Game Time: Saturday, January 6, 2018, 12 p.m. ET
Location: Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
Where To Watch: ESPN2
Betting Odds: North Dakota State -3.5, O/U 48
Odds via sportsbooks monitored by GamblersPalace.com
All year long the two best teams at the FCS level have been the James Madison Dukes and the North Dakota State Bison. Other teams have come and gone, but these two squads have played at an entirely different level this season. It’s only fitting that we will see these two square off for the FCS National Championship in Texas this Saturday.
North Dakota State has shredded the competition on its way to Frisco. The Bison beat San Diego by 35, Wofford by 32, and Sam Houston State by 42 in the postseason in order to make it here. Those performances have led to them being favored despite having a regular season loss on its resume.
James Madison has had a more difficult route to this point. The Dukes couldn’t put Stony Brook away until late in their first round game, and they needed a last-second field goal to knock off a very good Weber State team. However, they did annihilate South Dakota State, the same team that beat North Dakota State earlier in the year, in the semifinals.
Reasons to Like North Dakota State
The Bison boast one of the best defenses in the nation. North Dakota State has been solid at stopping both the run and the pass all season. They shut down a balanced attack in San Diego, an option team in Wofford, and a pass-happy team in Sam Houston State thus far this postseason. Linebacker Nick DeLuca is one of the best you will find at this level and received first-team All-American honors this year.
Additionally, North Dakota State is running the ball well again. After having some trouble moving the chains at the end of the regular season, the Bison have ripped off over 1,000 yards on the ground in three playoff games. That has taken all of the pressure off of quarterback Easton Stick.
Reasons Not to Like North Dakota State
Speaking of Stick, the Bison quarterback has been good this season, but has had some bad performances against teams that can stop the run. He had a three-game stretch where he threw seven interceptions earlier in the year, and Stick did not look good in the season finale against Illinois State, completing just 25 percent of his passes there.
The Bison have had a lot of injuries to key players this season. It’s a testament to the depth of this team that they made it this far despite those injuries, but that could have an impact in this game.
The running back position has been hit hard this year, and now Ty Brooks is banged up too. Brooks hurt his shoulder in the semifinal win over Sam Houston State, making him the third running back to suffer a significant injury this season.
NDSU has done a good job of overcoming injuries to running backs, but we have no idea how it will survive with its two starting cornerbacks banged up. Jalen Allison and Jaylaan Wimbush were both injured in the semifinal as well. While head coach Chris Klieman is being vague about their status for this one, it seems unlikely for them to play.
Reasons to Like James Madison
No team has been better at turning over opponents than the Dukes this season. James Madison forced mistake after mistake out of South Dakota State in the semifinal and used those turnovers to cruise to a 35-point victory. The Dukes have forced over three turnovers per game this season, with the secondary leading the way with 31 interceptions.
The secondary is indisputably the best in the country and one of the best units we have ever seen in the FCS. Jordan Brown and Rashad Robinson were both named All-Americans for their performances, but you could make the case that everyone on this defense should have been selected. They allowed just 5.3 yards per pass this season, the lowest margin in the country by a wide margin.
Reasons Not to Like James Madison
The Dukes just haven’t been that great on offense this year. Bryan Schor has taken a step back from what we saw out of him last season. Schor is averaging two yards less per pass than he did in 2016, and he has thrown double the number of interceptions. The blame is not entirely on him though. He has been sacked 13 more times than he was last season as defenses have been able to get to him.
James Madison hasn’t been able to run the ball like it did last season either. The Dukes are averaging 4.7 yards per carry and have had a hard time moving the ball on the ground against good defenses. However, Georgia Tech transfer Marcus Marshall has really stepped it up the last two games and that has elevated this team.
This should be a great game. Don’t expect either offense to be able to move the ball well as defense rules the day. Under is a good bet, but the better wager is taking James Madison on the moneyline.
I believe the Dukes should be a slight favorite in this one due to the injuries to NDSU’s cornerbacks. People are enamored with NDSU’s playoff wins over flawed teams and ignoring the fact that James Madison’s played much tougher teams along the way.
Final Score: James Madison 24, North Dakota State 20