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:
No. 5 Montana State @ No. 1 North Dakota State
Brian: NDSU 17-10
Of the two FCS semifinal matchups, I think NDSU has its hands full more than James Madison does. Just my opinion. Montana State is more complete than Weber State's wounded offensive lineup. This will not be a re-enactment of last year's blowout MSU playoff win by the Bison when they had an entirely different group of three-year (or more) seasoned players crushing everybody in the FCS. This is way more comparable, and that's not a bad thing. This should be a true battle, and Montana State continues to build itself back into the national picture as it should be. I'll be honest … I still can't believe the Cats are in the semifinals for the first time since I was 9-years old (1984). I have gray hair. It doesn't add up, but it also tells you how much this is going to mean to MSU. Watch out NDSU, I'm just sayin'. Don't overlook this one, which I'd doubt any semifinalist would.
Sam: NDSU 24-21
Montana State is playing its best football of the season right now. Meanwhile, the Bison have had their struggles offensively for three straight games, and that's pretty clear to see not only on the stat sheet but to the eye. That's a credit to the defenses they've faced, yes. But NDSU is lacking the execution and the explosion it showed in September and October. The Bobcats are right there with Illinois State defensively. And they are much better than the Redbirds offensively. So I think this is going to be a battle. The MSU offensive and defensive lines need to be able to match up with the Bison. Their play this season suggests they can. We'll see for sure once the game is underway, though. And we'll see if that's the case for all four quarters. Last year (a 52-10 second-round win for NDSU), it wasn't even close. If the Bobcats can hold their own in the trenches, that's going to be absolutely key.
MSU has the type of running game that can give NDSU trouble. It's not just running it right up the gut. The Bobcats have so many different weapons and so many different ways they run the ball. But you still need balance. With Tucker Rovig looking comfortable at quarterback, MSU now has that good offensive balance. How does he perform in front of a sold-out Fargodome crowd on passing situations, though? If Rovig is off, MSU is going to have a hard time beating the Bison by just running the ball. Elite quarterback play is the difference between competing with the Bison and beating the Bison. The Bobcats aren't there yet in the passing game. I think NDSU figures things out on offense and does enough to get a win while the defense has a bend-but-don't break type of game against the Bobcats.
RELATED: NDSU vs. MSU By The Numbers
RELATED: Q&A With Montana State’s Derek Marks
No. 3 Weber State @ No. 2 James Madison
Brian: JMU 20-7
I think the Dukes are greatly aided by a couple of things here … No. 1, so many of their stud players haven't just been in these "playoff pressure" shoes, they've been in Frisco shoes. A few of them have done it twice in Texas. This is an upperclassmen heavy program that is hellbent to prove the Dukes are going to win another national title (my Natty pick in June in the preseason, my Natty pick for the bracket in Nov.). I think this Weber State team is looking for its identity offensively after superstar Josh Davis was hobbled last weekend, even though this stud did still come back and grind it out and catch a key TD pass (he is only a sophomore, folks … yikes). I just can't see how Weber State can score a whole lot at JMU, unless of course … JMU makes mistakes or WSU's outstanding special teams unit and defense put points on the board. Folks, this is football, that is possible and WSU does this well. But my guess? JMU sucks the oxygen out of this game and begins planning for Frisco and NDSU.
Sam: JMU 24-10
I just don't see how Weber State is going to score enough points to win this game. Now, the Wildcats have the defense and special teams to keep this game interesting, but I see a slow burn for a double-digit JMU victory. The Dukes are just so dominant on defense and suffocating in the run game. When you factor in Weber State standout RB Josh Davis nursing a leg injury, the ground game is unlikely to get going. And the Wildcats aren't necessarily comfortable winning games with their passing attack, although they did it in the second round versus Kennesaw State.
JMU has the balance on offense to counter what Weber State takes away. The Dukes can lean on the run if they have to, but can also hit a big play in the passing game if the defense is creeping closer to the line of scrimmage. Again, Weber has the defense and special teams to make this game interesting. I just think the Weber defense is going to be spending a lot of time on the field, and eventually, JMU breaks the game open in the fourth quarter.
RELATED: JMU vs. Weber By The Numbers
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