The 2021 FCS playoff bracket is set.
Now it’s time to predict the whole damn thing, from the first round to the national championship winner. There is potential for some really fun matchups this year, and hopefully, this bracket is the most competitive in years with few blowouts.
RELATED: Printable FCS Bracket
Here are my full bracket predictions. Explanation below.
I’ll do my predictions breakdown of the first-round games later this week.
In the second round, I went chalk except for SDSU beating No. 4 seed Sac State. The Jacks and EWU are the most dangerous unseeded team, but I think SDSU has a good shot to go to Sac State and get a win. Playoff experience will be a factor, and the Jacks are more battle-tested.
In the quarterfinals … Montana at JMU has the potential to be a really awesome game. Both defenses are phenomenal, but I’d take JMU’s offense over Montana’s in a close game. Montana State at SHSU is also a cool matchup, but SHSU is solid against the run to avoid an upset. NDSU shouldn’t have an issue stopping ETSU’s strong run game. And Nova is a very balanced team and will knock off an SDSU squad running low on fumes after going to California, then having to head east.
So we have No. 5 seed Villanova at No. 1 seed SHSU, and No. 3 seed JMU at No. 2 seed NDSU in the semifinals…
SHSU plays really well at home and I’d feel good about picking the Bearkats over Nova. Playoff experience will be a factor there. JMU at NDSU is a fantastic game with an electric atmosphere. NDSU’s offense looks like it will be getting better every game, and its defense has been great all year. JMU has struggled to run the ball, and I’m not sure its o-line will be able to keep Cole Johnson clean. I’ll take the Bison at home with a DL vs. JMU’s OL matchup advantage.
And then, after a season of saying the championship race is wide open … I have NDSU back on top as the national champs.
The Bison haven’t had a convincing performance in my eyes this season until beating ranked South Dakota 52-24. The offense has found its ability to run the ball again, and QB Cam Miller is getting better and better. The true sophomore is already beyond where Easton Stick was passing the ball when Stick was a redshirt freshman in 2015 and led NDSU to the title game. Couple an improving offense with a great defense, and NDSU knocks off SHSU in Frisco.
I’ve been very high on SHSU all year. I think the Bearkats have the perfect formula to win a title — balanced and explosive on offense, and then physical and the ability to stop the run on defense. NDSU didn’t have that formula earlier this year with its offense being a little above average. But the offense looked much better against USD, who had a solid defense coming into the game.
Maybe I’m overreacting to the USD win and NDSU falls short of Frisco by losing to JMU. The Dukes are loaded as well. But I think there are three legit title contenders with a few more that can push those teams. Those three top-tier title contenders are NDSU, JMU, and SHSU. The Bison have the home-field advantage until Frisco. And once there, it’s hard to bet against the Bison at Toyota Stadium.
Would it be better for the FCS if a new team won the title? Yes. Would it shock anyone if NDSU, who looked decent but not great most of this season, turns it on in the playoffs and wins it all again? Probably not.