In the FCS Huddle: Week 6 Preview

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Updated: 10/03/2013 9:17 am

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Acting as an outside force, how exactly does one stop a moving train dead in its tracks?

Have you seen the movie "Hancock" with Will Smith? You know that scene when there's a train coming and Smith (some sort of other-worldly being, but let's not call him a superhero) just stands on the tracks, letting the train slam into him? Being the non-Earthly entity that he is with apparent super strength, the train stops dead in a matter of milliseconds.

That sort of thing doesn't happen in real life. Shocking, isn't it?

The short answer to the above question is this: Aside from a mountain acting as a road block, very, very little is capable of stopping a moving train.

Towson running back Terrance West is a moving train. His 12 rushing touchdowns lead the FCS, and the junior is sixth in the country with 658 rushing yards.

Delaware State seemingly did the best to limit the powerful back to 82 yards on the ground in Week 3 - his lowest yardage total this season. But look again. West rushed for five touchdowns in his team's 49-7 win over the Hornets.

On Saturday, the Tigers host New Hampshire - a team that has nine consecutive FCS playoff appearances, good for the longest active streak in the nation. But the Wildcats are off to a slow start, currently sitting at 1-2 after a loss to the Patriot League's Lehigh.

West has dominated New Hampshire in his two years as a member of the CAA rivalry. As a freshman (West's best statistical year to date), he carried the ball 23 times for 261 yards and four touchdowns in 2011. Last year, West scampered for 236 yards and two scores against the Wildcats. Both contests resulted in Towson wins.

"This guy has had a field day against the University of New Hampshire over the last two years," UNH coach Sean McDonnell said. "He's a guy who has a forward pad level, gets downhill. Doesn't matter if it's Connecticut, Holy Cross, Stony Brook, the guy finds a seam and busts it and goes. He's done it to us a number of times."

With this third matchup between McDonnell and West looming, the 15-year Wildcat head coach knows exactly what needs to happen for his team to get its season back on track after a loss at Lehigh. But it's no easy task limiting West's production.

"We've got to be gap-conscious," McDonnell said. "We can't try to cheat, try to go make plays that we're not supposed to go make because he has great vision in what he does. I think we've got to stay low on the defensive line and get penetration because these guys roll off the football."

Easier said than done. McDonnell knows that.

But an upset win for the Wildcats this weekend would give them their first in the conference which, at this point, is crucial. Non-conference games have come and gone, and the team's sub-.500 non-CAA record isn't going to impress the national playoff selection committee.

There are numerous teams in the FCS landscape that will be vying for at-large playoff bids, including (in all likelihood) about five in the Colonial Athletic Association.

So what would be the best way for New Hampshire to ensure it gets a spot in the 2013 FCS playoffs for a 10th consecutive time? Earn the CAA's automatic bid, of course.

With a conference schedule that starts at Towson and includes stops at Stony Brook and William & Mary (a team McDonnell has only defeated once in his career as the Wildcats coach), and home contests with Villanova, James Madison and Maine, it will be a steep climb for the Wildcats toward that playoff spot.

The following is a game-by-game breakdown for The Sports Network FCS Top 25 and other select games (all times ET):

Saturday, Oct. 5

No. 19 New Hampshire (1-2, 0-0 CAA) at No. 3 Towson (5-0, 1-0)

Kickoff: noon (CSN-NE)

What to know: Towson had to battle back from a 21-10 Stony Brook halftime lead. No problem, the Tigers went on to score 25 unanswered points in the second half for the 35-21 win.

It's the second straight week the Tigers have seemingly let their opponent hang around until eventually disposing of them. The Towson running game is as strong as ever, featuring West and now freshman Darius Victor, who has scored at least one rushing touchdown in the last two games.

New Hampshire is a bit of a different story than North Carolina Central and Stony Brook. Despite losing to Lehigh a week ago, the Wildcats won't stop their pursuit of a 10th straight playoff appearance. McDonnell is very aware of West and the Towson running game, but whether or not his young defense can do anything to stop it is going to be the question.

Prediction: Towson 38, New Hampshire 27

No. 25 Gardner-Webb (4-1) at Charlotte (3-2)

Kickoff: Noon (WCCB)

What to know: Did Charlotte impress with a decisive 45-21 win over Presbyterian? It's possible. After losing back-to-back games against N.C. Central and James Madison, a win is what the new program needed to get back on track.

But Gardner-Webb is the hot team entering this contest Saturday, having taken three in a row (including two against Top 25 opponents), and, most recently, a one-sided victory over Point University, 55-7.

