Tag Archives: FCS

Transitioning From FCS To FBS Part 2: Potential Teams

North Dakota State has been the absolute best team at the FCS level since 2010. The Bison are natural candidates for the FBS but does it truly make sense? (Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

Transitioning From FCS To FBS Part 2: Potential Teams

Welcome to second portion of our two-part series examining the transition from the FCS to FBS. In part one we looked at how teams have fared in the past. In this second part, we look at the teams best suited for the transition and also look at a few other teams.

To recap part one briefly, we looked at the schools that transitioned from FCS to FBS since 1987. The teams that performed the best were teams that had multiple playoff appearances in the final five FCS seasons. The second best group was the new programs followed by teams that had one or no playoff appearances in the final five FCS seasons.

We will make some assumptions about each team below that may or may not hold true if these scenarios in reality. For one, we look at each team separately and do not take into account all the dominoes from a potential realignment with our other teams. That would be far too time consuming to consider.

Secondly, geography and travel are big components of the analysis. We look first at which geographical area would be best and then look at the additional travel required if they were to move conferences.

Finally, keep in mind that while these teams would see increased revenues after they moved, they would also see increased costs in the form of stadium upgrades and travel for other sports would increase among other factors.

Now we can look at potential jumpers and new programs with the criteria we laid out in the first part.

North Dakota State (Jump Up)

North Dakota State is the first team discussed any time FCS to FBS transitions are explored. The Bison have only won six of the last seven FCS National Championship and have clearly been the best team of the decade at the FCS level. There is one issue that really hurts the Bison and that is location.

NDSU is currently the most northern member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference until 2020 when North Dakota joins. NDSU is geographically awkward if they were to move up to the FBS. The best fit would be the Big 10 especially in terms of their location and style of play. However, the Bison would probably have to prove themselves at the FBS level first which would put them in the Mountain West. Again, this is not exactly ideal.

Also consider the Fargodome, which has a capacity of 19,000 for football. They would have to upgrade the stadium to accommodate the increased number of fans. That would take money, which the Bison would recoup over time, but what about the additional travel costs not just for football, but also the other sports?

Verdict: We would love to see North Dakota State make the transition, but it does not seem likely given the logistical constraints.

Sam Houston State (Jump Up)

Here is another FCS powerhouse each year. The Bearkats have made seven straight playoff appearances with two National Championship losses to North Dakota State (those pesky Bison). Sam Houston State has one of the best offenses each season in the FCS and play in the Southland Conference.

The Southland Conference is a wonderful geographical set up for the teams. All members are from Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, which is more than convenient. So where would they land if they went to the FBS? There are three conferences: The American Athletic Conference,  Conference USA, and Sun Belt.

The American Athletic Conference would place the Bearkats in the West along with Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, Tulsa, and Navy. Navy is a horrendous fit for the West Division, which means that the AAC could balance the divisions by getting a second West team and moving Navy to the far more natural East. In this case, they would face six west opponents and two east opponents each season.

Conference USA currently has 14 teams with seven from the West Division located in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. If C-USA expanded to 16 teams that would leave only one game per season they would face an East Division opponent (based on an 8 game conference schedule). They would also face that East opponent on the road once every other year. Not a bad move based on assumptions above.

The Sun Belt is the final option and teams leaving the Southland Conference frequently find the Sun Belt as their FBS destination. The conference has been split into East and West Divisions among its 10 members. The West Division has teams from Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. Based on an 8 game schedule, they would have to face two East opponents each year with one at home and one on the road.

Finally, Sam Houston State would have to increase the size of the stadium from the current size of roughly 12,500.

Verdict: The Southland Conference is a wonderful spot for Sam Houston State right now. If they were dead set on the FBS, then Conference USA would be the best option.

James Madison (Jump Up)

James Madison is a recent addition to the top level of the FCS. The Dukes have made the playoffs four straight seasons, but the last two put them up with the best. In 2016, they upset the Bison for the National Championship and then followed that up in 2017 with a loss to Bison in the title game. To be fair, this is not the same sustained success as the previous two entrants, but strong enough for consideration.

The Dukes currently play in the Colonial Athletic Association, which stretches from Maine to South Carolina. JMU sits at the southern edge of the conference, which might make travel costly depending on the scheduling rotation.

JMU, like Sam Houston State, has several options. They could go to the American Athletic, Conference USA, or Sun Belt. James Madison would face the opposite of SHSU’s possibilities for all three.

The Dukes would be in the East for the AAC though that would make it unbalanced in terms of natural East and West programs. For C-USA, they would be a natural fit for the East Division while the same would be true for the Sun Belt.

James Madison has a solid stadium size already at 25,000, which will make the costs relatively less expensive for expansion.

Verdict: James Madison sits in an awkward geographical position for the three conferences above. Conference USA would be the best fit for costs and travel as they would only face a West opponent on the road once every other year.

Jacksonville State (Jump Up)

The Jacksonville State Gamecocks have dominated the Ohio Valley Conference with four straight titles. They have made the FCS playoffs five straight seasons with a title game appearance in 2015 (yes, they lost to NDSU).

As part of the OVC, Jacksonville State is the southern most member, but it is a comfortable distance to northern most team, Eastern Illinois. The team furthest to the west is Southeast Missouri State on the Missouri-Illinois border, which again, is not too bad.

If the Gamecocks were to go to the FBS they too have the options of the AAC, C-USA, and Sun Belt. However, one fits better than the other two and that is the Sun Belt.

JSU’s location in northeast Alabama puts them right in the middle of the conference in terms of location. That would make them ideal to be put in either division as needed. Or the Sun Belt could flip the division from east and west to the north and south while also adding another team to have an even number of teams.

The JSU stadium can hold 24,000, which will help limit the amount they need to spend on expanding the stadium.

Verdict: The Ohio Valley is a decent fit for them, but if they are looking for the FBS, the Sun Belt makes sense. While the AAC and Conference USA are both plausible, the Sun Belt felt most natural.

Eastern Washington (Jump Up)

Eastern Washington has also been a mainstay in the FCS Playoffs. Since their National Championship in 2010, they have made the playoffs five times and progressed to at least the quarterfinals on each occasion. Four of the five appearances resulted in a semifinal appearance.

The Eagles play in the Big Sky Conference which stretches from Washington all the way to the middle of Arizona and out to the eastern border of North Dakota. As mentioned above, the University of North Dakota will be moving to the Missouri Valley Football Conference and it is not hard to see why when their closest in conference opponent is Northern Colorado.

There are two natural destinations for EWU with the Pac-12 and Mountain West. The Pac-12 is a long shot considering they would probably want to see how they perform in the FBS before having them join. So that leaves the Mountain West.

The Eagles would probably be put in the Mountain Division, which would require travel to Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The travel is not horrendous outside of the trip to New Mexico every other year. The west division would be very similar to New Mexico and would also have to be done every other year.

The stadium capacity of Roos Field is a paltry 8,600, which means a huge outlay to expand the size. At least their red turf would go along nicely with Boise State’s blue turf.

Verdict: The current travel arrangements do not differ much as if they were to play in the Mountain West. The stadium expenditure would probably be another point of concern. The reality is go for Pac-12 money (though unlikely) or stay put in the Big Sky.

Virginia Commonwealth (New Program)

VCU, currently in the Atlantic 10 for all other sports, would make a wonderful addition to Conference USA. They are located in Richmond, which is the capital of Virginia. That provides a great fan base for any potential team. VCU has not fielded more than a club team for football. In addition, a stadium would be required for the football team making the likelihood of this happening slim.

What VCU does have in terms of location also applies to the student body. The Rams have the second highest enrollment in the state (not counting Liberty’s online degree numbers). That provides a solid footing if they choose to pursue adding a football program.

There have been some worries expressed by current Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin. He feels that the costs would exceed the revenue generated as noted here. It appears that as long as McLaughlin is at VCU, the Rams will not have a football team without someone donating what is needed.

Verdict: Highly unlikely given the current AD and all the startup costs for the program.

University of Texas Arlington (New Program)

UT Arlington previously had a football program until 1985 when the constant financial losses caused the school to stop sponsoring the sport. It may be time for the Mavericks to make a comeback to the field. UTA is the fourth largest school in Texas with an enrollment of 42,000 in the football crazed state.

Back in 2004, students voted to increase tuition by $2 per semester hour if football was brought back. All good then, right? Well, not quite. The costs would be enormous especially if the ultimate goal is the FBS. The stadium, which currently holds 12,500, would need a massive upgrade to host FBS football games. To pay for the new sport, the cost would most likely go to students in the form of higher tuition as noted above.

One area that UTA would not have to worry about is finding a FBS conference. They are part of the Sun Belt in the other sports offered by the school. That is one piece of the puzzle they will not have to worry about if they bring back football. UTA would have good knowledge about the travel costs if they were to play in the Sun Belt.

Verdict: Viable but UTA needs to be prudent about the costs and expected revenue so they do not make the same mistake from 1985.

