Welcome to the HERO Sports FCS Mailbag, FCS national championship edition. FCS writers Brian McLaughlin and Sam Herder take questions each and every week on Twitter and give in-depth answers here in the mailbag. Tweet them both at @BrianMacWriter and @TheHerd215 to get your questions
Is this the best FCS championship matchup in the 21st century? Ever?
— Sons of Bridgeforth (@BridgeforthSons) December 17, 2017
Brian: Well, FCS/I-AA started in 1978, so we'll start there. While Yale and Lehigh and the gang were playing ball in the 19th century, there was no such thing as the FCS. Their loss. I will be writing a story on this exact topic for the week of the game and I will tag you on it when I come up with the final conclusion of which game had the best matchup going in. This is definitely one of them.
Sam: It’s hard for me to give a solid answer on this since I’ve been covering the FCS in some capacity since 2011 and am not much of a historian. I feel like the Marshall vs. Montana battle in the ‘90s is up there. But from what I can remember, there hasn’t been a title game as hyped as this one.
Just the sheer buildup and the endless storylines between JMU and NDSU makes this such a huge game. Add in the talent on the field and the coaching firepower on the sidelines, this is as good as it gets for FCS football.
With the valley 2nd team getting destroyed in same manner as SHSU , looks like leaving brackets as in is the best way to proceed. Also, limit each conference to max 3 teams, so more are in. Thoughts? https://t.co/BrSypuoe62
— AJC4JSUjQuery17205084500443013444_1513820165078jQuery17204680146176160698_1513820367693 (@ajc4jsu) December 17, 2017
Brian: I don't think limiting a conference to three teams is really the answer. Some conferences are just deeper.
Sam: I still say the bracket was solid overall except Weber or WIU should have been seeded over SHSU and the Southland doesn’t deserved two seeds. SDSU doesn’t turn the ball over 10 times ever again against JMU, but its blowout loss hurts the MVFC argument. Then again, 2 out of 4 teams in the semifinals for the second straight year isn’t too shabby either.
As far as maxing out a conference to three teams, that sounds ludicrous to me. I understand the OVC has a different perception of the Southland Conference than the MVFC or CAA does. It’s all based on where you live, as you pointed out on Twitter. But the playoffs would not be stronger if the MVFC, CAA and Big Sky had only three teams in and another team from the Southern Conference or the OVC were added.
Which would be the better revenge game: NDSU vs SDSU or JMU?
— Jack Dura (@JackFromNoDak) December 17, 2017
Brian: I'm going to take the easy way out and say both. I'm sure NDSU would like revenge because of the Dakota Marker, but JMU ending their title run last year in the way it did? I know the Bison have been snarling about it ever since.
Sam: Well it is NDSU vs. JMU, so it’d be weird to make an argument about SDSU being in Frisco. I’ll just add this nugget then: The word I gathered around Fargo and on social media was NDSU fans like their matchup better against JMU than the pass-happy Jackrabbits because of the injuries to the Bison starting cornerbacks. Most were cheering for a JMU win Saturday and they got their wish.
For all fans on both sides – What's the rundown of the full injury report and which players are expected to make a comeback for FriscojQuery172043788227783947464_1513821456689jQuery17209913707016939235_1513822271616jQuery17204536044623419593_1513822348580jQuery17203302252110266004_1513822442383?
— Michael Evangelista (@Michael_2Clutch) December 18, 2017
Brian: JMU has had six starters or potential starters go down to injury and they're season-ending variety — Cardon Johnson at RB, Tyler Gray at kicker, though Ethan Ratke has done a nice job since, TE Nick Carlton, Gerren Butler the right guard and prior to the season Tyree Chavious (OT) and Charles Tutt (CB). They've also had nagging injuries in which the guys have still participated. NDSU has been in much the same situation. Both teams have gotten through this thanks to rare FCS depth. But for the names mentioned above, my understanding is they're all season ending.
Sam: I’m going to have an article up later talking about the depth of these two teams and list all the injuries, whether it’s season-ending or those players who have missed time. Brian researched JMU’s injuries. Here’s what I came up with for NDSU. These names don’t include season-ending injuries that happened earlier in the season, but a more up-to-date injury report with recent injuries and those working their way back for Frisco.
Starting cornerbacks Jaylaan Wimbush and Jalen Allison suffered knee injuries against SHSU and running back Ty Brooks separated his shoulder. All are doubtful to play, Allison (the shutdown guy) more than the other two. NDSU is hopeful that backup CB Dom Davis will return from injury along with backup RB Adam Cofield. Star RB Lance Dunn is back to running after his hip injury, but it’s unlikely he’ll be ready to go for Frisco. Linebacker Levi Jordheim should return from injury and play significant snaps in Frisco. He started several games due to injury this year and played very well before suffering his own injury.
If you look at both rosters, which players are most likely to be playing on Sundays in the future?
— Mark Ahrens (@MarkAhrens) December 18, 2017
Brian: For JMU, at this point, I'm going to go with Andrew Ankrah and Aaron Stinnie to start with, though I don't think that'll be all … especially when talking underclassmen. Keep an eye on Marcus Marshall and I bet scouts are just now turning their heads with 6-foot-5, 220 pound WR Riley Stapleton for 2020. With NDSU? I'm going to start with 2019 QB Easton Stick. I think he's going to trend upwards big time in the next year, and for this year's class obviously Nick DeLuca is in the mix to be drafted, along with Tre Dempsey in the secondary. Curious to see how scouts view Greg Menard's injury, too.
