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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!

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 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.

2015-16 FCS National Championship Preview

NCAA Football logo

2015-16 FCS National Championship Preview

The final game of the 2015-16 FCS Season will be the FCS National Championship game between the North Dakota State Bison and Jacksonville State Gamecocks. The game will be played at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas on Saturday, January 9 at 12 PM Eastern Time. The game can be seen on ESPN2 and the Watch ESPN App.

We have predicted the results for each round of the playoffs. We went 4-4 in the first round, 5-3 in the second round, 3-1 in the Quarterfinals, and 2-0 in the Semifinals. That makes for a total of 14-8 through the first four rounds of the FCS Playoffs.

Below is 2015-16 FCS National Championship Preview along with a prediction.

North Dakota State Bison Road To The National Championship

Round 1: Bye

Round 2: Defeated Montana 37-6 at home

Quarterfinals: Defeated Northern Iowa 23-13 at home

Semifinals: Defeated Richmond 33-7 at home

North Dakota State Bison (12-2) Preview

The biggest question surrounding the North Dakota State offense will be whether quarterback Carson Wentz will be the starter or if the Bison continue to use Easton Stick. At this point, it is not known which of the two will start and it probably will not be known until the first offensive series for the Bison. While Wentz has the big game experience, but Stick has performed admirably in his absence. Stick has thrown only 3 interceptions and can also run the ball. In his short time filling in, Stick has become the second leading rusher on the team with 498 yards and 5 touchdowns.

The main running back is King Frazier with 1,105 yards and 10 touchdowns on 201 carries. Bruce Anderson is third on the team in rushing with 492 yards and 2 touchdowns while it is not out of the question for freshman Lance Dunn (457 yards and 3 touchdowns) to see some action. The Bison as a team rank sixth in the FCS in terms of total rushing yards on the season. This will be key for the Bison to control the clock and limit the number of possessions for the Jacksonville State offense.

The receiving group is led by RJ Urzendowski with 43 catches for 613 yards and 6 touchdowns. Darrius Shepherd is second on the team with 36 catches for 504 yards and 5 touchdowns in what has been a very good freshman season for him. Zach Vraa will also be a target after catching 37 passes for 478 yards and 5 touchdowns. This group will be vital to moving the chains on third down passing situations.

The defense will be led by linebacker Nick DeLuca who easily has the most tackles on the team. DeLuca has 126 total tackles on the season, which is nearly 40 more than MJ Stumpf in second (78). DeLuca has also recorded nine tackles for loss, but trails to several others in that category. Greg Menard has 13.5 tackles for loss while leading the team in sacks with nine. Brian Schaetz has 5.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. CJ Smith leads the team with 4 interceptions with one apiece coming in the Playoff games against Montana and Richmond.

The defense will be keen on stopping the Jacksonville State running game and they rank 20th in the FCS against the run in terms of total yards allowed. They rank much lower against the pass (71st), but that could be attributed to the fact their run defense is as good as it is. The defense also ranks fifth in points allowed at 15.7 per game while they only allow 276 yards per game (4th best in the FCS). If they can hold Jacksonville State to those averages, they will have a great chance to win their fifth straight FCS Championship.

The special teams unit for North Dakota State is a mixed bag. Eric Perkins averages 11.6 yards per punt return and has a touchdown as well. Bruce Anderson is the man to watch on kickoffs as he averages 38 yards per return and has returned 2 kickoffs for touchdowns. He has the chance to flip the field without the offense touching the ball. The worry for the Bison is Cam Pedersen kicking field goals. He has gone a terrible 9 of 18 on field goals attempts with the Playoffs bring out the worst in him. He has converted only 1 of his 7 field goal tries in the last 3 games.

Jacksonville State Gamecocks Road To The National Championship

Round 1: Bye

Round 2: Defeated Chattanooga 41-35 in One Overtime at home

Quarterfinals: Defeated Charleston Southern 58-38 at home

Semifinals: Defeated Sam Houston State 62-10 at home

Jacksonville State Gamecocks (13-1) Preview

The Jacksonville State offense will run through two players: quarterback Eli Jenkins and running back Troymaine Pope. The rushing offense is one of the best in the nation with 4,364 yards rushing this year, which translates to 312 yards per game. Pope averages 126 yards a game while Jenkins runs for 77 yards per contest. Pope has 1,757 yards and 19 touchdowns on the season while Jenkins has 1,073 yards and 14 touchdowns for the year. While those 2 will be the main workhorses, Miles Jones can also come in and make an impact. Jones has 689 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground this year. Expect a lot of zone read plays from Eli Jenkins.

While the rushing attack is a huge part of the Jacksonville State offense, Jenkins can also throw the ball around the field if need be. He has 2,731 yards with 21 touchdowns and 6 interceptions through the air. There is one clear target for Jenkins when he is passing and that is Josh Barge. Barge has 90 catches for 1,113 and 11 touchdowns while the second leading receiver is Ruben Gonzalez with 43 catches for 649 yards and 4 touchdowns. Dalton Screws (33 catches for 374 yards and 3 touchdowns) and Markis Merrill (26 catches for 380 yards and 2 touchdowns) could also have a minor impact on the passing game.

The Jacksonville State defense is similar to North Dakota State’s in the sense that they are better against the run than they are against the pass. The Gamecocks allow about 117 rushing yards per contest compared to 178 through the air. They allow just 18.7 points and 295 yards per game.

The defense has quite a few playmakers led by Brandon Bender, who has amassed 96 tackles including 11.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. Dawson Wells has 91 tackles on the season with 10.5 coming for a loss while Joel McCandless has 73 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss. Chris Landrum leads the team in sack with 8.5 while close in second is Darius Jackson with 7. Unsurprisingly, those two are the leaders on the team in tackles for loss with Landrum at 17.5 and Jackson at 18.5. Jaylen Hill is the co-leader on the team in picks with 3 along with Wells, however, Wells has returned 2 of his interceptions for touchdowns.