The Runnin' Bulldogs offense, which had been stagnant for several weeks, returned to form with seven touchdowns. And against Charlotte, a team that's allowed 40, 34 and 21 points to opponents in consecutive weeks, the 'Dogs should keep up the offensive trend.

Prediction: Gardner-Webb 28, Charlotte 17

No. 13 Lehigh (4-0) at No. 12 Fordham (5-0)

Kickoff: Noon (CBSSN)

What to know: As we've seen this season, Fordham is up to the challenge of facing an FCS Top 25 team or even an FBS team. The Rams have battled their way to a 5-0 start and have yet another challenge awaiting them.

Lehigh, after starting the season with three close wins over an easy schedule, finally proved it belongs with the nation's elite with a 34-27 win over New Hampshire. And for the second straight week, the Mountain Hawks will be tested here.

Lehigh owns a 24-2 record over Fordham in the series between these two Patriot League rivals. Although Fordham isn't eligible for the league title, it can win an at-large bid if the selection committee sees fit. A win over Lehigh, which the Rams haven't had in the past six meetings, would go a long way to proving Fordham is in fact a playoff team.

Prediction: Fordham 28, Lehigh 24

William & Mary (3-1, 1-0 CAA) at No. 20 Villanova (2-2, 1-0)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

What to know: This is a potentially huge matchup for William & Mary, as the Tribe currently sit just outside of the Top 25 nationally. But in terms of continuing on with the CAA schedule, this could be a huge confidence boost going forward.

Villanova is a team trying to get things back on track after suffering back- to-back losses to start the season and experiencing early season injuries like never before. The Wildcats are rolling with two straight 35-6 wins.

The Tribe hold a 16-13-1 series advantage and have won each of the past two meetings. It's a historic game, marking just the 35th time in Division I college football history that two coaches with 200 or more wins have faced each other. But in the short term, the winner of this game gets a leg up in the CAA standings.

Prediction: Villanova 28, William & Mary 21

Wagner (1-4, 0-1 NEC) at Sacred Heart (5-0, 0-0)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

What to know: Who would've thought the defending Northeast Conference champion would be this far in a hole to start the season? Wagner is 1-4 overall, but can still recover with a strong showing in conference play.

But taking a look down the road, things don't exactly look to be in the Seahawks' favor. It starts this weekend with a matchup against Sacred Heart, an almost-shocking 5-0 team to start the season. The Pioneers are recently coming off their first shutout win since the 2002 season.

If Bryant was allowed to post 47 points on Wagner last weekend, Sacred Heart and other programs with successful offenses in the NEC have to be licking their chops. And Sacred Heart has nothing lose in its first conference game. Who knows, the Pioneers may even make a playoff push.

Prediction: Sacred Heart 29, Wagner 21

Presbyterian (1-3) at No. 17 Wofford (2-2)

Kickoff: 1:30 p.m.

What to know: Wofford has been somewhat of a streaky team this season, and a 30-20 win over Georgia Southern followed by a 3-0 loss to Gardner-Webb is the proof.

The Terriers return to action on Saturday after getting a week off. They can only hope they won't have to play in a pulsating rainstorm (that's never good for offense) at home again.

Enter a Presbyterian team that just dropped its third contest of the season, this time to Charlotte. The Blue Hose didn't exactly find themselves short of offense last weekend, but rather short of defense. Presbyterian let Charlotte run up 505 yards of offense, which must have caught the Terriers' collective eye. It's the last matchup for the Terriers before they get into the meat of their Southern Conference schedule.

Prediction: Wofford 32, Presbyterian 18

No. 21 Bethune-Cookman (3-1, 0-0 MEAC) at Delaware State (1-3, 1-0)

Kickoff: 2 p.m.

What to know: Why does it feel as though Bethune-Cookman hasn't played a game in ages? When you think about it, the Wildcats are coming off a bye week, and got trampled by Florida State two weeks ago. So in a way this should be the first competitive weekend for the Wildcats in three weeks.

Bethune-Cookman travels to Delaware State Saturday as the Hornets come off their first win of the season - a 24-22 escape of Savannah State. It's not overly impressive, though, considering Savannah State held the Hornets to 24 points and still retains the worst-in-the-nation scoring defense, giving up an average of 52.8 points per game.

It's the first MEAC contest for B-CU, a team that still managed to put up some good numbers against the FBS' eighth-ranked team. The Wildcats converted nine of 18 third-down attempts, only turned the ball over once (while forcing a Florida State turnover), and managed to get three players with double-digit carries against the Seminoles.

After an extra week to prepare and get healthy and rested, the Wildcats should roll in this one.

Prediction: Bethune-Cookman 40, Delaware State 17

No. 16 Georgia Southern (3-1, 1-1 SoCon) at Samford (3-2, 1-0)

Kickoff: 3 p.m.

