The North Dakota State Bison are the favorites to win the FCS Championship. They're riding a 20-game playoff winning streak, so if you had to bet your life on it, they'd be the pick. However, favorite-status is far from a guarantee. We already talked about four teams that could surprise some people in the FCS Playoffs. So let's talk about why smart money might be on the FCS Playoff field this year.[divider]
1. The Bison are plenty capable of playing keep-away with the ball at No. 5 in the nation in time of possession (33:41), but there are clear chinks in their armor.
Ranked outside the top 100 teams in the nation in passing offense, the Bison hang their hat on their rushing attack. But NDSU ranks outside the top 10 in rushing offense this season and outside the top 20 in third down conversions. The trickle down effect has left them 43rd in the nation in per-game total offense and 47th in scoring offense. If the Bison get in a shootout, none of the above bodes well. Things aren’t much rosier on the defensive side of the ball: NDSU ranks outside the top 10 in rushing defense, outside the top 15 in scoring defense and outside the top 50 in passing yards allowed.
2. The Bison had to settle for being Missouri Valley Football Conference Co-Champions for the third straight year — this time with South Dakota State (8-3, 7-1 MVSL)—after back-to-back conference titles in 2012 and 2013. Compounding that indignity is the fact that SDS itself handed the Bison their only loss of the season in mid-October.
But it gets worse. North Dakota State has been nowhere near its usual dominant self in 2016. The Bison needed overtime twice to emerge victorious, won five games by a touchdown or less and six of their wins came by a combined total of 34 points for an average margin of victory of 5.7 points in those contests. Bottom line: This team doesn’t take the field with the aura of invincibility it so often has in the past five postseasons.
3. In their 19-17 win over NDSU earlier this season, South Dakota State laid down a blueprint for beating the Bison: Keep the NDSU defense on the field (78 snaps) and pound the rock (36 rushing attempts). But don’t quit there. Look for gainers in the passing game both underneath (11 completions of nine yards or less) and downfield (five completions of 20 yards or more).
SDSU sophomore quarterback Tayrn Christion, who, for example, ranks behind San Diego sophomore Anthony Lawrence (No. 5 nationally) in passing efficiency, torched the Bison secondary for 303 yards as the Jackrabbits racked up 523 yards of offense and 28 first downs (8-of-16 on third down conversions). And, it should have been worse. SDSU turned the ball over on downs four times and NDSU intercepted a first-and-goal pass from the Bison two-yard line.
If the Bison manage to finish 14-1 and hoist the trophy, it may well be their most impressive championship yet.