Welcome to the HERO Sports FCS Mailbag, FCS playoffs quarterfinal edition. FCS writers Brian McLaughlin and Sam Herder take questions each and every week on Twitter and give in-depth answers here in the mailbag. Tweet them both at @BrianMacWriter and @TheHerd215 to get your questions answered!
@MattRatchenski: looking at the bracket, do you not think this next week is the biggest challenge? Wofford challenged us last time.
Brian: Honestly I'm beginning to think Kennesaw State may be a mega challenge for for North Dakota State should the Owls survive the trip to Sam Houston State — which I think they will. The Owls are stout on defense, suck the air out of the clock on offense, and they actually beat the lone FCS team that beat Wofford (Samford).
The Owls don't have the history of going into a place like the Fargodome, but they have the style that could give the Bison an even better game than Wofford. So I'd give the edge to a potential Kennesaw semifinal game … over a Wofford quarterfinal game .. as a tougher matchup prior to Frisco.
Sam: When the bracket came out, I did say Wofford looks to be the toughest test on the Bison’s side. And I’m sticking to that. If NDSU wins, I don’t see SHSU or Kennesaw State coming to the Fargodome and getting a win.
Wofford matches up well with NDSU. The Terriers will be able to stop the inside run and pressure Easton Stick on third-and-long. And defensively, the Bison rarely face an option team like they will Saturday morning. The speed of how things develop in the option may take a bit to adjust to.
Other than Briscoe @ SHSU, who do you see as the next Carson Wentz from the FCS?
— Mark Ahrens (@MarkAhrens) December 4, 2017
Brian: Richmond's Kyle Lauletta is absolutely shooting up the charts after the individual season he had. The Spiders struggled a bit at 6-5, but it wasn't because Lauletta wasn't producing — and they played a brutal FCS schedule. Keep an eye on Kyle. He is a superb FCS quarterback who shredded Virginia last year (337 yds, 3 TDs, 24 of 35) and he's only gotten better since that win over the ACC's Cavaliers.
Briscoe is legit, and Lauletta is another FCS quarterback to keep an eye on in the draft. And next year? Easton Stick is a guy to talk about to begin with.
Sam: I don’t really see any FCS quarterbacks getting drafted other than Briscoe these next two years. Although some NFL Draft sites believe Stick has a chance in the later rounds, but that might be more of NDSU’s system and Wentz’s success in the pros. If I had to pick one though, I think Lauletta has a chance to improve his stock this offseason.
What does Weber State have to do to get the upset on Friday?
— Jacob Christensen (@JAKECHR1STENSEN) December 3, 2017
Brian: Weber State can hang with James Madison, and we're going to say that all week long. The Wildcats have the ability to shut down JMU's rushing attack, they can control the clock and they have one of the top secondaries in terms of defensive pass efficiency. This is not a Big Sky team coming into Harrisonburg hoping to outscore JMU — which is never going to work. This is a Big Sky power that does a lot of things just like JMU. So here's the formula: DO NOT commit turnovers. That recipe will not work for either team in this game.
Prepare for a 17-10 or 14-9 type of game — unless there are turnovers or one or two massive special teams plays that break a team out of the close game. Weber State has extremely dangerous return men in the kick and punt games, and they have one of the best FCS kickers in the nation. This is going to be one of those pure defensive/special teams slobber knockers on a chilly night.
Sam: The Wildcats match up well with JMU. Both play a physical brand of football. But to knock off the Dukes, Weber State is going to have to play its best game of the season and hope to throw JMU out of rhythm. I do think the Wildcats can hold the Dukes to under 21 points. The question is can the offense score more than that on the country’s top defense.
The key, in my opinion, is going to be Stefan Cantwell making plays with his feet. He won’t be able to throw the ball all over this JMU secondary. But if he can extend drives running the ball, he’ll keep his team in the game. Defensively, Stony Brook was able to get to JMU quarterback Bryan Schor several times for pressures or sacks. If the Wildcats can take advantage of the Dukes' offensive line and bring heat on Schor, JMU's offense may put its defense in bad positions.