Josh Barge is the punt returner with an average of 10 yards per return. Lawon Debardelaben will be returning kickoffs with an average of 23 yards per return. Like North Dakota State, the kicker has accuracy issues. Connor Rouleau has gone 16 of 26 this year, but made all five of his field goal attempts in the Charleston Southern and Sam Houston State contests.

Prediction

This game is a great contrast in styles with the run based offense of Jacksonville State going up against the stingy run defense of North Dakota State. That will be fun and intriguing to watch, but it will probably come down to the other match up of the North Dakota State offense against the Jacksonville State defense. If North Dakota State can control the ball and keep the Jacksonville State offense off the field, they will have a great chance to win this game. The one thing about Jacksonville State is they do not need a lot of time to score points.

This game also features the four time defending FCS Champions in North Dakota State. They have the experience of playing in this game including last year’s contest where they had to rally to score a late touchdown. For the Gamecocks, they can play fast and loose as the underdog (North Dakota State is a 3 point favorite as of this writing). In addition to the fact they do not know the feeling of playing a game of this magnitude, which can be both positive and negative.

The lower scoring this game is, the more it favors North Dakota State and their style of play. If this game comes down to the kickers, it is hard to see either team having a big advantage though the Gamecocks’ recent success gives them the slightest of edges.

We are going to take North Dakota State to do enough to stop the Jacksonville State run game and win their fifth FCS National Championship 28-24.

2015 FCS Playoff Semifinals Predictions

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2015 FCS Playoff Semifinals Predictions

The final four teams remaining in the 2015 FCS Playoffs will be contesting the Semifinals on Friday, December 18 and Saturday, December 19. We went an even 4-4 in the first round, 5-3 in the second round, and 3-1 in the Quarterfinals for a 12-8 record through three rounds. An updated bracket can be found here via the NCAA’s website.

The Richmond at North Dakota State game will be played on Friday evening at 8 PM Eastern Time on ESPN2. Sam Houston State at Jacksonville State will be at 12 PM Eastern Time on Saturday and can be seen on ESPNU. The schedule can be found here.

Below are the 2015 FCS Playoff Semifinals Predictions.

Sam Houston State Bearkats (11-3) at #1 Jacksonville State Gamecocks (12-1) – Saturday at 12 PM ET

Sam Houston State has played in the first three rounds of the FCS Playoffs. The Bearkats defeated Southern Utah 42-39 at home in a wild game in the opening round and then defeated the #4 seed McNeese State on the road in the second round. Last week, the Bearkats routed Colgate 48-21 at home with big games from Jeremiah Briscoe (358 yards and 3 touchdowns passing) and Cory Avery (197 yards and 1 touchdown on 25 carries). Since the 27-10 loss at McNeese State on November 7, the offense has averaged 45 points and 588 yards of offense per game.

Jacksonville State had a bye in the first round before a thrilling 41-35 win in overtime against Chattanooga at home in the second round. The rushing attack was lethal in that game with Eli Jenkins having 195 yards and 3 touchdowns on 24 carries, but he was outdone by teammate Troymaine Pope who had 234 yards and 3 touchdowns on 17 carries. In the Quarterfinal game against Charleston Southern, they put up 506 rushing yards with massive games from those two players again. Jenkins had 250 yards and 3 touchdowns on 16 carries while Jenkins had 195 yards and 2 touchdowns on 21 carries. Even Miles Jones had 67 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.

This game features two of the best offenses the FCS has to offer. Sam Houston State is ranked number one in total yards (7,716), passing yards (4,018), yards per game (551), and touchdowns (75). The Bearkats are also ranked fifth in rushing yards (3,698) and third in points per game (43.3). Jacksonville State is number two in total yards (6,770) and touchdowns (65) while they are ranked third in rushing yards (4,004) and yards per game (521). They rank seventh in points per game at 39.4 per contest.

This game should be a high scoring, back and forth affair. Jacksonville State will being using their ground game yet again and they face the 115th ranked rush defense in the FCS by total rushing yards allowed (2,618). Sam Houston State will try the passing game and they faced the 58th ranked pass defense in total passing yards allowed (2,354).

Jacksonville State gets the nod at home in what should be an entertaining game at home. We will go with the Gamecocks to win 63-56 and make their first FCS Championship game appearance.

#7 Richmond Spiders (10-3) at #3 North Dakota State Bison (11-2) – Friday at 8 PM ET

Richmond had a bye in the first round before facing William & Mary for the second straight game. They took care of the Tribe again with a more emphatic thumping by a score of 48-13. In the Quarterfinals, they had to travel to face Illinois State where they produced an upset 39-27. The Spiders took a 10-0 lead after the first quarter and never relinquished that lead, but the Redbirds fought valiantly. Kyle Lauletta threw for 369 yards with a touchdown and an interception on 18 of 30 passing. Jacobi Green had 137 yards and 3 touchdowns on 20 carries. The Spiders held the duo of Tre Roberson and Marshaun Coprich to a combined 66 yards and one touchdown on 24 carries.

North Dakota State had a bye as well in the first round. They faced Montana at home in the second round where they crushed the Grizzlies 37-6 behind a rush defense that allowed only 6 yards on 19 carries. The defense also had two interception returns for touchdowns while the special teams returned a kickoff for a touchdown to crush any hope of a Montana comeback midway through the third quarter.

