Photo: Sacramento State Athletics

Week 1 FCS Football Preview & Predictions (Thursday Games)

We predict the top Thursday night 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: 3-0

2022 Predictions Record: 115-35

No. 4 William & Mary @ Campbell (6 pm/CT; FloSports)

The Camels will make their CAA debut on Thursday night. Quarterback Hajj-Malik Williams (2,221 Passing Yards; 19 TDs) returns for his fifth season and will be protected by an experienced offensive line led by FCS All-American Mike Edwards. Ezeriah Anderson (387 Receiving Yards), Jalen Kelsey (406 Receiving Yards), and multiple impact transfer additions will lead the wide receiving core. The most significant question mark will be the defensive line, which will star multiple new players for the Camels. Linebacker CJ Tillman (82 Tackles; 7.5 TFLs) will lead the defensive unit, while multiple young pieces from back-to-back No. 1 FCS recruiting classes will be expected to step up in 2023.

William & Mary enters the season with high expectations after an 11-2 season in 2022. The Tribe will be led by running backs Bronson Yoder (1,255 Rushing Yards) and Malachi Imoh (722 Rushing Yards), who helped the Tribe average over 260 yards per game on the ground last season. Quarterback Darius Wilson (2,252 Passing Yards) continues to develop and could be primed for a breakout season. Defensively, the Tribe returns one of the best pass-rushing duos in the country with All-Americans John Pius (19 TFLs; 11.5 Sacks) and Nate Lynn (13 TFLs; 8 Sacks). 

William & Mary forced three interceptions and jumped out to a 17-0 lead early on their way to a 37-21 win over the Camels last season. The Tribe’s defense will be the x-factor on Thursday night, but I expect the Camels to make this game interesting early behind an experienced offensive attack. 

Prediction: William & Mary (31-21)

No. 10 Sacramento State @ Nicholls State (6 pm/CT; ESPN+)

New head coach Andy Thompson will lead the Hornets into a new era on Thursday night. Questions still remain about who take the first snaps at quarterback on Thursday, but Kaiden Bennett and South Dakota transfer Carson Camp are the rumored favorites. Running back Marcus Fulcher (464 Rushing Yards; 8 TDs) will lead the rushing attack behind an offensive line returning multiple starters and over 60 career starts. Linebacker Armon Bailey (88 Tackles; 12.5 TFLs) could be the next defensive star for the Hornets, while Cameron Broussard (2 INTs; 5 PBUs) and Caleb Nelson (1 INT; 12 PBUs) lead a talented secondary. 

The Colonels will look to win their eighth game over a ranked opponent under head coach Tim Rebowe on Thursday. Quarterback Pat McQuaide is expected to step into the QB1 role for the Colonels after passing for over 2,700 yards and 24 touchdowns at the JUCO level last season. Collin Guggenheim (543 Rushing Yards; 4 TDs) will aim to replace the school’s all-time leading rusher (Julien Gums) behind an offensive line with three returning starters, including All-American center Evan Roussel. The linebackers will be the strength of the defense as Kylin White (79 Tackles; 3 TFLs) and Eli Ennis (45 Tackles; 10 TFLs) both return after stellar 2022 seasons. 

Many analysts are skeptical about the potential of Sacramento State entering the season but should enter this matchup as the favorites. This game may be close early as both teams will have some new pieces in key positions, but I expect the Hornets to pull away in the second half. 

Prediction: Sacramento State (34-13)

No. 22 Delaware @ Stony Brook (6 pm/CT; FloSports)

Stony Brook aims to rebound from a 2-9 season with a ranked win against Delaware this Thursday. Buffalo transfer quarterback Casey Case will lead an offense with many new faces in multiple key positions, including a young wide receiver core led by two redshirt freshmen (Anthony Johnson & Jayce Freeman). The defense will have multiple new starters, but linebacker Aidan Kaler (60 Tackles; 5.5 TFLs) is one of the key starters returning for the Seawolves. Defensive improvement will be key after the Seawolves allowed almost 400 yards and 32.3 points per game last season. 