That concludes the second part of our series on the FCS to FBS transition. We hope you enjoyed the analysis!

Transitioning From FCS To FBS Part 1: Past History

Liberty upset Baylor to open the 2017 and Now the Flames will be in the FBS. Is there anything from the FCS jumpers that may indicate how Liberty will perform in 2018? (Cooper Neill/Getty Images North America)

Transitioning From FCS To FBS Part 1: Past History

Welcome to a two part series where we take a look at how teams perform when they move from the FCS to FBS. We went all the way back to 1987 when Akron made the jump from the the then named Division 1AA (now FCS) to Division 1A (now FBS).

Part one will look at the past with how previous teams performed when they transitioned. Part two will focus on which teams could make the jump from FCS to FBS or start a football program.

We logged each team’s five seasons prior to the transition as well as the first five seasons in the FBS. We looked at how many seasons it took for each program to reach the postseason in the FBS. 28 teams have made the jump from FCS to FBS since 1987 and Liberty will become number 29 in 2018.

After combing through the data, we found some obvious trends and perhaps a surprising trend. Let’s take a closer look at the three groups of teams.

Perennial FCS Playoff Teams

We will start with an obvious trend: teams that had multiple playoff appearances in their final five FCS seasons were more successful than those that did not make multiple appearances. This makes sense because good teams in the FCS will naturally be more prepared to compete in the FBS.

Multiple Playoff Appearances
Team 1st FBS Year Years
Nevada 1992 1
Louisiana-Monroe 1994 19
Marshall 1994 1
Troy 2001 4
Western Kentucky 2008 5
Massachusetts 2012 Haven’t reached bowl
Georgia Southern 2014 2
Appalachian State 2014 2
Coastal Carolina 2017 Haven’t reached bowl
9 4.9
Teams Avg. Years

The table above shows that teams to make multiple playoff appearances in their final five FCS seasons have, on average, made a bowl game by their fifth season of FBS football. Three notes on this:

  1. Both Massachusetts and Coastal Carolina have yet to reach the FBS postseason since making the jump. Coastal Carolina will only be in their second year of FBS in 2018.
  2. Some observers may note that UNLV became part of the FBS in 1978, however, they went from Division 2 straight to FBS and are not included in the calculations above.
  3. Both Georgia Southern and Appalachian State had more than six wins their first season in 2014  but thanks to draconian NCAA rules both teams were ineligible for a bowl game.

Now let’s look at how these teams perform in their five final seasons of FCS football followed by their first five FBS season.

Pre Transition Single Year Average
Season Wins Losses
Year -5 8.8 4.1
Year -4 9.0 4.0
Year -3 8.7 3.6
Year -2 9.3 3.6
Year -1 8.9 3.3
All 5 Years Avg 8.9 3.7
Post Transition Single Year Average
Season Wins Losses
Year 1 5.4 6.4
Year 2 5.8 6.4
Year 3 6.6 5.4
Year 4 6.3 6.0
Year 5 6.3 5.7
All 5 Years Avg 6.1 6.0

Two notes on the post FBS transition:

  1. Both Georgia Southern and Appalachian State have not yet completed their 5th season in the FBS. The numbers above may change after 2018, but probably not too drastically.
  2. Coastal Carolina is only included in Year 1 of the post transition averages. Like Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, the inclusion of CCU’s results may slightly alter the numbers.

As expected, teams that are good before leaving the FCS would be the most likely to make the jump. Once in the FBS, they struggle a bit compared to their time in the FCS, but going roughly 5-6 in year one is pretty impressive. As will be shown later, these teams show the least amount of fall off when completing the transition.

Next up, we turn our attention to the teams that have little playoff experience before making the transition.

FCS Teams Lacking Playoff Experience 

It stands to reason that good FCS teams would perform better moving up to the FBS, but how about FCS teams that are not as good? We have some evidence of this category and we use the criteria of a team that had one or no FCS playoff appearances in their final five seasons.

1 or No Playoff Appearances
Team 1st FBS Year Years
Akron 1987 19
Louisiana Tech 1989 2
Arkansas State 1992 14
North Texas 1995 7
Central Florida 1996 10
Boise State 1996 4
UAB 1996 9
Middle Tennessee 1999 8
Buffalo 1999 10
Connecticut 2000 5
Texas State 2012 Haven’t reached bowl
11 8.8
Teams Avg. Years

One note on North Texas:

  1. North Texas was in the FBS from 1975 to 1982 as an Independent. However, financial issues forced them to drop back to the FCS level for a decade (1983-1994). Due to that length of time at the FCS level, we include them in this group.

On average, it took until roughly the ninth season at the FBS level for the teams above to reach the postseason. Why would these teams make the jump if they have not been overly successful against FCS competition?

Some of these decisions were made several years in advance and their crystal ball probably did not foresee a relative downturn for the football program. If these administrators thought their football teams would not be as good perhaps they would reconsider their move.

Another reason is geographical fit to cut down on travel costs. Speaking of money, that is always a consideration in the form of more TV revenue as well as the exposure to a wider audience due to the TV contracts. More exposure on TV leads to more people being aware of the college’s presence and potentially more students.

Moreover, the facilities are already mostly there. There may be some stadium upgrades needed, but the structures are already in place so the cost is not nearly has high as if they were starting from scratch.

Whatever the reasoning behind the move, we cannot deny these teams struggle. Let’s look at the final five years in the FCS compared to the first five years in the FBS.

Pre Transition Single Year Average
Season Wins Losses
Year -5 6.6 4.8
Year -4 6.4 4.8
Year -3 5.6 5.3
Year -2 5.7 5.6
Year -1 5.6 5.5
All 5 Years Avg 6.0 5.2
Post Transition Single Year Average
Season Wins Losses
Year 1 3.2 7.8
Year 2 4.5 6.5
Year 3 5.5 5.5
Year 4 4.8 6.6
Year 5 4.7 6.7
All 5 Years Avg 4.6 6.6

The teams lacking FCS playoff experience average two wins less than teams with multiple FCS playoff appearances. In fact, the worst season for perennial playoff teams (5.4 wins in the first season) is nearly identical to the BEST average of the low playoff experience teams (5.5 in the third year).

As previously stated, this is logical. Better FCS teams are better prepared for the FBS, will be more likely to succeed, and have less catching up to do.

One final group to look at is new programs. All these schools played at least one season at the FCS level before embarking on their journey to the FBS.

New Schools

This concluding group of teams started from scratch before joining the FBS.

New Programs
Teams 1st FBS Year Years
South Florida 2001 5
Florida Atlantic 2004 4
Florida International 2004 7
UT-San Antonio 2012 5
South Alabama 2012 3
Georgia State 2013 3
Old Dominion 2014 3
Charlotte 2015 Haven’t reached bowl
8 4.3
Teams Avg. Years

Four notes on this group of teams:

  1. Like Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, Old Dominion had more than six wins in 2014 but those pesky NCAA rules kept them out of a bowl game.
  2. Old Dominion previously had a football program in the early and mid 20th century. 2009 was the first season since 1940 and given the length of time, they were reasonably considered a new program.
  3. Old Dominion made the FCS Playoffs in both 2011 and 2012 and thus qualify as a playoff perennial as well. We chose to make them a new program given how recently they restarted the program.
  4. South Florida, Florida Atlantic, and UT-San Antonio all had winning records in their first season, but once more the NCAA rules prevented these teams from being selected for a bowl.

Note the average seasons it has taken new programs (4.3) compared to playoff perennials (4.9) and the playoff lacking teams (8.8). That is impressive considering they are going from no football competition whatsoever to FBS. Outside of Charlotte, every team listed above went from zero to a bowl appearance within a decade of their first season.

Post Transition Single Year Average
Season Wins Losses
Year 1 4.8 7.0
Year 2 4.9 6.8
Year 3 4.9 7.4
Year 4 4.1 7.9
Year 5 6.2 6.3
All 5 Years Avg 4.9 7.1

The new shooters also have a respectable average win total for all five years given the infancy of the programs. The question then becomes how are these teams able to compete relatively early in their school’s history? Take another look at the list of teams:

Teams
South Florida
Florida Atlantic
Florida International
UT-San Antonio
South Alabama
Georgia State
Old Dominion
Charlotte

Where are the majority of teams located? In the southeast, the most popular area for college football. Here is a link to the New York Times‘ article that provides a graphical representation of how popular college football is around the nation. Even UT-San Antonio, while not in the southeast, is in another football crazed part of the US: Texas. While not nearly the same caliber as their SEC counterparts, the fact these teams are in top recruiting states certainly helps.

The location does not explain everything as there are major costs and considerations of starting a new program. Will there be funding from outside sources? Will fans continue to show up if the team is not doing well on the field? Will the additional exposure make up for the initial outlay of costs? What are the burdens to the additional students and surrounding areas? These are just some of questions to consider when starting a football program with the intent of making it to the FBS.

Clearly these programs thought it was worth the effort and expenses to make it to the FBS. So far, these programs have seen success in the form of reaching the postseason early in their history.