The Bison faced Northern Iowa in the Quarterfinal game for the second time this year. The Bison gave up a touchdown on Northern Iowa’s first drive, but did not allow the Panthers to reach the end zone after that. They held Aaron Bailey to 101 yards and a touchdown through the air as well as 33 yards rushing on 18 carries. They also kept Tyvis Smith in check with 58 yards on 16 carries. The Bison allowed only 221 yards for the entire game. Despite the rumors of Carson Wentz possibly playing, he did not play as Easton Stick had a solid game going 13 of 17 for 116 yards. King Frazier ran for 107 yards and a touchdown while Bruce Anderson’s 97 yard kickoff return to open the second half gave the Bison the lead they did not relinquish.

If it seems like we have seen this before from North Dakota State that is because we have. This will mark their fifth straight year making the Semifinal round with a home game and only one of those games was closer than a touchdown (23-20 win over Georgia Southern in 2012). The Bison are at home and know how to stop potential potent offenses. We like the Bison (yet again) to make their fifth straight National Championship game by a score of 28-17.

The FCS National Championship will be played on Saturday, January 9, 2016 in Frisco, Texas. That game will be televised on ESPN2 and the Watch ESPN app at 12 PM Eastern Time.

2015 FCS Playoff Quarterfinals Predictions

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2015 FCS Playoff Quarterfinals Predictions

We are down to the final eight teams in the FCS Playoffs this weekend. After going 4-4 in round one, we improved to 5-3 in the second round to have a playoff total of 9-7 going into the final three rounds. The four games are split evenly with two games played on Friday and two on Saturday. The schedule can be found here and the updated bracket is here via the NCAA website.

#8 Charleston Southern Buccaneers (10-2) at #1 Jacksonville State Gamecocks (11-1) – Friday 8 PM Eastern Time

Charleston Southern had a bye in round one and then had to take on a hot Citadel team at home in the second round. After holding The Citadel to 181 yards in their regular season meeting, they did slightly worse by allowing 199 yards in the Second Round Playoff matchup. The Bucs offense did worse in terms of yardage than The Citadel (267 to 199), but did better when it mattered most. Mike Holloway had touchdown runs of 32 and 41 while finishing with 120 yards on 13 carries.

Jacksonville State also had a bye in the first round as the top seed and they had a great game in round two against Chattanooga at home. The Mocs took a 7-0 lead before Jacksonville State rang up 21 straight points. The Gamecocks held a two touchdown lead on two separate occasions, but their lead evaporated thanks to two fourth quarter touchdowns that gave Chattanooga a 35-28 lead. Troymaine Pope ripped off a 75 yard touchdown run to tie it and the game ended in overtime after an interception by the JSU defense and a touchdown run by Eli Jenkins.

These two teams did not meet in the regular season. The big matchup in this game will be Charleston Southern’s #22 ranked rush defense (and #2 defense as ranked by yards per game) against the Jacksonville State rushing offense. The Gamecocks have the #4 ranked rush offense and #4 ranked offense by yards per game. Against Chattanooga, Troymaine Pope had 17 carries for 234 yards and 3 touchdowns while Eli Jenkins ran for 195 yards and 3 touchdowns on 24 carries.

The matchup of strength on strength will be fun to watch and we are taking the top seeded Jacksonville State Gamecocks to win by a score of 27-20. The winner of this game will play either Sam Houston State or Colgate in the Semifinals.

Colgate Raiders (9-4) at Sam Houston State Bearkats (10-3) – Saturday 8 PM Eastern Time

Colgate opened with a big road win against CAA team New Hampshire, 27-20. The balanced offense (189 yards rushing and 188 yards passing) was able to withstand a 41 of 56 for 309 yards (1 touchdown and 1 interception) performance from Sean Goldrich. In round two, the Raiders had a 17-0 lead against James Madison before blowing that and trailing 28-24 at halftime. The game was close for the rest of the way with Jake Melville’s three yard run giving them the 44-38 lead (and win by that score) in the fourth quarter. James Holland had 165 yards and 2 touchdowns rushing while Melville ran for 163 yards and 2 touchdowns in addition to his 120 yards and 2 touchdowns passing.

Sam Houston State won their opening round game against Southern Utah at home in a thriller 42-39. The 344 yards rushing led the way, but the Bearkats also had 235 yards through the air including the eventual game winning score on a 55 yard touchdown pass from Jeremiah Briscoe to Yedidiah Louis. Round two was on the road against undefeated McNeese State 34-29. Briscoe threw for 313 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception while Cory Avery had 147 yards and a score on 30 rushes. Daniel Sams was held to 225 yards passing (4 touchdowns and a pick) and 57 yards rushing on 19 carries.

Both of these teams are a bit surprising thanks to their upset wins in the second round (and first round for Colgate). This game has a high scoring feel to it especially with Sam Houston State’s #1 ranked offense in yards per game at 543 per game. The defenses are decent at best and that is why this game could have both teams scoring in the 40s. We are going with Sam Houston State to win 52-45 to get back to the FCS Semifinals. The winner of this game will play either Charleston Southern or Jacksonville State in the Semifinals.

Northern Iowa Panthers (9-4) at #3 North Dakota State Bison (10-2) – Saturday 12 PM ET

Northern Iowa has played two games in the FCS Playoffs. The first was at home where they thrashed Eastern Illinois 53-17 with three touchdown passes from Aaron Bailey (on just 11 attempts) and 147 yards rushing and a touchdown from Tyvis Smith. The second round saw UNI travel to Portland State for a late kickoff, but once again the Panthers did not yield more than 17 points in a 29-17 win. Aaron Bailey had just 31 yards passing on 7 of 14, but he ran wild to the tune of 200 yards and 2 touchdowns. His backfield mate Tyvis Smith also had 207 yards and 2 touchdowns as Portland State could not overcome the UNI running game.

