(STATS) – Northeast Conference programs Central Connecticut State and Duquesne are coming from starkly different places, but Saturday they’ll meet up with the same opportunity.
The winner of their showdown in Pittsburgh will claim the NEC’s automatic bid to the playoffs and at least a share of the conference title.
Since the NEC gained its playoff bid in 2010, Duquesne has been the conference’s winningest program under coach Jerry Schmitt, while CCSU is enjoying its first winning season since then. In fact, after losing their first three games this season, the Blue Devils had a 9-28 record in coach Pete Rossomondo’s four seasons, but they’ve turned it around with six straight wins.
The NEC co-leaders bring 4-0 conference marks into the STATS FCS Game of the Week.
Duquesne (7-2) is seeking a second playoff appearance, following its 2015 team. The Dukes also tied for NEC titles in 2011, ’13 and last year, but lost the playoff bids on tiebreakers. CCSU (6-3), which has never appeared in the playoffs, shared the 2010 title, but fellow co-champ Robert Morris won the head-to-head tiebreaker to go to the playoffs.
There hasn’t been an unbeaten NEC champion since 2008, but the winner of Saturday’s game will have that opportunity when the regular season wraps up Nov. 18. Duquesne travels to Bryant and CCSU hosts Robert Morris.
FCS GAME OF THE WEEK=
The Matchup: Central Connecticut State (6-3, 4-0 Northeast) at Duquesne (7-2, 4-0)
Kickoff: Noon ET at Rooney Field (2,200) in Pittsburgh
Series: Series tied 5-5 (last meeting: Duquesne won 52-19 at CCSU on Nov. 19, 2016)
The Skinny: The game features an excellent quarterback matchup in CCSU’s Jacob Dolegala (5,450 career passing yards) and Duquesne’s Tommy Stuart (STATS FCS Walter Payton Award Watch List), but both teams have terrific offensive balance. The Blue Devils have rebounded from a 2-9 (1-5 NEC) season largely on the strength of a plus-14 turnover margin that’s tied for third-best in the FCS. It includes a national-high six defensive touchdowns, with two each by SS Najae Brown and Rover Tymir Hinton. LB Randall Laguerre leads the defense with 73 tackles. Complementing Dolegala on offense are RBs Cameron Nash and Drew Jean-Guillaume, who have scored 19 of their combined 20 touchdowns in the last six games. The Blue Devils are seeking a seventh straight win for the first time since the 1967 season. Duquesne has won 15 of its last 17 conference games. The Dukes relied heavily on Stuart earlier this season when RB A.J. Hines was injured, but the offensive balance has returned with the 2016 Jerry Rice Award winner back from injury. Stuart has passed for 1,914 yards and 22 touchdowns, including 11 to WR Nehari Crawford, while Hines, coming off a career-high 253-yard performance against Liberty, leads the NEC in rushing yards per game (115). He will attempt to gash a CCSU defense that ranks last in the conference against the run. Linebackers Carlos Henderson, Brett Zanotto and Nathan Stone (274 tackles and 16 sacks in his career) fuel the Dukes’ defense.
Prediction: The matchup is superb because Duquesne has the experience of huge late-season games, but upstart Central Connecticut State gained a lot last week with a dominating performance over Saint Francis, last year’s NEC playoff representative. Duquesne, 28-21.