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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 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.