The FCS playoffs are here. It's crunch time for the remaining teams and in our pick-em challenge.
Overall W/L Records:
Illinois State @ No. 1 North Dakota State
Brian: NDSU 28-10
What Illinois State has done these first two weeks of the postseason has been gutsy, well-planned, you name it. With one hand tied behind its back offensively, and playing staunch defense, the Redbirds have gone farther than they have in the past three seasons. This is a tall order though for Illinois State, as everyone who knows anything about FCS football would agree. Having to be one-dimensional isn't a recipe for success, so it will be interesting to see if ISU pulls out some tricks in this one. Hey, they are well-coached … we'll see if the Redbirds can hang in there for a while.
Sam: NDSU 28-10
This just isn't a good matchup for the Redbirds. To out-Bison the Bison and get a win is such a rare thing to do. The Redbirds were able to bully SEMO and Central Arkansas at the line of scrimmage in their first two playoff wins. While the NDSU interior defensive line may not be at the level it's been at in recent years, running the ball down the Bison's throat just isn't an option. And that's really the only option the Redbirds have offensively.
I don't see ISU having a lot of success against a Bison defense that ranks first in the FCS with 12.3 points allowed per game. But I also don't see a game similar to the one in Normal back in early October where the Bison won 37-3. The Redbirds are playing at a high level on defense that can keep NDSU from pulling away until late in the game. I think ISU eventually runs out of juice on Saturday, though. This is the fourth straight road trip for the Redbirds. This team hasn't had an off week since September 28th. And in the last five games, James Robinson has carried the ball 153 times. Adam Cofield leads the Bison with 139 carries all season. I think the Redbirds will battle and have a gutsy performance, but the Bison put them away in the second half.
Northern Iowa @ No. 2 James Madison
Brian: JMU 30-10
I just can't see Northern Iowa having the fuel for this one, offensively. After maybe a half of a grudge match thanks to two good defenses and potentially sloppy conditions, JMU will break away with this one and force a ton of three-and-outs on defense. This one will eventually break wide open.
Sam: JMU 24-10
The question is how exactly are the Panthers going to score? They scored 17 points in the first-round win against San Diego and 13 points last week at South Dakota State. Those are two quality defenses, but JMU is right on par with the Jacks, if not a little better defensively. Statistically, JMU is third in the FCS with 16.1 points allowed per game and SDSU is sixth with 16.7. UNI's defense is playing at a level where it can keep the team in this game. I don't see the Dukes exploding for a ton of points here, especially when you consider the weather may be a factor. Don't forget the Dukes have a top offense in the FCS as well, though, ranking first with 44.1 points per game. To completely shut down JMU isn't likely, no matter how solid the Panthers are playing on defense.
The Panthers deserve a ton of credit for how they've gutted their way through some key injuries this postseason. But they are running into a team that's not only healthy, but is playing its best football of the season. It'll be too much Dukes Friday night.
No. 6 Montana @ No. 3 Weber State
Brian: Weber 30-28
Home-field advantage, to me this is the biggest thing about this week's game — that it is in Ogden and not in Missoula. If this game is played in Griz territory, I'd go with the Griz, but it's being played Cat territory (the "other" Cat). The truth is, this is a coin-flip kind of game and could go either way … but Montana will not be blowing out Weber State like it did in the regular season, and it won't score 73 points like it did last week, either.
Sam: Montana 27-21
A month ago, the Grizzlies beat Weber State in Missoula 35-16 in a game that was 35-3 midway through the fourth quarter. That was Montana's best performance of the season, up until last week's 73-28 demolition of Southeastern Louisiana. How much does home-field advantage swing this matchup? After all, the Griz are 3-3 on the road with one being at Oregon. The other two saw a 49-22 loss at Sac State and a 48-14 defeat at the hands of Montana State. Weber is tremendous at home, going 7-0 so far this year and 18-2 overall from 2017 to now. It's also important to note that the Wildcats had a high number of injuries to starters in the game against Montana, so it was about as bad of a day as you can ask for.
With Montana QB Dalton Sneed looking back to his normal, healthy, standout self and with the Griz bringing the heat on defense just about every play, I like the Griz here. Last week against Kennesaw State, the Wildcats had to rely on their passing game instead of its usual strong rushing attack, throwing for 243 yards and rushing for 44. Jake Constantine can have good days and some bad days at quarterback. Last week was a good day. But if Montana can take away the run like KSU did and make Constantine beat them, I think the Griz can limit Weber while hitting some big plays on offense against a young secondary to get a narrow win.
Austin Peay @ No. 5 Montana State
Brian: MSU 28-24
I just have a feeling jetlag will take its toll this week with Austin Peay. They've been forced to travel more than 1,600 miles for the second straight week, and this time it's a short week with the game being on Friday night. That's a tall order to ask of anybody. But then again, who would have predicted APSU in the quarterfinals? I think the Governors are going to scrap and claw their way into the fourth quarter, but MSU will put it away late. The home-field advantage is big.
Sam: MSU 21-17
There shouldn't be any worry of the Bobcats looking past an unseeded team coming to their house and toward what lays ahead next week. Austin Peay got everyone's attention by shellacking Sacramento State, the Big Sky's co-champ. But we are at the point in the bracket where fatigue sets in. Teams can downplay that all they want, but hey, do you think Maine loses to EWU 50-19 last year if that game is played in early December? Probably not. The Govs flew from Tennessee to California this previous Saturday. Now they are flying to Montana with one less day of rest/preparation because of the Friday night kickoff.
Now, obviously I'm not picking MSU solely because of this. But I do think it's a factor. The bigger factor is just how hot MSU has been since November. Bobcat fans say this is the best this team has looked in a long, long time. Usually, that's a bit of exaggeration when you take into consideration the whole them being fans thing. But seeing MSU in person at the Brawl of Wild, it's hard to disagree. This team is big, fast, physical, explosive and fundamentally sound. Then you add in the emergence of the passing game last week to what was a top rushing offense in the FCS, and it's going to be a tall task to take down the Bobcats in Bozeman.
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