Earning a seed in the FCS playoffs is an important deal. It gives eight teams a bye week and guarantees home-field advantage in the second round. For the higher seeds, it guarantees playing at home in the quarterfinals and/or semifinals.
But seeds haven’t exactly dominated in the second round. Not including the reduced spring bracket with no byes and only four seeds, seeded FCS teams went just 5-3 in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019. The seeds did go 8-0 in 2018.
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Are we in store for more second-round “upsets” this year? Let’s rank the eight games from least likely to most likely seeded teams to lose.
8. UT Martin at #8 Montana State
Many of us slept on UT Martin in the first round, and the Skyhawks proved us wrong by winning at Missouri State. Maybe it will be a mistake to doubt them again. But this matchup is less likely to result in an upset on paper. Montana State has a better home-field advantage, is more disciplined, and is more physical than Missouri State.
7. Holy Cross at #5 Villanova
Holy Cross has the defense to muck things up and turn this into a low-scoring, ugly game where neither offense can find a rhythm. A CAA team overlooking a Patriot League team hasn’t always produced nice results for the Colonial. Villanova would have to play its sloppiest game of the year to lose this one, though. Depth may turn out to be the difference.
6. SLU at #3 James Madison
Don’t expect a 2016-esque blowout here like when JMU beat Sam Houston 65-7. JMU’s secondary in 2016 was one of the best units in recent FCS memory, and the 2021 secondary has been gettable at times. Plus, Cole Kelley is a mobile QB for his size who can hurt the JMU defense with his arm and legs. This should be a decently-competitive game and has the potential to light up the scoreboard. Still, an upset at JMU would be considered a big surprise.
5. Southern Illinois at #2 NDSU
The last time these two met, SIU ended NDSU’s FCS-record 39-game winning streak with a 38-14 win in Carbondale during the spring season. All of those players are back for the Salukis. MVFC teams are usually better equipped to match NDSU’s physicality and don’t get overwhelmed at the Fargodome. The Bison have won past second-round games 37-13, 52-10, 38-3, 45-7, and 37-6. SIU should be much more competitive than that. It isn’t a bonkers thought to think SIU can pull off an upset. Just be fully prepared to be wrong.
4. UIW at #1 Sam Houston
SHSU has rolled through its regular-season schedule mostly unchallenged outside of a one-point win over SFA when the Bearkats were without starting QB Eric Schmid. UIW beat SFA 35-28 in overtime last week to advance to the second round. It’s safe to say this is SHSU’s toughest test to date. UIW has the offensive firepower to make this a game and give the Kats a legit challenge, although SHSU’s same-look defense didn’t have a problem in the spring holding the explosive offenses of Nicholls to 17 points and UIW to 14 points.
3. EWU at #6 Montana
The Eagles beat Montana 34-28 on Oct. 2 and are confident they can do it again. This game is in Montana, though, and the Griz are riding a five-game winning streak behind a fierce defense and an offense coming off of its best game of the season. As they say, it’s hard to beat a team twice, especially doing so in front of a raucous crowd on a Friday night. But for a team that arguably could have been a seed and was viewed as a top-tier title contender earlier this season, the Eagles winning would not be a shock to the FCS system.
2. Kennesaw State at #7 ETSU
The oddsmakers favor Kennesaw State by 2.5 points, which is a little bit of a surprise since this matchup seems about as 50/50 as you can get, and typically the home squad gets a 3-point automatic advantage when setting lines. Kennesaw will have to win in the trenches and get a strong push because the option isn’t a novel offense for the SoCon’s ETSU to gameplan for and defend. On the flipside, KSU has the rushing defense (No. 15 in the FCS allowing 108.9 YPG) to not let ETSU’s Quay Holmes and Jacob Saylors run wild. Expect the closest contest in the second round in a battle of elite rushing attacks.
1. SDSU at #4 Sac State
It would actually be a surprise to most if SDSU didn’t win this guy. After demolishing UC Davis 56-24 in the first round, a team Sac State beat 27-7 on Nov. 20, the Jacks look like a team capable of winning multiple games in the bracket. Sac State is a solid squad that is playing well defensively and schemes things up nicely for a talented offense. This isn’t going to be as much of a pushover as some expect. The Hornets haven’t lost to an FCS team (UNI) since Sept. 11. But on Saturday, they are underdogs by 8.5 points.
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