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2018 FCS Semifinals Preview: No. 5 South Dakota State at No. 1 North Dakota State

South Dakota State is out to knock off rival North Dakota State for the first time in the playoffs

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

Game Time: Friday, December 14, 2018, 8 p.m. ET

Location: Fargodome, Fargo, North Dakota

How To Watch: ESPN2

Betting Odds: North Dakota State -11, O/U 52

Before the playoffs even kicked off, North Dakota State was the odds-on favorite to repeat as FCS champions. The Bison were anywhere from -250 to -300 to win the title, and they showed their strength in blowout wins over Montana State and Colgate. However, they now face a South Dakota State team that has given them a lot of trouble over the last three seasons. The Jackrabbits knocked off the Bison to win the Dakota Marker in 2016 and 2017, and they were ahead of their rivals headed into the fourth quarter of this year’s tilt.

Reasons to Like North Dakota State

It’s hard to find a weakness when it comes to the Bison. North Dakota State had one of the best defenses in the country this year, and they ended up fourth in total defense. That defense has allowed a total of 10 points to both Montana State and Colgate, and only a handful of teams have had success moving the ball on the Bison.

The Bison also have one of the best ground games in the country. Bruce Anderson, Lance Dunn, and Ty Brooks have been gashing opposing defenses all year, and NDSU is averaging over six yards per carry as a team. They are controlling the clock with their ground game and putting teams away early.

Reasons Not to Like North Dakota Sate

There are only two real reasons to think the Bison won’t win this game. The first is quarterback play. Easton Stick has been solid over the course of the season, but he has had some shaky efforts against quality defenses during his career. The last time these teams met he completed just 45 percent of his passes, and he has had some tough performances against the Jackrabbits.

The other reason not to like North Dakota State is off the field. Head coach Chris Klieman accepted the job at Kansas State earlier this week, but he has decided to finish out the year with the Bison. That worked out well for former coach Craig Bohl, as the Bison went on to win the title when he left for Wyoming in 2013, but the early signing period has him pulling double duty. Defensive coordinator Matt Entz has been named NDSU’s new coach, so at least there is continuity within the program.

Reasons to Like South Dakota State

Taryn Christion has put together another great season as the leader of this offense. He will have thrown for over 3,000 yards after this game, and his 30 to 7 touchdown-to-interception ratio is one of the best in the FCS. Christion has torched NDSU with his legs in the past too, and although he wasn’t too successful when these teams met in the regular season, the Bison must respect his ability to run.

Although South Dakota State’s defense was above average in total defense, the Jackrabbits did a great job stopping the Bison earlier in the year. That should give them confidence ahead of this one.

Reasons Not to Like South Dakota State

The Jackrabbits don’t have some of the weapons they did last year. Dallas Goedert and Jake Wieneke have moved on, and that has robbed Christion of his two best receiving targets. He still had a solid effort earlier in the year, but it wasn’t an overwhelming performance.

Also, the Jackrabbits have not fared well against the Bison in the postseason. They met in the postseason in 2012, 2014, and 2016, and only the 2014 meeting was close. North Dakota State won the other two games by 25 and 26 points.

Prediction

I expect this game to be back and forth throughout, much like the game we saw between these two teams earlier in the year. I think the Bison are going to eventually put it away, but this is going to be the toughest test they face all year.

Final Score: North Dakota State 27, South Dakota State 23