FCS Football Week 4 Breakdown

Eastern Washington's Bo Levi Mitchell

FCS Week 4 Breakdown

It may be just the end of the first month of the season, but this is a week loaded with big matchups.

Five Football Championship Series top-25 matchups dot the landscape this weekend, headed by a big Southeastern showdown between Appalachian State and a fast-rising Chattanooga squad. The Mountaineers have held on to the No. 1 ranking in the FCS for the whole season, but this is the week where they will be sorely tested.

The state of Virginia will be hopping as well on Saturday thanks to a highly-anticipated showdown between William and Mary and James Madison, in what promises to be one of the best contests of the week.

One thing is certain: After this week, the picture will be clearer on which schools are for real and which ones are just pretending. Since the FCS has a playoff system, one loss doesn't hurt as much as it would in the Bowl Championship Series, but teams still are jockeying for position.

Here is a look at this week's big games:

NO. 7 CHATTANOOGA AT NO. 1 APPALACHIAN STATE (3:30 p.m. Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C.)

The Southern Conference opener for both schools could be the big one of the season if the records hold up. Both schools are 2-1 heading into the contest. Appalachian State scored an impressive 41-6 win over Savannah State last week, and Chattanooga had a surprising struggle in a 23-14 win over Eastern Kentucky. History suggests Appalachian State should have an easy time with this game considering it has won 22 of the last 25 contests and 13 in a row at Kidd Brewer Stadium. The Mountaineers have scored 37.3 points per game, and its diverse, balanced attack could pose problems because Chattanooga may not be sure who has the ball. Travaris Cadet, Brian Quick, DeAndre Presley, Steven Miller and Jamal Jackson all scored touchdowns, and kicker Sam Martin's two field goals were from over 40 yards. Chattanooga had 377 total yards, including 277 from quarterback B.J. Coleman, but he was sacked three times. That could provide opportunities for Appalachian State on defense.

NO. 12 JAMES MADISON AT NO. 2 WILLIAM AND MARY (7 p.m. Saturday at Zable Stadium in Williamsburg, Va.)

This Colonial Athletic Association game is the conference opener for both schools and is already sold out. Surprised? Don't be. This game may not decide the CAA in the first week of the league season, but the winner will have a big advantage the rest of the way (unless the winner loses later on). Both teams are 2-1 entering the game. William and Mary has a 10-8 lead in games played at Williamsburg, including a 23-9 victory in the last home game two years ago. If William and Mary is to hold on to its lofty ranking, the Tribe's offense will have to play better against James Madison. Sophomore kicker Drake Kuhn booted a 28-yard field goal to win the game, as running back Jonathan Grimes rushed for 128 yards on 32 carries and hauled in four catches for 34 yards and a touchdown. The average margin in William and Mary's two victories is only 10 points. James Madison had similar struggles against Liberty in a 27-24 victory, and its average margin in two victories is just four points. The Dukes won their game in similar fashion; Cameron Starke kicked a career-best 40-yard field goal to win and overshadow Dae'Quan Scott's 126 yards and three touchdowns.

NO. 5 MONTANA STATE AT NO. 25 EASTERN WASHINGTON (7:05 p.m. Saturday at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.)

This is the Big Sky Conference opener for one school, but it is a big game for both teams. Montana State needs a win to cement it as one of the top FCS programs in the country, while Eastern Washington needs the win to simply stay relevant in the FCS playoff picture. Montana State (2-1) has been impressive in its two victories over UC-Davis (38-14) and Minot State (43-7). In the Minot game, Denarius McGhee threw 13-for-20 for 227 yards and two touchdowns, and running back Cody Kirk scored twice while running 13 times for 75 yards. If Montana State's drives stall, watch out for kicker Jason Cunningham's hot foot; both of his field goals last week were over 40 yards. For Eastern Washington, it has been downhill since a 30-27 loss to Pac-12 member Washington. EWU lost 30-17 to South Dakota and 17-14 to Montana. Now you see why this game is so important for the playoff picture and the conference race. Eagles kicker Mike Jarrett had two 40-plus yard field goals, but quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell suffered two interceptions and three sacks despite throwing for 237 yards.

NO. 8 NEW HAMPSHIRE AT NO. 11 RICHMOND (3:30 p.m. Saturday at Robins Stadium in Richmond, Va.)

The CAA is home to two solid matchups in Virginia this week, with the second one taking place as the Spiders host New Hampshire in a key battle. Where the game is played may be the story; the Spiders hold a 10-9 edge in the all-time series but have won seven of ten games played at home. Richmond has also won four of its last five CAA openers. Richmond carries a 3-0 record into Saturday's game following a 34-19 win over VMI. This game wasn't as close as the score indicated, as Richmond carried a 27-0 lead into halftime. Richmond quarterback Aaron Corp was 12-for-18 for 220 yards and two touchdowns, but the Spiders allowed 325 yards against VMI. For a winless team, allowing that many yards is a bit of a head-scratcher. Richmond's defense may be key (three fumble recoveries against VMI), led by Darius McMillan's 11 tackles and Tremayne Graham's eight stops (three solo). New Hampshire (1-1) might be a bit rusty following two weeks off. In the Wildcats' last game on Sept. 10, New Hampshire survived to win a 48-41 overtime thriller against ranked Lehigh. Following a bye week in the regular season, the Wildcats are 7-5 in Sean McDonnell's era as coach. Key New Hampshire players include wide receiver Joey Orlando (10 catches for 166 yards, a 25-yard game-winning reception on the first play of overtime, and a 56-yard punt return for a touchdown) and linebacker Matt Evans (24 tackles, including 17 solo stops).

NO. 16 LIBERTY AT NO. 21 LEHIGH (12:30 p.m. Saturday at Goodman Stadium in Bethlehem, Pa.)

The fifth top-25 matchup is a non-conference contest, as Big South favorite Liberty travels to Lehigh to take on the team many think will win the Patriot League. Liberty (1-2) lost a heartbreaker last week, 27-24, to James Madison thanks to Cameron Starke's game-winning field goal. The kick overshadowed a strong performance by Flames quarterback Mike Brown, who tossed two touchdown passes of five and 43 yards and ran in a score from two yards out. Wide receiver B.J. Hayes was also particularly effective with nine catches, 158 yards and a score of his own. Lehigh quarterback Chris Lum could be a handful for Liberty if he throws anywhere near his 384 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-22 win over Princeton last week. It was Lum's fourth straight 300-yard effort. The Mountain Hawks improved to 2-1 with the victory. Ryan Spadola caught nine passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns in the win. Lehigh had 486 yards in the game but allowed 398 yards against Princeton, so this could be a high-scoring contest.

Football Week 4 Breakdown Page