We are down to four teams in the 2022 FCS playoffs. Who advances to the national championship game?
Let’s predict some scores.
2022 record: 91-42
2019-2021 record: 244-115
#7 UIW at #3 NDSU
Can UIW stop NDSU’s power-run game? That is the No. 1 question going into this game.
The Cardinals will get their points. While NDSU is playing its best defensive football of the year and has a talented and experienced secondary that is No. 4 in FCS passing defense, QB Lindsey Scott Jr. and WRs Darion Chafin and Taylor Grimes have been too dominant to completely slow down. The best way to attack the Bison defense is to spread them out, have multiple weapons on the outside, a mobile QB, and still possess the threat to run. UIW’s passing offense gets the love, but it is No. 15 in rushing offense. Marcus Cooper has run for 1,324 yards and 12 TDs.
But can the UIW defense get enough stops? Samford held up physically better than expected last week in Fargo. UIW will try to replicate that. Olivier Charles-Pierre will be key in plugging the middle at 375 pounds, and LB Kelechi Anyalebechi (112 tackles) will need to be flying around. The Cardinals have improved defensively compared to last year. But down-to-the-wire wins in the playoffs over Furman (41-38) and Sac State (66-63) make you wonder if UIW’s style of ball can get it done against the nine-time FCS national champs.
NDSU is down a lot of starters to injury. The Bison have lost two of their top three RBs. Kobe Johnson is still a great option, though, and the NDSU offensive line is P5 level. Last week, UIW allowed 333 rushing yards at Sac State, 738 total yards, and 49 first downs. But again, Samford allowed a ton of rushing yards in the second round and then played NDSU’s run tough.
I just think the Bison’s physicality will take over as the game wears on. This matchup may resemble NDSU’s spring playoff game vs. EWU. EWU jumped up 20-7, then NDSU’s defense adjusted to slow down the pass-heavy attack and took over the game offensively with the run to win 42-20. While the final score Friday will be closer than 22 points, I expect a quick UIW start before NDSU settles in and gets enough stops in the second half while grinding down UIW’s defense.
Prediction: NDSU 42-31
#4 Montana State at #1 SDSU
This is going to be an epic battle.
The No. 1 FCS rushing offense vs. the No. 1 rushing defense in single-digit temps.
Both squads look championship-worthy. SDSU is loaded with talent, looking like a team built to win its first FCS title. RB Isaiah Davis, WR Jaxon Janke, WR Jadon Janke, TE Tucker Kraft, TE Zach Heins, OL Mason McCormick, and OL Garret Greenfield all will likely sign NFL contracts when they go pro. Defensively, the Jacks have crazy good depth in the front seven, led by DT Caleb Sanders, DE Reece Winkelman, and LB Adam Bock, while their secondary has really elevated its play from last year. These players experienced a heartbreaking championship game loss in the spring, then lost last year in the semis at MSU as it watched an NDSU team it beat go on and win another national title.
This seems like a team of destiny where everything has led up to this squad getting over the hump.
MSU is also playing like a team of destiny.
The Bobcats have lived and breathed winning a national title since last year’s championship loss to NDSU. Even after losing a legendary senior class, head coach Brent Vigen, typically not one for bold statements or eye-catching quotes, was steadfast in his belief that this year’s team was going to be better. And the Bobcats are certainly playing like it now. The defense has been great the last few games after regular-season struggles. The run game has been unstoppable. MSU hammered Montana 55-21, led seedable Weber State 33-10 in the second round, and crushed the CAA’s best team William & Mary 55-7 last week.
So, what gives on Saturday?
SDSU has the most top-end talent in the FCS. But sometimes in the playoffs, it’s all about who is the hottest and playing the best.
MSU is just rolling right now. The Bobcats have been business-like in its destruction of quality teams. The o-line is playing like a top FCS unit. And while Tommy Mellott’s running ability takes a lot of headlines, Sean Chambers is just as elite running the ball from the QB spot. Add in a fresh top-tier RB in Isaiah Ifanse, and the Bobcats can attack a defense in so many ways. I don’t think MSU will have as much success running in between the tackles against a stout SDSU defense. But they are so good at getting to the edge and picking up chunk yardage, that I believe the Bobcats can get into the mid-30s. And the final stamp on this prediction is the way MSU’s defense is playing. The Jacks will also get into the 30s, but I trust MSU to get more stops Saturday than I would have if this game was played in October.
Prediction: Montana State 35-31