Can’t wait until New Years for college football? No worries, the Football Championship Subdivision is here to save your weekend. While many of us eagerly await the Heisman Trophy Ceremony and the Army/Navy game this Saturday, the FCS Playoff field has been narrowed down to eight teams, with some great matchups set to continue Friday and Saturday. On Friday, top seed Jacksonville State takes on 8th ranked Charleston Southern at 8PM on ESPN2 while in the Midwest, #2 seed Illinois State fights #7 overall Richmond at 7:30. Saturday’s pair of games includes an 8pm matchup of Colgate vs. Sam Houston State, while defending FCS Champs and 3rd seeded North Dakota State take on conference rivals Northern Iowa at noon. All the above times are Eastern Standard.
(2) Illinois State vs. (7) Richmond
Friday’s 7:30 game looks to be an ole-fashioned barn-burner as FCS runner-ups Illinois State takes on upset specialists Richmond. Illinois State is the favorite, boasting the FCS’s longest home win streak as well as perhaps the best run game in the Midwest. On the ground, they are powered by Missouri Valley Football Conference first team QB Tre Roberson and MVFC Offensive POY HB Marshaun Coprich. In the air, Anthony Warrum is a clear danger, catching 14 of ISU’s 18 total TD passes this year.
However, Richmond has never been known to play second fiddle to anyone, just ask James Madison University. JMU was ranked #3 in the country on October 24th, and played host to acclaimed ESPN program College GameDay the morning of their date with the Spiders. Richmond toppled the Dukes 59-49 behind a five-touchdown performance by HB Jacobi Green while QB Kyle Lauletta contributed two more through the air. Richmond boasts seven all-Colonial Athletic Association first-teamers, trumping the five boasted by their Redbird counterparts in the MVFC.
Prediction: Richmond certainly is intimidating and love to win big games on the road, but ISU’s run game is enough to squeak by for the Redbirds. Illinois State 35, Richmond 30
(1) Jacksonville State vs. (8) Charleston Southern
JSU has been the juggernaut of FCS this year, going 11-1 this season with their only loss coming at the hands of the Auburn Tigers. Their success has come largely on the back of their workhorse halfback Troymaine Pope who rushed for a career-high 234 yards and three touchdowns in JSU’s victory over Chattanooga last week. Quarterback Eli Jenkins added three rush TD’s as well, and while he didn’t have a score through the air, his 195 yards on the ground more than made up for it.
In Charleston Southern, Jacksonville State will face perhaps their toughest FCS opponent to date. The Buccaneers are also undefeated thus far in FCS play this season, and atop that they rank 2nd in FCS in yards allowed per game. They are going to need some stellar defense, however, after both first string and second string QB’s Austin Brown and Kyle Copeland were listed as doubtful for Friday due to injuries suffered vs. The Citadel. Junior Daniel Croghan will but called upon to manage the game while HB Mike Holloway (120 yards on 13 carries vs. Citadel) and the defense carry the brunt of the work.
Prediction: CSU will give the Gamecocks hell with their defense, but with their QB position a mess right now, Jacksonville State pulls away in the 2nd half. 45-17, Jacksonville State.
Sam Houston State vs. Colgate
Sam Houston State’s two quarterback system looks to give it another go after two 30-plus point performances vs. Southern Utah and McNeese State. Dual threat Jared Johnson (2,206 pass yards, 469 rush yards, 23 total tds) will be used in a wildcat role after struggling last week while Alabama-Birmingham transfer Jeremiah Briscoe (1,395 pass yards, 10 pass tds) will be the traditional pocket passing quarterback. On defense, SHSU boasts a top-notch defensive line led by Sophomore P.J. Hall (58 tackles, 10 sacks, 4 blocked kicks). If the line can force some errant throws, then expect a ball-hawking secondary to have a field day with turnovers.
Colgate, on the other hand, is riding a high after eliminating the FCS’s #1 overall offense in the 2nd round, 5th seed James Madison (remember them?). Quarterback Jake Mellville has 20 total touchdowns on the year (10 by air, 10 by ground) while turning the ball over just twice. With exactly 1000 yards on the season, he’s the Raiders’ leading rusher as well, but the rest of Colgate's backfield (James Holland, Demetrius Russell, and John Wilkins) should not be taken lightly either. With a defense and special teams that have only scored once all year, Colgate will need their high powered offense to leave everything on the field if they want to walk away from this one.
Prediction: Colgate keeps it on the ground and tactfully avoids the Bearkats pass rush. SHSU will realize why nobody likes 2-qb systems: Johnson and Briscoe will not be enough to topple the upset-minded Raiders. 27-13, Colgate.
(3) North Dakota State vs. Northern Iowa
Bison fans received some good news this week when they found out their star quarterback Carson Wentz returned to practice this week and may reclaim his starting position from freshman Easton Stick. Wentz, who led the Bison to yet another National Title over Illinois State last year, is up there with the likes of Connor Cook and Paxton Lynch as one of the NCAA’s top QB draft prospects. If healthy, Wentz could give Missouri Valley Football Conference rival Northern Iowa trouble once again after throwing four touchdowns in their previous meeting. On defense, freshman safety Robbie Grimsley will look for another big game after recording 10 tackles and a pic in NDSU's last dance with UNI.
For Northern Iowa, hope remains. The Panthers were the only team to defeat NDSU last season, and were only beaten on a last second play this season. University of Illinois transfer Aaron Bailey has struggled through the air thus far this year, never completing more than 16 passes in a game, but he keeps plays alive with his feet and can easily turn broken plays into positive yardage. Darrian Miller and Tyvis Smith can stretch the field with his speed as well, making UNI’s ground game a solid one while backup QB Sawyer Kollmorgan can give the Panthers the aerial ability that Bailey lacks.
Prediction: True these two have split their last two meetings, and true the Bison’s golden-boy QB is questionable, but regardless of QB situation the Bison find ways to win, this made apparent by their back to back to back (to back) championships. North Dakota State 28, Northern Iowa 6.