Game Time: Saturday, September 9, 2017, 4:05 p.m. ET
Location: Roos Field, Cheney, Washington
Where To Watch: ESPN3/WatchESPN
Betting Odds: North Dakota State -9.5, Over/Under 57
Odds via sportsbooks monitored by GamblersPalace.com
One of the most highly anticipated non-conference matchups in the FCS will happen this week when the No. 2 North Dakota State Bison travel west to take on the No. 6 Eastern Washington Eagles. These teams played a thriller in the FargoDome last season and were expected to meet again in the national championship game until James Madison and Youngstown State knocked these two sides off in the semifinals.
This line opened at 7.5 and didn’t take long to move to 9.5. That’s not a huge movement in the grand scheme of things but enough to let you know which side people are jumping on.
Reasons to Like North Dakota State
The Bison went on the greatest stretch in FCS history before getting knocked off by James Madison last year. They won five straight titles between 2011-2015 and still have a lot of the same players from those latter teams.
North Dakota State has one of the best running games in the country. They ran for 498 yards in their season opener against Mississippi Valley State and have two running backs that are electric in Ty Brooks and Lance Dunn. Both backs averaged over 10 yards a carry and found the end zone twice against the Delta Devils.
This team also boasts one of the best secondaries in the nation. Tre Dempsey and Robbie Grimsley are a great safety tandem and shut down the field for most opposing quarterbacks they face.
They will also have star linebacker Nick DeLuca back. DeLuca had a pick-six off of Gage Gubrud in last year’s game and was instrumental in the team’s win against Iowa last season.
Reasons Not to Like North Dakota State
Easton Stick has yet to prove that he is anything special as a quarterback. He has been helped immensely by the team he is on and has had problems with his accuracy. Stick put up good numbers against Eastern Washington last season, but benefited greatly from the success of the ground game.
Injuries have already started to mount for the Bison. Standout defensive end Greg Menard tore his ACL before the season started and will be missed. He was going to be the leader of the defensive line prior to the season-ending injury.
Two key reserves were hurt in the win over Mississippi Valley State. Safety Jaxon Brown will be sidelined for at least six weeks after he suffered a knee injury in the game and that is a blow to the depth in the secondary. The loss of left tackle Dillon Radunz for the season really stings though. Radunz was competing for the starting job at left tackle and his injury means that freshmen are the primary back-ups along the line.
Reasons to Like Eastern Washington
Gubrud was the best quarterback in the country at the FCS level last season. Sure, Jeremiah Briscoe at Sam Houston State won the Walter Payton Award and set all sorts of records in the process, but he did it in a conference with little in the way of defense.
Last season, Gubrud put up big numbers against this defense and All-American Cooper Kupp wasn’t even the main reason why. He threw for over 450 yards and four touchdowns on the Bison.
This defense is much better than it was last season too. The Eagles really came on strong at the end of last season on the defensive end, allowing just 16.1 PPG in their seven games prior to their loss to Youngstown State in the semifinals.
Reasons Not to Like Eastern Washington
The Eagles lost their head coach and offensive coordinator from last season and former offensive line coach Aaron Best’s debut wasn’t pretty. Eastern Washington got hammered by Texas Tech and the offense struggled to move the ball. The Red Raiders defense has been a historically bad unit over the last few seasons and they held this offense to just 301 total yards and forced three turnovers.
Giving up a lot of yards through the air to Texas Tech is expected, but the Red Raiders were able to run the ball on this defense too. That’s a huge red flag with North Dakota State coming to town. The Eagles have to be able to stop the run or else they will get run over.
With how Eastern Washington’s offense looked in the opener and the concerns along the offensive line for North Dakota State, under is the best play here.
Final Score: North Dakota State 27, Eastern Washington 24