It's officially championship week!
So what's going to happen? Will the Dakota Dynasty continue? Or will the Eagles take over the throne?
[divider]EWU VS. NDSU
- Betting Spread For The Title Game
- 10 Prop Bets
- 5 Key Matchups
- EWU vs. NDSU By The Numbers
- NDSU And EWU NFL Ties
In the semifinals, I made a major mistake — I thought NDSU would be distracted by the massive news that week about its coaching change. There was really no other reason I thought the Bison would be derailed from winning another national title, but I felt strongly that losing your coach midweek would be just the massive emotional roller coaster ride that could derail even the mighty Bison.
Before that? Back in January, I thought NDSU would win this year's national title. In August, I still thought NDSU would win this year's national title. When the playoffs began, I still … well, you get the point.
But when Chris Klieman took the Kansas State job and the Bison were playing a team (SDSU) that had pressured them earlier this season, and also had beaten them twice in the past three seasons — including once in the Fargodome — I thought this might be the perfect storm.
This team is too experienced, too balanced, too fundamentally sound to lose this year. These guys are grinders, they win the right way (not flashy), and nobody is going to get in their way — even a talented Eastern Washington side that has had many of the exact same characteristics in 2018.
The Bison are efficient as hell, well-coached and would have beaten two-thirds of this year's FBS bowl-bound teams (at least). Nobody in the FCS was supposed to touch them this year, and nobody will.
NDSU 35, EWU 14
[divider]Coaches Corner: Hear from EWU's Best and NDSU's Klieman [divider]
I'll start with a positive for EWU. I think Eric Barriere is a fantastic quarterback and I sang his praises earlier this year.
Now I'll quickly turn negative. Because I do believe NDSU has a significant advantage having three weeks to game plan for a sophomore quarterback compared to a senior quarterback like Gage Gubrud.
While I think the Eagles are tougher to defend with the dynamic Barriere behind center, there's also the experience factor.
What kind of checks can Barriere make at the line of scrimmage? Is the play call from the sideline going to be the play they run? How does he react when he sees a pre-snap picture of the defense that he hasn't seen on film?
All of this is an advantage for NDSU's veteran defense that's among the best in the FCS not only statistically, but also in game planning and in-game adjustments. I can see EWU scoring early. I can also see the Eagles getting an explosive 50-plus yard touchdown at some point in the game. But I don't see them consistently moving the chains against this NDSU defense for four quarters.
That will put pressure on the EWU defense to play its best game of the year. The Eagles have massively improved on that side of the ball to a level that has made this team a legit national title contender. But it's still not a group that strikes fear in you like a Colgate, James Madison or NDSU. It's a solid, but not an elite defense (which is fine when your offense averages 44.5 PPG) that ranks 20th in the FCS with 21.6 points allowed a game and 60th with 385.6 yards allowed per game.
Yes, some of those numbers are inflated with games against Washington State and the offenses in the Big Sky. But there should be some concern on how well this defense can contain the Bison offense (6th in the FCS with 41.7 PPG) for four quarters.
EWU has all the ingredients needed to defeat NDSU — a balanced offense that spreads a defense out with a mobile quarterback and a physical defense. I also said the same thing about South Dakota State in the semifinals.
The NDSU defensive line was too much to handle for SDSU while both the Jacks and the Eagles have a banged-up defense.
EWU is a tremendous football team. There are also arguments that this NDSU team could be one of the best in this subdivision's history. So my score prediction has less to do with EWU and more to do with just how loaded (and healthy) the 2018 Bison are.
NDSU 41, EWU 21