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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 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 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 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.

2014 FCS Playoffs First Round Wrap Up

Zach Zenner ran for 252 yards to help South Dakota State to the second round of the FCS Playoffs (Kelly Gorham / AP Photo)
Zach Zenner ran for 252 yards to help South Dakota State to the second round of the FCS Playoffs (Kelly Gorham / AP Photo)

 

The 2014 FCS Playoffs First Round featured 8 exciting games. There were surprises, some blowouts, and some expected results. Below is a look at what happened in all 8 games. The second round matchups for the 2014 FCS Playoffs can be found at the bottom of the page.

 

Sacred Heart Pioneers (9-2) at Fordham Rams (10-2)

 As expected, Fordham took care of Sacred Heart in the first round matchup. Fordham won 44-22 by putting up 20 second half points.

Fordham took advantage of an early turnover by Sacred Heart by throwing a 1 yard touchdown pass from Mike Nebrich to Tebucky Jones Jr. They doubled their advantage with a 50 yard connection from Nebrich to Brian Wetzel. Sacred Heart cut into the lead with a field goal followed by a 10 yard touchdown pass from RJ Noel to Tyler Dube. The extra point was missed an Fordham held a 14-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter had a series of miscues featuring both teams. First, Sacred Heart had a 23 yard field goal blocked, then Fordham fumbled on their own 42 yard line. RJ Noel then threw an interception in the end zone before Nebrich responded with a pick of his own. Sacred Heart ended the series of follies with a bobbled snap on a punt that set up a 25 yard field goal for Fordham. Sacred Heart responded with a 2 yard touchdown pass from Noel to Dube. With less than 10 seconds left Fordham went up 24-16 with a 14 yard touchdown pass from Nebrich to Wetzel.

Fordham’s first offensive play of the third quarter resulted in Nebrich hitting Jones Jr. for a 97 yard touchdown. Fordham added a 23 yard field goal after another bobbled snap on a punt by the Pioneers. Sacred Heart scored their final points on the following drive with a 22 yard touchdown run from Keshaudas Spence. Both quarterbacks traded interceptions in the opponent’s territory to end the third quarter. Fordham led 34-22 with 15 minutes to play.

Fordham added another field goal and a 26 yard touchdown run from Chase Edmonds in the fourth quarter to win 44-22.

RJ Noel went 19 of 40 for 206 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception for Sacred Heart. Sean Bell had 15 carries for 112 yards while Keshaudas Spence had 10 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown. Tyler Dube led the Pioneers with 7 catches for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Mike Nebrich had a stellar day through the air with 423 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions on 29 of 50 passing. Chase Edmonds had 91 yards and a touchdown on 24 rushing attempts. Brian Wetzel caught 8 passes for 166 yards and 2 touchdowns and Tebucky Jones Jr. caught 8 passes for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns.

 

Indiana State Sycamores (7-5) at Eastern Kentucky Colonels (9-3)

Indiana State trailed 16-0 early in the second quarter, but rallied to score the final 36 points in a 36-16 win over Eastern Kentucky. Indiana State quarterback Mike Perish threw for 407 yards to spark the Sycamores to the second round.

The game started poorly for the Sycamores. They went for it on fourth and one from their own 44, but came up short on their rushing attempt. Eastern Kentucky turned that into a field goal for a 3-0 lead. Another field goal by Eastern Kentucky was followed up by a 17 yard touchdown run from Dy’Shawn Mobley. The Colonels led 13-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Mike Perish threw an interception early in the second quarter, which was turned into a third field goal from Andrew Lloyd. That made it 16-0 and it would be the final points scored by Eastern Kentucky. The Sycamores got on the board with 2 seconds left with Perish hitting Robert Tonyan Jr. for a 4 yard touchdown pass. That made it 16-7 at halftime.

Indiana State’s first possession of the second half yielded a 48 yard field goal from Eric Heidorn, but the second possession yield the lead. Perish connected with Kyani Harris for a 57 yard touchdown and a 17-16 lead. Another punt by the Colonels turned into a touchdown for the Sycamores offense. Perish hit Gary Owens for a 38 yard touchdown and a 24-16 lead. However, the big blow came on the next drive for Eastern Kentucky’s offense. Mark Sewall intercepted Bennie Coney’s pass and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown to make it 31-16 at the end of three quarters.