What effect do you believe mustaches have on the outcome of playoff games? Follow-up: If there’s an effect and both teams have mustaches, what is the distinguishing factor or attribute that leads to a win? #PlayoffMustache
— North Dakota Tough (@The_Bison_Logo) December 3, 2017
Brian: Since I couldn't grow a mustache to save my life (thanks Dad and Grandpop for the genetics) I wouldn't know. But if both teams have them? I think if you go with the Rollie Fingers waxed handle bar mustache factor leads to victories. And if you don't know who Rollie Fingers is, well, go get a dictionary. Oh, wait a minute…..
Sam: I assume this is in regards to the NDSU players talking about their playoff mustaches after the San Diego win. I’m usually not a fan of teams doing stuff to their appearance during the postseason. (High school football teams that dye their hair blonde for the state tournament are the worst). I’d lean toward a team with better beards than mustaches if I’m being honest. But usually the football team with better football players wins the football game 😉
@BradyV99: After the play you saw yesterday. Any chance JMU and NDSU don't meet in Frisco?
Brian: Oh yeah, it could definitely happen that the two don't get there. I think JMU's path is a bit tougher with Weber State this weekend and a very talented South Dakota State likely coming next weekend in the semifinals. NDSU has a clearer path, actually, but there's the potential they could get tested by two straight Triple Option offenses in Wofford and Kennesaw, or by Sam Houston State QB Jeremiah Briscoe next weekend — but that's an easier route than JMU's.
Sam: There’s definitely a chance the FCS “dream matchup” doesn’t happen. I believe Wofford is going to be NDSU’s biggest challenge on this side of the bracket. JMU is going to have a physical battle with Weber State and the potential showdown with SDSU might be a 50/50 game. We could be in for some surprises, which seems to happen every year.
Besides their stud DB, Taron Johnson, who are some other difference makers to know on the Damian Lillards? Is this yet another 3-4 D team JMU has to play? Where do they recruit from? Many PAC 12 txfers or do they develop HS talent?
I NEED ANSWERS jQuery1720649568783432751_1512704862719??♂️????♂️????♂️
— Michael Evangelista (@Michael_2Clutch) December 3, 2017
Brian: We had a chance to ask coach Jay Hill this exact question. With Weber State you're going to want to watch their two return men, Shaheed in the KR game and Harry in the PR game. Andrew Vollert is their leading receiver at the TE position and began his career starting at San Jose State. He will likely be drafted on day three. And yes, Taron Johnson is "super trending" right now as a shutdown CB.
They don't get a slew of Pac 12 transfers, and yes they do develop HS talent. A lot of the skill kids come from California — which is how a lot of Big Sky teams do it. But the big blue-collar men up front? Try Utah and Idaho and Nevada. Tough outdoors type guys.
Sam: It looks as though Brian summed this question up quite well and got to talk to coach Hill about it. As far as a difference maker, definitely watch for Vollert. His one-handed grab down the field against Western Illinois shows how big-time of a receiving threat he is.
Does Weber St have any chance?
— Charlie Osborn (@oZZyND) December 3, 2017
Brian: Absolutely it does, see the above. Very much so.
Sam: For sure. I’m not sure if we know how good this team is until we see them match up with the top team in the country. They took down a MVFC team in the first round and then won decisively against a Big Sky foe. We’ll see how that stacks up against the Dukes.
Which team impressed you the most in their win last week and rides the wave of momentum into the quarters?
— Joshua Pfau (@silentp34) December 4, 2017
Brian: Aside from the usual frontrunning suspects, I'll go with Kennesaw State. The Owls have hit a stride. To hold the No. 3 seed Jacksonville State to 7 points and squeeze them like that was impressive, and I think it's a hint of things to come. This team only has 12 seniors on the roster.
Sam: Weber State has the most impressive win in the second round. But it’s Kennesaw State who has a ridiculous amount of momentum right now. Confidence and some swagger is so important in football. The Owls are going to go to SHSU and believe they can win. And several people are predicting for them to advance to the semifinals.
Shouldn’t we just let @JMUFootball and NDS get it on and save the time !!
— James Levy (@JamesLevy3) December 4, 2017
Brian: Not so fast, my friend. Keep a close eye on Weber State, South Dakota State and Kennesaw State. They may have something to say about that.
Sam: Each year, there’s always a popular pick when predicting who makes the title game. Besides NDSU (who everyone seems to pick to make Frisco each season), it was Eastern Washington last year. It was Illinois State in 2015. In 2014 it was New Hampshire and in 2013 it was Eastern Washington or Eastern Illinois.