What to know: Southern Conference teams this season, including Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, have already gone up and down so many times, it's like they're riding the carousel over and over and over.

The Eagles are the most consistent, entering this contest at 3-1 having dropped a game to Wofford three weeks back and winning at home versus Chattanooga, although not by much. The most eye-catching stat from the game with the Mocs is the big fat zero in the passing yards column. The Eagles are absolutely a run-first offense, but two pass attempts all game? There needs to be some form of balance offensively in order to string together wins.

Samford is coming off a one-sided victory over Western Carolina, in which quarterback Andy Summerlin passed for 327 yards and four touchdowns. At 1-0, the Bulldogs are sitting pretty early in the Southern Conference season with Wofford (2-0) and Furman (1-0).

That could change because Samford's run defense allows an average of 191 yards per game to opponents - ranked 77th in the FCS. Even if the Bulldogs know it's coming, can the defense step up to stop it?

Prediction: Georgia Southern 27, Samford 21

Jacksonville State (4-1, 0-1 OVC) at No. 22 UT Martin (3-1, 1-0)

Kickoff: 3 p.m. (ESPN3.com)

What to know: If you look at the numbers, this is actually a pretty lopsided series. And it's all in Jacksonville State's favor.

The Gamecocks lead the all-time series with UT Martin, 27-7, and have posted numbers this year that vastly outdo what the Skyhawks have offered. Yet UT Martin is ranked after huge wins at Chattanooga and at home against Central Arkansas. In fact, the Skyhawks only lost to Boise State.

This season, Jacksonville State has been able to sustain a 32.4-points-per- game average, along with an offense that posts 471.6 yards per game. But UT Martin is pretty adept at playing up to the level of its opponent, and this has the makings of an intriguing Ohio Valley Conference matchup.

Prediction: Jacksonville State 31, UT Martin 27

Southern Illinois (2-3, 0-1 MVC) at No. 7 South Dakota State (3-2, 0-1)

Kickoff: 3 p.m. (ESPN3.com)

What to know: It's not like losing back-to-back games to Nebraska and North Dakota State is shocking by any means, but maybe the Jackrabbits need a Missouri Valley Conference game like this to steady the ship before moving forward.

That's not to take anything away from Southern Illinois, a team coming off a one-point loss to MVC foe Youngstown State. Quarterback Kory Faulkner was sensational, tossing four touchdown passes and 348 yards against a team looking to be in the Top 25 nationally. He also led the ground game with 71 yards Saturday.

But South Dakota State is still a Top 10 team despite losing two in a row. It was a tough-enough task to hold Zach Zenner down for the Bison last week, but to limit him to two straight weeks of irrelevance is darn near impossible. He should return to form this weekend, despite the fact that Southern Illinois is eighth in the nation in rushing defense. The Salukis have yet to encounter a back as talented as Zenner.

Prediction: South Dakota State 37, Southern Illinois 21

Western Illinois (3-2, 1-0 MVC) at Illinois State (1-3, 0-1)

Kickoff: 3 p.m.

What to know: After starting the season ranked in the nation's Top 25, the Redbirds have taken a serious fall from grace and ended up two games under .500 early on.

Illinois State began the season 0-2 after two hefty, yet predictable losses to Ball State and Eastern Illinois. A win at Abilene Christian could have turned the season back on course, but the Redbirds suffered another setback last weekend against previously winless Missouri State. Part of the reason for the loss was because the defense couldn't get off the field, allowing Missouri State to convert 10 of its 18 third-down attempts.

Returning to Normal (the town) for just the second time this season, the Redbirds welcome in Western Illinois. The Leathernecks don't boast any star position players or any impressive wins, but they do have a winning record and a 1-0 Missouri Valley Conference record.

This could be a good tide-turner for the Redbirds, who have to face Youngstown State in a week and have some tough MVC opponents on the horizon.

Prediction: Illinois State 28, Western Illinois 20

Youngstown State (4-1, 1-0 MVC) at Indiana State (1-3, 0-0)

Kickoff: 3:05 p.m.

What to know: The Penguins are once again right there. They're so close to breaking into the Top 25, and this may be the game to put them over the edge.

Senior quarterback Kurt Hess is having a standout season, having already thrown for 1,026 yards and 10 touchdowns with just two interceptions. The Penguins' only loss also comes to FBS power Michigan State.

Indiana State will trot out Shakir Bell against the Penguins, who ran for 201 yards and a touchdown last weekend in a loss to Tennessee Tech. Youngstown State believes it can counter, though, with Martin Ruiz, who has eight touchdowns this season. YSU leads the all-time series between the teams, 19-3.

