2015-16 FCS National Championship Preview
The final game of the 2015-16 FCS Season will be the FCS National Championship game between the North Dakota State Bison and Jacksonville State Gamecocks. The game will be played at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas on Saturday, January 9 at 12 PM Eastern Time. The game can be seen on ESPN2 and the Watch ESPN App.
We have predicted the results for each round of the playoffs. We went 4-4 in the first round, 5-3 in the second round, 3-1 in the Quarterfinals, and 2-0 in the Semifinals. That makes for a total of 14-8 through the first four rounds of the FCS Playoffs.
Below is 2015-16 FCS National Championship Preview along with a prediction.
North Dakota State Bison Road To The National Championship
Round 1: Bye
Round 2: Defeated Montana 37-6 at home
Quarterfinals: Defeated Northern Iowa 23-13 at home
Semifinals: Defeated Richmond 33-7 at home
North Dakota State Bison (12-2) Preview
The biggest question surrounding the North Dakota State offense will be whether quarterback Carson Wentz will be the starter or if the Bison continue to use Easton Stick. At this point, it is not known which of the two will start and it probably will not be known until the first offensive series for the Bison. While Wentz has the big game experience, but Stick has performed admirably in his absence. Stick has thrown only 3 interceptions and can also run the ball. In his short time filling in, Stick has become the second leading rusher on the team with 498 yards and 5 touchdowns.
The main running back is King Frazier with 1,105 yards and 10 touchdowns on 201 carries. Bruce Anderson is third on the team in rushing with 492 yards and 2 touchdowns while it is not out of the question for freshman Lance Dunn (457 yards and 3 touchdowns) to see some action. The Bison as a team rank sixth in the FCS in terms of total rushing yards on the season. This will be key for the Bison to control the clock and limit the number of possessions for the Jacksonville State offense.
The receiving group is led by RJ Urzendowski with 43 catches for 613 yards and 6 touchdowns. Darrius Shepherd is second on the team with 36 catches for 504 yards and 5 touchdowns in what has been a very good freshman season for him. Zach Vraa will also be a target after catching 37 passes for 478 yards and 5 touchdowns. This group will be vital to moving the chains on third down passing situations.
The defense will be led by linebacker Nick DeLuca who easily has the most tackles on the team. DeLuca has 126 total tackles on the season, which is nearly 40 more than MJ Stumpf in second (78). DeLuca has also recorded nine tackles for loss, but trails to several others in that category. Greg Menard has 13.5 tackles for loss while leading the team in sacks with nine. Brian Schaetz has 5.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. CJ Smith leads the team with 4 interceptions with one apiece coming in the Playoff games against Montana and Richmond.
The defense will be keen on stopping the Jacksonville State running game and they rank 20th in the FCS against the run in terms of total yards allowed. They rank much lower against the pass (71st), but that could be attributed to the fact their run defense is as good as it is. The defense also ranks fifth in points allowed at 15.7 per game while they only allow 276 yards per game (4th best in the FCS). If they can hold Jacksonville State to those averages, they will have a great chance to win their fifth straight FCS Championship.
The special teams unit for North Dakota State is a mixed bag. Eric Perkins averages 11.6 yards per punt return and has a touchdown as well. Bruce Anderson is the man to watch on kickoffs as he averages 38 yards per return and has returned 2 kickoffs for touchdowns. He has the chance to flip the field without the offense touching the ball. The worry for the Bison is Cam Pedersen kicking field goals. He has gone a terrible 9 of 18 on field goals attempts with the Playoffs bring out the worst in him. He has converted only 1 of his 7 field goal tries in the last 3 games.
Jacksonville State Gamecocks Road To The National Championship
Round 1: Bye
Round 2: Defeated Chattanooga 41-35 in One Overtime at home
Quarterfinals: Defeated Charleston Southern 58-38 at home
Semifinals: Defeated Sam Houston State 62-10 at home
Jacksonville State Gamecocks (13-1) Preview
The Jacksonville State offense will run through two players: quarterback Eli Jenkins and running back Troymaine Pope. The rushing offense is one of the best in the nation with 4,364 yards rushing this year, which translates to 312 yards per game. Pope averages 126 yards a game while Jenkins runs for 77 yards per contest. Pope has 1,757 yards and 19 touchdowns on the season while Jenkins has 1,073 yards and 14 touchdowns for the year. While those 2 will be the main workhorses, Miles Jones can also come in and make an impact. Jones has 689 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground this year. Expect a lot of zone read plays from Eli Jenkins.
While the rushing attack is a huge part of the Jacksonville State offense, Jenkins can also throw the ball around the field if need be. He has 2,731 yards with 21 touchdowns and 6 interceptions through the air. There is one clear target for Jenkins when he is passing and that is Josh Barge. Barge has 90 catches for 1,113 and 11 touchdowns while the second leading receiver is Ruben Gonzalez with 43 catches for 649 yards and 4 touchdowns. Dalton Screws (33 catches for 374 yards and 3 touchdowns) and Markis Merrill (26 catches for 380 yards and 2 touchdowns) could also have a minor impact on the passing game.
The Jacksonville State defense is similar to North Dakota State’s in the sense that they are better against the run than they are against the pass. The Gamecocks allow about 117 rushing yards per contest compared to 178 through the air. They allow just 18.7 points and 295 yards per game.
The defense has quite a few playmakers led by Brandon Bender, who has amassed 96 tackles including 11.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. Dawson Wells has 91 tackles on the season with 10.5 coming for a loss while Joel McCandless has 73 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss. Chris Landrum leads the team in sack with 8.5 while close in second is Darius Jackson with 7. Unsurprisingly, those two are the leaders on the team in tackles for loss with Landrum at 17.5 and Jackson at 18.5. Jaylen Hill is the co-leader on the team in picks with 3 along with Wells, however, Wells has returned 2 of his interceptions for touchdowns.
Josh Barge is the punt returner with an average of 10 yards per return. Lawon Debardelaben will be returning kickoffs with an average of 23 yards per return. Like North Dakota State, the kicker has accuracy issues. Connor Rouleau has gone 16 of 26 this year, but made all five of his field goal attempts in the Charleston Southern and Sam Houston State contests.
This game is a great contrast in styles with the run based offense of Jacksonville State going up against the stingy run defense of North Dakota State. That will be fun and intriguing to watch, but it will probably come down to the other match up of the North Dakota State offense against the Jacksonville State defense. If North Dakota State can control the ball and keep the Jacksonville State offense off the field, they will have a great chance to win this game. The one thing about Jacksonville State is they do not need a lot of time to score points.
This game also features the four time defending FCS Champions in North Dakota State. They have the experience of playing in this game including last year’s contest where they had to rally to score a late touchdown. For the Gamecocks, they can play fast and loose as the underdog (North Dakota State is a 3 point favorite as of this writing). In addition to the fact they do not know the feeling of playing a game of this magnitude, which can be both positive and negative.
The lower scoring this game is, the more it favors North Dakota State and their style of play. If this game comes down to the kickers, it is hard to see either team having a big advantage though the Gamecocks’ recent success gives them the slightest of edges.
We are going to take North Dakota State to do enough to stop the Jacksonville State run game and win their fifth FCS National Championship 28-24.