Wrapping Up

After looking at the three sets of teams it is clear that you want to be a team with multiple FCS playoff appearances before heading to the FBS. To be fair, this involves some luck in the way of scheduling, injuries, and coaching changes to name a few.

For teams that have little FCS playoff experience, the best idea would be to wait until the program has shown consistent success against the best teams. This is not always practical as they window to join the FBS may be small or their football program may just have been sub-par for several seasons before the transition.

If an administration is intent on going to the FBS, then they will have to be patient and hope for some luck along the way. Consider Louisiana Tech, a team that made the Independence Bowl in their second FBS season. In addition, Connecticut was a team that went from Independent status to the Big East (albeit watered down) within 5 years of joining the FBS. Finally, there is Boise State. The Broncos went to a bowl game in their fourth FBS season, but are now one of the best Group of 5 schools every season.

That leads us to the 2018 debut of Liberty as a FBS team. The Flames have posted a winning record each season since 2007. However, they only went to one FCS playoff in their final five seasons at that division. Facing a majority of FBS teams (Idaho State and Norfolk State are the two FCS opponents), they will probably struggle this season.

Finally, we have the new programs. They do surprisingly well at the FBS level reaching the postseason in their fourth of fifth year, on average. Location is important along with some luck to help them become successful.

One closing note to make is that the above analysis looks solely at the on field performance. The decision to make the move from FCS to FBS is far more involved and nuanced. We will touch on some of those factors in our second part.

Join us for part two where we take a look at which schools would best fit to make the jump from FCS to FBS or start a new program.

James Madison Cruises To 2017 FCS National Title

James Madison claimed their second FCS National Championship in school history. (Photo Courtesy of JMU via Twitter).

James Madison Cruises To 2017 FCS National Title

The James Madison Dukes won their second FCS National Championship in school history after defeating the Youngstown State Penguins 28-14. The Dukes used an impressive defensive performance in which they recorded 5 sacks, forced 3 turnovers, and held the Penguins to 21 yards rushing on 31 carries.

The Dukes were playing without star linebacker Brandon Hereford due to suspension and then lost fellow linebackers Dimitri Holloway and David Ezeagwu midway through the first quarter. That makes their performance even more impressive.

The Dukes were able to get going with their special teams blocking a punt to give them a short field. Two plays later, Bryan Schor hit Jonathan Kloosterman for a 14 yard score and a 7-0 James Madison lead. The Penguins had a poor punt on their next drive and the Dukes made them pay again with Schor hitting Rashard Davis for an 18 yard touchdown on a controversial call.

Trailing 14-0, Youngstown State had a decent drive going that resulted in a 45 yard field goal attempt, but the kick never got off as the snap was fumbled. Two drives later, James Madison got big back-to-back pass plays from Schor to Davis (33 yards) and Domo Taylor (31 yards). The drive resulted in Khalid Abdullah punching it in for a 21-0 lead.

The Penguins did get a late first half score thanks in large part to a partially blocked punt that set up Hunter Wells hitting Shane Kuhn for a 17 yard touchdown. That made it 21-7 at halftime with the Dukes holding a commanding yardage edge of 208-88 after 30 minutes.

The Penguins started the second half with the ball, but a fluke interception (video below) gave the ball back to James Madison.

YSU committed two defensive pass interference penalties on the drive and Abdullah ran it in from 2 yards out to extend the lead to 28-7. The Penguins mounted another solid drive, but a snap over the head of Nathan Mays was recovered by JMU’s Darrious Carter. The Penguins next drive required a fourth and 12 conversion, but the potential touchdown was broken up and the Dukes took over.

James Madison controlled the contest for the remainder of the game with Youngstown State scoring a garbage time touchdown. Wells found Jermiah Braswell for a 7 yard score to close the game out 28-14.

The Penguins were led by Wells who threw for 271 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception, but he was harassed for most of the game. Jody Webb had 41 yards rushing on 17 carries to go with 10 catches for 63 yards while Alvin Bailey finished with 7 receptions for 68 yards.

It was not a spectacular offensive performance from the Dukes, but it did not have to be. They were efficient with Schor going 7 of 12 passing for 112 yards with 2 touchdowns and no picks along with 36 yards on the ground. Abdullah, who was named Most Outstanding Player, had 101 yards and 2 touchdowns rushing on 26 carries. The Dukes committed no turnovers.

James Madison won their first title back in 2004 when they defeated Montana 31-21 with Mickey Matthews as head coach. This time it was Mike Houston in his first season leading the Dukes to a national title and a 14-1 overall record for the 2016 season.

2017 FCS National Championship Preview

The 2017 FCS Championship will be determined on January 7, 2017 between Youngstown State and James Madison.

Note: This is the National Championship preview following the 2016 FCS Season.

2017 FCS National Championship Preview

The FCS season has just one game left and it is the National Championship between the Youngstown State Penguins (12-3) and James Madison Dukes (13-1). Both teams have had tough roads to get here and are deserving of their spot in the National Championship.

The FCS National Championship will be played on Saturday, January 7 at Toyota Stadium from Frisco, Texas. The game will be shown on ESPN2 with a kickoff time of 12 PM Eastern.

Through four rounds, our predictions have gone 19-3. Below are the links to our predictions for the previous rounds along with the record for that round.

First Round Predictions (7-1)

Second Round Predictions (7-1)

Quarterfinal Predictions (4-0)

Semifinal Predictions (1-1)

Below is the 2017 FCS National Championship game preview and we will also provide a prediction for this matchup.

Youngstown State Road To The National Championship

First Round: Defeated Samford 38-24 at home

Second Round: Defeated #3 Jacksonville State 40-24 on the road

Quarterfinals: Defeated Wofford 30-23 at home in 2 overtimes

Semifinals: Defeated #2 Eastern Washington 40-38 on the road

Youngstown State Penguins Preview

The Penguins opened the playoffs with a comfortable 38-24 win over Samford and then had a great game plan against Jacksonville State (force Eli Jenkins to throw) and won 40-24 to reach the Quarterfinals. They won a hard-fought game at home versus Wofford 30-23 in double overtime and then played a wild contest out west at Eastern Washington. Kevin Rader’s catch against the defender’s back gave YSU the 40-38 win and the berth in the title game.

The Penguins average 28.5 points (37 in the playoffs), 431.6 yards, 257.5 yards rushing, and 174.1 yards passing per game on offense. Quarterback Hunter Wells has gone 7-1 since taking over the starting spot from Ricky Davis. Wells has thrown for 1,453 yards (63.5%) with 9 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.

Wells will be boosted by a strong backfield combination of Jody Webb (1,301 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 6.1 yards per carry) and Tevin McCaster (616 yards with 11 touchdowns and 4.9 YPC). Webb has six straight 100 yard rushing performance and is averaging 157 yards per game in the playoffs. McCaster had a breakout game against Eastern Washington with 154 yards and 3 rushing touchdowns on 29 carries. This duo will be leaned on to get the offense going.

It is worth noting that the team’s second leading rusher, Martin Ruiz, will not play in this game. He had 1,153 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, but was arrested on a weapon charge.

The receivers are not overwhelming with Alvin Bailey the leader in both receptions (40) and touchdowns (5). Bailey is third on the team in yards at 443. Darien Townsend has 32 catches for 525 yards and 4 touchdowns while Webb has caught 26 passes for 328 yards and no touchdowns. Damoun Patterson is worth keeping an eye on because he is the big play guy. He has only 18 catches, but has 461 yards (25.6 yards per catch) and 2 touchdowns. If the running game struggles, this group will have to step up.

The Youngstown State defense allows 19.4 points, 324.4 total yards, 128.1 yards rushing, and 196.3 yards passing per game. The points allowed per game in the playoffs are at 27.3, which is a concern, but they have come up with big stops when needed.

Defensive ends Derek Rivers and Avery Moss have been a menacing duo all season. Rivers had 13 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss on the year while Moss has recorded 9.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. Linebacker Armand Dellovade has 11.5 tackles for loss and leads the team in total tackles at 98. These three as well as the other players in the front seven will have their hands full with James Madison’s rushing attack. The Penguins have intercepted only 12 passes all season, but LeRoy Alexander has accounted for a third of those. Kenny Bishop leads the team with 11 pass breakups.

The kicking duties fall to Zak Kennedy and he has not been great this season. He has converted only 13 of 19 field goal attempts with a long of 46 yards. He has also made 37 of 38 extra points. Mark Schuler has done very well punting the ball with an average of 42.4 yards with 26 landing inside the opponent’s 20.

Jody Webb leads the team in kick returns averaging 23.9 yards per return, but has not recorded a touchdown. Darien Townsend has a 19.4 yards per average return on kickoffs, but can be dangerous on punts. He has averaged 11.9 yards per return on punts and returned one for a touchdown.