Sam: Brian took most of mine. I think the JMU defensive backs are all going to get looks. Jalen Allison certainly has the potential next year to follow the footsteps of CJ Smith and Marcus Williams and get an undrafted deal. Also, in a couple years, the NFL scouts are going to be falling in love with Jabril Cox.
JMU defensive secondary locked down the NDSU WRs last year. Can the Bison get separation this year, and if not, can NDSU run on an 8 man JMU box?
— Matt Entzion (@entzion) December 18, 2017
Brian: JMU's secondary is still outstanding, and they matched up pretty darn well against some great receivers and a great QB last week, right? Let's put it this way — like the Weber State/JMU game, I don't see either team dominating offensively … it'll be a big play here, big play there kind of game. Both are capable of it, and both are capable of stopping them. And oh … hello again, special teams.
Sam: I don’t see NDSU WRs winning very many 1-on-1 battles vs JMU’s CBs. But if you look at the three playoff games, most of NDSU’s explosive passing plays went to the tight ends or running backs. The Dukes can definitely match up with the Bison on the outside. And they’ll certainly sell out to stop the run. The key will be for them to not let the Bison tight ends or running backs get big gains on those play-action, wheel-route concepts.
How do the interior lines match up? That’s where this game will be won. Can JMU control gaps? Will SU get pressure?
— What the F#*k is a “Duke”? (@TravisDMaddock) December 18, 2017
Brian: JMU was hurt badly by injuries on the offensive line, and I think it obviously hurt chemistry during the regular season. Weber State got some pressure on JMU, so if that was the case, NDSU can certainly do it too. Good teams will. Of course, JMU QB Bryan Schor can escape too. He was called a dual-threat QB in high school and he showed it at times vs. Weber State.
Sam: I do think JMU is going to be able to hold its own defensively on the line of scrimmage. The Bison O-line has been terrific this postseason, but the Dukes are a different beast.
The other matchup you mention favors the Bison, in my opinion – NDSU’s defensive pressure on Schor. Against Stony Brook and Weber State, Schor was hit and pressured quite a bit. Now, it looks like JMU’s young OL began to gel against SDSU. But the Bison are known to bring heavy blitzes from everywhere. NDSU’s DL is deep, but doesn’t get a ton of pressure on the opposing QB. It’s the athletic NDSU LBs that seem to get to the QB often and do so in a hurry.
Who is one unsung player on each side who could turn the game in his teams favor? As a JMU fan my guy would be Deangelo Amos.
— Jamie Williams (@JDWilliams23) December 17, 2017
Brian: I don't know if he is considered 'unsung' anymore, but Riley Stapleton certainly has emerged. Let's face it, if Riley doesn't make those plays against Weber State? JMU isn't in Frisco. Period. But back in the regular season nobody would have talked about Riley. As for NDSU … let's go with Nate Tanguay. He gums things up pretty well on the D-line.
Sam: Tough to call him an unsung hero, because we all realize how good he is. But his position certainly doesn’t get much glory. And that’s DL Simeyon Robinson. He’s going to be key in plugging up the middle and stopping NDSU’s run. For the Bison, I’ll say tight end Jeff Illies. NDSU has about four TEs who can hurt you in different ways, but Illies is one of those TE/WR hybrids who can go up and get the ball at 6-foot-3. The Dukes will lock down NDSU’s receivers. But the TEs need to be focused on as well.
Which group will stuggle more because of injuries: NDSU's DBs or JMU's O-line?
— Heckler (@_Heckler) December 18, 2017
Brian: You know, I'm going to go with neither will 'struggle' because of injuries. Regardless of what you think about Sam Houston State as an overall program, they do have a badass quarterback who will play in the NFL and outstanding receivers. NDSU played them well. And JMU's O-line, to me, has found itself, despite losing several players dating back to the summer. I think they both hold up.
Sam: I’ll say JMU’s OL. And that’s because of the pressure the Bison bring on third down that I mentioned above along with JMU wanting to run the ball. Now don’t get me wrong, losing both your starting CBs hurts NDSU. But Marquise Bridges had a career day against SHSU. Along with all-conference safeties Tre Dempsey and Robbie Grimsley back there, the Bison may be able to hold up decently enough for one game in the secondary. The big boys for the Dukes will play just fine against NDSU and I don’t think they’ll struggle. But hey, I gotta give a reason for picking them over NDSU’s DBs for the purpose of the question.
Do we know if South endzone seats will be open and guess percentage breakdown of crowd for each school.
— THEsocalledfan (@GulsethMichael) December 18, 2017
Brian: I'm going with 50/50. This won't be a home game for either team.
Sam: Everything I’ve read and heard is that those seats will be available by the end of 2017. I have yet to see anything that says they won’t be. But it is weird we haven’t heard anything confirmed by the NCAA or Toyota Stadium, as I’m sure they probably know people are asking about it. Judging from the FBS bowl game played there on Dec. 20, the seats are in. It's just a matter if the surrounding construction allows for fans to be in that area.
My guess for the percentage breakdown is 60/40 in favor of NDSU. I give NDSU the edge because some of its fans bought these tickets 2-3 years ago in a bundle package or hit the presale hard in August. No pressure to make it to Frisco, eh Chris Klieman?