The North Dakota State Bison had a bye in round one before playing round two at home against Montana. The Bison dismantled the Grizzlies 37-6 thanks to a dominant defensive performance particularly against the run. Montana was only able to rush for 6 yards on the day with 19 carries. The defense also picked off Brady Gustafson four times with two of those returned for touchdowns. When Montana did score their lone touchdown, it was automatically canceled out by Bruce Anderson’s 100 yard kickoff return for a touchdown to end the slight hope of a comeback.

These two teams did meet in the regular season here at the FargoDome. Carson Wentz threw for 335 yards with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions that day, but a broken wrist has sidelined him since mid-October. Whether Wentz plays against UNI is unknown, but what is known is that Northern Iowa will try to establish the run with Bailey and Smith while NDSU will try and stop it. If the Bison have another defensive performance like last week, it does not matter who is at quarterback.

We will go with North Dakota State at home in this one to keep their drive for five straight National Championships alive 31-20. The winner of this game will play the winner of the Richmond at Illinois State game in the Semifinals.

#7 Richmond Spiders (9-3) at #2 Illinois State Redbirds (10-2) – Friday 7:30 PM ET

The Richmond Spiders faced a familiar foe in round two after an opening round by. They crushed William & Mary 48-13 in the opening round just two weeks after defeating them 20-9 in the regular season finale. The game really turned when William & Mary was trying to cut the 14-3 deficit to 14-10, but a 100 yard interception return by David Jones made the score 21-3 and the Tribe never recovered. Richmond had 302 yards rushing and 146 passing. All six of their offensive touchdowns came on the ground with three from Jacobi Green, two from quarterback Kyle Lauletta, and one from David Broadus.

Illinois State also faced a conference opponent in the second round after a bye. They played Western Illinois at home and just like the regular season matchup, the Redbirds did not put them away until late. The game was 22-19 Illinois State with less than 10 minutes to play before two touchdowns in the final six minutes ended the Western Illinois season. Tre Roberson had another bad day passing (10 of 23 for 132 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions), but he made up for that with 111 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground. As expected, Marshaun Coprich had a heavy dose of running and he was nearly unstoppable going for 217 yards and 2 touchdowns on 31 carries. Anthony Warrum was a bright spot in the passing game for ISU with 6 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown.

Both of these teams have good offenses with each favoring one type of attack. On the season, Richmond has favored the passing game while Illinois State prefers to run the ball, but both offenses can use the pass or run. The defenses are far from spectacular, which means a lot of points could be in the forecast. We will take the Illinois State Redbirds to win after making the FCS Championship game last year in a 41-38 thriller. The winner of this game will face off against Northern Iowa or North Dakota State in the Semifinals.

2015 FCS Playoff Round 2 Predictions

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2015 FCS Playoff Round 2 Predictions

The 2015 FCS Playoffs continue on Saturday, December 5 with eight games in the second round. We went an even 4-4 last week with our predictions for round one.The eight winners on Saturday will then move on to the Quarterfinals to be played on the weekend of December 12. The schedule for the second round can be found here while an updated bracket can be found here.

Chattanooga Mocs (9-3) at #1 Jacksonville State Gamecocks – 2 PM Eastern Time

Chattanooga completely dominated Fordham in the first round in their 50-20 win at home. Jacob Huesman had 211 yards and 3 touchdowns passing while also running for another 129 yards on the ground. The Mocs had 560 yards of offense with 349 coming on the ground.

Jacksonville State (first round bye) had a great year as they went 10-1 and their only loss was a 27-20 loss in overtime on the road to the Auburn Tigers. They had two close games early in the year against FCS opponents, but they went on to destroy most of their opponents. The offense puts up 503 yards per game (4th best in the FCS) while the defense allows only 277 yards a game (6th in the FCS).

These two teams met in the opening week with Jacksonville State winning on the road 23-20. The Mocs were held to 196 yards of total offense while Troymaine Pope had 173 yards on 15 carries alone for JSU. With this game back in Jacksonville, we will take the Gamecocks to win, but the Mocs will give a good showing. Jacksonville State wins 35-24 with the winner of this game facing the winner of the Citadel-Charleston game.

The Citadel Bulldogs (9-3) at #8 Charleston Southern Buccaneers (9-2) – 1 PM Eastern Time

The Citadel came in to the first round high off their win over the South Carolina Gamecocks. In a back and forth affair, Eric Goins hit a 43 yard field goal as the game ended to give them another big win. Defense was optional for the two teams with both teams having more than 550 yards apiece. The Bulldogs had 524 yards rushing (!) with four different players having at least 90 yards on the ground.

Charleston Southern had a bye in the first round after a very good defensive performance in the regular season. Their two losses were to Troy and Alabama out of the FBS. The defense allows 20 points per game (20th in the FCS), but impressively allowed only 266 yards per game, which is second best in the FCS. The rushing defense has allowed only 110 yards per game.

This is yet another rematch of a regular season game in the FCS Playoffs. Charleston Southern won 33-20 on September 26 at The Citadel after trailing 17-6 at halftime. Their 17 point fourth quarter put the game firmly in their grasp. The Citadel had 181 yards on the ground, which was well below their 359 yards per game average.

This game is tough to call because The Citadel are riding high off two big wins. On the other hand, CSU has defeated them at their place and showed they can stop the running attack. We will go with The Citadel to keep their great play alive and win 30-24. The winner of this game will face the winner of the Chattanooga-Jacksonville State game.

Colgate Raiders (8-4) at #5 James Madison Dukes (9-2) – 1 PM Eastern Time

Colgate won their first round contest on the road at New Hampshire 27-20. The Raiders had lost in the regular season to the Wildcats at home 26-8, but were able to turn it around despite giving up nearly 400 yards of offense. Jake Melville had 188 yards passing and 66 yards rushing, but it was James Holland who had all four touchdowns for Colgate.

