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FCS Football to the fore!

Last weekend saw the start of the 2019 College Football season. With all eyes on the Camping World Kick Off game, fans saw a sloppy matchup end with Feleipe Franks leading Florida to victory over Miami. However, college football had truly returned to our lives earlier in the day with two FCS matchups.

An impressive display by Villanova saw them overcome Colgate before Youngstown State visited Samford for the official opener, the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff. What a mouthful!

Led by a ground game that amassed 277 yards, The Penguins of Youngstown State trampled Samford on their way to a 45-22 victory. Even when backup QB Chris Oladokun came in and attempted to spark a comeback for Samford, the Penguins proved too resilient.

After being overshadowed in week 0, FCS football comes to the fore in week 1.

For those of you that think College Football consists of Alabama, Clemson and co, think again. Yes, these programs garner the attention. For sure, these programs attract the most fans. As a result, these programs attract the best recruits. The money involved in the FBS level of the game is so much more than in the FCS. However, there are high quality players to be found in the FCS game and as a result there is highly entertaining football to be found too.

The early weeks of the College Football season is where these teams come to the fore. There has been many an argument about the value of these so called “cupcake” games between the FCS and FBS teams. Often games are one sided and therefore fans don’t turn up to watch. However, the value for the FCS teams in terms of exposure and financial reward can’t be denied.

Week 1 will see many FCS teams take on their allegedly more illustrious counterparts. Can a large number pull off a shock victory? The record for FCS wins over FBS opponents in a single week stands at 16 from the 2013 season. Let’s have a look at some of the standout clashes this week:

Florida A & M @ UCF – Friday 30th September 00:30

Image Credits: FAMU Athletics

The Florida A & M Rattlers had a turn around in fortune last season under first year head coach Willie Simmons. After a 2017 season that saw them go 3-8, 2018 ended with a 6-5 winning record including a 5-2 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) record. Last season’s performance has had a positive impact on the pre-season MEAC poll, with the Rattlers garnering two first place votes and a third place overall ranking.

They open the season with an all-Florida shootout against self-proclaimed 2017 National Champions UCF. The Knights two season unbeaten run came to an end at the hands of LSU in a hard fought Fiesta Bowl. They will have a new quarterback in Notre Dame transfer, Brandon Wimbush.

There are no such concerns for the Rattlers. They are once again led by QB Ryan Stanley who has earned pre-season All-MEAC second team honours. Stanley had over 2500 passing yards and 17 touchdowns in 2018. If he replicate that performance this year, he will become the programs passing yards leader. He will be one to watch on Thursday night, as will Deshawn Smith and Bishop Bonnett. The two running backs combined for over 1000 rushing yards in 2018. The defence will be led by returning defensive back Terry Jefferson. The Knights will also need to watch out for defensive end Joshua Crutchfield who will be looking to build on his 10 tackles for loss and 2 sacks in 2018.

Indiana State @ Kansas – Saturday 31st August 17:00

Photo Credit: Indiana State University Athletics

All eyes will be on this game as Les “The Hat” Miles returns to coaching with Kansas. However, the eyes of the college football world might be on it for different reasons by the end. Of all the FCS vs FBS games this weekend, the Sycamores have potentially the best chance of an upset. Kansas really are that bad.

The Sycamores come in to this season on the back of winning their final 5 games of 2018. They went 7-4 overall and 5-3 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. That 5-3 included narrow a defeat to South Dakota State and a thumping win over Youngstown State. After going 0-11 in 2017, it was a dramatic improvement!

Crucially for the Sycamores, they return 9 starters from the 2018 offence. QB Ryan Boyle returns, as does all but one of his starting offensive line from last year. Running back, Ja’Quan Keys, is a big loss for a team that likes to pound the rock. However, you can expect to see plenty of Titus McCoy. On defence, watch out for linebacker Jonas Griffith, who has been voted to the MVFC pre-season team as well as being selected to the preseason All-American team.

James Madison University @ West Virginia – Saturday 31st August 19:00

Photo Credit: caasports.com

West Virginia are a program in transition and for that reason this one could be an upset in the making. They have a new head coach in Neal Brown. After Will Grier was drafted by the Carolina Panthers, they will have a new starting quarterback. Their wide receiver core was decimated by the draft as well.

Although JMU are 0-2 in the head to head record, now could be better than ever to make a statement win against Big 12 opposition. After a somewhat down year in 2018, in comparison to making the NCAA National Championship game in 2017, it would start the campaign off in fine style.

Despite having a new head coach themselves, expect JMU to play with the same up tempo offense and a stingy defence that allowed less than 15 points per game. Look out for CB Rashad Robinson, S Adam Smith, LB Dimitri Holloway and DL Ron’Dell Carter to be the driving force on that defence come Saturday night. The offence will be without the suspended Riley Stapleton versus WVU, and how they adjust without their star WR could set the tone for the game.

Eastern Washington @ Washington – Saturday 31st August 20:00

Photo Credit: bigskyconf.com

Get set for a Saturday night offensive shootout with a local area grudge feel to it. Both of these teams are stacked offensively, with the Washington WR room possibly being as team as it’s ever been. The Huskies are the overwhelming favourite, naturally, but with the intention to not start QB Jacob Eason there could be a chance that East Washington make them pay.

The Eagles have an extremely strong and balanced offense which will provide a big test for the Washington defence. Last season they combined for over 250 yards per game average in both run AND pass yards. Their 43 points per game average was enough for 4th in the nation.

Having a naturally gifted dual threat QB is key to the success of that system and in Eric Barriere the Eagles have their man. Combined with RB Antoine Custis Jr and WR Andrew Boston, the trio have the making of an explosive Saturday night’s entertainment. It may not have the makings of an upset, but it will be certainly entertaining.

U.C. Davis @ Cal – Saturday 31st August – 23:30

Photo Credit: UC Davis Athletics

The U.C. Davis Aggies have been in the media plenty this off-season. Firstly with the announcement of a matchup against USC, marking the first time the Trojans will face FCS opposition. Then, the Hard Knocks cameras followed former Aggie, Keelan Doss, to U.C. Davis Health Stadium as he continues to shine in Oakland Raiders pre-season.

Now is the time for 2019 Aggies team to shine. After reaching the NCAA National Championship quarter final in 2018, they begin the season ranked in the FCS top 5. Although Cal offer a difficult matchup to open the season, there is cause for optimism in Davis. That optimism starts with senior QB Jake Maier.

Maier has been selected for an absolute laundry list of pre-season awards and watch lists. Those include All-American and All-Big Sky Conference honours. These awards follow on from his 2018 Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year award. With Maier alongside WR Jared Harrell, RB Ulonzo Gilliam Jr and TE Wes Preece the Aggies offense will provide a stiff opening test for a much lauded Cal defence.

Feature Image Credit: NCAA

Article written by:

Oliver Hodgkinson is a New England Patriots and Boston College fan who has followed the game since 2012. He covers all aspects of College Football and the AFC West. You can find him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson

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