The 2016 FCS Playoffs are here. The first round begins with 16 teams playing in 8 games. The winners of those games will then play one of the 8 teams that received a bye in the first round as noted here. The bracket can be found here via the NCAA website.
For the predictions below, we will start in the upper left of the bracket where the #1 seed North Dakota State is and work our way around.
San Diego (9-1) at Cal Poly (7-4)
Game Time: 7 PM Eastern
We start off with a replay of a matchup that occurred earlier this year. In that game, Cal Poly put some separation between the schools with two third-quarter touchdowns on their way to a 38-16 win. Cal Poly had 354 yards rushing that day, which is par for the course with the Mustangs.
Outside of that game, San Diego was pretty dominant with all 9 wins by double digits. Cal Poly lost to FBS Nevada 30-27 in overtime, at #7 seed North Dakota 31-24, #2 seed Eastern Washington 42-21, and against fellow Playoff team Weber State 22-15. That is an impressive resume of losses not to mention wins over South Dakota State (road) and Montana (home).
Cal Poly has a lot of options with the rushing attack. It could be Joe Protheroe (1,212 yards and 11 touchdowns), Kori Garcia (834 yards and 6 TDs), quarterback Dano Graves (684 yards and 9 TDs), or Kyle Lewis (587 yards and 6 TDs). If the Mustangs put up 300+ yards on the ground again, this one is probably over. San Diego allows just 82.2 yards per game rushing, but we saw that was not the case in the earlier matchup.
If San Diego is going to win this game they will need to do so on the arm of Anthony Lawrence (2,515 yards with 22 touchdowns and 5 picks) as well as the legs of Jonah Hodges (1,222 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns). USD put up only 252 yards of offense against Cal Poly in the first game.
We like Cal Poly to win this rematch, but it will be closer than the 22 point spread earlier. San Diego will score points, but the rushing attack for Cal Poly will be too much. The Mustangs win 45-35. The winner of this game gets to travel to #1 North Dakota State for the second round.
St. Francis (PA) (7-4) at Villanova (8-3)
Game Time: 2 PM Eastern
St. Francis will be traveling in state for this game at Villanova. They won the Northeast Conference and suffered losses all four losses on the road to Montana (41-31), Towson (35-28), Albany (20-9), and Wagner (31-24). Those games were pretty close in terms of score and they faced two Colonial opponents, which is the conference Villanova hails from.
Villanova lost at FBS Pittsburgh to start the season 28-7 as well as at Richmond 23-0 and at home to James Madison 20-7. If this is a low scoring game and the Wildcats offense is not moving, they could be in danger of losing.
St. Francis puts up 27.5 points and 352.5 yards per game compared to 25.4 points and 373.5 yards per game for Villanova. Defensively, the Red Flash gives up 18.8 points and 304.9 yards per game while Villanova allows 14.9 points and 265.1 yards per game.
Villanova will try to control the game with the rushing attack. Aaron Forbes (745 yards and 7 TDs), Javon White (482 yards and 7 TDs), and quarterback Zach Bednarczyk (460 yards and 2 TDs) will lead the ground game. Bednarczyk has thrown for 1,684 yards with 15 touchdowns but also has 9 picks.
St. Francis will be led by quarterback Zack Drayer who has 2,357 yards (54.1%) with 21 touchdowns and 10 picks. In all four losses, he has thrown at least 1 interception. The more Marcus Bagley can get on the ground (868 yards and 1 touchdown), the better it is for the Red Flash.
This looks like a low scoring game, but one that Villanova should win. We like them to win 24-6. The winner of this game will play on the road at #8 South Dakota State in the second round.
Weber State (7-4) at Chattanooga (8-3)
Game Time: 2 PM Eastern
Weber State is going across the country for this game in Tennessee. They opened with losses at Utah State (45-6) and South Dakota (52-49 in 2 overtimes). They also had losses at North Dakota (27-19) and at home to Northern Arizona (33-20). They did get a big win over Cal Poly at home 22-15 on November 12.
Chattanooga opened 6-0 but hit a rough patch to end the season. They lost at The Citadel 22-14 before back-to-back wins against VMI and Western Carolina. They lost their final two regular-season games to Wofford 36-28 and last week to Alabama 31-3. There is no shame in the loss to the Tide especially when they trailed only 14-3 at halftime.
Weber State actually gives up more points per game (28.6) than points scored per game (27.1). That certainly will not help them against a veteran playoff team like Chattanooga. Quarterback Jadrian Clark has 2,823 yards (62.3%) with 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He may have to throw for a season-high in yardage to keep them in this game (his best is 416 yards against Southern Utah in a 37-36 win).