James Madison earned a first round bye after a three way tie for first in the Colonial Athletic Association. Their 9-2 record was pretty dominant with the exception of a 59-49 loss to Richmond and 44-41 loss to William & Mary. Both of those teams are still in the FCS Playoffs. The offense was the key for JMU as they put up 550 yards per game (best in the FCS) and 44.8 points per game (#2 in the FCS). The defense was below average as they ranked in the bottom half of nearly all major categories.

We went against Colgate last week and we will do so again this week as well. The offensive firepower for James Madison appears to be too much for Colgate to stop. The Raiders will probably put some points up themselves. James Madison takes this one 47-31 with the winner facing the Sam Houston State-McNeese State victor.

Sam Houston State Bearkats (9-3) at #4 McNeese State Cowboys (10-0) – 7 PM Eastern Time

Sam Houston State played a wild first round game at home against Southern Utah where they escaped 42-39. After 58 first half points, the defenses emerged with only 23 points coming in the final 30 minutes. SHSU erased a 39-26 deficit early in the third quarter despite losing quarterback Jared Johnson in the second quarter. Johnson is expected to play against McNeese State.

McNeese State had a bye in the first round thanks to their undefeated regular season. Their opening game against LSU was cancelled and they cruised through most of their schedule. They had close wins against Abilene Christian (15-13) and Lamar (20-14) on the road, but those contests both featured late touchdowns from the losing sides. The Cowboys defense is the best in the FCS in rushing yards allowed (78.6 per game) and is second in points per game at 11.1. They have allowed only 11 touchdowns and 5 field goals all season.

Stop if you have heard this one before: Sam Houston State at McNeese State is a rematch from the regular season. In that game, SHSU jumped out to a 10-0 lead thanks to a pick six before McNeese State rattled off 27 points to end the game. The Bearkats had some success against the MSU defense with 180 yards rushing and 200 yards passing. McNeese ran for 305 yards with quarterback Daniel Sams accounting for 164 of those yards and a touchdown.

This game will feature an incredible offense in SHSU against an incredible defense in MSU. Considering we saw this play out on November 7 with a big game from McNeese State at home, it is hard to see the outcome changing. SHSU does have more playoff experience in their favor (made the Semifinals last year while MSU last made the playoffs in 2013), but this game still is McNeese State’s to lose. We will go with them to win 31-20 with the winner facing either Colgate or James Madison.

Montana Grizzlies (8-4) at #3 North Dakota State Bison (9-2) – 3:30 PM Eastern Time

Montana won their opening round contest at home against South Dakota State 24-17. The Grizzlies held a 24-0 lead at half, but nearly squandered that with 17 points by South Dakota State. The Grizz were led by Brady Gustafson’s 295 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air as the defense was on their heels late in the game.

North Dakota State had a subpar regular season by their standards with two loss, but still earned a first round bye. They tied for the Missouri Valley title with Illinois State (the two teams did not play each other) with their lone loss coming at home to South Dakota 24-21. The rushing attack led the way for the Bison (244 yards per game) while the defense was stingy once again. The defense allowed only 17.6 points per game (9th in the FCS) and 291 yards per game (12th in the FCS).

In yet another unsurprising twist, these two teams met in the regular season opener. North Dakota State lost that game 38-35 with a last second touchdown by the Grizzlies to give them the big win. The Bison and Grizzlies have both played in quite a few close games this year (five games decided by 7 points or less with a 3-2 record for each team). This game is tough to call, but we will go with the Bison to win at home 31-21. The winner faces the Portland State-Northern Iowa winner.

Northern Iowa Panthers (8-4) at #6 Portland State Vikings (9-2) – 10 PM Eastern Time

Northern Iowa overwhelmed Eastern Illinois at home last week in the first round by a score of 53-17. Aaron Bailey threw for 162 yards and 3 touchdowns on only 7 of 11 passing while also rushing for 72 yards. Tyvis Smith had 147 yards rushing and a touchdown on 24 carries. The Panthers put up 485 yards of offense and had a pick six late in the game from Ray Buchanan.

Portland State had a bye in the first round thanks to their 9-2 regular season with a second place finish in the Big Sky. Their two losses came by a grand total of 5 points. They also had four wins by a touchdown or less including the shocking win over Washington State to begin the season. The rushing attack is 11th best in the FCS and the offense averages 35.8 points per game (12th in the FCS). The defense is average in the amount of yards given up, but allows 21.7 points per game, which is 38th best in the FCS.

This is not a rematch of a regular season game for a change. The rushing attacks for both teams will be heavily featured especially with the quarterbacks being one of the top two rushers for each team. The teams are nearly similar in every category except for two: Northern Iowa’s pass defense (#106) and Portland State’s rush defense (#71). That favors UNI slightly that they have the better rush defense.

We will go with Northern Iowa 31-28 to win on the road, but a Portland State win would not be shocking. The winner of this game will play either Montana or North Dakota State.

William & Mary Tribe (9-3) at #7 Richmond Spiders (8-3) – 12 PM Eastern Time

William & Mary had some trouble in the first round against Duquesne. The Tribe were never able to fully put the game away despite having a two possession lead on three separate occasions. The Tribe finished with 480 yards of offense with 253 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 picks from Steve Cluley and 137 yards and 2 touchdowns from Kendell Anderson. The 52 points scored was the most by the Tribe on offense in 2015.

Richmond had a bye in the first round after going 8-3 in the regular season and tying for the Colonial Athletic title (won the head-to-head matchups against William & Mary and James Madison). The offense is good averaging 465 yards per game (#14 in the FCS and 33.5 points per contest (#23 in the FCS). The defense is decent giving up 24.6 points per game (#53) and 375 yards per game (#54). Quarterback Kyle Lauletta has thrown a touchdown pass in 8 games and two or more in six games.

