The FCS playoffs are here. It's crunch time for the remaining teams and in our pick-em challenge.
[divider]MORE FCS FOOTBALL:
Overall W/L Records:
North Dakota @ Nicholls
Brian: Nicholls 32-27
The difference in this ballgame, to me, is that Nicholls is senior-laden, has a great quarterback and is playing at home (where it went 4-1 this year with its most decisive win, a 20-point victory over No. 8 FCS Playoff seed Central Arkansas). The Colonels come in having not lost in more than a month, and though UND played a much tougher FCS slate … Nicholls gets it done.
Sam: Nicholls 28-24
I do think home-field advantage is a big deal in this one. Last season, seven of the eight first-round winners were at home. UND hasn't played well on the road with a 1-4 record. Nicholls is 4-1 at home. I like the experience of the Colonels, with several multi-year starters who have been in the playoffs before. UND hasn't exactly blown me away with its last two performances to end the regular season against Southern Utah and Northern Colorado. Plus, the status of top WR Noah Wanzek is still uncertain after he was knocked out of last week's game and was on the sideline with a sling.
Illinois State @ Southeast Missouri State
Brian: ISU 27-24
This is a total 50-50 game, mainly because Illinois State comes in fighting the injury bug. But the Redbirds have played staunch defense all year against a tough slate. I just have the feeling ISU will black-and-blue its way to a win in this one. I do think they'll have to overcome a turnover or two to win this, but they'll get just enough offense (hello James Robinson) to overcome Zach Hall and the Redhawks. Tune into this one, it could go either way.
Sam: SEMO 21-10
Illinois State just doesn't have it offensively. It was already an OK unit throughout this season, but then starting quarterback Brady Davis suffered a season-ending injury. The Redbirds lost last week 21-3 at YSU. Bryce Jefferson and Jack Baltz (both freshman) went a combined 3-16 passing for 30 yards and three interceptions. ISU will have to win this game by running the ball. SEMO is strong against the run, allowing just 138 rushing yards per game, which is in the top third of the FCS. I don't see a lot of points in this one as the Redbirds are solid defensively as well. I give the edge offensively to the Redhawks, though.
Central Connecticut State @ Albany
Brian: Albany 28-21
Statistically, CCSU is No. 2 in the county in FCS total defense, and also is 11-0 against this level. But this will easily be the biggest test in the FCS for CCSU. Albany has looked stable down the stretch, going 5-1 in the last six CAA games. Once again, we're looking at a coin-flip affair here, and as Towson found out last year — do not overlook an NEC champ when you're a CAA team.
Sam: CCSU 21-17
I've had the mindset for a while now that CCSU is going to knock off a CAA team in the first round. The Blue Devils are 11-0 against the FCS and would have beaten FBS Eastern Michigan had it not been for a late blocked punt returned for a touchdown. This team is legit, especially defensively where it allows just 18.3 points per game. I believe CCSU can contain QB Jeff Undercuffler and the Albany offense.
Furman @ Austin Peay
Brian: APSU 30-27
Austin Peay is pumped up about hosting an FCS Playoff game this weekend — its first-ever in school history in 42 seasons being at this level. Furman will be a serious challenge to APSU moving on to play Sacramento State next weekend, but we'll see just enough of the Javaughn Craig-Kentel Williams-DeAngelo Wilson juggernaut on offense to overcome what usually is a pretty staunch Furman offense.
Sam: APSU 31-24
I wasn't sold on Furman making the playoff field and I'm not sold on the Paladins winning this game. Austin Peay has had a historic season and I don't see it ending this soon. The Govs are 5-1 at home. And Furman has cooled off in my mind since almost knocking two FBS opponents earlier this season and was handled by Wofford 24-7 a couple of weeks ago.
Kennesaw State @ Wofford
Brian: Wofford 28-21
Two option teams fighting for the same time of possession oxygen. This matchup happened last year too, and Kennesaw State survived at home in the second round with a senior-laden roster. This time, it's Wofford that has the senior-laden roster with the home-field advantage. Will this game be over in two hours? Just kidding (sort of).
Sam: Wofford 24-21
Wofford has a ton of experience on its team and is playing like its Top 10 preseason rankings after a slow start. The Terriers have beaten eight straight FCS opponents. To me, this is the strongest FCS team Kennesaw has faced this year. And the last time the Owls faced a good FCS team it resulted in a 45-21 November loss to Monmouth. I don't see any of these triple-option offenses pulling away from the other for a decisive win, but I do give the edge to Wofford here.
Villanova @ Southeastern Louisiana
Brian: Nova 28-24
This is another tricky contest. Think SE Louisiana is a team to overlook because it is at 7 wins and Villanova is at 9? Think again. The Lions challenged themselves out of conference and looked good, and then had an incredible result against No. 8 playoff seed Central Arkansas, winning 34-0 on the road. But on the flip side, Nova gave James Madison fits in Virginia, even without its stud running back Justin Covington. This should be a good one, folks (I feel like I'm repeat saying this with the first-round picks).
Sam: Nova 21-20
SLU ended the regular season in heartbreaking fashion against Nicholls. The team will have to put that behind them quickly as Villanova comes to town, a squad that had an argument to be a playoff seed. The Wildcats ended the regular season on a three-game winning streak. I expect a physical battle between these two teams. Nova's offense has shown a little bit more explosion to me, and that's where I give the Wildcats a small, small edge. This should be one of the better first-round games.
San Diego @ Northern Iowa
Brian: UNI 28-14
San Diego is the king of the giant killers, as evidenced by its two playoff wins over Big Sky opponents in 2016 and 2017. But last year at Nicholls it was a bit different in the first round, as the Colonels really had control of things by halftime. I have a feeling this game will go a bit more like that since UNI plays good, solid MVFC defense usually. UNI lost to three of the FCS seeds and took P5 Iowa State to OT, that's all I need to hear.
Sam: UNI 27-24
I have seen UNI feels like it got snubbed from a playoff seed. I don't really understand that. UNI and SDSU have identical resumes and the Jacks beat UNI 38-7 two weeks ago. I don't necessarily think the Jacks should've been a seed after their performance against South Dakota, but I don't see the argument of how UNI should have jumped them. The bracket is set up where UNI will go back to Brookings with a win Saturday. But the Panthers better not be licking their chops for that game and overlooking San Diego. This may very well be San Diego's best team, and this is a program that won first-round games in 2016 and 2017 against Big Sky programs. It doesn't matter that the Toreros are non-scholarship. They routinely send guys to the NFL and have pro prospects on their team right now. I believe this game will be much closer than some people think, just like last year's first-round game where UNI squeaked by Lamar at home when most thought it'd be a blowout. But the Panthers are getting healthy and if they play up to their ability, this should still be a win.
Holy Cross @ Monmouth
Brian: Monmouth 21-14
People discount Holy Cross but they shouldn't. Yes, this Patriot League team went 7-5, but it played two FBS teams, beat a CAA (playoff bubble team New Hampshire) and also played three Ivy League teams. There were no non-conference creampuffs. That's why I think HC will make this a ballgame and keep Monmouth from running away with things. But overall, I think Monmouth is the better team and will win a close game.
Sam: Monmouth 35-17
Monmouth is rolling right now and has scored 45 points or more in its final four regular-season games. There is solid experience on this well-balanced team that plays good defense and can hurt you in multiple ways offensively. Holy Cross has been competitive with some good teams, but I do think the Patriot League is down this year. I see the Hawks winning comfortably in this one.
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