Chattanooga puts up 33.1 points and 404.5 yards per game. They allow 18.2 points and 281.4 yards per game. The Mocs will put forth a balanced offense led by quarterback Alejandro Bennifield (2,173 yards passing with 23 TDs and 7 picks). Derrick Craine (808 yards and 9 TDs) will be the lead back, but Richardre Bagley (543 yards and 5 TDs) will get touches as well.
Unless Weber State’s defense has a sudden turnaround this game looks like it is all Chattanooga. We like the Mocs to win going away 42-21. The winner of this game will face #5 Sam Houston State on the road in the second round.
Lehigh (9-2) at New Hampshire (7-4)
Game Time: 2 PM Eastern
Lehigh opened with close defeats to Monmouth at home (23-21) and at Villanova (26-21). They responded by winning their final 9 games of the regular season and taking the Patriot League Championship. New Hampshire had losses to San Diego State (31-0), Dartmouth (22-21), James Madison (42-39), and Albany (36-25).
Lehigh has an explosive offense that puts up 40.5 points and 491.5 yards per game. The defense is porous at times giving up 23.6 points and 398.1 yards per game. Quarterback Nick Shafinsky has 2,448 yards with 20 touchdowns against 5 interceptions. Running back Dominick Bragalone has 1,106 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground while Shafinsky has 302 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing.
New Hampshire has an offense that puts up 25.9 points and 365.8 yards per game. The defense allows 21.8 points and 358.3 yards per game. The Wildcats have a balanced offense but do their best when the rushing attack is working well. In their 4 losses, they averaged 108.3 yards per game on the ground compared to 204.9 yards per game in their 7 wins. Dalton Crossan has 1,005 yards with 6 touchdowns rushing on the season.
Lehigh’s rush defense allows 191.5 yards per game and that is a number New Hampshire wants to see. This game has a strong possibility of a high scoring game, which may suit Lehigh a bit better. Still, the run game for New Hampshire has a pretty favorable matchup and we will go with the Wildcats to win 49-45. The winner of this game will play at #4 James Madison in the second round.
Samford (7-4) at Youngstown State (8-3)
Game Time: 5 PM Eastern
Samford’s losses have come to some good teams for the most part. They lost 41-21 at Chattanooga, 56-41 at Mississippi in a crazy game, and also at The Citadel 37-34 in overtime. Their fourth loss was not a good one at East Tennessee State 15-14, a team that finished seventh in the Southern Conference. Note that all of those losses came on the road.
Youngstown State has a similar narrative except for the bad loss. They lost at West Virginia 38-21 as well as #8 South Dakota State (24-10) and #1 North Dakota State (24-3). All of those games came on the road just like Samford.
The offenses are opposite in their strength. Samford likes to pass the ball with Devlin Hodges. He has 3,716 yards (71.4%) with 33 touchdowns against 8 interceptions. Look out for Karel Hamilton as the top receiving threat. He has 100 catches for 1,242 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. The rushing attack averages only 103.4 yards per game and is led by K’rondis Larry at 470 yards and 2 touchdowns (5.8 yards per carry).
For Youngstown State, they like to run the ball more than they like to pass. They average 260.5 yards rushing and 158 yards passing per game. Martin Ruiz leads the rushing attack with 1,008 yards and 10 touchdowns while Jody Webb had a great final two games. He rushed for 167 yards against Southern Illinois and then followed that up with 166 yards and 2 touchdowns against Missouri State.
This game seems to set up a bit better for YSU because opponents have a good time rushing against Samford. They give up an average of 204.4 yards per game on the ground and 419.7 yards of total offense per game. While the Penguins have the better defense (16.5 points and 294.4 yards allowed per game), the Samford offense is potent.
Samford has scored a touchdown on 34 of 48 (71%) red zone trips compared to 21 of 43 (49%) for Youngstown State. The YSU defense allows 41% of red zone touchdowns to their opponent and Samford allows 57%.
We like Youngstown State’s defense to be the difference here in a close 28-24 contest. The winner of this game will be playing the second round at #3 Jacksonville State.
Charleston Southern (7-3) at Wofford (8-3)
Game Time: 2 PM Eastern
Charleston Southern kicked off the season with a 24-17 loss in overtime at North Dakota State. Two weeks later they lost 52-8 at Florida State, which was not a surprise given they were missing some of their team for that game. Their third loss came at home to Gardner-Webb 17-10 on November 5.
Wofford lost 38-13 at Ole Miss in week two before losing two of their first three games in October. They lost 28-26 at home to Samford and then lost on the road at The Citadel 24-21 in overtime. In their penultimate game, they defeated Chattanooga on the road 36-28.
Be prepared for a lot of rushing attempts. CSU averages 273.7 yards per game while Wofford averages 295.8 yards per game. Defensively, CSU allows 134.7 yards per game compared to 68.6 for Wofford. When Mike Holloway (860 yards and 9 touchdowns) rushes for more than 100 yards per game, CSU has averaged 41.6 points in those five games.
