IUP no longer has any margin for error in the PSAC West after losing to California a few weeks ago and that magnifies the importance of every conference game for the Crimson Hawks from this point forward.
And none may be bigger for the Crimson Hawks (4-1, 1-1) than today's contest against Slippery Rock at Miller Stadium.
Even though the Rockets (2-3, 1-1) have stumbled out of the gate, they are the defending PSAC West champions and still in the thick of the race.
The fact that the Crimson Hawks and the Rockets have both already lost a conference game makes today's matchup virtually an elimination game, as the loser will fall two games behind California and one game (plus the head-to-head tiebreaker) behind the winner.
The key question for the Rockets is the status of starting quarterback Jared Buck, who was out last week and is questionable for today's game with an injury.
Without Buck, Slippery Rock lost to Mercyhurst, though it is hard to fault the offense for that as the Rockets lost 56-49 and backup quarterback Nigel Barksdale threw for 261 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
But the Rockets will find scoring much more challenging against IUP, which features Division I-AA's top scoring defense (only 7.8 points per game allowed).
The Crimson Hawks also rank third in total defense (211.6 yards per game allowed).
IUP will also force the Rockets to stop one of the nation's top rushing attacks as the Crimson Hawks will rely on Division I-AA's leading rusher, senior Harvie Tuck (152.4 ypg).
Youngstown State at North Dakota State, 2:07 p.m., Fargodome -- If these two teams were in Division I-A, this Missouri Valley Conference contest me would be the game of the week in the NCAA and hyped as one of those "games of the century" as both teams are ranked in the top five and legitimate contenders for the national title.
North Dakota State (4-0, 1-0) is the defending national champion and No. 1 in Division I-AA while Youngstown State (4-0, 1-0) is No. 3 and leads the all-time series with North Dakota State, 4-2. Last year, the Penguins upset the Bison, 27-24.
Youngstown State features one of the best offenses in Division I-AA, but will have its hands full as North Dakota State's defense is ranked in the top 10 in eight different categories.
California at Clarion, 2 p.m., Memorial Stadium -- The Vulcans (4-1, 2-0 in PSAC West) are coming off a loss to West Chester so they are likely to be focused, but Clarion (3-2, 1-1) has won two in a row and a win today would put the Golden Eagles into the thick of the PSAC West race.
This series has been remarkably close over the years as the Vulcans, despite their overall success, lead only 40-38-3 and have won just 10 of the past 17 games against the Golden Eagles.
Gannon at Edinboro, 2 p.m., Sox Harrison Stadium -- Edinboro (2-2, 1-1) could wake up Sunday and find itself in a first-place tie in the PSAC West with a win against Gannon and losses by California and Mercyhurst.
Gannon ( 1-4, 0-2) is led by quarterback Liam Nadler, who has thrown for 1,380 yards and 10 touchdowns, and guided the PSAC's fifth best passing attack (276 ypg).
Lock Haven at Mercyhurst, noon, Tullio Field -- Mercyhurst (4-1, 2-0) is quietly in first place in the PSAC West along with California and has the look of a team that isn't going to fade anytime soon.
The Lakers are coming off a 36-10 win against Cheyney and have won four in a row with one of the most potent offenses in the league. They have scored 36 or more points in four of five games, average 36.2 ppg and feature a rushing attack averaging 242 ypg.
Grove City at Waynesburg, 1:30 p.m., John F. Willey Stadium -- This is the game of the week in the Presidents' Athletic Conference as Grove City (3-2, 2-1) is looking to put some pressure on Waynesburg (5-0, 3-0) atop the standings.
The Yellow Jackets have dominated this series recently, winning three consecutive times against the Wolverines.
The matchup pits the PAC's best rushing offense (Grove City averages 193.4 ypg) against the league's stingiest rushing defense (Waynesburg only allows 83.4 rushing yards per game).sportscollegedistrict
Paul Zeise: email@example.com and Twitter @paulzeise.