With a win, Youngstown State can make an early jump up to 2-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference before the schedule starts to cloud up with Top 25 opponents.

Prediction: Youngstown State 30, Indiana State 22

No. 24 Delaware (4-1, 1-0 CAA) at No. 23 Maine (4-1, 1-0)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m.

What to know: No. 24 Delaware and No. 23 Maine both moved into the Top 25 this week after their first Colonial Athletic Association wins over James Madison and Richmond, respectively. At 4-1 overall, both teams have only dropped a contest to FBS programs - Delaware to Navy and Maine to Northwestern.

Now they square off in Orono. Black Bears quarterback Marcus Wasilewski has been the heart of the offense this season, but has thrown a pair of interceptions in each of his last two games. While Delaware quarterback Trent Hurley has put up more significant numbers than Wasilewski, the argument can be made that the Blue Hens have had a relatively light schedule.

This game will be a showdown as both defenses try and slow down the opposing offense and, in particular, its signal caller. Maine, for just the second time in six weeks, will be playing in front of a home crowd. That will provide a boost, but probably not enough to slow down Hurley, Michael Johnson and the slew of running backs the Blue Hens typically use.

Prediction: Delaware 30, Maine 24

No. 4 Northern Iowa (4-0, 0-0 MVC) at No. 1 North Dakota State (4-0, 1-0)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. (FCS Pacific, FSN-N)

What to know: Let's see if Northern Iowa can provide some better competition than South Dakota State did last Saturday.

History was on the NDSU's side, as the Bison haven't lost a road game since the 2010 season. This week they're at the Fargodome, and UNI actually owns the history in this series.

The Panthers have a 25-20 series advantage with the Bison, and are 20-8 all- time in Missouri Valley Football Conference openers. The Bison will be looking to limit David Johnson like they did Zach Zenner a week ago, but will Sawyer Kollmorgen be able to make them pay through the air?

Prediction: North Dakota State 27, Northern Iowa 21

Portland State (3-2, 0-1 Big Sky) at No. 10 Montana (3-1, 0-1)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. (ROOT-NW, RM)

What to know: OK, so Portland State didn't exactly start off conference play the way it may have wanted to. No worries, the Vikings and their high-powered offense will get another chance to prove they belong Saturday against Montana.

The Vikings still managed to drop 34 points on Cal Poly last Thursday, but couldn't keep the Mustangs out of the end zone. They'll have their hands full against a stout Montana defense.

Isn't there a saying that states you "shouldn't poke the bear?" Well, sorry, Portland State. That's exactly what the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks did last weekend before they darted off with a win and left you standing in the way. The last time Montana lost back-to-back games was a little less than a year ago during the Grizzlies' down year. Now they're back in Missoula this week, and they're angry.

Prediction: Montana 45, Portland State 25

No. 11 McNeese State (4-1, 0-0 Southland) at No. 14 Central Arkansas (2-2, 0-0)

Kickoff: 4 p.m. (Southland TV, ESPN3.com)

What to know: Despite only scoring six points in the Cowboys' loss last Saturday to Northern Iowa, McNeese State is still averaging over 40 points per game (40.8).

The first and latest setback for the Cowboys may be somewhat telling about the team's ability to keep pace with the elite FCS teams. We'll find out a bit more this weekend when McNeese travels to Central Arkansas for a Southland Conference matchup - the first for either team.

While the Cowboys average 40.8 points per game, the Bears rank in the top 25 in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 20.5 points per game. The Bears have something to prove as well, after slipping to a 2-2 start. The defense will have its hands full with Cody Stroud and the Cowboys, and we'll soon find out if Wynrick Smothers can correct his tendency to turn the ball over.

Prediction: McNeese State 31, Central Arkansas 25

North Carolina A&T (3-0, 1-0 MEAC) vs. South Carolina State (3-2, 1-0) at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta

Kickoff: 4 p.m.

What to know: Since starting the season 0-2 with back-to-back losses at home against Coastal Carolina and on the road at FBS Clemson, South Carolina State has settled down nicely and strung together three straight wins.

The same can be said for the Aggies, who have only played three games this year and haven't exactly blown anyone away, but are 3-0 nonetheless. North Carolina A&T is getting solid performances from its return game and defense, mostly notably against Appalachian State.

Both teams are 1-0 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and are looking to unseat Bethune-Cookman as the conference power. The Bulldogs will roll out the duo of the Dondres, running backs Dondre Brown and Dondre Lewis-Freeman, who both registered at least 86 yards rushing and a touchdown against Hampton.