This game will feel awfully familiar for Richmond. Their final regular season was at home against William & Mary, a game they won 20-9 with a late touchdown from Lauletta to Reggie Diggs to seal it. Jacobi Green ran for 217 yards and a touchdown for Richmond while Cluley had 3 interceptions for William & Mary.

The three losses for William & Mary have come when they failed to score 30 points or more and all were on the road. The three losses for Richmond have come when they failed to score 26 points or more and all came on the road. We will (tepidly) take Richmond to win 28-21 with the winner facing either Western Illinois or Illinois State.

Western Illinois Leathernecks (7-5) at #2 Illinois State Redbirds (9-2) – 2 PM Eastern Time

Western Illinois proved the Playoff Committee correct in the opening round by winning on the road against Dayton, but it was far from an attractive victory. They trailed early in the game and probably should have been in a larger deficit than 7 points if not for mistakes from Dayton. Still, they scored the final 24 points and had 152 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries from Nikko Watson.

Illinois State tied for the Missouri Valley title with North Dakota State and those two teams did not meet in the regular season. Their losses came on road to Iowa 31-14 (currently undefeated and playing in the Big Ten Championship) and South Dakota State 25-20 (lost in the opening round of the playoffs). The Redbirds will lean heavily on running back Marshaun Coprich who has 1,710 yards and 20 touchdowns this year. Quarterback Tre Roberson has not had the best year passing (48% completions on 175 passing attempts), but he can take off with the ball as noted by his 630 yards and 9 touchdowns on 100 carries. The defense allows only 19.8 points per game (#18 in the FCS).

These two teams met on October 24 with Illinois State winning 48-28. The game was tied 28 in the final five minutes of third quarter, but the Redbirds rode Coprich (206 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Roberson (211 yards passing, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 89 yards rushing, 2 rushing touchdowns) to the victory. Western Illinois’ Trenton Norvell had 313 yards and 2 touchdowns passing in that game as well.

We are going to take Illinois State win once again due to the duo of Coprich and Roberson, but a close game would not be surprising. The Redbirds win 45-37 with the winner getting either Richmond or William & Mary.

2015 FCS Playoff Round 1 Predictions

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2015 FCS Playoff Round 1 Predictions

The 2015 FCS Playoffs begin on Saturday, November 28 with eight games in the first round. The eight winners on Saturday will then face one of the top eight national seeds in the second round on Saturday, December 5. The entire schedule can be found here while the bracket can be found here.

Fordham Rams (9-2) at Chattanooga Mocs (8-3) – 1 PM Eastern Time

The Fordham Rams enter this game after finishing the regular season 9-2 and second in the Patriot League. Their two losses were to Villanova (14-7) and Colgate (31-29), but their offense has been able to get going in their wins. They have won every game they have scored at least 35 points and even won a 24-16 battle against Bucknell. There is a worry about the defense, as they ranked in the lower half of nearly all major categories.

Chattanooga tied for first in the Southern Conference, but won the tiebreaker and exits off a big loss on the road to Florida State. However, their two losses were by a field goal apiece including the season opener against top ranked Jacksonville State at home. The Mocs will rely on their run first option attack as well as a good defense (23rd in the nation). The Mocs played in five games decided by 8 points or less in 2015 with a 3-2 record.

This is a tough matchup to call, but we will go with Chattanooga to win 30-27. The winner of this game will face the top seeded Jacksonville State Gamecocks in Round 2.

The Citadel Bulldogs (8-3) at Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (9-2) – 2 PM Eastern Time

The Citadel finished tied for first in the Southern Conference, but lost the head-to-head tiebreaker to Chattanooga. They will feature the #2 rushing attack in the FCS and are coming off a big win over South Carolina. Three of their last four games been decided by 8 points or less and are 2-1 in those games so they know how to win close games. The Citadel defense is a better than average at #40 in the nation.

Coastal Carolina finished second in the Big South after losing two games in conference to Charleston Southern and Liberty. Both of those games were on the road and by a combined 11 points. They have one of the better offenses in the FCS and also boast a good defense that gives up only 18.2 points per game. The offense is balanced enough to give most teams fits. De’Angelo Henderson will be the man to stop for The Citadel as he has 1,245 yards rushing and 15 rushing touchdowns.

This game being at home for Coastal Carolina boosts their chances big time and they are a bit more balanced than The Citadel. If the Bulldogs can hog possession with their rushing attack, they have a chance to pull the upset, but we will go with Coastal Carolina to win 42-31. The winner of this game will face #8 Charleston Southern in Round 2.

Colgate Raiders (7-4) at New Hampshire Wildcats (7-4) – 3:30 pM Eastern Time

Colgate was the surprise winner of the Patriot League after pulling a 31-29 upset at home against Fordham. It was a slow start to the season going 0-3 with one of the losses coming to this same New Hampshire team. They were not very good in that game, losing 26-8. Quarterback Jake Melville will be the main man for Colgate as the leading passer and rusher. As he goes, so will the offense. Colgate has the 72nd ranked defense by total yards in the FCS and have struggled mightily against the pass at #106.

New Hampshire finished in a tie for fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association. The Wildcats suffered three losses in losses in conference and were not very close in any of those games. Their offense is only 74th in the nation by yards while the defense is similar at 77th by yards. The defense has been susceptible to the run giving up over 200 yards per game, but has allowed just 21.5 points per game employing a bend, but do not break style. It is also worth noting that all four losses came on the road for New Hampshire.

Despite the fact that New Hampshire won rather easy in the 26-8 drubbing of Colgate, this game could be defensive and much closer. With New Hampshire being at home, we will give them the edge by a score of 17-10. The winner of this game will face the #5 seed James Madison in Round 2.

