When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday at NRG Stadium in the Battle of the Piney Woods
Broadcast: Bally Sports Southwest
The Matchup: Fans of the Battle of the Piney Woods can be excused for being a bit sentimental this week. The 96th meeting between these two rivals will be the final game for the foreseeable future, with Sam Houston moving to Conference USA next year.
Rest assured, the fans may be sentimental before and after the game, but those feelings will not be present during the game. Stephen F. Austin is out to end a 10-game losing streak in the series, while the Kats are seeking their 16th win in the last 18 meetings.
Neither team’s season has gone according to plan this year. SFA was an early season favorite to make a surprise run through the FCS playoffs, but those expectations cooled with a loss to Jacksonville State and a close win at Alcorn State. However, the Lumberjacks had a bye week to iron out their issues and took their frustration out on Warner (Fla.) to the tune of a 98-0 victory in SFA’s home opener last week.
Few expected the Kats to beat Texas A&M in their opener, but even fewer thought SHSU would be defeated at home by Northern Arizona. The offense has struggled this year and didn’t score a touchdown until Week 3 against Texas A&M-Commerce. However, the Kats had a week off to prepare and get Keegan Shoemaker ready for his second consecutive start in the rivalry.
While Sam Houston has dominated this rivalry over the last 20 years, SFA began to become a threat with the arrival of Colby Carthel. The ‘Jacks were competitive in 2019 but nearly defeated the Kats last year. However, SHSU rallied from 14 points down in the fourth quarter to earn a 21-20 victory.
Will SFA break its losing streak and hold bragging rights for the foreseeable future, or will Sam Houston maintain its dominance over its arch-rival before riding off to the FBS? We will have the answer at approximately 6 p.m. Saturday.
X-Factor: The winner of this game will be determined by which team can force its opponent to pass the ball more often. These teams are similar in that they each have dominant defensive lines but have had struggles along the offensive line.
Sam Houston’s offensive line is eighth out of the Texas FCS teams in pass blocking, according to Pro Football Focus ratings, while SFA sits in the middle of the pack at fifth. Both offensive lines are better at run blocking, with the Kats third best and the ‘Jacks fifth best in PFF ratings.
On the flip side, both defenses are solid against the run and excel in pass rushing. Sam Houston is the fourth-best FCS team in Texas with a 71 rating when rushing the passer, while SFA is the top-rated pass rushing unit in Texas with a rating of 84.2.
Prediction: My heart wants me to pick SFA because it feels like a win by the ‘Jacks may push these teams towards another game in a few years, although SFA will most likely need to join the FBS for the rivalry to be renewed.
Massey ratings give Sam Houston a 59 percent chance of victory, and Bill Connelly’s SP+ has the Kats as an 11-point favorite. I think it will be close and hopefully decided late in the fourth quarter, while my mind continues to tell my heart to take a back seat.
Sam Houston by 2
Best of the Rest:
Saturday, October 1
Howard Payne at Sul Ross, 1 p.m.
No. 12 Navarro at No. 13 Blinn, 7 p.m., Blinn College Athletics YouTube
Other Small College Games:
Saturday, October 1
Houston Christian at Lamar, 3 p.m., ESPN+
McNeese at No. 12 UIW, 6 p.m., ESPN+
Grambling vs. Prairie View A&M at the Cotton Bowl, 6 p.m. HBCU GO
Alabama State at Texas Southern, 6 p.m., AT&T SportsNet
Abilene Christian at Utah Tech, 8 p.m., ESPN+
No. 3 Angelo State at Western Oregon, 3 p.m., LSC Network
Midwestern State at Western New Mexico, 7 p.m., LSC Network
UTPB at West Texas A&M, 7 p.m., LSC Network
Texas A&M-Kingsville at Simon Fraser, 8 p.m., LSC Network
No. 5 Trinity at Hendrix, Noon, HendrixWarriors.com
Austin College at No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor, 2 p.m., CruAthletics.com
No. 10 Hardin-Simmons at McMurry, 4 p.m., McMurrySports.com
Southwestern at East Texas Baptist, 6 p.m., GoETBUTigers.com/watch
Texas Lutheran at North American, 7 p.m.
Arkansas Baptist at SAGU, 2 p.m., SAGU Sports Net YouTube
Texas Wesleyan at Wayland Baptist, 2 p.m., WBUAthletics.com
Cisco at No. 15 Kilgore, 3 p.m.
Tyler at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, 3 p.m., NEOAthletics.com
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