TGIF! It's the first week of the playoffs. Let's predict some scores.
In a lot of ways, Round 1 of the playoffs are Brand Names v. Upstarts. Saturday should be an interesting referendum on the state of FCS Football. Who will advance in 2018 — the traditional powers that be, or the
On to our eight first-round playoff games!
Game of the Week: Delaware at James Madison
Chase: JMU 37, Delaware 9
Delaware has some well-publicized issues at quarterback, and a game against JMU's defense isn't the ideal time to have a hobbled offense. I think an angry JMU team could smash UD. I feel pretty bad for Delaware. The Hens were dealt a really bad hand here.
Sam: JMU 34, Delaware 14
The Blue Hens might run into a buzz saw Saturday. JMU will obviously be fired up and ready to prove something. But even if this were a typical regular-season game, I'd predict the same score because I don't think Delaware matches up well with the Dukes.
Brian: JMU 30, Delaware 6
James Madison's ticked-off persona coupled with Delaware's problems with the quarterback position don't bode well for the Blue Hens, and I don't think truly are indicative of what would have happened if these two teams had played in the middle of the regular season. Tune in for this one, folks. This will be a preview of years of 'rivalry' to come, but Saturday's game may not be pretty.
Chase: Jacksonville State 24, ETSU 17
This is actually a really intriguing game. JSU looks young, talented and hungry, but the program as a whole has underachieved in the playoffs. Meanwhile, ETSU is making its post-revival playoff debut, but the Bucs have never quite looked like a convincing top-20 team. These two teams bring all sorts of interesting contradictory narratives to the table. For my money, I think JSU is too athletic to lose this game, but how many times have we said that before?
Sam: Jacksonville State 31, ETSU 21
This is one of the more interesting matchups. We'll get to see just how good this ETSU team can be. Meanwhile, will the Gamecocks finally get over their playoff hump? I don't trust the consistency of this team, but I think JSU can sustain its hot play from last week.
Brian: Jacksonville State 28, ETSU 14
ETSU is one of the best stories of the 2018 season. Only four years into their rebirth, the Bucs have "found a way to win" eight times, winning close ones late thanks to a senior core we dubbed "The Granite Boys" because they've stood firm together for so long now (since 2014). If this game is close? I might give the edge to ETSU, but JSU has played very good defense in recent weeks, and QB Zerrick Cooper has warmed up. If this game was being played in early October? I'd reverse this pick.
Chase: Montana State 34, Incarnate Word 13
I like Jon Copeland. UIW is a fun little team to watch. But this team hasn't beaten a team outside of the Southland all year. How am I supposed to know that the Cardinals are any good?
Sam: Montana State 31, Incarnate Word 14
Not only is the team from Texas not going to be used to the Montana weather, it's also not going to be used to MSU's style of play. This is a more hit-you-in-the-mouth team than the Southland offers. I think the Bobcats' ground game rolls here.
Brian: Montana State 28, Incarnate Word 10
Kudos to coach Eric Morris and UIW on an incredible turnaround at Incarnate Word. The first year coach took a young team and turned it around quickly and won a share of the Southland Conference and got into the playoffs. The same kudos go to Jeff Choate and the Bobcats for their first playoff appearance in years. Things are looking up in Bozeman, and the 'Cats should be celebrating this weekend.
Chase: Northern Iowa 35, Lamar 16
Lamar has one of the longest winning streaks of any first-round playoff team, and UNI is a little banged up right now, so I want to give it a chance… but I just can't do it. Historically, SLC teams get smashed in this spot.
Sam: Northern Iowa 51, Lamar 17
The Panthers are awesome at home, taking it to NDSU for three quarters and beating SDSU. The gap in talent and physicality is going to be evident here.