James Madison Road To The National Championship

First Round: Bye

Second Round: Defeated New Hampshire 55-22 at home

Quarterfinals: Defeated #5 Sam Houston State 65-7 at home

Semifinals: Defeated #1 North Dakota State 27-17 on the road

James Madison Dukes Preview

James Madison opened the playoffs with a bye before back-to-back blowouts. They decimated New Hampshire 55-22 with quarterback Bryan Schor throwing for 371 yards and 5 touchdowns. In the Quarterfinal versus Sam Houston State, the Dukes obliterated the Bearkats 65-7 with 144 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground from Trai Sharp and 141 yards and 3 touchdowns rushing from Khalid Abdullah. The defense held the prolific passing of Jeremiah Briscoe to just 143 yards on 13 of 44 passing with no touchdowns and 2 interceptions.

The Semifinal was on the road against the 5 time defending National Champions North Dakota State. Abdullah ran for 180 yards on 23 carries while Schor threw for 242 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception. The defense held the Bison to 132 yards rushing and a 3.4 yards per carry average.

The offense for James Madison averages 48 points, 525.6 yards of offense, 284.6 yards rushing, and 241.1 yards passing per game. Bryan Schor leads the team as the quarterback and has thrown for 2,890 yards with 27 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. More impressively, he has completed 73.7% of his passes.

Schor is complimented in the backfield by Khalid Abdullah, who has rushed for 1,708 yards with 20 touchdowns and averages 6.3 yards per carry. Schor is third on the team in rushing with 543 yards and has 10 rushing touchdowns so he can also get the offense moving with his legs. Trai Sharp had big games versus New Hampshire and Sam Houston State, but was held to just 14 yards on 4 carries against North Dakota State. He has the potential for big runs if he can get some touches in the Championship game.

The receiving group is pretty balanced with many contributors. Brandon Ravenel leads the team with 45 catches for 720 yards and 5 touchdowns. Domo Taylor has 34 catches for 547 yards and 3 touchdowns and Rashard Davis has 39 catches for 478 yards and 2 touchdowns. Terrence Alls has 39 catches for 575 yards and 5 touchdowns on the season, but he will miss the National Championship along with 6 other players.

The defense allows 21.7 points, 348 yards of offense, 137.8 yards rushing, and 210.2 yards passing per game. They have been dominant and physical the entire postseason (see both Sam Houston State and North Dakota State games for some great examples). Star linebacker Brandon Hereford had 96 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss, but will miss the game along with Alls and five others.

Simeyon Robinson and Martez Stone will anchor the defensive line with Robinson recording 4 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss this year. Stone also has 4 sacks and 7 tackles for loss and both will be key to stopping the run and getting pressure on the quarterback. Gage Steele will be the main linebacker and he has 98 tackles on the season with 4.5 tackles for loss.

Leading the secondary is Raven Greene, who has a team high 6 interceptions and also is tied for second on the team with 7 pass breakups. Taylor Reynolds leads the team in pass breakups with 12 and also has 2 interceptions.

Tyler Gray will handle the field goal duties, but he is just 14 of 21 on the season with a long of 45. Gunnar Kane will be the punter and he averages 42.2 yards per punt and has landed 20 inside the opponent’s 20.

The Dukes have two dangerous kickoff returners between Robbie Walker (21.5 yard average) and Brandon Ravenel (23.9 yard average and a touchdown). The real difference could be on punt returns where top returner Rashard Davis has averaged 29.9 yards per return and taken four (!) back to the house for a touchdown.

Prediction

Youngstown State is making their first appearance in the FCS National Championship since 1999 and they have won four titles in school history (1991, 1993, 1994, and 1997). Those four titles came with Jim Tressel as the head coach and Tressel is now the President of Youngstown State. As for James Madison they have only been to one National Championship and that was in 2004 when they defeated Montana 31-21.

Both teams are coming into this contest facing a slew of suspensions. They have been known for a few weeks so there should not be much surprise on either side in that regard. Both teams like to the run the ball and prefer to get their offense started that way. However, James Madison can rely on Bryan Schor’s arm if needed. Hunter Wells has played admirably since taking over the starter and has shown the ability to get the job done throwing as well.

We like the more physical team to win this game and we are going with James Madison. We are taking the Dukes to win 35-21 to claim their second FCS National Championship.

2016 FCS Playoffs Semifinal Predictions

James Madison’s only loss was to North Carolina (pictured above). Since then the Dukes have won 10 straight including their 65-7 demolition of Sam Houston State in the FCS Quarterfinals. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

2016 FCS Playoffs Semifinal Predictions

Four teams remain in the hunt for the 2016 FCS National Championship. Three of the top four seeds, #1 North Dakota State, #2 Eastern Washington, and #4 James Madison, are alive along with unseeded Youngstown State. All four are worthy of reaching the National Championship for the right to play for the title.

The two semifinal games will be played over two days. The first game featuring the five time defending National Champions, North Dakota State, will be played on Friday, December 16. The second game featuring the #2 seed Eastern Washington will be played on Saturday, December 17. Through three rounds, our predictions have gone 18-2. Below are the links to our predictions for the previous rounds along with the record for that round.

First Round Predictions (7-1)

Second Round Predictions (7-1)

Quarterfinal Predictions (4-0)

Below are the predictions for the FCS Semifinal games. We will begin with the Friday game of James Madison at North Dakota State.

#4 James Madison (12-1) at #1 North Dakota State (12-1)

Game Time: Friday, December 16 at 7 PM Eastern (ESPN2)

James Madison has played in two playoff games and they have both been blowouts. They dismantled New Hampshire in the second round 55-22 after a slow first quarter. Bryan Schor threw for 371 yards on 30 of 37 passing for 5 touchdowns and an interception.

Their Quarterfinal game against Sam Houston State was even more impressive. They held one of the best offenses in FCS to just 7 points in 65-7 thrashing of Sam Houston State. SHSU’s Jeremiah Briscoe went a horrid 13 of 44 for 143 yards passing and 2 picks. The running game got going for the Dukes with 144 yards and 2 touchdowns from Trai Sharp and 141 yards and 3 touchdowns from Khalid Abdullah. The special teams also had a punt return for a touchdown and blocked  another punt that they then returned for a touchdown.

North Dakota State opened with San Diego in the second round and they had little trouble with them in a 45-7 win. Easton Stick threw for 208 yards and 3 touchdowns while rushing for another 99 yards. The team averaged 9.6 yards per carry with 299 yards total on the ground.

The Bison’s Quarterfinal matchup was against a familiar foe in South Dakota State. The Bison lost to them 19-17 in the regular season and they had a slow start to the Quarterfinal. SDSU took a 10-0 thanks to the hidden ball trick play.

After that, the Bison were in total control. They got a 49 yard touchdown run from Lance Dunn (after a 71 yard touchdown pass to Dimitri Williams was taken off the board). Their next drive was a soul crushing 20 play possession that took off 12:09 on the clock. Stick kept the ball for a 3 yard touchdown run and the Bison took a 14-10 lead they never relinquished. The Bison won 36-10 with Stick throwing for 188 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, and rushing for another 83 yards and 2 scores. King Frazier had 101 yards rushing while Dunn finished with 91 yards and a score on the ground.

James Madison is full of playmakers on offense with Bryan Schor at quarterback and Khalid Abdullah running the ball. The emergence of Trai Sharp the last three weeks have really helped Dukes on offense. Sharp has 301 yards the last three games, which is more than half of his entire season total (593 yards). The Bison allow 99.2 yards rushing per game.

North Dakota State’s offense will probably be the key to this game. The Bison are averaging 290.6 rushing yards per game over their previous five contests. They want to use that run game to wear down the defense, salt the clock, and score touchdowns. They did that very well against South Dakota State and their key was going 10 for 13 on third down. If James Madison wants to have any chance, they need to stop the run, prevent long drives, and, most importantly, get off the field on third down. Easier said than done.

This game features two physical teams that prefer to run the ball, but can use the passing attack to beat their opponent if needed. James Madison has the better offense here, but the Bison have the better defense. Who will win that battle?

We like James Madison to win this game 31-28. To pick against the Bison, at home, as 5 time defending National Championships, and with a stellar run game, is very hard to do. They could easily make this pick look terrible, but we like the Dukes here.

Youngstown State (11-3) at #2 Eastern Washington (12-1)

Game Time: Saturday, December 17 at 6:30 PM Eastern (ESPNU)

Youngstown State is the only team remaining to have played in the first round. They faced Samford in a game they controlled throughout and won 38-24. Their second round game was against Jacksonville State and they did exactly what they needed to do. They forced Eli Jenkins to throw the ball and he went 6 of 26 passing with 140 yards, a touchdown, and 2 interceptions. The defense gave up 317 yards rushing, but they forced a run first team into a deficit and forced them to pass. Jody Webb finished with 140 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns while Hunter Wells threw for 290 yards and a touchdown on 10 of 18 passing for Youngstown State.

The Penguins had a stiff test in the Quarterfinals as well with Wofford coming to town. Wofford took a 9-0 lead after the first quarter, but YSU responded with two touchdowns to make it a 13-9 lead. After that, the teams exchanged scores until late in the game when Youngstown State hit a 32 yard field goal to tie the game at 23. Wofford attempted a 53 yard field goal at the end of regulation, but it came up short and the game went to overtime.