None of those teams ended up making Frisco. Maybe this year the popular matchup prediction will actually happen. But maybe there’s a surprise on one side of the bracket.
Can @kennesawstfb keep up their run? If so, what would it take to win against NDSU?
— Drake Dalton (@DrizzyDalton87) December 4, 2017
Brian: We talked to the Owls this week, and got a feel for what Coach Bo and the program have done in the first three years of the program's history. This team is tough, physical and schemes extremely well. You had better be disciplined, not just athletic, if you want to keep them from smothering you on both sides of the ball.
Now, North Dakota State is exactly that … disciplined and physical. So that would make for one helluva matchup. NDSU has been known to squeeze the life out of the fancy offensive juggernauts. But KSU can do it too. That'd be a big one if it were to happen next week.
Sam: While I predict SHSU will win, I do think KSU has a great shot to win this game. If the Owls can find a way to slow down SHSU's offense and limit them to under 30 points, they can pull off another upset. Keeping a team to under 30 points seems easy until you face the Bearkats offense. But KSU has the offense to milk to clock and keep Briscoe off the field.
As far as playing a potential game against NDSU: The Fargodome is no joke, and the option offense is all about timing and rhythm. Noise can often be a disrupter. A lot of teams come into the Dome in the playoffs and shrug off the noise's impact. But it's evident every time a team plays there for the first, it takes some adjusting to. If KSU were to knock off the Bison, it'd be because of a fast start and not getting rattled. And that's easier said then done, no matter how many times a player says the noise didn't impact the offense.
Who wins? New Hampshire or SD State?
— Pat Tiefenthaler (@tief_24) December 4, 2017
Brian: South Dakota State. No question. New Hampshire arguably shouldn't have even made the playoffs, but that Central Arkansas win certainly was scrappy. One thing you can always say about UNH — their kids are rawbone, tough as hell and play pretty scrappy defense most of the time (except against Holy Cross for some reason). But now they're facing one of the big boys.
Sam: If Northern Iowa can’t keep it within single digits, then I don’t think UNH can. I see the Jacks rolling by a few touchdowns.
Who has the best shot of exposing JMU's defense? We saw Carbone, who only had 3 INTs on the season, throw 5 on Saturday.
— DukeDogNation (@DukeDogNation) December 3, 2017
Brian: I'll go with South Dakota State here, even over a potential NDSU game in Frisco. If Weber State beats JMU this weekend, it'll be because of big-time play on defense and maybe a return for a TD or something on special teams. NDSU would be more balanced. The only team I can see possibly hanging 28 or more points on JMU is South Dakota State.
This is based more on how the Jackrabbits have played since mid-October. But remember, Youngstown State and Northern Iowa did shut them down earlier this year. My only measuring stick for saying how much SDSU has improved is how it went to being held to the teens by UNI in the regular season in Brookings, to beating the Panthers and nearly hitting the 40-point mark in Brookings this past week. This offense has found itself.
Sam: I’d say SDSU is the lone offense in the FCS that can find consistent success against the JMU secondary. Even with all-conference and all-American players all across the secondary, stopping NFL Draft prospects Jake Wieneke and Dallas Goedert is such a tall order. Add in quarterback Taryn Christion, the MVFC Offensive Player of the Year last season, and the Jacks have the type of explosive offense that can take down JMU.
@BrianMacWriter how much of a chance do you give Wofford, and who has the advantage for an 11am kickoff?
— John (@johnengel23) December 4, 2017
Brian: The thing I've always loved about Wofford is how it does the non-sexy things well — defense, special teams, clock management. They're not going to throw for 400 yards on you, but they can make big plays when it matters. I'm not going to give Wofford a huge chance because they've struggled to score a lot of points against better competition. I think NDSU is on par with South Carolina, and S.C. shut Wofford down. And advantage with 11 a.m. kickoff? I think the advantage is in the location, and we know the magic that place brings. Time won't matter.
Sam: I'd pick NDSU to win this game 9/10 times. But Saturday could be that one game where Wofford plays a terrific ball game and the Bison have an off day. You just never know.
The Bison might have a small advantage of playing the 11 a.m. game because Wofford has to travel. But once things settle in, the time won't make a difference in the outcome.