Senior FCS Analyst Sam Herder will continue his season-long score predictions.
Here are his picks for the quarterfinals:
2021 Spring Predictions Record: 49-23
2019 Record: 100-42
Southern Illinois @ 1-seed South Dakota State
SDSU won 44-3 when these teams met on March 20. This matchup has the biggest spread of the quarterfinal games. And in a Twitter poll I did that got 646 votes asking which seed is least likely to lose, the Jackrabbits got 67 percent of the votes. The second-most was James Madison at 15 percent.
Many are overlooking this game compared to the other three matchups. But another SDSU blowout would be rare. In 2018, Eastern Washington handled UC Davis 59-20, then narrowly won 34-29 in the quarterfinals a few weeks later. NDSU beat Illinois State 37-3 in 2019, then 9-3 in the quarterfinals. And, as many SDSU fans probably remember, the Jacks beat Northern Iowa 38-7 in November of 2019 and then lost 13-10 in the second round.
SDSU is a young team, starting eight freshmen and sophomores last week. But it’s not like I’m the first one this week to show examples of how playoff rematches from regular-season games result in closer contests. The players and coaches are fully aware and won’t be looking past the Salukis. That wouldn’t be wise since the Salukis are riding a wave of momentum right now.
The Jacks should be able to get into the 30s, which may be needed as SIU is playing too good offensively to get blown out again. But SDSU has too much going for it this spring to lose this early. With what should be a lively night crowd behind them, the Jacks’ push for a national title continues with a double-digit win.
Prediction: SDSU 34-21
North Dakota State @ 2-seed Sam Houston
After the Bison beat SHSU 55-13 in the 2017 semifinals, Bearkats head coach K.C. Keeler, with Jeremiah Briscoe and P.J. Hall next to him, told the media in NDSU’s press conference room, “Their men were better than my boys.”
While it was quite the jarring comment, he wasn’t wrong. The Bearkats were physically manhandled in their playoff exit for the fourth year in a row. Keeler knew SHSU’s style of play and the type of player they recruited had to change. After seven straight playoff appearances, SHSU did not make the playoffs in 2018 and 2019. But in that process, the Bearkats molded into a different team, especially defensively.
That has come to fruition this spring, as SHSU still has a high-flying offense (44.8 PPG) while being much-improved on defense. The Kats allow just 17.5 PPG, which isn’t easy to do in an offensive conference like the Southland. More importantly in this matchup against a run-heavy NDSU offense, SHSU gives up just 1.8 yards per carry and 58.9 rushing yards a game.
This version of SHSU is better built to beat a team like NDSU. Is it fully there yet? We’ll see. But we’ve seen this story before. No matter how good a Southland team looks in the regular season, it will always be taken with a grain of salt nationally until they prove it in the postseason. The Bison play at a different level come playoff time, which they showed last week in a 42-20 win against EWU.
Prediction: NDSU 28-20
North Dakota @ 3-seed James Madison
The knock on JMU is it hasn’t had that marquee win this spring to show it is the best team in the country. The knock on UND is it doesn’t play well on the road, and its 5-1 record is because of four home games. One of these teams will have an answer to that on Sunday.
JMU’s offense has had its up-and-down moments this spring. The Fighting Hawks present perhaps its biggest challenge. UND prides itself on stopping the run and will be aggressive in its blitzes against a younger offensive line.
This looks like it will be more of a grind-it-out type of game. With receptions leader Bo Belquist out with an injury, the Fighting Hawks will lean on stud RB Otis Weah while trying to hit on a big play over the top when the time is right. The Dukes have some big names in the backfield as well, like All-American Percy Agyei-Obese. Both teams will look to get their backs going instead of asking the QBs to win the game with their arm. With that said, Cole Johnson and Tommy Schuster need to take care of the ball and connect if a receiver has a step on his man downfield. Points won’t be easy in this one.
Allowing VMI to climb back into the game in the second half last week was a wake-up call for JMU. And while UND is probably sick of the road woes storyline, the Fighting Hawks do struggle away from home. JMU is fast and physical on defense, and the last time UND saw something like this unit was a decisive loss in the Fargodome. As lazy as this is, JMU being at home flips a 50/50 neutral-site game to 55/45 in its favor.
Prediction: JMU 24-21
Delaware @ 4-seed Jacksonville State
The first-round results may have swayed some people’s minds on this game, but I’m still sticking with my original pick for Delaware to reach the semifinals.
JSU looked great in its 49-14 win against Davidson. Since their ugly, turnover-filled loss to Austin Peay, the Gamecocks have scored 44, 28, and 49 points. Its offense is complementing a defense that has played well all season.
Meanwhile, Delaware grinded out a 19-10 win against Sacred Heart in a closer game than expected. But that shouldn’t overshadow the team’s 6-0 record with wins against quality teams like Maine, Rhode Island, and Villanova. JSU has played 12 games between the fall and spring, but the Blue Hens have been tested just as much to prepare them for postseason play.
This is a great opportunity for JSU to get over the postseason hump. The Gamecocks are 0-4 in playoff games versus Big Sky, CAA, and MVFC teams. Same as SHSU, though, I need to see it before I predict it. Delaware’s defense will be the toughest JSU has faced. And I think the Blue Hens can do just enough with its balanced offense to get a win. The Gamecocks are still too much of an up-and-down program to give me faith in them. Delaware has been consistently solid this spring, and last week’s close game may turn out to be a good thing to re-focus the offense.
Prediction: Delaware 21-17