Overtime was full of twists and turns. Wofford decided to go for it on fourth and one from the YSU 3, but the pitch hit off Lorenzo Long’s hands and went out of bounds. The Penguins had a chance to win it in the first overtime, but Zak Kennedy’s 37 yard field goal was wide right. YSU started the second overtime with a 2 yard touchdown run by Tevin McCaster and then forced an incompletion on fourth down against Wofford’s offense to seal the 30-23 win in double overtime.

Eastern Washington had a bye in the first round and then faced Central Arkansas in the second round. After giving up the first 14 points, the Eagles scored the final 31 points and held the Central Arkansas offense to 75 yards in the second half. Gage Gubrud went 47 of 64 passing with 449 yards and 2 touchdowns in the 31-14 win. He also rushed for 68 yards and a touchdown in a complete performance from him.

Eastern Washington used that strong second half defensive performance against Central Arkansas and parlayed that into a full game against Richmond. In their 38-0 shutout, they held Richmond to 205 yards of total offense including 48 yards on the ground and only 1.3 yards per carry. Gage Gubrud had a more pedestrian game going 21 of 32 for 287 yards with 3 touchdowns and a pick. Cooper Kupp caught 6 passes for 128 yards and a score despite worries over his shoulder.

The weather for this game is expected to be bitterly cold in Cheney, Washington. That would seem to favor the running attacks, which Youngstown State has a distinct advantage in. The Penguins average 257.1 yards per game on the ground and their playoff average is at 244.7 yards per game. Jody Webb (1,200 yards and 6 touchdowns) and Martin Ruiz (1,153 and 12 touchdowns) are the leading rushers, but Ruiz may not play against an EWU defense that allows 188.4 yards rushing per game. Ruiz played little in the Wofford game after being arrested on firearm charges.

Eastern Washington only averages 131.3 yards per game on the ground. Will the weather completely shut down their pass attack? That is difficult to envision because the Eagles will still throw the ball around plenty. However, we saw cold weather shut down Sam Houston State’s offense at James Madison when the weather was cold. The difference here is that Eastern Washington is used to this weather, even if it is not ideal to play in. They know what to expect and should be prepared.

One thing to keep in my about this game is that Youngstown State may be without four or five players including Martin Ruiz. If that is the case, their work is going to be even more difficult.

Youngstown State has a good offense to play in the cold weather. That is to run the ball, but this Eastern Washington defense has been completely different the last 90 minutes of game time. Gage Gubrud will be able to complete enough passes to the trio of Kupp, Shaq Hill, and Kendrick Bourne. If needed, Gubrud can use his legs to run the ball as he is the leading rusher for the Eagles with 558 yards and 5 touchdowns. We will pick Eastern Washington to win this game 28-17.

Check back the first week of the new year for a preview of the FCS National Championship game.

2016 FCS Playoffs Quarterfinal Predictions

Cooper Kupp's health will be the focus coming into and during the game against Richmond. He is a top receiver in the FCS and a crucial part of the Eastern Washington pass offense. (Steve Dykes/Getty Images North America)
Cooper Kupp’s health will be the focus coming into and during the game against Richmond. He is a top receiver in the FCS and a crucial part of the Eastern Washington pass offense. (Steve Dykes/Getty Images North America)

2016 FCS Playoffs Quarterfinal Predictions

The 2016 FCS Playoffs bracket has been cut down to 8 teams. There was some exciting action in the second round and some blowouts as well. The Quarterfinals will be played on both Friday, December 9 and Saturday, December 10. All four games can be found on various ESPN channels. An updated bracket can be found here.

After going 7-1 in the first round with our predictions, we matched that again in the second round to move our two round total to 14-2. We will make our predictions for the quarterfinals starting with the #1 seed North Dakota State and #8 South Dakota State.

#8 South Dakota State (9-3) at #1 North Dakota State (11-1)

Game Time: Saturday, December 10 at 12 PM Eastern

South Dakota State started their playoffs with a 10-7 win at home against Villanova last week. It was an ugly game with the Jackrabbits rushing for just 7 yards. Taryn Christion threw for 190 yards and a touchdown on 20 of 33 passing. The defense allowed 321 yards of offense to Villanova, but allowed just that one score and were stingy once the Wildcats got inside their territory.

North Dakota State opened their 5 time title defense with a 45-7 walloping of San Diego at home. Easton Stick threw for 208 yards and 3 touchdowns, ran for another 99 yards on 4 carries, and the rushing attack was devastating. The Bison had 299 yards on 31 carries as a team (Lance Dunn had 93 yards and 1 TD while Bruce Anderson rushed for 61 yards and a TD) and they averaged 9.6 yards per carry.

This is a rematch of the game on October 15 that South Dakota State won 19-17 in this building. The Bison held a 17-3 lead midway through the third quarter, but SDSU chipped away at the lead. Christion hit Jake Wieneke from 2 yards out with 1 second left and the Jackrabbits pulled off the upset. The Jackrabbits put up 523 yards of offense that day, which was the second most against NDSU’s defense behind Eastern Washington’s 556 yards in the Bison’s second game.

So how will this game go? Probably pretty similar to the first one. The Jackrabbits have the better offense, but the Bison have the better defense. This game will come down to the Bison’s offense. If they can control the clock, shorten the game, and gave success running the ball, then they will probably win. The combination of Dunn, King Frazier, Stick using his legs to extend plays/drives, Chase Morlock, and Anderson will be tough to stop. The Bison had 161 yards rushing in the first game versus SDSU and averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

In a close game, we like the North Dakota State Bison to win and move on to the semifinals. They will be tested by Taryn Christion, but will do enough to win 21-16. The winner of this game will play either Sam Houston State or James Madison in the semifinals.

#5 Sam Houston State (12-0) at #4 James Madison (11-1)

Game Time: Friday, December 9 at 7 PM PM Eastern

Sam Houston State was tested in their second round game at home versus Chattanooga. Despite leading the whole game, the Bearkats needed a late fourth down stop to win 41-36. Jeremiah Briscoe threw for 363 yards and 5 touchdowns with 1 pick on 20 of 40 passing. Yedidiah Louis had 8 catches for 156 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Bearkats put up 421 yards of offense, but it was Chattanooga’s offense who did better with 531 yards.

James Madison blew the doors off New Hampshire at home 55-22. After falling behind 7-0 midway through the first, they responded with 31 straight points to take a 31-7 halftime lead. The Dukes had 408 yards passing (Bryan Schor had 371 yards with 5 touchdowns and 1 interception) and 567 yards of total offense.

This game will be all about offense. SHSU averages 53.1 points and 570.4 yards per game. James Madison averages 48.3 points and 525.8 yards per game. The defenses are porous with SHSU allowing 26.8 points and 428.5 yards per game while JMU allows 23.3 points and 354.5 yards per game.

Sam Houston State and Jeremiah Briscoe can put up points, but can their defense stop the Dukes? They will be motivated going in the road after getting the #5 seed. We like a high scoring game and James Madison to come out on top 48-38. The winner of this game will play either South Dakota State or North Dakota State in the semifinals.

Wofford (10-3) at Youngstown State (10-3)

Game Time: Saturday, December 10 at 2 PM Eastern

Wofford sure knows how to play in close games. They staved off Charleston Southern in round one with a 15-14 victory. In the second round, they went on the road and defeated The Citadel 17-3, but that score is far from how close the game was. The game was tied at 3 after three quarters, then the Terriers took a 10-3 lead after Joe Newman broke off a 36 yard touchdown run. Devin Watson picked off a Citadel pass and returned it 64 yards for a touchdown in the final minute to make it 17-3. The Citadel also missed three of their 4 field goal attempts.

Youngstown State dominated Samford 38-24 in the first round with that game’s score flattered by two late Samford touchdowns. The Penguins second round game was more impressive though. They went on the road to Jacksonville State and held them in check during the second half to win 40-24. They allowed 317 yards on the ground to Jacksonville State, but they built a lead that forced them to throw the ball. Eli Jenkins hit only 6 of his 26 pass attempts for 140 yards with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. The Penguins finished with 520 yards of offense with 290 yards passing and one touchdown from Hunter Wells and 140 yards rushing and 2 big scores from Jody Webb.

Wofford will be running the ball pretty much non-stop in this game. They have averaged 182 yards per game rushing in the playoffs compared to only 38.5 yards passing per game. It will be a heavy dose of Lorenzo Long, who has 1,382 yards and 16 touchdowns on 274 carries this year. In the playoffs, he has 188 yards and 2 touchdowns on 41 carries. Youngstown State allows 117.8 yards rushing per game.

Youngstown State is similar to Wofford in that they like to run the ball a lot. However, they have a passing attack that can get the job done if needed. Martin Ruiz (1,149 yards and 12 TDs) and Jody Webb (987 yards and 6 TDs) are the main ball carriers. Hunter Wells had his best game against Jacksonville State with 290 yards passing. The Penguins are facing a Wofford defense that gives up 91.2 yards rushing and 186.4 yards passing per game.