Brian: Northern Iowa 24, Lamar 7
Since September, all Lamar has done is win. You have to give the Cardinals credit there, knocking off six teams in a row. The problem here is that the slate Lamar faced doesn't touch the slate that 6-win Northern Iowa faced. Keep in mind, at home at UNI? The Panthers knocked off seeded South Dakota State convincingly and hung 31 points on North Dakota State — their only loss at home. UNI has been shaky on the road, but not at home. This one won't be close.
[divider]THE FCS MAILBAG: Who ya Got — North Dakota State or the Field?
Chase: Towson 45, Duquesne 24
Towson's defense isn't going to shut too many teams down, so Duquesne will score some points here. But Tom Flacco is going to run wild against an NEC defense, and that'll be the difference maker in this game.
Sam: Towson 41, Duquesne 21
Towson is a really good football team and probably better than its showing against JMU. At one point, we were talking about them as a potential seed. I really like Towson here.
Brian: Towson 28, Duquesne 14
Towson faced a tough slate down the stretch in the CAA and took some lumps, but make no mistake this is an outstanding ballclub. Instead of James Madison or Delaware getting NEC champion Duquesne in the first round, the Tigers got the Dukes — who early this year were tough enough to give FBS Hawaii hell several timezones away. Towson would be wise not to overlook this team, but should move on to South Dakota State.
Chase: Nicholls 24, San Diego 21
San Diego has played very admirably in the first round the last couple of years, but I'm going to back Nicholls as the winner here.
Sam: Nicholls 38, San Diego 27
San Diego isn't quite at the same level as the previous two teams that won playoff games, especially defensively. Nicholls is a veteran team that won't look down on the Toreros and down play to their level.
Brian: Nicholls 35, San Diego 28
It was tempting to go with the sexy pick here in San Diego, which has been the posterboy for upstart, don't-give-a-damn what you say about us football. The Toreros don't have scholarships. So what? They beat scholie teams and put players in the NFL anyway. Nicholls on the flip side can go toe-to-toe with SEC teams and other P5s but then sometimes slip up when the game isn't on as large a stage. But I think Nicholls is more mature these days and will take San Diego very seriously — as it should.
Chase: Elon 17, Wofford 14
I feel like Elon is in horrible position to win this game. And you know what? I seem to think that a lot. And Cignetti's team just keeps winning. So even though pretty much everything points to a Wofford win, I'm backing the Phoenix. They just keep proving me wrong.
Sam: Wofford 17, Elon 14
Elon is limping its way into the playoffs and on a two-game losing streak. They can still play well defensively, but I think Wofford has just enough talent offensively and the overall playoff experience to pull out a win.
Brian: Elon 21, Wofford 17
This game had me tossing and turning. If Elon is at full strength? I don't even question this pick — Elon all the way based on body of work this year. But with Elon hobbling, this is clearly a 50-50 matchup on paper. Wofford has a culture of winning while the Phoenix have also found themselves in 2017-18. I was really impressed with Elon's near win in the finale at Maine.
[divider]MORE PLAYOFFS: The Most Dangerous Unseeded Teams
Chase: Stony Brook 24, SEMO 20
Before the bracket was announced, Stony Brook and SEMO were two of my playoff sleepers. Unfortunately, both teams got matched up in the first round, and the draw gets tougher next week. I'm bummed I have to pick against one of them here, but I'm going with Stony Brook here for a couple reasons. I think the rivalry loss to Albany was probably a humbling, rage-inducing kind of loss. I also think SBU is deeper and has the more reliable formula for winning in November and December. The Seawolves play are the Valley-est team in the CAA, and that should serve them well in the playoffs.
Sam: Stony Brook 24, SEMO 17
Brian: SEMO 17, Stony Brook 14
This game tore me up more than any other. Stony Brook is the team that scared the dickens out of James Madison, but fell to Albany in its finale. SEMO is a team that tripped up with the OVC on the line, but destroyed what is turning out to be a pretty solid Jacksonville State team. While SEMO tends to be a solid offensive team, I think this game will be lower scoring. To me, this is a tossup. SEMO needs to bow up in this one.
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