By Chuck Burton
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — There are three weeks to go, and there are about 50 FCS games on the docket this weekend.
But there are 15 of them that will have a whole lot more to do with clearing up the playoff picture than the others - and they might not be the games you think.
Below the flip, look over the list of the fifteen biggest games in terms of playoff eligibility and positioning.
(Note: Top 25 Rankings are from the FCS Coaches Poll.)
12:00 PM EDT, (13) James Madison at (11) New Hampshire. The Wildcats' high-octane offense, led by quarterback Kevin Decker, faces off against the stout James Madison defense, led by defensive end Lamar "Malcolm In the" Middleton. Neither team can afford to slip up on their path to 7 Division I wins - making this a critical game for both sides if they want to be playing after Thanksgiving.
12:30 PM EDT, Holy Cross at (7) Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks, led by quarterback Chris Lum, will see if their high-powered offense can be slowed down by one of the top pass defenses in the country, led by cornerback Chandler Fenner. If Lehigh slips, it opens up two teams - Holy Cross or Georgetown - to potentially steal the autobid away from Lehigh.
The game will be carried locally on their local cable station, Service Electric Cable 2.
12:30 PM EDT, (17) Towson at (10) Maine. Who thought in August that this game could determine the CAA title? Should Black Bear defensive end Michael Cole stop the Tigers cold in Orono, Maine should be a mortal lock for the playoffs, and quite possibly a seed.
For Towson running back Terrance West and the Tigers, though, the game could be even more critical. A loss here, and just one more loss against New Hampshire or Rhode Island, could mean that they will be on the outside looking in at 7-4.
The game will be carried on TV locally in Maine on WABI Channel 4.
1:00 PM EDT, Bryant at Albany. The Great Danes, winners of six straight, are still on track for the NEC title and autobid, but getting past 5-3 Bryant will be critical for them to reach the goal. Should the Bulldogs win, it gives a lot of hope to 7-2 Duquesne, 5-3 Sacred Heart and 4-4 Monmouth that one of them can take the title.
1:30 PM EDT, (3) Appalachian State at Furman. A huge SoCon rivalry, and a huge game for both squads as one team guns for another SoCon championship and the other fights to be included in the FCS postseason.
The Paladins, led by efficient quarterback Chris Forcier, will need to win their last two SoCon games to get to 7 Division I wins (assuming that they will lose to FBS Florida) and hope the playoff subcommittee overlooks their 30-23 defeat at the hands of 4-4 Coastal Carolina to start the season. But standing in their way are (who else?) the 6-2 Mountaineers, behind wideout Brian Quick, who could be in line for a seed if they win out and Georgia Southern upsets Wofford next week.
2:00 PM EDT, (1) North Dakota State at (16) Indiana State. The Bison are in the drivers seat, and if they win the rest of their games behind the running of D.J. McNorton they could have the No. 1 overall seed wrapped up. But should surprising Indiana State beat the Bison at home behind their own star running back Shakir Bell, they'll go from "nearly off the bubble" team to "prime at-large candidate", making this a giant game for the Sycamores.
Plenty of folks around the country should be watching the game online, too, as it will be available on ESPN3 for viewing over the internet.
2:00 PM EDT, Richmond at (12) Old Dominion. Quarterback Aaron Corp and the Spiders are playing for pride, but they could help an awful lot of at-large candidates around the nation if they spank the Monarchs this weekend at home. Should Old Dominion lose their last two games and finish 7-4, they'll be much more of a borderline team than many around the country might think.
2:30 PM EDT, Murray State at (15) Tennessee Tech. The 4-4 Racers are out of the hunt for the title, but they could make the OVC title race very interesting should they upset the Golden Eagles this weekend, who need to win out in order to hold off Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State.
The game will be broadcast locally on the Racer Television Network, and is also available for viewing on ESPN3 as well.
3:30 PM EDT, (2) Montana State at Weber State. A case could be made that the 8-1 Bobcats are the hottest team in the nation right now, and they won't want that spoiled by 3-5 Weber State. But if they do fall in Utah, it would put them in jeopardy of losing a potential seed in the FCS playoffs.
This game will be carried on the Altitude Network, and is also available over this internet for free (registration required) at America One.
4:00 PM EDT, Eastern Kentucky at (18) Jacksonville State. The winner will still have a great chance at the OVC title and autobid; the loser will have to hope that a 7-4 team, at best, will be able to qualify as an at-large team to the playoffs. It doesn't get much simpler than that, which makes this tangle in Jacksonville, Alabama a very interesting game.
Many folks around the country will be able to enjoy it, too, as it will be broadcast on ESPN3 as well as Channel 24 WJXS TV locally as well.
4:00 PM EDT, Morgan State at Bethune-Cookman. In the wild and wacky MEAC, the outcome of this game will go a long way towards determining which team will win the MEAC championship - and which team will be sitting at home during the playoffs.
If Morgan State, led by quarterback Ryan Higgins, beats the Wildcats, it will set up a showdown next weekend against Norfolk State, assuming the Spartans can get by 1-7 Savannah State this weekend. But if Bethune Cookman and running back Isidiore Jackson win instead, it keeps the Wildcats' at-large possibility alive, should they win the rest of their games.
4:00 PM EDT, Central Arkansas at Northwestern State. Only one team can realistically unseat undefeated Sam Houston State for the Southland conference title and autobid, and that's the Demons, led by cornerback Jamaal White on defense. But for quarterback Nathan Dick and Central Arkansas, who need to win the rest of their games to make it to 8 wins/7 Division I wins, this game is a must-win as well.
5:00 PM EDT, Youngstown State at (6) Northern Iowa. The Penguins' powerful rushing attack, led by running back Jamaine Cook, will be heading against defensive end Ben Boothby and the stout Northern Iowa defense. While the Panthers could probably afford a slip-up, the Penguins are desperate to have a "show-me" game for the playoff committee, and a win on the road in the UNI Dome, a place where Youngstown State hasn't won since 1999, would definitely be that.
KWWL will be carrying the game locally in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
5:00 PM EDT, Cal Poly at UC Davis. This year's "Battle for the Shoe" is about a lot more than pride, at least on the Cal Poly side: if they can beat the 2-6 Aggies, the Mustangs will remain on track to with the final Great West title, and qualify for the magic number of 7 Division I wins for an at-large berth to the FCS playoffs.
But should they lose - and Davis would like nothing better than that - Cal Poly's championship could become a "co" championship, and their dreams of the playoffs will be dashed.
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