The FCS national championship game Sunday features a ton of talent for a national audience to watch.
Twenty-two Sam Houston players were named on the All-Southland Conference teams, while twelve South Dakota State players were recognized on the All-Missouri Valley Football Conference teams.
Here’s a position-by-position breakdown along with which team has the edge:
SDSU — Just a true freshman, Mark Gronowski was named the MVFC’s Offensive Player of the Year. He’s thrown for 1,387 yards (97-170), 13 touchdowns, and three interceptions. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Gronowski is a strong runner, averaging 7.3 yards per carry (74 rushes for 540 yards and seven TDs).
SHSU — The Southland Conference Player of the Year, Eric Schmid is a 6-foot-1, 180-pound junior. He is completing 174-of-288 passes for 2,599 yards, 17 TDs, and nine interceptions. Schmid is elusive in the pocket as well and can tuck it and run. He has scored three rushing TDs in the last two games and totals eight this spring.
SDSU — Pierre Strong Jr. is a three-time All-American, while Isaiah Davis has emerged as one of the best freshman RBs in the FCS. Strong leads the way with 650 yards rushing along with three TDs. Davis is right there with 640 yards on the ground, averaging 7.8 yards per carry and scoring seven rushing TDs.
SHSU — Ramon Jefferson has been a fantastic addition to SHSU this season. The former 2018 freshman All-American at Maine gives the Bearkats balance with his 656 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. Noah Smith is a do-it-all back for SHSU, rushing 32 times for 126 yards and a TD while catching 27 passes for 258 yards and four TDs.
SDSU — Twin brothers Jaxon and Jadon Janke receive a bulk of the throws. Jaxon has 29 catches for 438 yards and six TDs. Jadon has 19 receptions for 412 yards and five TDs. The only other player to have more than 10 catches is Strong out of the backfield with 18. The Janke brothers are 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3 that can do everything from catching the deep ball to taking a bubble screen for a big gain after making a guy miss.
SHSU — Schmid spreads the love with four players having 25-plus catches and three more with 10-plus receptions. Cody Chrest is the biggest target at 6-foot-1. He leads the way with 40 catches to go along with 460 yards and two TDs. Jequez Ezzard is the home-run hitter, averaging 26.9 yards per catch (28 receptions for 753 yards and seven TDs). Ife Adeyi is another slot receiver with big-play potential, averaging 20.6 yards a catch.
SDSU — Tucker Kraft and Zach Heins lead the SDSU tight ends with a combined 16 catches for 246 yards. Blake Kunz has just four catches, but two of those went for TDs. The three stand 6-foot-5, 6-foot-7, and 6-foot-5.
SHSU — SHSU doesn’t look to its tight ends much with 6-foot-5 Isaac Schley the only TE to catch more than two passes. He has 15 catches for 185 yards and no TDs.
SDSU — From left to right, the Jacks are: 6-foot-6 and 295 pounds, 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds, 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds, 6-foot-6 and 295 pounds. SDSU is averaging 230.9 rushing yards a game and has allowed 10 sacks in nine games. Offensive coordinator and o-line coach Jason Eck has said this is the best unit he’s coached at SDSU.
SHSU — From left to right, the Bearkats are: 6-foot-4 and 345 pounds, 6-foot-5 and 340 pounds, 6-foot-2 and 290 pounds, 6-foot-2 and 305 pounds, 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds. SHSU is more aggressive up front as the offense has slowed down its tempo. The Kats are averaging 160.4 rushing yards per game and have allowed 15 sacks in nine games.
SDSU — The Jacks are deep, physical, and talented up front. They had their best game against Delaware last week, racking up seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss. SDSU has 21 total sacks this spring and 61 TFLs. Against the run, SDSU is allowing 112.6 yards per game and 3.1 yards a carry.
SHSU — Jahari Kay, Joseph Wallace, and Jevon Leon earned All-Southland First Team honors this spring, while Trace Mascorro was named to the Second Team. SHSU is dominant against the run, allowing 78.9 rushing yards a game and 2.2 yards per carry. The Bearkats have 95 TFLs this season and 37 sacks.
SDSU — Logan Backhaus is one of the more underrated linebackers in the FCS. The 6-foot-4 OLB leads the Jacks in tackles (69) and TFLs (9.5). Adam Bock has 66 tackles and Preston Tetzlaff has 64. The trio of LBs have been as reliable as it gets with SDSU allowing 14.1 points per game.
SHSU — Trevor Williams and Quentin Brown fly around and make plays all over the field. Williams leads the team with 79 tackles and 14 TFLs. Brown has 57 tackles, eight TFLs, and four sacks.
SDSU — The Jacks allow 168.1 passing yards per game and have intercepted 12 passes, led by safety Josh Manchigiah’s four. SDSU’s secondary was picked on by Southern Illinois in the quarterfinals, allowing more than 300 yards passing. It was the first legitimate passing attack it has seen this spring, so the secondary will be put to the test against SHSU. Don Gardner is the top cornerback at 6-foot-1. He earned All-MVFC Second Team honors in 2019 and First Team honors this spring.
SHSU — SHSU allows 277.6 passing yards a game and has eight interceptions. The passing yards allowed are skewed a bit with the pass-happy Southland Conference, although James Madison threw for 271 yards in the semifinals, its highest of the season as the Dukes upped their average to 233.3 passing yards per game. Tristin McCollum is a talented player at safety, while his twin brother Zyon is a 6-foot-4 cornerback with NFL potential.
SDSU — Cole Frahm has scored 69 points this spring, hitting 30-of-32 PATs and 13-of-18 field goals. His long is 52 yards, and he’s 1-of-2 from 50-plus yards and 1-of-5 on FGs between 40-49 yards.
SHSU — Seth Morgan has 76 points, making 43-of-45 PATs and 11-of-13 FGs. Morgan’s longest FG this spring is 44 yards, and he’s 2-of-2 in the 40-49-yard range.
SDSU — Ben Dinkel averages 41.3 yards a punt with a long of 61 yards. Ten of his punts have been inside the 20-yard line.
SHSU — Matt McRobert is averaging 42.4 yards per punt with a long of 59 yards. He has landed 14 punts inside the 20-yard line.
SDSU — The Jacks do not have any special team returns for TDs but do have effective returners. Jaxon Janke is averaging 13.2 yards per punt return, and Jordan Meachum is averaging 26.4 yards per kick return.
SHSU — Jequez Ezzard has scored on two punt returns while averaging 17.7 yards per return. Kameryn Alexander is the top kick returner, averaging 21.5 yards a return.
SDSU — SDSU hasn’t allowed a return for a TD this season. The Jacks give up just 5.1 yards per punt return and 18.8 yards per kick return.
SHSU — The Bearkats have had some blown coverages on special teams, especially in the playoffs, allowing one punt return and one kick return for touchdowns. Opponents average 20.4 yards per kick return and 10 yards per punt return.