The fourth quarter opened up with both teams squandering chances. First, Eastern Kentucky failed to convert a fourth and 7 on the Indiana State 33 yard line. Next, Perish threw his second pick of the day in the Colonels’ end zone to take points off the board. The Colonels turned around and threw a pick of their own on the next drive before Indiana State failed to punch the ball in on fourth and goal from the one. The Sycamores defense would force a safety after failed fourth and goal attempt at the one. ISU added a 30 yard field goal to cap the scoring at 36-16.

Mike Perish went 41 of 57 for 407 yards with 3 touchdowns and 2 picks. Buck Logan led the Sycamores with 10 carries for 33 yards. The receiving yards were well distributed with Kyani Harris leading the receivers with 5 catches for 91 yards and a score. A.J. Johnson had 7 catches for 71 yards and Jamar Brown had 6 catches for 63 yards.

Bennie Conley went 15 of 34 for 200 yards with no touchdowns and 2 picks for Eastern Kentucky. Dy’Shawn Mobley had 22 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown. Jeff Glover was the top receiver with 74 yards on 4 catches.

 

Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (8-4) at Northern Iowa Panthers (8-4)

Northern Iowa scored 23 first quarter points and cruised home from there to defeat Stephen F. Austin 44-10 in the first round of the 2014 FCS Playoffs.

Northern Iowa’s first play from scrimmage was a 73 yard touchdown run by David Johnson and the defense would give the offense another boost on SF Austin’s first drive. On third and 11, Deiondre’ Hall picked off a pass and brought it back to SFA’s 9 yard line. That would result in a 10-0 lead after a 30 yard field goal from Michael Schmadeke. Another turnover by the Lumberjacks resulted in a 36 yard field goal. After a punt by SFA, Northern Iowa had to settle for a third field goal of the first quarter to take a 16-0 lead. The Panthers finally got a second touchdown late in the first quarter with Johnson punching in his second from a yard out and give Northern Iowa a 23-0 lead.

It took until midway through the second quarter for SFA to score, but they got a 32 yard touchdown run from Gus Johnson after a lost fumble from UNI’s David Johnson. The following drive resulted in redemption for David Johnson – he took a pass from Brion Carnes 70 yards to the house and a 30-7 lead. That score would hold up until halftime.

In the third quarter, David Johnson scored his fourth touchdown of the day with a 6 yard touchdown run. The defense continued to suffocate the Lumberjacks, as the score after three quarters was 37-7.

Brion Carnes ran for a 22 yard touchdown for the Panthers before SFA hit a 31 yard field goal to cap the scoring.

It was not a good day for the Stephen F. Austin quarterbacks. Zach Conque went 15 of 26 for 83 yards and an interception with Hunter Taylor going 7 of 13 for 50 yards. Gus Johnson was the majority of the offense with 20 carries for 82 yards and a touchdown. Johnson also was the leading receiver with 37 yards and 4 catches.

Brion Carnes completed only 5 of 18 passes, but that was for 208 yards and a touchdown. He also ran 6 times for 46 yards and touchdown. David Johnson had 23 carries for 152 yards and 3 touchdowns while also catching 2 passes for 84 yards and another score.

 

San Diego Toreros (9-2) at Montana Grizzlies (8-4)

Montana dominated San Diego in every facet of the game on their way to a 52-14 destruction of the Toreros.

The Grizzlies did not score until their second possession of the game when Jordan Johnson connected with Jamaal Jones for a 22 yard touchdown pass. Johnson connected with Jordan Canada on the next drive for a 3 yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead for Montana.

After a three and out for San Diego, their punt was returned 60 yards for a touchdown by John Nguyen to make it 21-0. A fumble by San Diego on their next possession was turned into a 41 yard field goal and a 24-0 lead. It would be 38-0 at halftime after Johnson to Jones for the second time from 30 yards out and Canada’s 17 yard touchdown run.

Montana’s first drive of the second half resulted in an 18 yard touchdown pass from Shay Smithwick-Hann to Joshua Janssen. San Diego went for it on fourth down on their next two drives despite being inside their own 40 yard line. Neither time did they convert and the latter set up a touchdown for Montana.