Southern Utah Thunderbirds (8-3) at Sam Houston State Bearkats (8-3) – 3 PM Eastern

Southern Utah had a great season winning the Big Sky Conference. They opened 0-2 with losses to Utah State and South Dakota State, but would not lose again in 8 games when they lost by a point to Portland State. The offense for Southern Utah is one of the top 25 by yards, passing, points, touchdowns, and field goals. The defense has been poor at times particularly against the run (#87), but they also put together a streak of 5 straight games in the middle of the season where they allowed 7 points or less.

Sam Houston State finished in a tie for second in the Southland Conference behind the undefeated McNeese State team. Sam Houston State also opened 0-2 before ripping off 6 wins in a row. The offense for the Bearkats is #2 at 544.5 yards per game and they also like to put up points in bunches to the tune of nearly 44 per contest. The defense gives up nearly 400 yards per game, but also allows only a solid 24.5 points per game.

This game has a shootout feel to it. Whichever defense makes the most plays will probably win this game. We will go with Sam Houston State to win 45-40. The winner of this game will play #4 McNeese State in the second round.

South Dakota State Jackrabbits (8-3) at Montana Grizzlies (7-4) – 3 PM Eastern Time

South Dakota State comes out of the incredibly competitive Missouri Valley Football Conference where they finished in a three way tie for third. Their three losses were to North Dakota State, Western Illinois, and Northern Iowa, with the former two making the FCS Playoffs as well. SDSU had a shift in offensive style with Zach Zenner off to the NFL. The Jackrabbits have a top 20 passing offense led by Zach Lujan, who has missed some of the season due to injury. The defense is stingy when it comes to allowing points as they allow just 16.7 per contest, which ranks 9th best in the FCS.

Montana finished in a tie for second with Portland State in the Big Sky Conference. After opening with a win against the 4-time defending FCS Champions NDSU, Montana lost games to Cal Poly and Liberty. Their other two losses came to Weber State and Portland State. The passing game for Montana is the key for the offense (#11 in the FCS), but wide receiver Jamaal Jones will be the top target. Jones averages 99 yards per game and also has 9 receiving touchdowns. The Grizzlies are a middle of the road team on defense giving up 389 yards per game with the yardage split nearly even between rushing and passing.

Both of these teams like to pass the ball to move the chains, but both defenses struggle against the run and are decent against the pass. That will make for an interesting dynamic along with Montana being at home. The SDSU defense is much better at not giving up points (16.7 to 24.2 for Montana) so we will go with them in 24-21 win on the road. The winner of this matchup will face the #3 seed North Dakota State Bison.

Eastern Illinois Panthers (7-4) at Northern Iowa Panthers (7-4) – 5 PM Eastern Time

Eastern Illinois made a strong rally to finish the season in second place in the Ohio Valley Conference. They opened 0-3 including a field goal loss to Illinois State at home. They won the next five games before a 24-3 loss to top ranked Jacksonville State. They won their final two games to finish 7-4 and reach these FCS Playoffs. The offense has been better at running the ball than passing, but only yields 337 yards per contest on offense. Devin Church will be they key man running the ball, but can also be a receiving threat out of the backfield. The Panthers’ defense is top 35 against the pass and average against the run. EIU gives up 24.2 points per game, the same amount that they score.

Northern Iowa finished in a three way tie for third in the Missouri Valley. They lost their opener to Iowa State, came back to win the next two, and then lost the next 3 to sit at 2-4. They won their final five games over mostly bottom teams from the MVFC. Aaron Bailey is the cog in the UNI offense as the leading passer and rusher. He prefers to run as much as possible, but can throw the ball when required. The Northern Iowa defense is stingy against the run and also gives up 19.7 points per game (top 20 in both categories).

With this game being at home for UNI, they are the clear favorites to win this game. Their lone loss at home in 2015 was to Western Illinois by 5 points. The UNI defense may be too much for Eastern Illinois to overcome. Northern Iowa wins 24-13. The winner of this game will take on #6 Portland State in the second round.

Duquesne Dukes (8-3) at William & Mary Tribe (8-3) – 3:30 PM Eastern Time

The Duquesne Dukes won the Northeast Conference thanks to a 30-20 win over St. Francis (PA) in the final week of the regular season. The losses for the Dukes were to Dayton, Albany, and Bryant with all three coming on the road. The offense produces a solid 408 yards per game, but the emergence of running back Rafiq Douglas will be important for Duquesne. After failing to crack 90 rushing yards in the first seven games, Douglas has ran for at least 165 in three of the final four games of the regular season. The defense is ranked in the top 25 in yards per game at 326 yards per contest and they have allowed only 1,400 yards rushing all season.

William & Mary finished in a three way tie for first in the Colonial Athletic Association with losses to Virginia (35-29), Delaware (24-23), and Richmond (20-9) with all three of those coming on the road. At home the Tribe did not lose a game and only one game was closer than 14 points (James Madison, 44-41). The offense is incredibly balanced with the passing attack averaging just 20 more yards per game. The defense will be the unit that determines the outcome. They give up only 18 points per game (#13 in the FCS) and the yards per game surrendered is at 331 (#28 in the FCS).

This contest has a defensive feel to it and it also feels like the Tribe are more likely to win. Duquesne’s losses all came on the road while William & Mary was unblemished at home. The defense for the Tribe has also faced better competition. We will call for William & Mary to win 28-10. The winner of this matchup will play #7 Richmond in the second round.