If Wofford wants to win this game they will need to stop the run and for Wells to throw the ball. The problem is that since Wells became the starter, he has not had a bad game since the North Dakota State contest. He had 0 touchdowns and three interceptions in his first two starts, but has since thrown 4 touchdowns with no interceptions. Wofford will also want to keep this game very low scoring, which is possible if they can force a lot of three and outs.

We like Youngstown State to win this game 24-10. The Penguins will keep Lorenzo Long in check and the offense will score enough points at home to force Wofford into an uncomfortable position. The winner of this game will play either Richmond or Eastern Washington in the semifinals.

Richmond (10-3) at #2 Eastern Washington (11-1)

Game Time: Saturday, December 10 at 4 PM Eastern

Richmond opened with an easy 39-10 win over North Carolina A&T in the first round. Their second round game was much more difficult and they needed to mount a fourth quarter comeback to win 27-24. They trailed 24-7 at halftime, but a touchdown pass and touchdown run from Kevin Johnson, along with 2 field goals from Griffin Trau, saw them win as time expired.

Eastern Washington had a bye in the first round and won over Central Arkansas in the second round 31-14. It was a different kind of win because they fell behind 14-0, but dominated the game after that. It was the defense that had a strong second half outing allowing just 75 yards in the final 30 minutes. Gage Gubrud threw for 449 yards and 2 touchdowns on 47 of 64 passing.

There were concerns about Eastern Washington’s defense going into the game last week, but they way they played after letting up 2 touchdowns was impressive. They are going to have to stop Kevin Johnson, who has 604 yards (66.7%) passing and 3 touchdowns with no picks. Johnson is also a threat to run the ball and keep plays alive, especially near the red zone. The Eagles will need to stop Brian Brown from catching too many passes, but good luck with that. Brown has 77 receptions for 1,441 yards and 11 touchdowns this year.

Eastern Washington fans will want to keep an eye on the health of star receiver Cooper Kupp. He started the game despite a shoulder injury and played well catching 10 passes for 95 yards and 2 touchdowns. He did not play most of the second half due to the injury, and his loss for an entire game would be huge. Still, the Eagles can rely on Shaq Hill (72 catches for 1,077 yards and 15 touchdowns) and Kendrick Bourne (74 catches for 1,051 yards and 6 touchdowns) if Kupp cannot play or his action is limited.

Richmond is a resilient team and if they can keep this game close, they will not be deterred. It will help if Kupp cannot play for Eastern Washington that will help Richmond. We like Eastern Washington, even if Kupp does not play, to win this game 28-24. The winner of this game will play either Wofford or Youngstown State in the semifinals.

Check back next week for predictions for both of the semifinal games in the 2016 FCS Playoffs.

2016 FCS Playoffs Round 2 Predictions

Chase Morlock and North Dakota State defeated the then ranked #13 Iowa Hawkeyes of the FBS 23-21 on the road. North Dakota State is the top overall seed in the 2016 FCS Playoffs. (Matthew Holst/Getty Images North America)
Chase Morlock and North Dakota State defeated the then ranked #13 Iowa Hawkeyes of the FBS 23-21 on the road. North Dakota State is the top overall seed in the 2016 FCS Playoffs. (Matthew Holst/Getty Images North America)

2016 FCS Playoffs Round 2 Predictions

The first round of the FCS Playoffs saw eight teams eliminated and the winning teams will be facing the eight teams that had a bye. All the games for the second round will be played on Saturday, December 3. The remaining schedule for the FCS Playoffs can be found at the bottom of this linked article.

If not for a vengeful San Diego team, we would have predicted all 8 games correctly from the first round. As it is, we went 7-1 with our predictions for last week’s games. An updated bracket for the FCS Playoffs can be found here.

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 (10-1) at #1 North Dakota State (10-1)

Game Time: 3:30 PM Eastern

San Diego went on the road in the first round and got even with the only team to defeat them in the regular season. The Toreros did exactly what they needed to do and that was stop Cal Poly’s rush offense. After allowing 354 yards rushing to Cal Poly in the first matchup, USD allowed just 155 yards on the ground (and only 40 passing) to Cal Poly in the opening round playoff game. They won 35-21 with 296 yards and 2 touchdowns passing from Anthony Lawrence along with 171 yards and 3 touchdowns rushing by Jonah Hodges.

North Dakota State had a bye in the opening round after going 10-1 during the regular season. They had wins over Charleston Southern, Eastern Washington, Iowa, Illinois State, Western Illinois, Northern Iowa, and Youngstown State. Their lone blemish was a 19-17 loss to South Dakota State at home thanks to a late passing touchdown by the Jackrabbits. And we have not even mentioned that the Bison are 5 time FCS National Champions.

We will not break down the stats: We like NDSU to win at home. The Bison have not been as dominant this year, but they sure do know how to win close games. They are 6-1 in games decided by 8 points or less. We like this one to be outside of that zone with the defense shutting down San Diego’s offense to win 28-10. The winner of this game faces either Villanova or South Dakota State.

Villanova (9-3) at #8 South Dakota State (8-3)

Game Time: 3 PM Eastern

Villanova had an opening round home game against St. Francis and it was a rather easy game despite the 31-21 score line. Two fourth quarter touchdowns flattered the final tally for St. Francis as Villanova led 31-7 at halftime. Villanova had 495 total yards with Zach Bednarczyk throwing for 254 yards with 3 touchdowns and a pick.

South Dakota State had a bye in the opening round after a pretty good regular season. They lost to TCU (59-41 in a good showing by SDSU), Cal Poly (38-31), and Illinois State (38-21). Their wins consist of the 19-17 win at North Dakota State and at home against Youngstown State 24-10.

This is an interesting game because Villanova’s offense is not overwhelming (25.8 points and 383.6 yards per game), but SDSU’s defense can give up points and yardage at 28.4 points and 403.4 yards per game. On the other side, Villanova’s defense is very good at 15.4 points and 265 yards per game but they will be strained by SDSU’s offense that averages 37.4 points and 481.7 yards per game.

Can Bednarczyk keep the turnovers down (10 interceptions this year) and can the Villanova rush attack get going against the SDSU defense? The numbers say yes, but SDSU may have something to say about that. SDSU will use the arm of Taryn Christion to get the offense down the field. He has 3,369 yards (64.1%), 29 touchdowns, and 8 picks along with 385 yards rushing and 6 touchdowns.

This game feels like a shootout that could go either way. We will go with South Dakota State to win 41-38. The winner of this game play either San Diego or North Dakota State in the quarterfinals.

Chattanooga (9-3) at #5 Sam Houston State (11-0)

Game Time: 3 PM Eastern

Chattanooga opened the playoffs at home with a convincing 45-14 win over Weber State. Derrick Craine ran for 160 yards and a touchdown while Montrell Pardue returned a fumble 99 yards for a score to blow the game wide open (was 17-0 prior to the score).

Sam Houston State was the only FCS team to go undefeated in the regular season and did so in style. All of their wins were by double digits, but the offense is the main attraction. They averaged 54.2 points and 584 yards per game! Jeremiah Briscoe had a spectacular season with 4,096 yards and 52 touchdowns passing. He only threw 7 picks out of 419 attempts and completed 67.3 % of his passes.

The real question in this game is how well will the Chattanooga defense play? They are good giving up only 17.8 points and 283.4 yards per game and they have big game experience recently against a strong offense (see the game at Alabama where they gave up 332 yards to the Tide). There is also the anger factor for SHSU. The Bearkats were awarded the 5th overall seed, but felt they deserved a higher seed (and potentially another home game).

We are going with the Sam Houston State Bearkats at home 51-41 in another high scoring game. The winner of this game will play either New Hampshire or James Madison in the quarterfinals.

New Hampshire (8-4) at #4 James Madison (10-1)

Game Time: 2 PM Eastern

New Hampshire had a fun time against Lehigh in the first round winning 64-21. The Wildcats put up 637 yards of total offense (364 of them on the ground), Adam Riese threw for 273 yards with 3 touchdowns and 3 picks, Dalton Crossan rushed for 184 yards and 2 scores, and Trevon Bryant had 113 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns.

James Madison had a bye in the first round after a 10-1 season where they went undefeated in the Colonial. Their lone loss was at North Carolina 56-28 where they were hanging around for the better part of three quarters.

This is also a rematch of the game on October 15 in New Hampshire. The Dukes had a massive 42-14 lead with 10 minutes left, but a furious rally by the Wildcats came up just short and they lost 42-39. The Wildcats threw for 512 yards in the loss (largely due to playing from behind), while the Dukes had 437 yards. Bryan Schor threw for 264 yards and 4 touchdowns with no picks for James Madison. Adam Riese came off the bench to throw for 198 yards and 2 touchdowns for New Hampshire.