That touchdown came early in the fourth quarter with Smithwick-Hann hitting Kevin Berland for a 12 yard score. San Diego would score their first points two drives later when Dallas Kessman connected with Justin Priest for a 27 yard touchdown. The ensuing kickoff was fumbled by the Grizzlies and San Diego turned that into another touchdown. Trey Wheeler hit Justin Priest for an 11 yard touchdown.

The Toreros struggled to move the ball all game long. They managed to gain only 158 yards of total offense and converted 2 of 13 third down. Trey Wheeler was their best passer going 4 of 4 for 41 yards with a touchdown. Keith Williams went 6 of 18 for 34 yards as the starter. Dallas Kessman was the top rusher with 30 yards on 10 carries. Justin Priest had 2 catches for 38 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Jordan Johnson went 13 of 20 for 153 yards and 3 touchdowns. Jordan Canada ran 17 times for 105 yards and a touchdown while Lorenzo Logwood had 17 carries for 59 yards. Jamaal Jones caught 6 passes for 93 yards and 2 touchdowns.

 

Southeastern Louisiana Lions (9-3) at Sam Houston State Bearkats (8-4)

A de facto Southland Championship game turned out to a thriller, as Sam Houston State rallied for the 21-17 win over Southeastern Louisiana.

Southeastern Louisiana got on the board right away with a 25 yard field goal. That was set up by a lost fumble on the opening kickoff by the Bearkats’ Ridgeway Frank. The Bearkats struggled to move the ball in the first quarter getting only as far as their 47 yard line. Outside of the early field goal, Southeastern Louisiana did not threaten until late in the first quarter.

That drive to end the first quarter spilled over to the second quarter where Bryan Bennett ran 9 yards for a touchdown and gave the Lions a 10-0 lead. The Bearkats had an excellent drive in response, but their fourth and goal play ended in disaster, as they lost 5 yards. The last two minutes ended with multiple turnovers. First, Jared Johnson threw a pick to the Lions’ Micah Eugene. The Lions turned around and lost a fumble on the next series. However, Johnson’s desperation heave into the end zone was picked and the score remained 10-0 at halftime.

It took until midway through the third quarter, but Sam Houston State got on the board with a 3 yard run from former Texas Longhorn Jalen Overstreet. Later in the third quarter, a poor punt put Sam Houston State at the Southeastern Louisiana 32 yard line. On the next play, a trick play by the Bearkats led to an interception and possible points being kept off the board. The Bearkats caught a break late in the third quarter when the Lions fumbled the punt return at their own 4 yard line. The third quarter ended with Southeastern Louisiana holding a 10-7 lead.

The first play of the final quarter was a 1 yard touchdown from Donavan Williams. That gave the Bearkats a 14-10 lead, but it would not last for long. The Lions marched right down the field and took the lead back at 17-14 with Bryan Bennett’s 2 yard touchdown run. The Lions looked to extend their lead on the following drive, but Michael Wade blocked the field goal to spark the offense. That led to Williams punching the ball in from 5 yards out for a 21-17 lead. The Lions were unable to get the ball into Sam Houston State territory for the remainder of the game and fell by that 21-17 score.

Bryan Bennett went 17 of 48 for 181 yards and also had two rushing touchdowns. Kody Sutton had 42 yards on 13 carries. Devante Scott had 5 catches for 53 yards. Southeastern Louisiana had 305 yards of total offense, but went 7 of 24 on third down.

Jared Johnson went 12 of 32 for 119 yards with 2 interceptions. He managed to lead the team in rushing with 63 yards on 17 carries. Jalen Overstreet had 50 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. LaDarius Brown caught 3 passes for 51 yards.

 

Liberty Flames (8-4) at James Madison Dukes (9-3)

Perhaps the upset of the day lies in this game where Liberty beat James Madison 26-21. The Flames trailed 21-10 at halftime, but scored the last 16 points to pull the upset.

Liberty started the game with the ball and managed to get down the JMU 22 yard line. A lost fumble cost them a chance at points, but the Dukes could not make them pay. Liberty would take the lead on the next drive with a 26 yard field goal from John Lunsford. James Madison responded with a solid drive, but their fourth and three attempt at the Liberty 15 yard line came up short. Liberty led 3-0 at the end of the first quarter.

