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2017 FCS National Championship Preview

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

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

2017 FCS National Championship Preview

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

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

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

First Round Predictions (7-1)

Second Round Predictions (7-1)

Quarterfinal Predictions (4-0)

Semifinal Predictions (1-1)

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

Youngstown State Road To The National Championship

First Round: Defeated Samford 38-24 at home

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

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

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

Youngstown State Penguins Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Madison Road To The National Championship

First Round: Bye

Second Round: Defeated New Hampshire 55-22 at home

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

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

James Madison Dukes Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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

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

2016 FCS Playoffs 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.