Like the game in October, this one might be high scoring. Neither defense is strong as they both give up more than three touchdowns and 350 yards per game. Watch to see how Dalton Crossan does this time around. He rushed for only 35 yards (and a score) on 13 carries in the first game. If he cannot get going again, it might be another big deficit for the Wildcats to overcome.

We are going with the better offense to win here in James Madison. The Dukes average about 19 points and 140 yards per game more than New Hampshire. James Madison wins this rematch at home 45-31 (it could be even higher if neither defense shows up a la Syracuse and Pitt). The winner of this game faces the winner of the Chattanooga and Sam Houston State contest.

Youngstown State (8-3) at #3 Jacksonville State (10-1)

Game Time: 2 PM Eastern

Youngstown State started the playoffs with a 38-24 win at home over Samford. It was a pretty comfortable game after a score midway through the fourth quarter made it 24-7. Samford scored two touchdowns in the final 7 minutes to make the score line look closer than it was. Jody Webb rushed for 174 yards and 2 touchdowns while the defense allowed only 24 yards rushing.

Jacksonville State had a bye in the opening round and their only loss was at LSU in week two. The Gamecocks kept the game close until the final 70 seconds of the first half when they allowed two touchdowns and the deficit ballooned from 3 points to 17.

YSU’s Hunter Wells has been serviceable the last five games in replace of the normal starter Ricky Davis. Wells has thrown for 746 yards (63.2%) with 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. It is really going to come down to Martin Ruiz (1,086 yards and 11 touchdowns) and Jody Webb (847 yards and 4 touchdowns) running the ball. They are up against the Jacksonville State rush defense that allows 78.8 yards per game, but they must get going to keep the pressure off Wells.

This Jacksonville State team does not have the explosive offense as we have seen in recent years, but this offense is still pretty good with Eli Jenkins back for his last playoff run. He has 1,967 yards (52.3%) with 10 touchdowns and 6 picks, but his running ability is what really gives defense headaches. He has 795 yards and 12 touchdowns and he will spread the ball to Roc Thomas (782 yards and 7 TDs) and Josh Clemons (731 yards and 9 TDs). Those three will dictate how the run game, and JSU’s offense, will perform in this game. Youngstown State allows 101.2 yards per game on the ground.

It appears that whichever running attack is most productive will win this game. We like that team to be Jacksonville State with the Gamecocks winning 34-21. The winner of this game will play either Wofford or The Citadel in the quarterfinals.

Wofford (9-3) at #6 The Citadel (10-1)

Game Time: 6 PM Eastern

The Wofford Terriers played in a dog fight the opening round (pun intended) at home against Charleston Southern. They won 15-14 in a game that truly could have turned on one play. It was an ugly game if you like offense: CSU had 286 yards to 185 for Wofford. The passing games were sparsely used (as expected with run-heavy offenses) with a combined 135 yards passing from the two teams. Lorenzo Long earned every single one of his 96 yards and 2 touchdowns on 27 carries.

The Citadel earned a bye for the opening round after winning the Southern Conference. They defeated Chattanooga (22-14) and Samford (37-24) at home along with Wofford on the road (24-21). Their only loss was at North Carolina when they were crushed 41-7. However, they racked up 344 yards on the ground against the Tar Heels.

When these two teams met on October 22nd, overtime was needed. The Citadel settled for a field goal in the first part of overtime and then forced a fumble and recovered it on Wofford’s offensive possession to win the game. Wofford won the rushing battle that day 299 to 190 with Long rushing for 103 yards. The difference was turnovers. Wofford lost 3 fumbles (one led to a touchdown and the other ended the game) and also had an interception returned for a touchdown.

This will be another game with a lot of running as both teams average less than 75 yards passing per game. Wofford averages 282.9 yards rushing per game compared to 358.5 per game for The Citadel. Wofford relies mostly on Lorenzo Long for their rushing as he has 1,290 yards and 16 scores. He is the key for both Wofford’s offense and The Citadel’s defense.

The Citadel has a 4 headed rushing attack with Tyler Renew (1,020 and 4 TDs), Cam Jackson (656 yards and 5 TDs), Reggie Williams (650 yards and 4 TDs), and Dominique Allen (601 yards and 7 TDs).

This will be another dog fight, literally, between the Wofford Terriers and The Citadel Bulldogs. Wofford had control of the first game between these teams, but lost because of mistakes. If they can repeat that game, minus the mistakes, they will win. We like Wofford to win 17-14. The winner of this game will face either Youngstown State or Jacksonville State.

Richmond (9-3) at #7 North Dakota (9-2)

Game Time: 6 PM Eastern

Richmond rolled to a first round victory at home against North Carolina A&T, 39-10. The Spiders had 491 yards of offense, but most importantly held Tarik Cohen to 70 yards on 13 carries and the Aggies to 226 yards of offense. Kevin Johnson threw for 315 yards with 1 touchdowns and no picks.

North Dakota received a bye after going 9-2 during the regular season. Their losses came in the first two weeks on the road against Stony Brook (13-9) and Bowling Green (27-26). After that, they defeated South Dakota (47-44 in double overtime), Cal Poly (31-24), and Weber State (27-19) en route to 9 straight wins.

Both teams look similar in the stat columns: Richmond averages 31.2 points per game compared to 30.1 for UND. On defense, the Spiders give up 22.2 points per game while UND allows 21.5. The differences are Richmond allows less yardage per game on defense (305.2 to 353.2), posts more yards per game on offense (429.7 to 391.8), and prefers to pass the ball while UND likes to run the ball.

Kevin John will be the key for Richmond as Kyle Lauletta is out for the playoffs. Lauletta had 3,022 yards (63%) with 24 touchdowns and 8 picks on the season prior to his injury. Even if the rushing attack is not working, he can still pick apart defenses. His main target is Brian Brown, who has 70 catches for 1,254 yards and 10 scores.

The North Dakota rushing attack is led by John Santiago (924 yards and 7 TDs), but we will also see plenty of Brady Oliveira (837 yards and 9 TDs). They will need to soften up the defensive rush for Keaton Studsrud. He has only 1,816 yards (56.6%) with 12 touchdowns, but he does not turn the ball over much with two interceptions and one lost fumble on the year.

We like the Richmond passing attack to have success against North Dakota’s pass defense that allows 261.6 yards per game. The Spiders take this one 34-26. The winner of this game will play either Central Arkansas or Eastern Washington.

Central Arkansas (10-2) at #6 Eastern Washington (10-1)

Game Time: 4 PM Eastern

What a fourth quarter Central Arkansas had in the first round against Illinois State. They entered the quarter down 17-7, but blocked a punt and returned it a short 4 yards for a touchdown. After scoring a touchdown on their next drive, they went for an onside kick (up 21-17) and recovered it. They made it 24-17, but let up a 55 yard pass to see the game tied at 24 with 6:15 left in the game. They took the lead for good thanks to Antwon Wells‘ 4 yard touchdown run to win 31-24 after scoring 24 fourth quarter points.

Eastern Washington had a great regular season. They defeated Washington State on the road to start the year 45-42, but lost a tough one to North Dakota State on the road the following week, 50-44. They secured wins over Northern Iowa (34-30), Northern Colorado (49-31), the Montanas (even though they both had a subpar season), and Cal Poly (42-21).

Central Arkansas does not have the offense that EWU has with 34.7 points per game versus 44.2, but they have the better defense, at least according to the stats. They allowed 20.9 points per game (28.8 for EWU) and 320.1 yards per game (443.6 per game for EWU). Quarterback Hayden Hildebrand (2,936 yards, 60.7% completions, 19 touchdowns, and 9 picks) is facing a defense that allows 237.1 yards per game through the air. Even the rushing attack, which does not have a go-to back, could see some success against the Eagles rush defense that gives up 206.5 yards per game.

If Eastern Washington will win this game, it will have to be on offense. And they sure can do it with Gage Gubrud running the show. He has 4,071 yards (68%) with 40 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also leads the team in rushing with 463 yards and 4 touchdowns. It does not hurt to have one of the best receivers in the FCS (feel free to name a better receiver) in Cooper Kupp. Kupp has 91 catches for 1,297 yards and 12 scores. One of his partners is Shaq Hill, who has some good numbers of his own with 65 catches for 1,014 yards and 15 touchdowns. The fearsome trio is rounded out by Kendrick Bourne who has 61 catches for 925 yards and 6 touchdowns.

This has all the makings of a shootout. Central Arkansas will have success against the Eastern Washington defense. Will the Bears defense have an answer for trio of Eagles receivers? We think EWU does enough on offense to get the win, but Gage Gubrud will need to avoid turnovers to do so. Eastern Washington takes this one 52-49. The winner of this game will play either Richmond or North Dakota.

Picks

Here are the picks for the eight games: North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Sam Houston State, James Madison, Jacksonville State, Wofford, Richmond, and Eastern Washington.

Check back next week for the FCS Playoff quarterfinal predictions.

