Weber State has been impressive so far with wins over Western Illinois (21-19) and No. 8 Southern Utah (30-13) to earn a spot in the FCS Quarterfinals, where they'll meet up with the top-seed JMU Dukes, who's defense led a victory over Stony Brook (26-7) last weekend.
So how does the game play out? Let's take a look:
WHEN: Friday, Dec. 8, 7 p.m. ET
WHERE: Bridgeforth Stadium, Harrisonburg, VA
James Madison fans are going to want to show up for this one, even if the weather is as chilly as it is predicted to be as of a few days out. The Dukes will have their hands full. This is — by a mile — the best FCS defense west of the Dakotas. These are the top two teams in the 24-team playoff field when it comes to special teams.
While I would predict that Weber State won't post much more than 10 to 14 points offensively without a couple of JMU turnovers helping out, I can't rule out a special teams touchdown. Then again, JMU can do the exact same thing. Throw in the potentially chilly conditions and this one could be really interesting. This is where the title defense really begins, Dukes. There are no guarantees from here on out.
Weber State: 13
I've been waiting all year to give a shout out to JMU freshman's punter Harry O'Kelly, and I think now is the time. With sub-freezing temperatures expected and both Weber State and JMU boasting solid defenses, I expect special teams to be the deciding factor.
The Wildcats are phenomenal on special teams, but I think O'Kelly will be the difference in this one. Last week, he averaged 41.57 yards on his seven punts, and three of his kicks were downed inside the 20-yard line. It might not be sexy, but O'Kelly will be the reason the Dukes advance to the FCS semifinals.
Weber State: 7
It is fair to say that I was/am unfamiliar with Weber State coming into this week's game. Being on the other side of the country and not available on national TV very often, I haven't paid much attention to the Wildcats — quick aside, could we perhaps not name every fifth team in the NCAA the Wildcats? I still have no idea what a Seawolf is, but at least it is original. Anyway, the point is that I don't know what to expect from this game from Weber State, so I'm just going to focus on what is in JMU's favor.
As Coach Houston said so well last season, "It will be cold. It will be dark. It will be perfect." I'm sure the Wildcats have no reservations about playing in the cold or at night, but for JMU, the comfort of playing at home and not having to travel will be a huge edge. Weber State loses a day of preparation by playing on Friday and having to fly across country for this game. Add in Madison's experience and dominating defense and I'm going to take the Dukes to move on to the semifinals — surprising, I know!
Weber State: 13
I believed firmly heading into these playoffs that Weber St. is one of about three or four legitimate contenders that could take down the Dukes. Their statistics on the season are sneaky good and when you watch them play, their offense pops on the field.
The Wildcats offense can drop seven on a team in the blink of an eye. They run the ball well and have several key players in their secondary that can change the game at any moment. They're built to be fast and quick, and Weber St. is the only special teams unit left in the playoffs ranked higher than JMU.
All that being said, I don't think we will see the 24 game win streak snapped on Friday night. JMU is still too good on the defense side of the ball and barring any injuries I don't see anyone slowing these Dukes down, however I do think Weber State will surprise you.
Weber State: 13