Photo: Jason Bacaj (Skyline Sports)

Week 1 FCS Football Preview & Predictions

We predict the top FCS football games on the Week 1 slate right here. You can find more information on the biggest games each week on our FCS Preview Show.

2023 Predictions Record: 8-0

2022 Predictions Record: 115-35

Merrimack @ No. 5 Holy Cross (1 pm/CT; ESPN+)

Holy Cross continues to rise through the FCS ranks under head coach Bob Chesney. All-American quarterback Matthew Sluka (2,489 Passing Yards; 37 Total TDs) returns to lead an efficient offensive attack and wide receiver Jalen Coker (912 Receiving Yards; 11 TDs) has the potential to be one of the best wide receivers in the FCS. Defensively, the Crusaders could be elite behind All-American linebacker Jacob Dobbs, who returns from injury, and All-American defensive back Devin Haskins (4 INTs; 12 PBUs). 

Merrimack tied the school record for wins in 2022 as the Warriors competed for the NEC championship. Gavin McCusker steps into the starting quarterback role for the Warriors but will have to build chemistry with an unproven wide receiver core. The Warriors should have one of the better secondaries in the NEC and that group will be tested this weekend. Defensive backs Garry Rosemond Jr. (4 INTs; 6 PBUs) and Donte Williams (63 Tackles; 6.5 TFLs) will be names to watch on Saturday afternoon.

Holy Cross enters this season with one of the most talented rosters in the country and needs to make a statement this weekend. I expect the Crusaders to win behind Sluka’s athleticism and an opportunistic defense that should force some turnovers against an inexperienced quarterback for the Warriors.

Prediction: Holy Cross (34-20)

Prairie View A&M vs Texas Southern (7 pm/CT; ESPN+)

Prairie View A&M enters this game with an eight-game win streak over the Tigers. The Panthers return all five starting offensive linemen, along with All-Conference running backs Ahmad Antoine (627 Rushing Yards; 6 TDs) and Caleb Johnson (2,111 Rushing Yards; 13 TDs). The defense will have some question marks entering this matchup, but linebacker Keyshawn Johnson (76 Tackles; 11 TFLs) and Tre’Vion Green (49 Tackles) are important returning pieces. 

Texas Southern was one game away from winning the SWAC East last season and will look to win the first SWAC Championship since 1968. The Tigers will be led by All-Conference quarterback Andrew Body (1,799 Passing Yards; 17 Total TDs) and a loaded running back room that returns both leading rushers (Ladarius Owens & Jacorey Howard) from last season. New defensive coordinator Everett Todd could be the x-factor as the Tigers struggled against the run last season.

This game should be a tightly contested matchup, but the pressure is on the Tigers due to the eight-game losing streak against the Panthers. In these 50-50 matchups, I tend to lean towards the program with the best quarterback. Texas Southern has the quarterback advantage behind Body and will end the losing streak in the Labor Day Classic.

Prediction: Texas Southern (24-21)

Utah Tech @ No. 3 Montana State (7 pm/CT; ESPN+)

Utah Tech will travel to Bozeman for the first time as an FCS program after facing the Bobcats twice as a Division II program. Kobe Tracy and Boone Abbott may both see time at quarterback this weekend for the Trailblazers. Wide receiver Rickie Johnson (697 Receiving Yards; 6 TDs) steps into the lead receiver role after Joey Hobert’s transfer this offseason. Preseason UAC Defensive Player of the Year Syrus Webster (10 TFLs; 5.5 Sacks) and All-Conference linebacker Will Leota (84 Tackles; 4.5 TFLs) will lead the Utah Tech defense. 

The Bobcats have established themselves as one of the top programs in the country under head coach Brent Vigen. Quarterbacks Tommy Mellott and Sean Chambers combined for almost 2,000 rushing yards and 32 rushing touchdowns last season for one of the best-rushing attacks in the country. The offensive line will be one of the deepest in the FCS behind multiple FCS All-Americans. Defensive linemen Brody Grebe (5 TFLs; 3 Sacks) and Sebastian Valdez (10 TFLs; 7.5 Sacks) can change the game defensively for the Bobcats.

Montana State will have to avoid looking ahead to a massive Week 2 matchup against No. 1 South Dakota State, but I expect the Bobcats to establish the rushing game early and win this game by a significant margin. 

