Alright folks. The 2017 FCS Playoffs are here. We've shown you the top FCS highlights, broken down the matchups, and previewed every game. Now, on that we're in the quarterfinal round of the FCS Playoffs — it is time to get into the meat and potatoes of the previews and predictions. Read on:
First, let's look at the games:
THIS WEEK'S PREVIEWS
(games ET on Friday/Saturday – ESPN2/ESPN3)
1. James Madison (12-0) vs. Weber St. (11-2), Fri., 7 p.m. ESPN2
2. North Dakota St. (11-1) vs. 7. Wofford (10-2), Sat., 12 p.m. – ESPN2
5. South Dakota St. (10-2) vs. New Hamp. (9-4), Sat., 3 p.m. ESPN3
6. Sam Houston (11-1) vs. Kennesaw (12-1), Sat., 8:30 p.m. – ESPN3[divider]
Now let's take a look at the quarterfinal predictions — from HERO Sports FCS writer Brian McLaughlin.
We have some good ones, folks. If you look at the odds (I never look at the odds, ahem, but I'm mentioning it for a friend …), we have a 50/50 pick'em type game with Kennesaw State at Sam Houston State, an intriguing matchup of two of the nation's top defenses and special teams units (Weber State at James Madison), another intriguing matchup that has fans looking back in history at the last time this happened in 2012 (Wofford at North Dakota State) and we have a bubble refugee that just won't quit in New Hampshire, which travels to South Dakota State.
I always love the quarterfinal round because we have a Friday night game to digest, and the three other games go to Saturday and are spread evenly through the day so we can absorb all the matchups. So if you can't be in the stands this weekend, get the sofa prepped, get the good popcorn, load the fridge full of cream soda or other somewhat related beverages that make the aluminum go 'pop/hiss' and tell your spouses you might be detached for an entire afternoon (don't worry ladies, your husbands will understand when you tell them you have the FCS quarterfinals to watch).[divider]
Here we go:
WEBER STATE AT NO. 1 JAMES MADISON: 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. B-MAC'S PICK: JMU 20-13.[divider]
MCLAUGHLIN: Podcast with Weber St. head coach Jay Hill
WOFFORD AT NORTH DAKOTA ST.: North Dakota State fans remember 2012 and the fits the Terriers gave the Bison in Fargo. Wofford moved the ball on the ground decently and ate up more clock than the Bison (by a small amount). They played stout defense, even taking an INT back for a score in the 14-7 win for the eventual national champion Bison. Not a whole lot has changed about how Wofford does things. The Terriers may not play defense this year quite as strong as 2012 (give up about 5 pts more a game), but they still do the little things well and are coached by one of the FCS legends in Mike Ayers. This won't be a blowout, but NDSU should survive intact. B-MAC'S PICK: NDSU 28-10.[divider]
KENNESAW ST. AT SAM HOUSTON ST: The question is worth asking — has Sam Houston State faced a defense this good? The answer? No. The Owls give up only 14 points per game, and they're hotter now than they were earlier — and are giving up less than that. But the Bearkats are going to score some points, folks — they may double the Owls' average. This is Jeremiah Briscoe's offense, and he's rocking. But this won't be a South Dakota type game with nearly 100 points. This is the only pure 50/50 matchup of the quarterfinals, but I'm going with a clock-eating triple option run game and top five defense over the high octane top five offense — by a fraction. B-MAC'S PICK: Kennesaw State 31-28.[divider]
NEW HAMPSHIRE AT SOUTH DAKOTA STATE: This seems to be the lone quarterfinal game where we have a heavy, heavy favorite with South Dakota State. New Hampshire snuck by in its first-round win, then weathered an injury to star QB Trevor Knight, who is still up-in-the-air for Saturday's game because of concussion protocol. The Wildcats' second-round win over Central Arkansas on the road was scrappy, gritty — and that's what UNH does. But this matchup will be too tough on the road for UNH — SDSU just has too much firepower and is red hot right now. B-MAC'S PICK: South Dakota State 40-17.