Phillips will undertake a rebuild and try to get the Penguins back to where they were as a national championship game participant in 2016 before plateauing under Pelini.
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