Prediction: Montana State (52-20)

Eastern Washington vs No. 2 North Dakota State (2:30 pm/CT; ESPN+)

Eastern Washington will look to rebound from a disappointing 3-win season last year. Quarterback Kekoa Visperas has shined throughout fall camp and could be primed for a breakout season in an explosive offensive attack. Wide receiver Efton Chism III (607 Receiving Yards; 6 TDs) and Nolan Ulm (396 Receiving Yards; 4 TDs) could be major targets for Visperas this weekend. All-Conference cornerback Marlon Jones Jr. (3 INTs; 4 PBUs) will be expected to lead the defense, but the front seven will be important for this matchup against the Bison rushing attack. Defensive linemen Brock Harrison (5.5 TFLs; 2 Sacks) and Matthew Brown (5.5 TFLs; 3 Sacks) will be key players to watch in this game.

North Dakota State enters this game with high expectations, but multiple question marks on each side of the ball. TaMerik Williams (702 Rushing Yards; 8 TDs) and TK Marshall (365 Rushing Yards; 5 TDs) will lead the Bison rushing attack behind an offensive line that has some promising new starters. Linebackers Nick Kibitz (68 Tackles; 5.5 TFLs) and Julian Wlodarczyk (33 Tackles) are defensive names to watch this weekend. The defensive line will have some new pieces, but Eli Mostaert and Javier Derritt should create some chaos against Eastern Washington’s offensive line. 

The Bison are the heavy favorites entering this matchup, but I expect this game to be much closer than expected. The question is whether Visperas can take advantage of the Bison secondary full of new starters. North Dakota State will win this game with a strong rushing attack and should control the clock with the new NCAA clock rules.

Prediction: North Dakota State (28-20)

Southern @ Alabama State (5 pm/CT; ESPN+)

Southern will look to repeat as SWAC East champions this season under head coach Eric Dooley. The Jaguars will have a new signal caller in Harold Blood, who won a tightly contested quarterback battle this offseason. The running back core is loaded as Kendric Rhymes (352 Rushing Yards; 5 TDs), Kobe Dillon, and Alabama A&M transfer Gary Quarles (1,619 Rushing Yards; 17 TDs) all return for the Jaguars. Cornerback Kriston Davis (2 INTs; 6 PBUs) and safety Jordan Carter (3 INTs) lead a talented Southern secondary. The Jaguars rotated multiple bodies on the defensive line, which has prepared Tahj Brown (11.5 TFLs; 6.5 Sacks) and Ckelby Givens (10.5 TFLs; 5.5 Sacks) to step into major roles this season. 

Alabama State had a successful season under first-year head coach Eddie Robinson Jr. last season. Quarterback questions still remain for incumbent starter Dematrius Davis (1,204 Passing Yards; 9 TDs), who battled with UAB transfer Damon Stewart this offseason. Running back Ja’Won Howell (261 Rushing Yards; 4 TDs) and wide receiver Kisean Johnson (530 Receiving Yards; 3 TDs) are names to watch offensively this weekend for the Hornets. FCS All-American Colton Adams (128 Tackles; 12 TFLs) and Jerry Rice Award finalist Adrian Maddox (49 Tackles; 2 INTs) will lead a defensive unit with multiple new faces at all three levels.

Each team will enter this matchup with quarterback question marks, which makes the rushing attack the key this weekend. Southern has one of the deepest running back rooms in the country, which should give the Jaguars an advantage against the Hornets on the road. 

Prediction: Southern (20-10)

Jackson State @ Florida A&M (2 pm/CT; ESPN)

Jackson State kicked off the T.C. Taylor era with a dominant win over South Carolina State. Quarterback Jason Brown shined in his debut for the Tigers with 356 passing yards and three touchdowns. An impact player to watch this weekend will be running back Irv Mulligan, who totaled 110 rushing yards (8.5 YPC) and a touchdown last weekend. Linebacker Isaac Peppers (6 Tackles; 2 TFLs) led the Tigers in tackles for loss and sacks against the Bulldogs. The defensive tackle duo of Jeremiah Williams and Devonta Davis were dominant in Week 0 and will be key players this weekend against the Rattlers.

Florida A&M enters the season as the preseason SWAC favorite but will have to end a four-game losing streak to the Tigers. Preseason SWAC Offensive Player of the Year Jeremy Moussa (2,732 Passing Yards; 21 TDs) is primed to take the next step in Willie Simmons’ offense this season. Jah’Marae Sheread (585 Receiving Yards) and Marcus Riley (563 Receiving Yards) will be Moussa’s top targets. Linebacker Isaiah Major (83 Tackles; 13.5 TFLs), Kendall Bohler (2 INTs; 3 PBUs), and Javan Morgan (4 INTs; 4 PBUs) will lead the Rattlers’ defense.

The Tigers answered many preseason question marks last weekend, while Florida A&M enters this game with massive pressure to break through and compete for a conference championship. This game should be one of the most competitive games of the weekend, but I give the Tigers a slight edge due to their defensive line and the ceiling of new quarterback Jason Brown. 

Prediction: Jackson State (27-23)

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