The FCS playoffs are here. It's crunch time for the remaining teams and in our pick-em challenge.
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Overall W/L Records:
Nicholls @ No. 1 NDSU
Brian: NDSU 30-14
Nicholls has a special senior class, and if the Colonels hadn't drawn the short straw (I.E. – a trip to the Fargodome) I think they'd have what it takes to hit the quarterfinals and do some serious damage in this playoff run. But alas, somebody has to go to Fargo in the second round each year. One thing I'll say about the Colonels though … in the past, they've played their best in the toughest environments. This senior class had Georgia and Kirby Smart on the ropes back in 2016 as freshmen contributors, then the next year went to Texas A&M and was tied with the SEC's Aggies with seven minutes remaining in the game. And last year? Nicholls finally broke through the P5 tangle and knocked off Kansas. On the flip side? Nicholls has lost some head-scratchers in conference play. It'll be interesting to see who shows up in this one.
Sam: NDSU 38-14
Nicholls can make this game interesting with its ability to stop the run and run the football. But the Bison are just on a different level. It would take an uncharacteristic performance from NDSU and a performance of the decade from the Colonels for this upset to happen.
Monmouth @ No. 2 JMU
Brian: JMU 35-14
Monmouth has been one of the great stories of 2019, a testament to coach Kevin Callahan — who began this program in the early 1990s and has brought it so far since. But JMU's run defense is so darned strong (6 rushing TDs allowed in 12 games) and the run game is a big part of what the Hawks do well. On the flip side, JMU is a powerful team offensively who can also deliver via the passing game. First, JMU is going to shut down the run, and when Monmouth has to pass, Ron'Dell Carter and John Daka will show why they're a brutal D-line pincher situation.
Sam: JMU 40-17
Monmouth is one of the better unseeded teams, in my opinion. The Hawks play pretty good defense and are talented on offense. But this isn't a good matchup against the Dukes. Pete Guerriero is a top running back in the FCS. I just don't see the Monmouth offensive line getting a good enough push to get him loose too often. The Dukes have the top run defense in the FCS, allowing 62.8 yards rushing per game and 2.1 yards per attempt. And let's not forget about the JMU offense that is second in the subdivision with 42.3 points per game. The Dukes are way too loaded to lose this early in the bracket.
RELATED: JMU RB Room – Brothers In Prayer
Kennesaw State @ No. 3 Weber State
Brian: Weber 28-10
This is not a knock on Kennesaw State, this is confirmation that Weber State has been one of the top four FCS programs of the past three seasons, along with NDSU, JMU and SDSU. The Wildcats have a winning formula, they run the ball and play defense first and can throw when needed, and there are few programs that execute on special teams like Weber State. It's a winning formula, and I don't think this game will be in doubt, even though KSU may trim the clock a bit.
Sam: Weber 21-10
Weber is ninth in the FCS with 107.3 rushing yards allowed per game. The Wildcats have a freakishly good and physical defensive line, which is needed against an undersized, but athletic Kennesaw offensive line. I don't hate the option offense. I just think there's a ceiling with how far it can take a team in the playoffs. And it's going to be hard to defeat a team like Weber State — known for its tough defense — when you are one dimensional. I do think Kennesaw is good on defense to keep the offense within striking distance. So expect a close game, but a Weber State win.
RELATED: KSU's Murphy Has Become A Star
Austin Peay @ No. 4 Sacramento State
Brian: Sac State 31-21
This one has me perplexed because I'm trying to balance the 6-game win streak of the Governors and the dominance they've shown the last three weeks with the strong showings all year by Sacramento State. Because we rarely get OVC and Big Sky Conference overlap, it's hard to compare these apples and oranges. In general, the Big Sky shows a stronger schedule strength — the computer rankings always point that out. Plus Sacramento State gave two FBS teams a tough time. But APSU has swagger now, has played red-hot down the stretch after some head-scratchers — and it keeps setting program records in style. Don't be surprised if this game is much more competitive than the pundits say it will be. I think this one goes to the fourth quarter before it's clear the Hornets will win.
Sam: Sac State 28-14
The Govs got their first-ever FCS playoff win last week in a dominating 42-6 victory against Furman. Now they face a team who is also eyeing its first FCS postseason win. This is unfamiliar territory for Sac State, the best turnaround story in the country this year. The Hornets have been playing at such a high level for most of this season and having the bye week will be key for standout QB Kevin Thomson to heal after being banged up at the end of the regular season. The APSU defense has been playing well lately, allowing less than 10 points in each of its last three games. I like Sac State's balanced offense to win that battle, though.
