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FCS Playoffs Semifinals Preview: No. 5 South Dakota State at No. 1 James Madison

James Madison has won 25 in a row

NCAA Football: D1 Football Championship Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Game Time: Saturday, December 16, 2017, 4:30 p.m. ET

Location: Bridgeforth Stadium, Harrisonburg, Virginia

Where To Watch: ESPNU

Betting Odds: James Madison -3, O/U 53

Odds via sportsbooks monitored by

The James Madison Dukes have been the best team in the FCS for two straight seasons. James Madison has the best defense in the country and was able to shut down almost everyone it faced this season.

That is, until the Dukes played Weber State last week. The Wildcats took the Dukes to the wire and were the first team all season to take a second half lead on James Madison. Weber State nearly pulled off the upset, but a last second field goal saved the day for JMU.

South Dakota State has been possibly the hottest team in the country over the last month or so. Many are calling for the Jackrabbits to pull off the upset, but can they get it done?

Reasons to Like James Madison

The Dukes have the best defense in the country and have repeatedly proven it this year. James Madison is allowing just 3.8 yards per play and has kept a lot of good offenses in check. The secondary is elite and is the best unit in the country by a wide margin.

James Madison has a solid ground game too. The Dukes are averaging 4.6 yards per carry this year and consistently churned out the yards last week against Weber State. They picked up 190 rushing yards against the Wildcats and had enough success to loosen up coverage so that Bryan Schor could make some plays through the air.

Reasons Not to Like James Madison

Schor has made a lot more mistakes this season than he did last year. Whereas last year, he was superb with an average of over 10 yards per pass attempt and threw just six interceptions, this season he has already thrown 12 interceptions and is averaging two yards less per pass.

If an opposing defense can stop the run, James Madison is vulnerable.

Reasons to Like South Dakota State

Taryn Christion has been one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country this season. Christion has been the team’s major playmaker all season long and has led the team to some great offensive performances so far in the playoffs. His passing numbers have remained consistent from what we saw out of him last year, while he has doubled his production on the ground.

Reasons Not to Like South Dakota State

The Jackrabbits can be run on. South Dakota State was fortunate to play a New Hampshire team that couldn’t really run the ball last week and that helped them to advance. They are in the bottom half of the FCS in run defense and have struggled to stop opposing ground games all year.

Additionally, the offense is one-dimensional. If you can put the clamps on Christion, you can totally shut down the Jackrabbits as this team lacks another real playmaker on the offensive end. Both Northern Iowa and Youngstown State did that in the regular season.


James Madison is very undervalued here. The Dukes are a more complete team, are playing at home, and have an exceptional defense that can stop Christion. They racked up huge chunks of yardage against Weber State last week and should have won by more than three points. Look for the Dukes to pick up their 26th win in a row here.

Final Score: James Madison 27, South Dakota State 17