Senior FCS Analyst Sam Herder will continue his season-long score predictions.
Here are his picks for the opening round:
2021 Spring Predictions Record: 42-22
2019 Record: 100-42
Monmouth @ 2-seed Sam Houston
If I had to pick one seed to get knocked off this weekend, I would go with this game. While I don’t actually believe it’s going to happen, I do expect a competitive matchup. Monmouth has experience on defense and some home-run hitters on offense, like WR Lonnie Moore IV and RB Juwon Farri. SHSU’s defense is much-improved, though, especially in stopping the run.
The Bearkats are 13-0 all-time in FCS playoff games at Bowers Stadium. Eric Schmid and the SHSU offense have some explosiveness of their own. We’ll see how tough the Hawks can hang. They’ve looked tremendous in their limited three games, including dominating Kennesaw State for the second season in a row. Expect a more competitive showing than the 66-21 loss to James Madison in the second round of the 2019 playoffs. But SHSU will have too much firepower for the upset to happen.
Prediction: SHSU 31-21
VMI @ 3-seed James Madison
I don’t blame Curt Cignetti for pulling the bulletin board material card when the Dukes were named the No. 3 seed. Teams will squeeze every ounce of motivation juice they can. But it’s hard to disagree with the committee when you look at the body of work of South Dakota State and SHSU compared to JMU. And really, JMU has a decent draw in its corner pod.
JMU’s ferocious defensive line should give VMI’s passing attack a tough time to get going. The Dukes would then get a favorable matchup against North Dakota or Missouri State. And if North Dakota State or Eastern Washington knock off SHSU in the quarterfinals, JMU will host a semifinal game. First things first, the Dukes have to take care of VMI. The Keydets are a top story this year, reaching the FCS playoffs for the first time ever. The Air Raid offense has given SoCon defenses a helluva time. JMU has the athletes on defense and the pass rush to slow it down.
Prediction: JMU 35-17
Davidson @ 4-seed Jacksonville State
JSU doesn’t see the option offense often. The Gamecocks have had trouble slowing it down in past games versus opponents who run a version of the option. They beat Mercer 34-28 in the fall, lost 60-52 to Kennesaw State in 2018, lost 37-10 to Georgia Tech in 2017, and lost 17-7 to KSU in the 2017 playoffs. Davidson owns the top rushing attack in the FCS this season, averaging 293.0 yards a game.
However, this is one of the better rushing defenses JSU has had. The Gamecocks allow just 81.0 rushing yards a game, which ranks No. 11 in the FCS. JSU should overwhelm Davidson in the trenches and pull away in the second half.
Prediction: JSU 27-10
Holy Cross @ 1-seed South Dakota State
The top FCS team shouldn’t have a problem in the opening round. SDSU takes on Holy Cross, who made the playoffs in 2019 and lost 44-27 to Monmouth. The Jacks are too big and too talented to let the Crusaders hang around.
Prediction: SDSU 38-7
Eastern Washington @ North Dakota State
If you could only watch one game this weekend, this would be it. EWU and NDSU are two of the best “programs” in the FCS. They have a strong history with each other, too. EWU beat the Bison in the 2010 quarterfinals after NDSU (did or didn’t, depending on who you ask) fumbled on the goal line. That sparked the Bison’s dynasty run. The two teams had a classic regular-season shootout during the 2016 regular season with NDSU winning 50-44 in overtime in a game that lasted four hours and six minutes. The Bison also beat EWU 38-24 in Frisco to win the 2018 national championship.
NDSU could find itself back in Frisco in a few weeks. It could also very well lose Saturday. The Bison have had their issues on offense all season. And last week, in a 27-17 loss to SDSU, it was the defense that raised question marks. EWU is hot offensively, scoring 40.7 points per game. The Eagles have the type of offense to give NDSU trouble — spread the defense out with a mobile QB and a physical rushing attack. The question is can the EWU defense stop the run for all four quarters? This won’t be an upset if EWU wins. But I think NDSU can do just enough with its running game to get a victory.
Prediction: NDSU 24-21
Missouri State @ North Dakota
UND and Mo State were scheduled to play April 3 until the game was called off due to COVID. When UND’s April 17 game at Youngstown State was also called off when the Penguins opted out, we all wanted to see the Fighting Hawks and Bears face off as one-loss teams in the MVFC standings. That didn’t happen. But now we get to see the Valley co-champs square off.
It’s been more than a month since UND played a football game. Instead of rust, I expect the Fighting Hawks to come out fast and on fire in front of their home crowd. They’ll face a Bears team that is much more athletic than past teams, a big reason why they’ve made the playoffs for the first time in 30 years. This is a toss-up game, and being at home gives UND the edge. The Hawks’ March 20 loss to NDSU is overshadowing how great of a start they had to this season. UND is primed for its first FCS playoff win ever.
Prediction: UND 28-24
Southern Illinois @ Weber State
Weber State has a lot to gripe about. Not only did the 5-0 Big Sky champs who return mostly everyone from its 2019 semifinal team not get a seed, it got paired up in the same pod as the No. 1 seed. It’s a tough draw for the Wildcats, and it starts in the first round.
SIU has so much momentum right now. After feeling screwed over with its final two games getting canceled due to opt-outs, the Salukis sent out a social media message saying they want to play. No. 15 Southeastern Louisiana answered the call. SIU then handed SLU a 55-48 loss last weekend, which ultimately got the Salukis into the bracket with a 5-3 record. Don’t forget, this is the same team that handed NDSU its worst loss in a decade, beating the Bison 38-14 in February. But it also lost 44-3 to SDSU on March 20.
This is another toss-up game in the first round. To me, Weber State is one of the best four teams in the country and plays its best football at home.
Prediction: Weber 24-21
Sacred Heart @ Delaware
Julius Chestnut is a top RB in the FCS and can give any defense trouble. But Delaware is too strong defensively and has too much depth to let the standout back take over the game.
The Blue Hens are built for a good playoff run — strong defense, balanced offense, well-coached, and tested during the regular season.
Prediction: Delaware 31-10