RELATED: APSU's JaVaughn Craig Is A Catalyst
Albany @ No. 5 Montana State
Brian: MSU 28-14
Albany has such a bright future, starting with the QB position with redshirt freshman Jeff Undercuffler — who should finish second for the Jerry Rice Award when it is announced soon, behind only NDSU's Trey Lance. But a trip to Bozeman is going to be a tough one for about 98 percent of the FCS (ask Montana about The Brawl of the Wild). Montana State may have some problems at quarterback, but the Bobcats do so many other things well that matter big time in the playoffs (scrappy play, great defense, great run game) that MSU should be good to go for a couple of rounds.
Sam: MSU 24-14
I think this one is going to be close. The Bobcats looked fantastic in the regular-season finale and was playing great football in November. It still is hard to trust what team shows up on Saturday. And Albany is no slouch. The Great Danes come from a power conference and are explosive on offense with redshirt freshman QB Jeff Undercuffler leading the way. But I do think Albany will have trouble scoring against this defense and what should be a loud environment. Albany is OK against the run, ranking 47th in the FCS with 148.2 rushing yards allowed per game. That's the difference to me. I see the Bobcats controlling the clock and grinding out a win.
Southeastern Louisiana @ No. 6 Montana
Brian: Montana 45-38
This one will be the most entertaining offensive shootout of the playoffs, mark that down. The Griz can whip the ball around as well as anybody, but honestly? So can Southeastern Louisiana, just ask Villanova. Look for a high-scoring, crazy, high-powered night of energy and atmosphere in Missoula, Mont. And also, look for QB Chason Virgil's name to get even more well known among FCS fans after this one — SE Louisiana has been lucky to have him since he came over from Fresno State. If you like points, tune in.
Sam: Montana 41-31
Which Lions team shows up? The one from the first half of last week's win against Villanova, or the one in the second half that mounted a big comeback? Which Montana team shows up? The won that beat No. 3 Weber State 35-16 on Nov. 16, or the one that lost 48-14 to Montana State a week later? Expect a lot of big plays in this one. But with a couple of weeks off and with the great home-field advantage, I'm leaning the Griz in this one.
UNI @ No. 7 SDSU
Brian: SDSU 28-10
Hey, they played a few weeks ago, in Brookings, with similar injury situations to what they'll be dealing with this weekend. I just can't see much changing here in those few weeks. I don't think it'll be as bad a blowout, but the result will be the same.
Sam: SDSU 21-10
Both offenses have struggled in their last games with injuries to key players. Both defenses have stepped up and played lights out. So we're likely looking at a classic, physical MVFC battle. I don't expect a 38-7 type of game that we saw when UNI visited SDSU in mid-November. If the Jacks get some of their running backs like C.J. Wilson or Pierre Strong Jr. back and healthy, and the offensive line has one of their good days, SDSU should get a win.
Illinois State @ No. 8 UCA
Brian: UCA 21-17
Man oh man did I almost audible on this pick from what I had on my original pre-playoffs bracket (I have Central Arkansas moving on). I was so impressed with how Illinois State showed up last week, pretty much announced "this is who we are, now stop it" and then proceeded to bulldoze a strong SEMO team on its own turf. Look, there's the potential for that to happen again. This game is an absolute tossup because James Robinson is a beast at running back for the Redbirds. But I'm going to say it now … UCA QB Breylin Smith is a cool and calm leader and passing-game conductor, and I think he's the difference. Illinois State won't make it easy on him and it'll be a tough game into the fourth quarter, but Breylin will be the difference at home as the Bears make it to the quarterfinals.
Sam: ISU 24-21
Can UCA stop the run? That's really what this game comes down to. Illinois State is great on defense, ranking fifth in the FCS with 16.7 points allowed per game. UCA can be explosive on offense, but I don't see the Bears racking up TDs on the Redbirds. So the question is can the Bears stop a Redbirds offense that is doing a majority of its damage on the ground? In a 24-6 first-round win against SEMO, ISU threw the ball seven times and rushed it 59 times for 340 yards. James Robinson had 41 of those carries for 297 yards. In the playoffs, if you can't be physical, you're in trouble. We'll see if the Redbirds can prove that to be true for the second straight week.
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