Game Time: Saturday, October 14, 2017, 7 p.m. ET
Location: Stambaugh Stadium, Youngstown, Ohio
Where To Watch: ESPN3/WatchESPN
Betting Odds: North Dakota State -7.5, O/U 41
Odds via sportsbooks monitored by GamblersPalace.com
Although most of the attention in the FCS world will be on James Madison’s clash with Villanova, the game of the day might be this one. North Dakota State has been on a warpath this season. The Bison have obliterated every team in their path thus far, winning each game by at least 27 points. They have the player who might be the best running back in the FCS in Lance Dunn, and a defense that hasn’t allowed more than 13 points all year.
Youngstown State is just trying to avoid 3-3 at this point. The Penguins lost in the waning seconds to both Pittsburgh and South Dakota, and a loss here would mean they might have to win out in order to make the postseason.
Reasons to Like North Dakota State
Dunn leads the way in a deep backfield that has run over every opponent it has faced so far. He is averaging more than 10 yards per carry and his 12 touchdowns are four more than any other running back in the country has this season. Head coach Chris Klieman has also been able to keep him fresh in the early part of the schedule in anticipation of games like this.
Quarterback Easton Stick has continued to develop too. Stick had the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of Carson Wentz, but has taken a big step forward this year. He threw nine interceptions in 2016, but has yet to throw a pick this year. His pocket presence has gotten better too and he looks much more comfortable.
This defense continues to shine too, especially now that star linebacker Nick DeLuca is back in action. DeLuca is one of the best linebackers in the FCS and is the leader of the unit when he is on the field. The Bison have the top defense in the FCS by far this season, giving up just 3.2 yards per play, 0.4 yards less than anyone else in the country.
Reasons Not to Like North Dakota State
It may sound like the Bison are an unbeatable juggernaut, but quite a bit of their success is the result of their schedule. Other than Eastern Washington, the Bison haven’t played a decent team yet this season.
Additionally, injuries have started to mount for this team. North Dakota State has had some key injuries along the front seven and its running back depth has taken a hit too with two backs suffering torn ACL’s.
Reasons to Like Youngstown State
The Penguins are very similar to North Dakota State in that they have a dominant run game and a great defense.
Tevin McMaster is second only to Lance Dunn in rushing touchdowns this season. Unlike Dunn though, he gets a lot more work. McMaster doesn’t have the big runs that Dunn does, but is the workhorse that Bo Pelini relies on.
Youngstown State is great at converting third downs. The Penguins have been able to depend on their run game to set up a lot of third and shorts, and that has paid off. They are second in the FCS in third-down conversions, moving the chains 57.1 percent of the time.
Reasons Not to Like Youngstown State
Starting quarterback Hunter Wells has been dealing with a shoulder injury for the past few weeks and Pelini said he is 50-50 for this game. There is a world of difference between Wells and backup Nathan Mays. Wells can make plays with his arm and is averaging 9.9 yards per attempt, while Mays is more of a game manager is averaging 7.2 yards per attempt.
The Penguins defense has showed some cracks this year too. They did great at shutting down South Dakota State, but were lit up by Chris Streveler and South Dakota last week.
This is a bad spot for Youngstown State. The Penguins have played two tough opponents in back-to-back weeks, while the Bison have probably been prepping for this one for some time as they have played the dregs of the Missouri Valley. Youngstown State has the home field advantage, but that won’t be enough here.
Final Score: North Dakota State 27, Youngstown State 13