Welcome to the HERO Sports FCS Mailbag, FCS national championship 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
Both teams rely heavily on the run. In your opinion, which team needs to get the passing game going more?
— Nick Daly (@dalynw4) January 2, 2018
Brian: Obviously that's going to depend on game situation. If you're up two touchdowns, I think both teams would hunker down and play conservatively because they can own the clock as well as anybody, and they have the defense to stuff the opponent. If you're down two touchdowns, obviously you're going to need to whip it around a bit. How's that for dodging the question? But seriously … these are not two pass-driven offenses. With these two teams, the passing game is second to a physical run game and controlling the T.O.P.
Sam: I think there's more pressure for the Bison to get the passing game going more. Both teams will want to run the ball and pass when needed. But we saw last year and in most of NDSU's losses the fast few years, if you make them one-dimensional, your chances of winning go up much higher. If the Bison are unable to pass the ball and get separation on the cornerbacks, JMU can stack the box and sell out on the run or get to Easton Stick in passing situations.
Which injured players for NDSU and JMU will return and play for the FCS Championship?
— North Dakota Tough (@The_Bison_Logo) January 2, 2018
Brian: I'm going to defer to our injuries expert Sam Herder on this one, as he has more insight on the nitty grittys here and the coaches weren't exactly forthcoming when we asked them this question last week. The latest reports out of Fargo had Jalen Allison, Jaylaan Wimbush and Brooks and Dunn (not the country music duo) on the practice field. Whether they play or not? Who knows? As for James Madison, Mike Houston had his team practice without numbers and names on the jersey to hide his participation plan. No word on if Charles Haley and Khalid Abdullah were on the field, but rumors were swirling. Looks like we'll learn a lot on Saturday.
Sam: Here's the list I compiled of injuries on both teams. On that list for JMU, I'd expect Miller, Kloosterman and Carter Jr. to all for sure play in Frisco. For the Bison, Davis, Cofield, Plank and Jordheim look like they'll play meaningful snaps. As far as the big four most people are talking about, I expected Allison, Wimbush, Brooks and Dunn to all at least suit up. Of those four, I'd say Brooks and Wimbush have the best chance at playing. But how NDSU head coach Chris Klieman has answered questions on it, it wouldn't surprise me if all four played.
Everybody has compared this game to Clemson Alabama. But do you see the game playing out more like Oklahoma vs Georgia or Clemson vs Bama?
— Matthew Fraase (@MatthewFraase) January 2, 2018
Brian: You're not going to see 100 points scored in this one. These two are going to pound on each other, and they'll both concede some points and they're both going to chew up the clock — look for double their defensive averages (in the 20-point ranges for both). I guess when it comes to a Clemson-Bama comparison from last year's FBS game? Yeah, I could easily see this one coming down to the last second of the game and going back and forth the duration of the game.
Sam: This looks to be a 17-14 kind of game. I don't see a shootout or any team winning via blowout. They are both so evenly-matched and so good defensively that it's going to be a slugfest. Whichever team is the strongest in the fourth quarter after taking on blow after blow and hit after hit will likely win this game.
How do you think JMU & NDSU would fare playing in the AAC group of 5 conference right now?
— Mark Ahrens (@MarkAhrens) January 2, 2018
Brian: This is a great question. Obviously UCF is in a universe unto its own right now, and I'd take UCF over either of these Frisco bound teams. Aside from that? I think NDSU and JMU are on par with the 10-win South Floridas and the Memphises and easily better than the bottom half to bottom two-thirds of the AAC. Keep in mind, too … Southern Illinois, which finished in the bottom third of the Missouri Valley this year, was beating 10-win AAC West champ Memphis at the half. Also, JMU owned the AAC's East Carolina in their matchup, it was never in question. If NDSU or JMU had been in the American West (not UCF's American East) I would say the Bison or Dukes could have made the AAC Title game.
Sam: I'm with Brian where UCF is probably on a different level with NDSU and JMU. But I'd take these two teams over every other team in that conference if you gave them 22 more scholarship players. The thing is, if the current Bison and Dukes roster played an FBS schedule, they'd get burned out and too beat up midway through. But give them an equal amount of scholarship players and these programs belong with the top G5 teams.
Who wins the championship if you reset the same bracket and JMU and NDSU were in the FBS (undefeated of course) this year.
Move all the seeds up 2 spots, give Weber the #7 & Western Illinois the #8 seed. Then add Eastern Washington and Austin P as the last 2 in. jQuery17203820227446971447_1514940282011jQuery172039125648595015283_1514941631994Take! pic.twitter.com/d6A1A7HkfI
— Matthew Fraase (@MatthewFraase) January 2, 2018
Brian: Ooooh, I love this question, and since we get to use hindsight? I'm going with Weber State. I was impressed by their "waaaaaay too early in the bracket" victory over a dangerous Western Illinois team, its rebound blowout revenge win over Southern Utah to win the 'real' Big Sky title and its near defeat of the national champions at James Madison. They're physical, they have the best special teams unit in the FCS and they play great defense. The Wildcats would be my pick, and I could care less about where they get seeded … they'd just buzzsaw through the 'higher' seeds like swiss cheese.
Sam: This is a terrific question. Honestly, I would have the No. 7 seed and No. 8 seed in this scenario playing in the title game. Weber State vs. Western Illinois was a fantastic game that shouldn't have happened in the first round. You have to go with Weber State winning it all after how they performed against JMU. Going to Brookings and getting a win against SDSU would be tough and we all thought the Jacks were the third best team in the country. But the Wildcats were the third best team in the playoffs this season. They'd be your national champs if not for JMU and NDSU.