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Spring 2021 college football preview: Teams to watch

By Bruce Marshall  (VSiN.com) 

February 20, 2021 07:05 AM

College football junkies, take heart!  The season really didn’t end when Alabama ripped Ohio State in the FBS title game back on Jan. 11. The lower divisions are ready to give it a go in a truncated campaign to commence this weekend (weather permitting) in some conferences, and tentatively scheduled into May.  Many of the sportsbooks in Nevada and elsewhere in the country are likely to offer prices on these games, though we suggest to check with your favorite outlets to make sure they will be participating. 

Here is a quick rundown of the participating leagues, including teams to beat and watch.

BIG SKY

Team to beat: Weber State

The Wildcats are 32-9 the last four years under HC Jay Hill and made their deepest-ever FCS advance in the 2019 playoffs. 

Teams to watch:

Eastern Washington: Prolific QB Eric Barriere is the only one of the top five vote-getters for the Walter Payton Award (FCS version of the Heisman) to return this season.

Cal Poly SLO: New HC Beau Baldwin has a record of success at this level and won the 2010 FCS title with Eastern Washington.

BIG SOUTH

Team to beat: Kennesaw State

The Owls’ football team wins more than the basketball team and returns slick QB Tommy Bryant to run an option-based attack, while LB Bryson Armstrong could have an NFL future. 

Team to watch: Monmouth

The Hawks beat Kennesaw last year, and their season-ender vs. the Owls could determine title in what will be a five-team loop. 

CAA

Team to beat: James Madison

2019 Dukes QB Ben DiNucci briefly featured for the Dallas Cowboys in the fall after leading JMU to the FCS title game and needs to be replaced, but RB Percy Agyel-Obese returns from a potent offense. 

Teams to watch: Villanova

Watch QB Daniel Smith, the CAA’s total offense leader in 2019 who tossed 35 TD passes; Albany-Great Danes QB Jeff Undercuffler tossed 41 TD passes as a frosh in 2019. 

MEAC

Team to beat: South Carolina State

With expected MEAC favorites NC A&T and Florida A&M not participating, the Bulldogs are now wearing the target in the MEAC with their potential star QB Corey Fields. 

MISSOURI VALLEY

Team to beat: North Dakota State

The Bison have dominated this level for the past decade, winning 8 of the last 9 FCS titles, and bring a 38-game win streak into 2021. Well-regarded Iowa State transfer QB Zeb Noland is slated to be successor to NFL-bound Trey Lance. 

Teams to watch:

Northern Iowa: The best of the rest in this deep league might be the Panthers, who feature likely future NFL draftees WR Isaiah Weston and DE Elerson Smith.

South Dakota State: The Jackrabbits have beaten NDSU twice in the last six meetings (not bad!) and feature touted RB Pierre Strong, Jr. 

NORTHEAST

Team to beat: Sacred Heart

With expected NEC favorite Central Connecticut not participating, the Pioneers look the best of the remaining field thanks to punishing RB Julius Chestnut, who gained nearly 1,500 rushing yards last term.

OHIO VALLEY

Team to beat: Austin Peay

New HC Scotty Walden might have a better team than he did this past fall at Southern Miss, when he was interim HC following Jay Hopson’s abrupt resignation in September.  Though he’ll have to replace QB Jeremiah Oatsvall, who in November announced plans to transfer. Stars WR DeAngelo Wilson and S Kordell Jackson might be the best in their positions in the entire FCS.   

Teams to watch:

Jacksonville State: The Gamecocks’ five-year streak of OVC titles ended last term but prolific QB Zerrick Cooper could lead a quick recovery.

SE Missouri State: The Redhawks tied Austin Peay for the League crown in 2019, advancing to the FCS playoffs in process, but need to replace dominant LB Zach Hall.

PATRIOT

Team to beat: Holy Cross

The Crusaders were the only Patriot rep to finish above .500 in 2019 and return experience at QB in Connor Degenhardt.

           

PIONEER

Team to beat: San Diego

With 37 straight PFL wins, who else but the Toreros? 

SOUTHERN

Team to beat: Wofford

The core of the SoCon’s best defense returns for the Terriers, led by DE Michael Mason, who starred as a frosh. 

Teams to watch:

Furman: Paladins can offer strong challenge with RB Devin Wynn and QB Hamp Sisson both tipped for All-SoCon honors.

The Citadel: Watch LB Willie Eubanks III, perhaps the top-rated defender in FCS.

SOUTHLAND

Team to beat: Nicholls State

Colonels need to replace QB Chase Fourcade running the Spread-Option, but RB Julien Gums returns after gaining 1,232 rushing yards as a sophomore.

Teams to watch:

Sam Houston: The Bearkats were ranked in the most-recent polls and will contend if they can replace QB Ty Brock (transferred to Central Michigan).   

SE Louisiana: Lions have high hopes for Cole Kelley, the jumbo-sized 6-7, 260-pound former Arkansas transfer QB

SWAC

Team to beat: Southern U

After losing four straight to Alcorn State, no team will benefit more in the SWAC from the Braves skipping spring football than the Jags. 

Team to watch: Jackson State

New coach Deion Sanders will generate headlines; watch LB Keonte Hampton, who might have an NFL future. 

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