The first play of the second quarter was a 19 yard touchdown run for Liberty’s D.J. Abnar to make it 10-0. James Madison answered right away on their first play from scrimmage in the second quarter with Jauan Latney rumbling for a 73 yard touchdown run. Liberty had a solid drive halted on an interception and that was turned into a touchdown by James Madison. Vad Lee scrambled for a 9 yard touchdown run to give the Dukes a 14-10 lead. The next Liberty drive ended in the same fashion – with an interception. That too turned into a touchdown when Lee hit DeAndre’ Smith for a 16 yard touchdown pass. The Dukes led 21-10 at the break and appeared to be in control of the game.

Liberty’s first drive of the third quarter was what they need to stay in the game. Abnar ran for his second touchdown to make it 21-17. The next Liberty drive resulted in a great 56 yard field goal from Lunsford and the Flames trailed just 21-20 at the end of three quarters.

The fourth quarter was dominated by Liberty’s offense. They embarked on an 85 yard, 17 play drive that burned 11:01 off the clock and left only 2:53 for James Madison to score. Nicky Fualaau pounded the ball in from a yard out to give them a 26-21 lead. The two point conversion was no good and the Dukes faced a daunting task. James Madison managed to get Liberty 27 yard line, but Vad Lee’s fourth and 13 pass fell incomplete and Liberty held on for the win.

Josh Woodrum went 18 of 27 for 244 yards with no interceptions and 2 picks for Liberty. D.J. Abnar had 69 yards and 2 touchdowns on 17 carries. Gabe Henderson caught 7 passes for 92 yards while Dexter Herman grabbed 4 passes for 73 yards. The Flames had 397 yards of total offense and converted 10 of 17 third downs while holding a time of possession edge of nearly 2 to 1 (39:01 to 20:59)

Vad Lee went 18 of 35 for 139 yards with a touchdown and a pick. Lee also ran 15 times for 57 yards and a touchdown. Jauan Latney had 15 carries for 119 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Ravenel caught 7 passes for 54 yards.

 

Morgan State Bears (7-5) at Richmond Spiders (8-4)

In one of the more formful games of the day, Richmond dispatched Morgan State with a 46-26 win. Richmond’s Michael Strauss threw 4 touchdown passes in the victory.

Richmond wasted little time taking the lead with Strauss hitting Reggie Diggs for a 16 yard touchdown pass. An interception by Morgan State on their first drive was turned into a 1 yard touchdown run for Seth Fisher and a 15-0 lead for Richmond after converting a two-point conversion. Fisher added another one yard touchdown run on the next drive to make it 22-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Morgan State hit a 29 yard field goal to get on the board in the second quarter and actually made it 22-10 after a 3 yard touchdown run by Moses Skillon. That touchdown was set up by Strauss’ interception. Late in the quarter, Strauss hit Diggs for a second time, this one from 11 yards out to make it 29-10 at the break.

Morgan State turned the ball over on their first second half possession and the Spiders made them pay with Strauss hitting Fisher for a 22 yard touchdown pass. The Bears responded two drives later with a 46 yard touchdown pass from Skillon to Andrew King to make it 36-17 in favor of Richmond. Skillon would throw a pick on the next drive, which led to a 42 yard field goal for Richmond and a 39-17 lead at the end of three quarters.

Skillon threw his third interception early in the fourth quarter and Strauss threw his fourth touchdown pass as a result. He connected from 38 yards out with Rashad Ponder. Skillon came back and threw an 8 yard touchdown to Ladarius Spearman to make it 46-24.

Moses Skillon went 23 of 45 for 285 yards with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He also had 36 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Herb Walker Jr. ran 21 times for 120 yards to lead the Bears in rushing. The top receiver was Andrew King with 80 yards and a touchdown on 5 catches.

Michael Strauss went 22 of 32 for 272 yards with 4 touchdowns and an interception. Jeremiah Hamlin had 51 yards on 10 carries while Seth Fisher had 14 carries for 47 yards and 2 touchdowns. Reggie Diggs caught 8 passes for 132 yards and 2 touchdowns.

 

South Dakota State Jackrabbits (8-4) at Montana State Bobcats (8-4)

The game of the day was played in the worst conditions of the day. A snowstorm blanketed the field between South Dakota State and Montana State, but that did not stop the Jackrabbits from winning 47-40. Zach Zenner had 324 yards and 5 touchdowns on offense to lead South Dakota State into the second round.

