The FCS playoffs have been awesome so far. The worst thing about this weekend is that there are only four games instead of the eight we had last weekend. This week features two primetime Friday night games, then two more on Saturday at noon, setting the table for Army-Navy at 3 PM.
- Richmond destroyed William & Mary last week, 48-13. Friday they take on Illinois State, who ground down Western Illinois in a 36-19 win last week. I don't think I have given Richmond enough credit for the season they've had, winning a competitive Colonial conference with a dominant rushing attack. Spiders QB Kyle Lauletta is exciting, but volatile - he threw for 146 yards and ran for 60 more, but also threw two picks. If they get down early, I'm not sure he can win a game with his arm. The Redbirds have the more complete offense with Tre Roberson at quarterback and Marshaun Coprich at running back, and have held opponents under 20 ppg all season in the tough Missouri Valley Conference. I think it'll be close for a half but Illinois State pulls away and wins comfortably.
- Jacksonville State will face off with Charleston Southern on ESPN2 at 8 PM on Friday, with both teams coming off closer-than-expected wins. Despite being the consensus #1 team heading into the playoffs, the Gamecocks showed some vulnerabilities last week in the 41-35 OT win over Chattanooga. I don't expect this one to have quite so many points with two outstanding defenses taking the field. But I think Jacksonville State will be able to do enough on the ground - Troymaine Pope has had an up-and-down season but was outstanding last weekend and has played his best in the biggest games - to secure a close victory.
- Colgate against Sam Houston State, two unseeded teams not many would have predicted to make it here, is the ESPN3 game at noon on Saturday. The Bearkats were very impressive in the win over previously undefeated McNeese State last week, rolling up almost 500 yards of offense on one of the best defenses in the country. Meanwhile, the Raiders won yet another close game, this time against JMU, where QB Jake Melville starred in passing for 120 yards and two touchdowns and running for another 163 yards and two scores. This one will be a shootout, but I think Sam Houston State has more firepower than the Raiders.
- North Dakota State barely got by Northern Iowa earlier this season, rallying to win 31-28. That was with potential first rounder Carson Wentz at QB. This time, the Bison will face the Panthers (noon ET, ESPN) with redshirt freshman Easton Stick at the helm. Luckily for NDSU, they can lean on the defense and special teams to win. The Bison had two pick-sixes and a kick return for a touchdown in the blowout revenge win over Montana last week. But Northern Iowa has been rolling pretty much ever since that loss to NDSU, averaging 45.2 points per game in the last five games. But will the Panthers be able to score at the same pace on this Bison defense? Sure! NDSU has proven to be more vulnerable this year than in seasons past - maybe some of that is due to injury, but it's vulnerability nonetheless. I think this is the week that the inconsistency on offense finally catches up with them and UNI pulls the upset.