Western Illinois Leathernecks (6-5) at Dayton Flyers (10-1) – 12 PM Eastern Time

Western Illinois was a surprise pick to make the FCS Playoffs at 6-5, but did finished in a three way tie for third. WIU lost to Illinois (FBS), Coastal Carolina, Illinois State, Youngstown State, and North Dakota State with only YSU not in the FCS Playoffs. WIU also beat FCS Playoff teams in Eastern Illinois, Northern Iowa, and South Dakota State. Trenton Norvell will lead the offense and the #32 passing attack, but Nikko Watson has back-to-back games of at least 150 yards rushing and a touchdown. The defense for Western Illinois is a major concern. They are below average in every major statistical category, which is never a good sign.

Dayton finished in a tie for the Pioneer League title, but their head-to-head win over San Diego made them the champs. Their lone loss came in the regular season finale at Drake where they lost 27-17. The offense is balanced for Dayton, but only averages 341 yards per game and that ranks 85th in the FCS. The passing defense for Dayton is poor at 87th in the FCS, but the Flyers have a solid run defense (30th) and do not give up a ton of points at 18.6 per game (#16 in the FCS).

This is a tough game to call because Dayton does not have a stellar offense (#85 in yards per game), but Western Illinois does not have a good defense (#84 in yards allowed per game with 409). On the flip side, WIU had the #32 passing offense against Dayton’s 87th ranked passing defense. In a true coin flip game, we will go with Dayton win at home 24-20. The winner of this game will face the second seeded Illinois State Redbirds.

David Smith Transferring To Jacksonville State

David Smith was buried on the Oklahoma depth chart (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images North America)
David Smith was buried on the Oklahoma depth chart (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images North America)

David Smith Transferring To Jacksonville State

Oklahoma Sooners running back David Smith has decided to transfer to the FCS and the Jacksonville State Gamecocks. Smith announced his decision via Instagram.

“So much contemplation regarding the continuation of playing this sport. With much prayer and guidance I’ve decided to play out my last two years of eligibility at Jacksonville state university located in Jacksonville, Alabama. I’ve truly enjoyed the people of Norman Oklahoma, I love you all,” is what Smith wrote on his Instagram account.

Smith was a redshirt Sophomore in 2014 with the Sooners and played in one game. That game was against the Iowa State Cyclones in which he ran for 76 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Smith’s touchdown came on an 8 yard run in fourth quarter. The Sooners went on to win 59-14.

Smith will be eligible to play immediately at Jacksonville State, which is good news for the Gamecocks. They have made the FCS playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

Ahead of Smith on the depth chart was the extremely talented Samaje Perine along with Alex Ross and Keith Ford. Perine was a freshman in 2014 while Ross and Ford were both sophomores. It makes sense why Smith would transfer out of Oklahoma with such a young and deep backfield.

Ivy League Basketball Roundup: 12/14/2014

Ivy League Basketball Roundup: 12/14/2014

Below is the Ivy League Basketball Roundup for Sunday, December 14, 2014. Dartmouth was the only team to play, as they faced Jacksonville State on the road.

 

Dartmouth Falls On The Road To Jacksonville State

After falling behind double digits to Jacksonville State, Dartmouth was unable to rally in their 79-67 loss on the road. Gabas Malduanas scored a season high 27 points while recording his second straight double-double.

By the first TV timeout, Jacksonville State led 12-8 with 5 points from Jamal Hunter. The next 10 minutes still kept the Gamecocks in the lead at 23-16. D.J. Felder scored the final 6 points for the Gamecocks heading into the under 8 TV timeout. Out of the break, Jacksonville State increased their margin to double digits and continued to hold a margin similar to that until halftime. Jacksonville State led 41-28 at halftime.

In the first half, Gabas Maldunas led the way for Dartmouth with 8 points. The Big Green shot 40.7% from the field (11 of 27) and hit only 2 of 7 three pointers (28.6%). The Gamecocks were led by 10 points from D.J. Felder and 9 points from Jeremy Watson. Two others, Jamal Hunter and Darion Rackley, scored 7 points. Jacksonville State shot 53.8% from the field (14 of 26) and hit 3 of 7 three pointers (42.9%). They made 10 of 14 free throws (71.4%) and out-rebounded Dartmouth 19-11.

The second half saw Dartmouth continue to trail by double digits. At the first TV timeout, Dartmouth was down 45-34 and the second TV timeout saw them down 51-40. However, the Big Green would begin to cut into the deficit in the final 10 minutes with three points from Maldunas, which left them down 51-46. The lead was only 4 points at 61-57 with 4:27 remaining, but a 6-0 run put the Gamecocks back up double digits. A litany of free throws from Jacksonville State allowed them to preserve the double digit victory 79-67.

For the game, Gabas Maldunas had 27 points on 11 of 15 shooting. He grabbed 10 rebounds as well, which is only his second double-double of the season. Alex Mitola scored 13 points while Connor Boehm finished with 10 points. Josh Golden played his first game of the year scoring 8 points and corralling 6 rebounds. The Big Green went 25 of 56 from the field (44.6%) and hit only 3 of 14 three pointers (21.4%). They went 14 of 18 from the free throw line (77.8%), had 18 assists, and committed 13 turnovers.

Darion Rackley had 22 points, 4 rebounds, and 6 assists to lead Jacksonville State. He went 5 of 12 from the field, but drained 9 of 12 free throws. Jeremy Watson had a double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds. D.J. Felder scored 14 points and Jamal Hunter finished with 11 points and 8 rebounds. The Gamecocks went 22 of 52 from the field (42.3%) and hit 5 of 14 from beyond the arc (35.7%). The big disparity was on the charity stripe where they went 30 of 41 for a 73.2% success rate. They out-rebounded Dartmouth 35-33, had 14 assists, and committed only 8 turnovers.

Dartmouth (3-5) has a quick turnaround with a road game at Mercer (5-4) on Tuesday night. Jacksonville State (6-4) has won 6 of their last 7 games and also have another game on Tuesday night. They face UNC-Asheville (4-4) at home.