It did not take long for Zenner to get going. On the second play from scrimmage, he ran 45 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 South Dakota State lead. The Bobcats answered back with a 3 yard run from Chad Newell, but a botched extra point made it 7-6. On the next drive, Zenner would take a little swing pass 69 yards to the house and a 14-6 lead.

The Jackrabbits would settle for a 21 yard field goal early in the second quarter to take a 17-6 lead. After back-to-back punts, Montana State got back on the board with a one yard touchdown run from Newell. The Bobcats converted the two-point conversion to make it 17-14. However, the Jackrabbits responded immediately with Zenner running for a 7 yard touchdown. Montana State got a late touchdown with Dakota Prukop finding Mitchell Herbert for a one yard touchdown pass. However, in a recurring theme, the extra point was blocked and South Dakota State held a 24-20 lead at halftime.

The second half began with Montana State taking the lead on Newell’s third touchdown run from 12 yards out. Once again, the extra point snap was botched and the Bobcats only held a 26-24 lead. It took three plays for the Jackrabbits to respond and it was Zenner again. He ran 60 yards down the sideline and made a defender miss on his way to the end zone and a 31-26 lead for South Dakota State. The Bobcats had a chance to regain the lead, but a personal foul penalty put them in fourth and 20, which was not converted. The third quarter ended with South Dakota State hanging on to a 31-26 lead.

South Dakota State extended their lead to 37-26 on Austin Sumner’s 10 yard touchdown pass to Connor Landberg in the corner of the end zone. It almost did not happen when Sumner nearly threw a pick six, but the defender dropped the interception. A fumble by Montana State on their ensuing drive resulted in a 30 yard field goal for the Jackrabbits and a 40-26 lead. Chad Newell ran for another touchdown from 6 yards out to close it to 40-32 with two-point conversion failing.

Then came Zenner’s fifth touchdown. He broke a tackle 5 yard beyond the line of scrimmage and then outran the defense to end zone for a 69 yard touchdown. That made it 47-32. The Bobcats got a late touchdown from Newell from 5 yards out, which was his fifth of the game. Two point conversion was good and made it 47-40. The ensuing onside kick was originally recovered by the Jackrabbits’ Dallas Goedert, but he fumbled when he was hit going to the ground. Luckily for South Dakota State, Connor Landberg recovered the ball that was kicked up to him. That recovery allowed South Dakota State to run the clock out.

Austin Sumner went 19 of 28 for 249 yards with 2 touchdown passes. Zach Zenner ran wild with 252 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns on 23 carries. He also was the leading receiver with 2 catches for 72 yards and a score. Jake Wieneke had 4 catches for 57 yards while Jason Schneider caught 4 passes for 53 yards. The Jackrabbits put up 526 yards of total offense.

Montana State’s Dakota Prukop went 19 of 36 for 280 yards and a touchdown. Chad Newell had himself a game with 24 carries for 101 yards and 5 rushing touchdowns. Shawn Johnson had 8 carries for 37 yards, but did more damage in the passing game with 4 catches for 59 yards. Mitch Grabiel had 4 catches for 51 yards and the Bobcats rang up 462 yards of total offense.

 

Second Round Matchups and Schedule (All games on Saturday, December 6)

Fordham (11-2) at #1 New Hampshire (10-1) – 1 PM ET

Indiana State (8-5) at #8 Chattanooga (9-3) – 1 PM ET

Northern Iowa (9-4) at #5 Illinois State (10-1) – 2 PM ET

Montana (9-4) at #4 Eastern Washington (10-2) – 4:30 PM ET

Sam Houston State (9-4) at #3 Jacksonville State (10-1) – 2 PM ET

Liberty (9-4) at #6 Villanova (10-2) – 4:30 PM ET

Richmond (9-4) at #7 Coastal Carolina – 1:00 PM ET

South Dakota State (9-4) at #2 North Dakota State (11-1) – 3:30 PM ET

 

All eight of the games on Saturday, December 6 can be seen on ESPN3.

2014 FCS Playoffs: Round 1 Predictions

Zach Zenner will need to have a massive game for South Dakota State to advance to round two (gojacks.com)
Zach Zenner will need to have a massive game for South Dakota State to advance to round two (gojacks.com)

 

The 2014 FCS Playoffs begin this weekend with 8 games. The winner of these 8 games will face one of the top 8 seeds as ranked by the NCAA. Below is a look at each game for this weekend with a prediction for each contest. All first round games will be played on Saturday and all games can be seen on ESPN3.