Wofford will rely Lorenzo Long who has rushed for 1,194 yards with 14 touchdowns in 2016. Long has rushed for at least 100 yards in 8 of the last 9 games for Wofford.
If this game comes down to the passing attack, then it would be CSU who has the advantage. Shane Bucenell has 1,009 yards with 14 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. However, if CSU has to pass a lot it probably means they are down a few scores. The same goes for Wofford and Brandon Goodson (581 yards passing with 3 touchdowns and 2 picks).
We like Wofford’s ground attack to be the better in this game and we will take them to win 24-21 at home. The winner of this game will play at #6 The Citadel in the second round.
North Carolina A&T (9-2) at Richmond (8-3)
Game Time: 2 PM Eastern
Of all the games in the opening round, this has to be one of the more intriguing matchups with the MEAC going against the Colonial. The North Carolina A&T Aggies defeated Kent State on the road in week two 39-36 in quadruple overtime. They followed that up with a crushing 58-21 loss at Tulsa the next week. Their only other loss came in the final week of the regular season at North Carolina Central 42-21. The Aggies were down 35-7 after 1:05 elapsed in the fourth quarter.
Richmond opened the season with a road victory over Virginia 37-20. Two weeks later they lost 42-14 to Stony Brook on the road. They also lost two of their last three games to James Madison (47-43) and William & Mary (34-13). The Spiders own some good wins this year too: over then-ranked #21 Colgate (38-31), then ranked #17 Albany (36-30 in triple OT), and then ranked #11 Villanova (23-0).
Both teams have similar stats with strong offenses and mediocre defenses. Obviously, Richmond has played a stronger schedule, but the Aggies are interesting. They average 37.5 points and 418.6 yards per game on offense. They allow 21.6 points and 329.4 yards per game on defense. Tarik Cohen will be the key. He has 1,518 yards with 18 touchdowns and averages 7.6 yards per carry. In their two losses, he had just 98 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. He had four different games where he rushed for at least 200 yards.
What Cohen will be facing is a Richmond defense that allows 23.3 points and 312.5 yards per game. The Spiders allow 155.9 yards per game on the ground. Richmond’s offense will not be led by quarterback Kyle Lauletta after tearing his ACL. He had thrown for 3,022 yards with 24 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. It will be Kevin Johnson who faces an Aggie defense that allows 235 yards passing per game. Receiver Brian Brown has 67 catches for 1,179 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Richmond is a big favorite here at home and that is who we are going with to win based on their passing attack. However, we like the Aggies to keep this competitive throughout, but Richmond gets the win 41-31. The winner of this game will play at #7 North Dakota in the second round.
Illinois State (6-5) at Central Arkansas (9-2)
Game Time: 3 PM Eastern
Illinois State was an interesting inclusion in this field. They went 6-5, but the strength of their wins and the Missouri Valley helped them get in. They defeated Northwestern 9-7 in week two and then lost the next four games. Two of those losses were to #1 North Dakota State (31-10) and Youngstown State (20-6). They won four of the last five games including a 38-21 over #8 South Dakota State.
Central Arkansas lost to Samford 35-29 n week two, but came back in week four and defeated Arkansas State 28-23 on the road. Their only other loss was the last game of the regular season at Sam Houston State 59-23.
Illinois State averages 26.2 points and 390.1 yards per game on offense. Jake Kolbe has thrown for 2,495 yards (63.1%) with 20 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Anthony Warrum is the big-play receiver with 57 catches for 956 yards and 9 touchdowns, but Spencer Schnell (54 catches for 434 yards and 1 TD) and Christian Gibbs (46 catches for 530 yards and 5 TDs) will see quite a few passes thrown their way.
Central Arkansas has an offense that puts up 35 points and 448.6 yards per game. Hayden Hildebrand has thrown for 2,668 yards (61.9%) with 17 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Desmond Smith has 61 catches for 808 yards and 6 touchdowns while Jatavious Wilson has 57 receptions for 784 yards and 3 touchdowns. The rest of the team has 87 catches for 1,109 yards and 8 touchdowns altogether.
Both teams have a better rush defense than pass defense and it is Central Arkansas that allows 67.9 yards per game on the ground compared to 132 yards per game for Illinois State. The running combination of Carlos Blackman (580 yards and 4 TDs) and Antwon Wells (492 yards and 8 TDs) for Central Arkansas could have a chance to do some damage on the ground.
In another close first-round game, we like the home team to prevail with Central Arkansas taking this game 31-28. The winner of this contest will play at #2 Eastern Washington in the second round.
Here are the predicted winners of the first round in the 2016 FCS Playoffs: Cal Poly, Villanova, Chattanooga, New Hampshire, Youngstown State, Wofford, Richmond, and Central Arkansas.
Check back next week for predictions for the second round of the 2016 FCS Playoffs.