Prediction: South Carolina State 27, North Carolina A&T 18

Mercer (4-0, 1-0 Pioneer) at San Diego (2-2, 1-0)

Kickoff: 4 p.m.

What to know: Mercer is surprisingly at the top of the Pioneer Football League standings with a 1-0 league standing and an unblemished 4-0 overall record. Props to anyone who saw that coming.

But San Diego is a different beast than any other team Mercer has faced this season. The Toreros are coming off a huge win over the other new PFL program Stetson, 59-0, in which they racked up 624 yards of total offense, including 345 rushing.

Quarterback Mason Mills continues to be one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the PFL, completing 18 of his 20 pass attempts last Saturday. Mercer's run defense better be ready as well, considering San Diego rushed for six touchdowns last Saturday. The winner of this contest gets the driver's seat of the Pioneer League vehicle.

Prediction: San Diego 32, Mercer 20

No. 15 Northern Arizona (3-1, 1-0 Big Sky) at No. 8 Montana State (3-2, 1-0)

Kickoff: 4:35 p.m. (MAX Media)

What to know: This is certainly one of the more interesting matchups of the still relatively young season. Northern Arizona is coming off a big 34-16 win over Montana, while Montana State returned starting quarterback DeNarius McGhee sooner than expected in the team's win over North Dakota.

Lumberjacks running back Zach Bauman strung together his second consecutive strong performance with a 118-yard, two-touchdown showing against the Grizzlies. More importantly, they were able to create turnovers. Northern Arizona forced Montana into giving the ball away three times, one more than the Grizzlies had all season combined.

If McGhee (or Jake Bleskin, whoever gets the start) turns the ball over, the Lumberjacks will be front runners in this one. But at home, it's hard to count on the Bobcats playing anything but superb. We'll see if newly added Buck Buchanan Award candidate Brad Daly can disrupt Bauman and the running game.

Prediction: Montana State 27, Northern Arizona 20

Yale (2-0) at No. 18 Cal Poly (2-2)

Kickoff: 5:05 p.m.

What to know: There was some doubt about the validity of Cal Poly entering Thursday night's contest with Portland State - one of the hottest offenses in the country.

But those doubts were laid to rest, as the Mustangs, fresh off a bye week, outscored the Vikings, 38-34, not allowing Portland State over to score 40 points for just the second time all season. Mustangs running back Kristaan Ivory was once again impressive, leading the charge with 184 rushing yards and a touchdown.

Since the Ivy League's mid-September start, Yale has been hot. The Bulldogs boast a pretty nifty running game of their own, led by Tyler Varga, who after two games is second in the nation in rushing yards per game with 170.5.

This game will be a measuring stick for the nation to see if the Ivy League is for real.

Prediction: Cal Poly 35, Yale 17

Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-4, 0-2 SWAC) at Jackson State (3-2, 3-0)

Kickoff: 7 p.m.

What to know: Arkansas-Pine Bluff has underperformed immensely this season, just one year removed from a SWAC title. The 0-4 start wouldn't be so ominous if the Golden Lions weren't already 0-2 in conference play.

The most glaring downside to this year's team is its defense. Pine Bluff is tied for the third-worst scoring defense in the nation, giving up an average of 45.3 points per game. The first two games of the season - a 62-11 loss to Arkansas State and a 58-14 loss to McNeese State - really set the Lions back.

They can turn it all around this weekend against Jackson State, but the Tigers have been playing well and are on a two-game win streak. Jackson State took down Southern on Saturday - one of the other previously unbeaten-in-conference SWAC teams. The Tigers run game should be able to put up some points against the spotty Golden Lions' defense.

Prediction: Jackson State 25, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 19

Weber State (1-4, 0-1 Big Sky) at No. 6 Eastern Washington (2-2, 0-0)

Kickoff: 7:05 p.m. (SWX)

What to know: Weber State hasn't exactly been the best in terms of limiting teams to minimal scoring this season. In fact, the Wildcats have allowed the second-most points to their opposition in 2013.

Weber State's only win this season came in the first week at home against Stephen F. Austin. Then the Wildcats went on the road. In three road contests this year, Weber State has been outscored, 183-19.

Enter Eastern Washington, the sixth-ranked team in the country and averaging 36.8 points per game. After a loss to Sam Houston State a week ago, the Eagles are looking to get back on track and have their eyes set on a second consecutive Big Sky title.

Prediction: Eastern Washington 47, Weber State 19

Idle Teams:

No. 2 Sam Houston State (4-1)

No. 5 Eastern Illinois (4-1)

No. 9 Coastal Carolina (5-0)

Last Week's Record: 15-7 (.682)

Season Record: 84-35 (.706)

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