Sacred Heart (9-2) at Fordham (10-2) – 12 PM ET

This is a tough draw for Sacred Heart. Fordham’s two losses were to Villanova, the #6 seed in the playoffs, and FBS Army. Sacred Heart’s two losses were to Bucknell and St. Francis (PA), two teams that Fordham beat. Sacred Heart has a solid defense, but Fordham’s offense will be too much in the end. Fordham wins 43-24 and will face the top seeded New Hampshire Wildcats next weekend.

Indiana State (7-5) at Eastern Kentucky (9-3) – 1 PM ET

Some were probably surprised by Indiana State’s inclusion in the field after their loss to Western Illinois in the regular season finale. However, the other 4 losses for the Sycamores were to Indiana (FBS), Illinois State (#5 Seed), North Dakota State (#2 Seed), and South Dakota State (Playoff team). Eastern Kentucky has a potent offense, however, in several of their games including two losses, they were held to less than 30 points. That bodes well for Indiana State if they can limit the amount of points for Eastern Kentucky. Let’s go with Indiana State in a 27-24 win to face #8 Chattanooga in the second round.

Stephen F. Austin (8-4) at Northern Iowa (8-4) – 8 PM ET

This game appears to favor Northern Iowa, but only by a slight margin. Their two losses to FCS opponents (Indiana State and South Dakota State) were by a combined four points and their two losses to FBS opponents (Iowa and Hawaii) were by a combined 11 points. Stephen F. Austin can score or win a more modest scoring game so this game should be close. The Panthers win 24-20 to advance to the second round and take on #5 Illinois State.

San Diego (9-2) at Montana (8-4) – 4 PM ET

San Diego is in the tournament as a result of an investigation into Jacksonville’s financial aid rules. Their reward is a trip to Missoula to face the always dangerous Montana Grizzlies. This game has the feel of a defensive battle, which would favor the Grizzlies. San Diego had a great season, but it ends on Saturday in a 20-13 loss to Montana. Montana will have a rematch against Eastern Washington in the second round.

Southeastern Louisiana (9-3) at Sam Houston State (8-4) – 2 PM ET

This is a matchup of two teams from the Southland Conference, however, these teams did not face each other during the season, which makes this the de facto Southland Championship – in the First Round of the playoffs. Sam Houston State did not start the season well opening 1-3, including a loss to a good Division 2 Colorado State-Pueblo team, before winning 7 of their last 8. In their 8 wins they have scored at least 38 points. Southeastern Louisiana can score as well so expect some fireworks. In a close battle, Southeastern Louisiana comes out on top 45-41 and will face Jacksonville State in the second round.

Liberty (8-4) at James Madison (9-3) – 4 PM ET

This is a tough game to call. On one hand, James Madison plays in arguably the toughest conference in FCS, but the Big South managed to get two teams into the FCS playoffs with Liberty and Coastal Carolina. In addition, the fourth place team was Charleston Southern at 8-4. Liberty’s losses were to North Carolina (FBS), Indiana State (Playoff team), Richmond (Playoff team), and Charleston Southern. James Madison lost to Maryland (FBS), Villanova (#6 Seed), and Delaware. This will be a close game with James Madison scratching out a 27-24 win on a late field goal and taking on #6 Villanova in the second round.

Morgan State (7-5) at Richmond (8-4) – 1 PM ET

Morgan State came out of a 5-way tie in the MEAC to claim the automatic bid. They seem to be up against it here facing Richmond. Morgan State will keep it close for a while, but Richmond’s offense will be too much in the end. The Spiders take this game 42-17 and will face #7 Coastal Carolina next Saturday.

South Dakota State (8-4) at Montana State (8-4) – 4 PM ET

South Dakota State will feature a heavy dose of running back Zach Zenner, who should be good for at least 100 yards in this game. However, he will need help if the Jackrabbits are to come out of this game with the win. Montana State has shown the ability to win both high scoring and low scoring games, which will serve them well in the playoffs if they make a deep run. The Jackrabbits keep it close and shorten the game, but Montana State pulls out the 27-17 win. In that case, Montana State will face three-time defending FCS Champions North Dakota State in the second round.

Be sure to check back on Saturday night for the 2014 FCS Playoffs Round 1 recap for all 8 games.