Game Time: Saturday, January 5, 2019, 12 p.m. ET
Location: Toyota Stadium, Frisco Texas
How To Watch: ESPN2
Betting Odds: North Dakota State -14, O/U 61
It’s been eight years since North Dakota State and Eastern Washington last met in the postseason. The Eagles outlasted the Bison 38-31 in an overtime thriller in Cheney on their way to winning their first national championship, and Eastern Washington fans began to whisper about building a dynasty.
Of course, it turned out that North Dakota State would be the program to build the greatest FCS dynasty we have ever seen. The Bison have been nigh unstoppable this decade, losing just once in the postseason since then and posting an undefeated 6-0 mark in national championship games. They are out to make it 7-0 against Eastern Washington, and the Bison are heavy favorites to do so.
Reasons to Like Eastern Washington
This is not the one-dimensional Eastern Washington we saw under Beau Baldwin. For as great as those Eagles teams were in the early part of the decade, they weren’t great at running the ball and didn’t play good defense. In their playoff appearances in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016, the Eagles eventually lost a shootout each time. They allowed an average of 44.8 PPG in their season-ending losses, and even great offenses find that hard to overcome.
The Eagles have been better on the defensive side of the ball under Aaron Best. The second-year coach has resolved to improve in this area, and they have taken marked steps over the last two years. They have yet to allow more than 30 points in the playoffs, and that gives their offense the room they need.
Offensively, the team has become more balanced too. Even before star quarterback Gage Gubrud went down to a season-ending injury, the Eagles had relied on the run more, and that has helped new quarterback Eric Barriere succeed. Eastern Washington is averaging 6.7 yards per carry, and the Eagles have 39 rushing touchdowns on the year.
Reasons Not to Like Eastern Washington
I just spent the last section hyping up the defense, but it’s time to put a little cold water on that now. Eastern Washington did not face the best offenses in the Big Sky this year, save UC Davis, and the Eagles nearly fell to UC Davis in the playoffs.
All three of their opponents were able to move the ball on the ground against Eastern Washington’s run defense. Nicholls State and UC Davis both averaged five yards per carry, and Maine averaged 4.3 YPC despite not having much of a passing threat. The Eagles have been a bend-but-don’t-break defense, and when those types of defenses fail, they usually fail spectacularly.
Reasons to Like North Dakota State
Pick a reason, any reason. You could point to North Dakota State’s dominant run game which averaged 6.5 yards per carry in a conference where it’s tough to run the ball. Or you could point to a defense that has been lights out all season, stopping opponents with relative ease. Honestly, it’s pretty hard to find a real weakness on this team.
I have to give Easton Stick his due too. In the past, I have cited him as the team’s potential stumbling block, but he has been great this year. Stick isn’t asked to do a ton in this offense, but he doesn’t have to and doesn’t make mistakes either. He is an efficient passer and an excellent running threat as well.
Reasons Not to Like North Dakota State
The biggest reason to question the Bison going into this game is head coach Chris Klieman. Klieman is set to take over at Kansas State immediately after the game, yet the team has not looked distracted in the least due to their coach’s impending departure. Former coach Craig Bohl’s departure didn’t stop the 2013 Bison from winning the national title, and the Bison look set to follow in their predecessors’ footsteps.
I don’t think this will be close. Remember the 2013 BCS National Championship where Alabama quickly showed that they were vastly superior to Notre Dame? That’s the type of blowout I’m expecting.
Final Score: North Dakota State 51, Eastern Washington 17