2016 FCS Playoffs Round 1 Predictions

Illinois State is pictured celebrating their win over Northwestern earlier in 2016. The Redbirds were a controversial inclusion in the 2016 FCS Playoffs after an up and down regular season that ended at 6-5. They face Central Arkansas on the road in the opening round. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)
Illinois State is pictured celebrating their win over Northwestern earlier in 2016. The Redbirds were a controversial inclusion in the 2016 FCS Playoffs after an up and down regular season that ended at 6-5. They face Central Arkansas on the road in the opening round. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)

2016 FCS Playoffs Round 1 Predictions

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 give 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 int his 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 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 the 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 into 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.

Picks

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.

2016 FCS Playoff Bracket Announced

Do not adjust your screen. We may see Eastern Washington's unique red "Inferno" field quite a bit in the 2016 FCS Playoffs. (Photo courtesy of Eastern Washington University Athletics)
Do not adjust your screen. We may see Eastern Washington’s unique red “Inferno” field quite a bit in the 2016 FCS Playoffs. (Photo courtesy of Eastern Washington University Athletics)

2016 FCS Playoff Bracket Announced

The 24 teams in the 2016 FCS Playoff Bracket were announced and the usual heavy hitters are in the field. North Dakota State is the reigning five time National Champions and they were awarded the #1 overall seed. The bracket can be found here via the NCAA’s website.

The top four seeds, in order, are North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State, and James Madison. Seeds five through eight, in order, are Sam Houston State, The Citadel, North Dakota, and South Dakota State. The top 8 seeds all receive a bye into the second round with those games to be played on December 3.

Below are the 10 automatic qualifiers for the 2016 FCS Playoffs:

Big Sky – Eastern Washington (10-1)

Big South – Charleston Southern (7-3)

Colonial Athletic – James Madison (10-1)

Missouri Valley – South Dakota State (8-3)

Northeast – Saint Francis (PA) (7-4)

Ohio Valley – Jacksonville State (10-1)

Patriot League – Lehigh (9-2)

Pioneer – San Diego (9-1)

Southern – The Citadel (10-1)

Southland – Sam Houston State (11-0)

Below are the 14 At-Large picks:

Big Sky – Cal Poly (7-4)

Big Sky – North Dakota (9-2)

Big Sky – Weber State (7-4)

Colonial – New Hampshire (7-4)

Colonial – Richmond (8-3)

Colonial – Villanova (8-3)

MEAC – North Carolina A&T (9-2)

Missouri Valley – Illinois State (6-5)

Missouri Valley – North Dakota State (10-1)

Missouri Valley – Youngstown State (8-3)

Southern – Chattanooga (8-3)

Southern – Samford (7-4)

Southern – Wofford (8-3)

Southland – Central Arkansas (9-2)

Overall, four different conferences had four teams in: Big Sky, Colonial Athletic, Missouri Valley, and Southern Conference.

First Round Matchups

All games for the first round will take place on Saturday, November 26. We will list all those games along with their start time as well as the second round opponent.

San Diego (9-1) at Cal Poly (7-4) – 7 PM Eastern. The winner of this game will play at #1 North Dakota State on December 3.

St. Francis (PA) (7-4) at Villanova (8-3) – 2 PM Eastern. The winner of this game will play at #8 South Dakota State on December 3.

Weber State (7-4) at Chattanooga (8-3) – 2 PM Eastern. The winner of this game will play at #5 Sam Houston State on December 3.

Lehigh (9-2) at New Hampshire (7-4) – 2 PM Eastern. The winner of this game will play at #4 James Madison on December 3.

Samford (7-4) at Youngstown State (8-3) – 5 PM Eastern. The winner of this game will play at #3 Jacksonville State on December 3.

Charleston Southern (7-3) at Wofford (8-3) – 2 PM Eastern. The winner of this game will play at #6 The Citadel on December 3.

North Carolina A&T (9-2) at Richmond (8-3) – 2 PM Eastern. The winner of this game will play at #7 North Dakota on December 3.

Illinois State (6-5) at Central Arkansas (9-2) – 2 PM Eastern. The winner of this game will play at #2 Eastern Washington on December 3.

Road to the National Championship

First Round – All games on Saturday, November 26

Second Round – All games on Saturday, December 3

Quarterfinals – Games will be played on Friday, December 9 and Saturday, December 10

Semifinals – Games will be played on Friday, December 16 and Saturday, December 17

National Championship – Will be played on Saturday, January 7, 2017 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

Check back later in the week for predictions for the first round of the 2016 FCS Playoffs.

North Dakota State Uses Familiar Blueprint To Beat FBS Foes

North Dakota State defeated #13 Iowa 23-21 on Saturday, September 17, 2016 for their sixth straight victory over an FBS opponent. (Matthew Holst/Getty Images North America)
North Dakota State defeated #13 Iowa 23-21 on Saturday, September 17, 2016 for their sixth straight victory over an FBS opponent. (Matthew Holst/Getty Images North America)

North Dakota State Uses Familiar Blueprint To Beat FBS Foes

Perhaps you heard the North Dakota State Bison defeated the #13 Iowa Hawkeyes 23-21 on Saturday. The Bison went in as 14.5 points underdogs and defeated the mighty Iowa team that went 12-2 and played in the Rose Bowl last season. This was the sixth straight victory for North Dakota State over an FBS opponent. Below is the North Dakota State record and future games versus FBS teams.

So how does North Dakota State consistently defeat their FBS foes? Well, let’s take a closer look.

Below are the averages between the Bison and their last six FBS opponents, which happens to be their current win streak against the FBS.

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-1-35-06-pm

So how do the Bison defeat six straight FBS teams? Stop the run, force third and long situations, control the ball, and win the turnover battle.

First, the Bison like to stop the run and that is clear from the rushing yards given up (85.5 per game) and yards per carry average (2.9 per attempt). In fact, their highest rushing total allowed in the six games was 168 yards to Minnesota in 2011. Every other game has seen the Bison allow no more than 102 yards. The highest total yardage allowed by NDSU in the six games was 321 to Kansas State in 2013. The other five games all saw the Bison hold their opponent to fewer than 300 yards.

Notice at the bottom of the picture where it mentions the average yards to go on third down. Some calculations were needed, but the end result is clear: the Bison like to get their opponent in third and long, which becomes and obvious passing down. Common sense says it is a lot easier to prepare when you know what is coming from the other offense. The Bison also did better to defend third down as well allowing roughly 36% (4.5 converted out of 12.5 on average per game). The Bison converted about 50% of their third downs on offense, which helps immensely with time of possession.

Next up is controlling the ball and the Bison do this incredibly well. They held the ball for an average of 60% of the game and that is not an aberration. They won the time of possession battle in all six victories and the last four (Colorado State, Kansas State, Iowa State, and Iowa) saw them hold the ball above their 60% average. The longer NDSU holds the ball, the longer the opposing defense stays on the field and gets tired. Tiredness can lead to mistakes and frustration. It is demoralizing for a defense to be constantly battered without much rest and the Bison are great at this part.

Finally, we have reached the turnover part. The averages say the Bison have less than one turnover per game compared to two for their FBS opponent. Turnovers lead to more possessions, which leads to higher time of possession, more running, and basically everything NDSU loves to do. The Bison have not been perfect as they registered one turnover in four of the six games. The difference? The Bison never lost the turnover battle in the six wins and their “worst” result was against Iowa on Saturday when both teams finished with one turnover.

There is still more to the puzzle that is part of the blueprint, but they are not separated out in the box score. Those pieces would be the coaches game plan and execution by the players. How do you account for the things coaches see on film? How about when the player is in the right spot at the right time? Sure, it might end up as a turnover, but what about a blitz that is called out and picked up or a certain formation that is run? The Bison have been well prepared by Craig Bohl and Chris Klieman, but the players deserve credit for their execution too. They did not become 5-time FCS National Champions solely due to luck or by accident.

Iowa = Kansas State?

The light did not go on watching the North Dakota State-Iowa game as to how similar this game was to the Kansas State victory in 2013. NDSU took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter in both games, K-State and Iowa both responded by scoring at least two touchdowns, and the Bison needed a score late in the game to win. In addition, North Dakota State came in as a double digit underdog and reigning FCS Champions.

While the overall story arc was similar between the two games, some of the stats (and execution by the Bison) were as well. Below are the game stats for both North Dakota State at Kansas State in 2013 and North Dakota State at Iowa on September 18.

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-2-21-43-pm

Look at those rushing stats. The Bison averaged 227 yards per game and gave up only 37.5. 37.5 yards per game against two upper level Power 5 conference opponents. Look at the time of possession. NDSU held the ball for 60%+ in each game. They ran about 40% more plays while also committing a grand total of 2 penalties for 20 yards in the two games. Coincidentally, the scores were nearly identical at 23-21 against Kansas State and 24-21 against Iowa.

Want to consistently pull upsets like North Dakota State? There is the blueprint and all you need to do is execute it like the Bison. Easier said than done.

Let’s enjoy this incredible run by the Bison both against FBS teams and in the FCS because these type of streaks do not happen very often.