The FCS playoffs are underway! We're down to four teams playing to determine a true football national champion.
Who are the top favorites? Who are the long-shots?
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IMPORTANT: This is NOT a ranking of the best teams in the playoffs. The postseason is all about matchups. If your potential second-round game is against NDSU, you're probably not going to be very high on this list. If you get sent to a No. 7 or 8 seed after a first-round win, you have a better chance of advancing further in the playoffs. Just because a team is ranked higher than another team doesn't mean they are better, it just means they have a better opportunity to advance further.
4. Weber State (#3 seed)
I feel a little guilty putting the Wildcats at No. 4 because I think both semifinal games are going to be very competitive. But someone has to be in this spot. Weber's defense looked fantastic, per usual, last week in shutting down Montana's powerful offense. JMU fans certainly still cringe when they hear five interceptions and playoffs in the same sentence. I think the Wildcats have the defense to make this another nail-biting game like it was in 2017 at Bridgeforth Stadium. JMU is on a different level defensively as well. While I don't see the Dukes getting a whole lot of points in this game, I think their offense is better than Weber's.
3. Montana State (#5 seed)
The Bobcats are trending up and playing their best football of the season. The Bison are trending down and are struggling more offensively than they have all season. MSU is playing the type of defense right now to continue knocking NDSU off of its rhythm. The question is what kind of damage can MSU's offense do? The Bison's run defense looked much better last week against Illinois State than it did against Nicholls. Do the Bobcats have the ability to line up in the trenches with the Bison and get a win with a run-heavy attack? Quarterback Tucker Rovig has looked his best in recent games when asked upon. How does he handle a sold-out Fargodome crowd in passing situations? Our official predictions come out later this week. I'm 50/50 on this NDSU-MSU game. For now, the Bison are favored (by a wide margin according to the sportsbooks and by a small margin in my mind).
2. North Dakota State (#1 seed)
As stated above, the Bison are trending down these last few games and MSU is trending up. Some of NDSU's offensive struggles are because of the quality of defenses they're playing. But the Bison are also just not executing at the level they were in September and October. Things won't get much easier with how MSU is playing on defense. And the Bobcats are much, much better offensively than Illinois State. NDSU's best beats MSU's best every time. But that's not how football works. The Bobcats are hot and NDSU is looking like a team we expected to see in early September. It's all about who's playing the best right now. But the Bison are still favored in this game. After that? The Bison need to show me more offensively to suggest they can do enough to defeat JMU in Frisco.
1. James Madison (#2 seed)
I still feel decent about seeing a JMU-NDSU matchup in Frisco. And I still feel that's going to be a 50/50 game. But I switched the Dukes to No. 1 this week because I feel slightly more confident in them beating Weber State than I do NDSU beating Montana State in the semifinals. Now, JMU's offense didn't look the best last weekend either, especially when it came to finishing drives. Some of that is because of the weather and the conservative play-calling. But it was also because of UNI's strong defense. The Dukes can't afford to miss opportunities for points against Weber State and in the potential title game matchup versus the Bison. These are two elite defenses with a bigger offensive threat than what UNI presented. JMU has some huge challenges ahead to win two more games and earn another national title. As it should be this late in the postseason. But to me, the Dukes are the most complete team of the four remaining squads.
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