First things first, James Madison and North Dakota State head into the 2017 season as clear favorites to meet up in the FCS title game. Both have favorable schedules where more than one loss would be a surprise, putting them as the likely No. 1 and 2 seeds.
But as much as the consensus is that the Dukes and Bison are the top dogs, a lot can change in half a year.
A year ago, Northern Iowa was a popular pick to give NDSU its biggest challenge in 2016. Instead, Youngstown State, in its first playoff appearance since 2006, faced first-year head coach Mike Houston and the Dukes in the title game.
In 2015, Jacksonville State earned a trip to Frisco, Texas, a year after losing in the second round as the No. 3 seed. Not many people outside of Alabama gave the Gamecocks a chance when filling out their bracket.
The year before, Eastern Washington was supposed to shoot back to the top of the FCS after NDSU graduated more than 20 seniors and lost head coach Craig Bohl to Wyoming. Instead, Carson Wentz emerged to lead NDSU to Frisco and faced Illinois State, who was a year ahead of schedule with transfer quarterback Tre Roberson, according to head coach Brock Spack.
In 2013, Towson came out of nowhere behind the legs of Terrance West to take on NDSU as the No. 7 seed.
As the past has shown, the most popular preseason pick to make the FCS title game usually doesn't happen. This year could certainly be different, as JMU and NDSU look to be a step above the remaining teams. A rematch in Frisco of the 2016 semifinals would be an absolute slobberknocker. Not to mention the Dallas suburbs being overrun with the two most passionate fan bases in the FCS.
But just in case this season continues the same trend as previous years, let's take a look at 10 other fantasy FCS title games that could happen. [divider]
A lot would have to go right for these two teams to meet up in Frisco. But as consistent playoff contenders with their starting quarterbacks returning, both should expect longer playoff runs. Richmond made the 2015 semifinals and won two playoff games last season despite being hampered by injuries. The Mocs have made the playoffs the last three seasons, but have been eliminated by six points or less every year.
The obvious juicy storyline here, though, is the offseason head coaching moves. Russ Huesman left Chattanooga to replace Danny Rocco at Richmond, who left for Delaware.
Thoughts and prayers to all secondary coaches involved if this one happens. The Jackrabbits and Eagles had two of the best FCS passing attacks in 2016 led by Jake Wieneke and Cooper Kupp. Kupp was drafted in April, and Wieneke fills his role as the top receiver in the subdivision.
Even with his losses at wide receiver, EWU quarterback Gage Gubrud has the ability to make a couple new stars. The signal caller on the other sideline is Taryn Christion, the Offensive Player of the Year out of the Missouri Valley Football Conference. This game could very well feature up to four FCS Offensive Player of the Year finalists.
We'll go from a high-flying offensive contest to a game any old-school football fan would love. Wofford is all about running the football and playing tough defense. It's a formula UND head coach Bubba Schweigert is using to bring his program onto the national scene.
The Terriers would take UND's elite secondary out of the game and force them to become tacklers with their option offense. UND's loaded backfield versus the Wofford run defense that ranked 11th last season would be a war at Toyota Stadium. Wofford took the national runner-ups, Youngstown State, to double overtime. And UND is a rapidly-rising team out of the Big Sky.
The saying "Defense wins championships" would be on repeat for this game. Last season, Villanova was No. 1 in the FCS in total defense and the Penguins were No. 14. A matchup between these two well-known programs would get physical real fast.
You'd also have a fun coaching matchup, as Bo Pelini has brought YSU back to national prominence and Mark Ferrante is serving his first year as head coach and trying to continue the tradition Andy Talley began.
Alright, back to the high-scoring game fans are looking for. While the Gamecocks dominated SHSU 62-10 in the 2015 semifinals, the two appear to have evened up since. Gone is JSU star quarterback Eli Jenkins, but the Gamecocks have plenty of talent at the skilled positions.
So too does SHSU. The defense will need to toughen up to get over the playoff hurdle. When you have the returning Walter Payton Award winner Jeremiah Briscoe at quarterback, though, and playmakers all over the field, SHSU will shoot for another national title appearance.
5. James Madison vs. North Dakota
JMU fans never would have guessed they'd get to know so much about North Dakota if this game ever happened. UND is 75 miles north of NDSU, by the way. And talk about running backs galore between UND and the Dukes. Each team has loaded backfields with up to three running backs who could be starters elsewhere in the FCS.
With pro prospects in the secondary on both teams, this game could be decided by who reaches 250 yards rushing first. Also, let's just imagine a group of JMU and UND fans gathering for a photo at Scruffy Duffies and tweeting it at their favorite NDSU fan accounts. Twitter would break.
4. North Dakota State vs. South Dakota State
It's a postseason game no one in the Dakotas wants to see again unless it's in Frisco. Some people may forget you can bus from Brookings to Fargo. The NCAA certainly doesn't forget that, though. The Jackrabbits have visited the Fargodome during the 2012, 2014 and 2016 playoffs. All ended in losses.
The first two playoff games were in the second round, where you see a lot of regionalized matchups. Last season was in the quarterfinals between the No. 1 and 8 seeds. NDSU is looking to reclaim its throne in 2017. And SDSU has the team to make the next step as a national contender.
3. James Madison vs. South Dakota State
The SDSU passing offense versus the JMU passing defense is as good of a matchup as it'd get in the FCS.
There's a lot of star power in this potential game. Just to name a few, some include Taryn Christion vs. Bryan Schor, Dallas Goedert vs. Raven Greene, Cardon Johnson vs. Christian Rozeboom and Jake Wieneke vs. Jimmy Moreland.
2. James Madison vs. Richmond
James Madison jumped to the top of the Colonial Athletic Association in 2016 and brought home a national title. The year before, Richmond was the top team and advanced to the semifinals. The Spiders still managed to win two playoff games last season despite losing several stars to injury. They'll be motivated this year.
Watching two of the best quarterbacks in the conference, Bryan Schor and Kyle Lauletta, battle it out on the biggest stage, in a game featuring two rivals, would be quite the treat.
1. North Dakota vs. North Dakota State
The bar owners in Frisco/Plano know to stock up on Captain Morgan and Bud Light when the folks from Fargo come to town. Well, Grand Forks likes to have a good time as well. But if this migration from North Dakota to Texas ever happened, that "North Dakota nice" the Frisco natives have grown to love might be out the window.
The NDSU-UND football rivalry was as bitter as it gets in the Division II days. It's starting to brew again as the Fighting Hawks begin to compete at the national level and are set to join the MVFC in 2020. NDSU showed in 2015 that UND has a ways to go with a 34-9 win. But that gap looks to be shrinking. An all-North Dakota FCS title game could make an exciting three-week build toward January.
Sam’s coverage of the FCS began in 2012 as the sports editor and eventual editor-in-chief of NDSU’s The Spectrum. After graduating in 2015, he spent three years in the newspaper and magazine industry while starting his work for HERO Sports in the fall of 2016 as a freelancer. In May 2018, he joined the website full time as the Senior FCS Analyst.