And then there were 16. The first week of the FCS Playoffs gave us some exciting game and a bonafide Cinderella in the San Diego Toreros. Heading into this week, there are a few other teams looking to follow in the path of the Toreros and make history of their own.
Stony Brook at No. 1 James Madison
The Dukes are going to put their 23-game winning streak on the line in this one. James Madison is the most complete team in the country and the favorite to win it all. The Dukes haven’t allowed more than 14 points this season and only one opponent managed to stay within a score of them.
Stony Brook is a large underdog and needs a massive performance from QB Joe Carbone if the Seawolves stand a chance of pulling off the upset. I think Stony Brook will keep it close enough to get the cover, but only because James Madison will be content to just keep hammering away on the ground.
San Diego at No. 2 North Dakota State
Give the Toreros credit for laying the smack down on Northern Arizona, but the Bison are a much different team than the Lumberjacks. North Dakota State has a great defense and has shut down most of the teams it has faced this season.
There is one thing to worry about with the Bison though. Injuries to the team’s top two running backs have significantly hurt its run game. The rushing numbers for the Bison have plummeted over the last month and I think that will help the Toreros stay within the number.
Kennesaw State at No. 3 Jacksonville State
The last two times the Gamecocks were given the No. 3 seed, they were upset in their first game. In 2014, it was Sam Houston State, who ended up making the Semifinals, and last season it was Youngstown State, who made it all the way to the title game.
Kennesaw State is everyone’s feel good story with its lovable mascot plank, but the Owls’ option attack plays right into the hands of Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks did a very good job of shutting down Georgia Tech’s triple option earlier in the season and have one of the stingiest run defenses in the country. Look for Jacksonville State to shake off the curse with a big win.
New Hampshire at No. 4 Central Arkansas
Points will be at a premium in this matchup between two of the more underrated defenses in the country. New Hamsphire’s defense has been the key to the team’s success all season and has lifted the team to wins while the offense has struggled. The Wildcats have allowed 21 points or fewer in six straight games now, but the offense was blanked twice in that span.
Central Arkansas might have an even better defense and shut down good Southland offenses all year long. The Bears also have a Walter Payton Award finalist in Hayden Hildebrand and I expect him to move the ball on this secondary.
Northern Iowa at No. 5 South Dakota State
This will be one of three rematches between conference foes that squared off earlier in the season. The Panthers hammered the Jackrabbits at their place 38-18 back in October in a game where they controlled the ball for over 40 minutes.
South Dakota State’s front seven has struggled against the run all season and the Jackrabbits are allowing 4.7 yards per carry. The Panthers pounded the ball on the ground in their earlier meeting and will try to do so again. I think Northern Iowa is going to have success wearing out this defense once again and will pull off the upset.
South Dakota at No. 6 Sam Houston State
If you like shootouts, you’re going to love this one. Jeremiah Briscoe and Chris Streveler are going to put up big numbers in this one as neither defense is going to be able to stop the other one. Briscoe and the Bearkats have the nation’s top passing game, while Streveler is the favorite to win the Walter Payton Award for taking South Dakota to the postseason for the first time.
The last team with the ball could very well win this one. For some reason South Dakota opened as the favorite, but the line has swung 5.5 points in Sam Houston State’s favor since then. The value is gone there, but I think the over is a solid bet, even at 80.5.
Furman at No. 7 Wofford
The Terriers have been pulling out close games all year long. Wofford has only one two games by more than one possession and just barely snuck by Furman earlier in the season. Then, the Paladins decided to go for the win instead of the tie after a last minute touchdown, but the questionable decision to call for a halfback pass on the two-point conversion attempt backfired.
Teams typically do very well against the triple option the second time they see it. The Paladins will be more disciplined on defense in this one and get the win on the road.
Weber State at No. 8 Southern Utah
It’s no secret that I’ve loved Weber State all year long. I believe the Wildcats are the most underrated team in the FCS at the moment and think they will pull off the upset here despite losing to the Thunderbirds earlier in the year.
In that game, QB Stefan Cantwell suffered a concussion and Weber State’s offense couldn’t move the ball without him under center. This time, Cantwell will be able to hook up with star tight end Andrew Vollert often in a Weber State win.