The Blue Hens enter the game with a quarterback battle between Ryan O’Connor and Iowa Central transfer Zach Marker. Whoever starts at quarterback will have plenty of weapons as the Blue Hens return eight offensive starters, including running back Kyron Cumby (625 rushing yards; 4 TDs) and wide receiver Jourdan Townsend (698 Receiving Yards; 6 TDs). The Blue Hens will have to replace nine starters this season, but defensive Chase McGowan (9.5 TFLs; 5 Sacks) and safety Ty Davis (54 Tackles; 2 Sacks) will be two names to watch on Thursday night. 

Delaware will have enough offensive talent to win this game. Stony Brook has too many question marks on each side of the ball, but due to the defensive question marks for the Blue Hens, this game could be closer than expected. 

Prediction: Delaware (24-14)

No. 16 UC Davis @ Texas A&M-Commerce (7 pm/CT; ESPN+)

Head coach Clint Dolezel takes over for former head coach David Bailiff as the Lions enter year two at the FCS level. The offensive attack will have plenty of new faces, including East Mississippi transfer quarterback Peter Parrish and West Florida transfer running back Ra’veion Hargrove. The defense should take a massive step forward with some experienced contributors returning, including defensive backs Daryion Taylor (6 TFLs; 2 INTs) and Max Epps (2 INTs; 4 PBUs). The interior of the defensive line should present a challenge for the Aggies as Levi Drake Rodriguez and Leon Young should emerge as impact performers. 

UC Davis could be primed for a breakthrough season after missing the FCS playoffs last season after a brutal schedule. Quarterback Miles Hastings (3,048 Passing Yards; 20 TDs) returns and still will have his No. 1 target C.J. Hutton (506 Receiving Yards; 4 TDs) this season. Replacing Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. will be a difficult task, but running back Lan Larison (486 Rushing Yards; 4 TDs) could be a breakout player for the Aggies. The defensive unit for the Aggies has the chance to be special behind All-American defensive back Rex Connors (92 Tackles; 5 INTs). Linebacker Teddye Buchanan (43 Tackles; 3 INTs) and Zach Kennedy (8.5 TFLs; 4 Sacks) are other names to watch on Thursday. 

Texas A&M-Commerce have some promising new pieces on both sides of the ball, but the Aggies should be able to win this game comfortably. 

Prediction: UC Davis (48-20)

No. 8 Idaho @ Lamar (7 pm/CT; ESPN+)

The Vandals enter the season with extremely high expectations after an excellent first season under head coach Jason Eck. Quarterback Gevani McCoy (2,719 Passing Yards; 27 TDs) returns after winning the 2022 Jerry Rice Award and could emerge as a favorite for the Walter Payton Award this season. Hayden Hatten and Jermaine Jackson are the only 1,000-yard wide receiver duo returning in the FCS, while last season’s leading rusher Anthony Woods (872 Rushing Yards) will lead the Vandals’ rushing attack. Defensive backs Tommy McCormick (4 INTs), Marcus Harris (2 INTs; 12 PBUs), and Murvin Kenion III (4 INTs; 7 PBUs) lead a talented secondary, which should aid some new faces in the front seven through any potential growing pains.

Lamar enters the Pete Rossomando era on Thursday night as the Cardinals look to rebound from a 1-10 season in 2022. Quarterback Mike Chandler (1,244 Passing Yards; 11 TDs) is expected to lead the Cardinals and his No. 1 target from 2022, wide receiver Sevonne Rhea, will be a significant weapon again. Last season’s leading rusher Khalan Griffin (619 Rushing Yards) could emerge as one of the best running backs in the Southland Conference. Defensively, the linebacker position will be a strong point for the Cardinals with Jalen Freeman (8 TFLs; 3 Sacks) and Blake Gotcher (61 Tackles; 6 QBHs) returning. 

Idaho should be talented enough to win this game thoroughly behind an explosive offense. There will be some interesting storylines to follow on Thursday night including Lamar’s offensive improvement under Pete Rossomando and which players emerge as the leaders of the linebacker core for the Vandals.

Prediction: Idaho (41-16)

Follow @The Bluebloods on Twitter for ongoing coverage of FCS football news, notes, and opinions. You can also follow Zach McKinnell on Twitter @zachmckinnell

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