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FCS Playoffs: First Round Preview

The first round is this weekend. Which team has the upper hand in each matchup?

Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports

The FCS playoffs start tomorrow, and the 16 teams that didn't earn a bye will all be playing. The eight games have staggered starting times so if the games are close, we'll get a flurry of exciting finishes one after another. Who cares about regular season FBS games, there will be playoff games on tomorrow!

They're all on ESPN3, hook up your chromecast and give 'em a shot. These matchups won't leave you disappointed.


  • Dayton and Western Illinois, two unranked teams (according to STATS FCS rankings) get things started at noon. Think of this one as a mid-tier Power Five team taking on a conference-winning Group of Five team in a bowl game - WIU finished tied for 3rd in the brutal Missouri Valley and just 6-5 overall, while Dayton won the Pioneer league and only lost its last game of the regular season. It's tough to tell how good Dayton actually is, but the Leathernecks have approximately one good win all season - a 2OT over South Dakota State last week. - but they've lost to pretty much every other decent team they've played all year. I'll go with Dayton.
  • Chattanooga, which did not receive a bye despite a #7 ranking in the STATS poll, will take on Fordham at 1 pm. I think the Mocs roll through Fordham here. The Rams defense has been terrible in the second half of this season, and the backfield duo of QB Jacob Huesman and RB Derrick Craine, both 1,000-yd rushers, will be too much for Fordham to handle. Chattanooga will move on to face #1 Jacksonville State in the second round.
  • Coastal Carolina looked like the best team in the country for most of the year but have lost two of the last four, including last week against Liberty. Citadel is coming off a huge win over South Carolina. Still, I like Joe Moglia and the Chanticleers to outduel the Bulldogs. Coastal Carolina would take on Charleston Southern in the second round, looking to avenge their Halloween loss.
  • Sam Houston State takes on Big Sky champs Southern Utah at 2 pm. I'm trying to find a reason to pick the Thunderbirds, but I just don't think they'll be able to keep up with SHSU. With maybe the best offense in the country, the Bearkats have been able to simply outscore just about everyone, even putting up 40+ on Texas Tech. The Thunderbirds have been able to win their share of shootouts, but Sam Houston State will prove to be too much.
  • In maybe the most fun matchup of the day, Montana will host South Dakota State at 3 pm. Montana has looked like the team that upset North Dakota State in week one since Brady Gustafson has come back at QB, scoring 50+ in the last two weeks, both must-win games against good in-conference opponents. The Jackrabbits have been inconsistent this season, so I'll go with Montana, which sets up a rematch with NDSU in the second round.
  • Duquesne won the pathetic Northeast division, giving them the right to lose to William & Mary in the first round of the playoffs. Not much else to say about this one. William & Mary will get a chance to avenge their 20-9 regular season loss to Richmond in the second round.
  • Colgate has been a surprise this season, going undefeated in Patriot League action. New Hampshire has been a bit of a disappointment, going 7-4, 5-2 in CAA play. The Wildcats have one of the worst rushing defenses in FCS, and Colgate QB Jake Melville leads a loaded backfield that could gash the New Hampshire defense on the ground. Give me Colgate to move on to the second round.
  • The nightcap is Northern Iowa and Eastern Illinois at 5 pm. I had a tough time with this one, but the QB matchup favors UNI with former Illinois QB Aaron Bailey. He's a decent enough passer, but has run for over 1,000 yards this season - one of only three QBs in FCS to do so. UNI moves on to play Portland State in the next round.