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FCS Quarterfinals Predictions: Friday Night Lights??

Despite an empty Saturday slate of college football, the FCS Quarterfinals will mostly take place on Friday night. Thanks, NCAA and ESPN!

2019 NCAA Division I Football Championship Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The FCS Quarterfinals are finally here. After an entire season of playing great football and building bonds that will last a lifetime, eight teams still have a chance to win the championship. What a remarkable achievement! Here’s your reward: playing on a Friday night with just one other college football game happening this weekend. What?!

Six teams will have to play on friday night due to available television spots. From what I can tell, ESPN decided to have a bunch of early season college basketball games on rather than the FCS Playoffs. I’m sure they have some ratings or whatever to justify it, however it’s still unfair to the players, coaches, and fans of this Division.

By this point, we all know that being a “STUDENT-athlete” is far less important than the money generated by those “student-athletes.” But there’s something disturbing about making students at the FCS-level, who have an even smaller chance of monetizing their football skills than their FBS counterparts, take finals on a truncated schedule. The shorter week also increases the risk of injury and impacts coaching prep. In the end, the quality of play will suffer and we all get a worse product on the biggest weekend of the FCS season so far. Do better, NCAA and ESPN.

Okay back to the actual football. After last year’s bizarrely chalk quarters where all eight seeded teams made it, we are back to the normal amount of underdogs. Three unseeded teams made to the Final Eight, which is the same number of unseeded teams as the 2017, 2016, and 2015 quarterfinals. Here are my picks for the weekend:

Northern Iowa (+12.5) @ James Madison, 7 pm, ESPN 2

James Madison looks like the defining powerhouse of the 2019 FCS season, so far. They have yet to lose to a FCS opponent while playing in one of the Division’s best conferences, the CAA. Last week, they hammered a very good Monmouth team 66-21. On the first play of the second quarter, Monmouth tied the game at 21. Then, the Dukes scored 45 unanswered points. It was like a nature documentary where a seal thinks it’s about to get away from the orcas only to realize that the orcas are merely playing with their food, then it gets launch 60 feet in the air and torn to shreds. Poor seal, poor Monmouth.

UNI is an excellent team with a great defense. They had a real chip on shoulder last week against South Dakota State, whom they believed got unrightfully seeded ahead of them. The Panthers’ best hope is to create turnovers as they rank among the Nation’s leaders in takeaways and defensive touchdowns. I think JMU holds on to the ball and advances.

JMU 24 UNI 14

Austin Peay (+6) @ Montana State, 8 pm, ESPN 3

Montana State is on a different level lately. They have won four straight games, including blowing out archrival Montana and a really good Albany team. The Bobcats seem unbeatable at home right now. Getting within three touchdowns of Montana State in Bozeman is an achievement.

On the other side, Austin Peay is the best story of the 2019 season. Just three seasons removed from being one of the worst teams in the country, the Govs are in the FCS quarterfinals and have a road win in the playoffs against the Big Sky’s co-champs Sacramento State (RIP Herky, see you next year).

But they’re more than just a great story. They can legitimately win this game and make it to the Final Four. DeAngelo Wilson may be the best receiver in all of FCS. He leads the nation in receiving yards and put 132 yards and a TD last game. He’s going up against a defense that is 87th in passing yards allowed. I want to pick a big upset, so I’m rolling with Wilson and the Govs.

Austin Peay 34 Montana State 31

Montana @ Weber State (+1.5), 10 pm, ESPN 2

This is probably the best game on paper in this round. Montana just blew the doors off Southeastern Louisiana State 73-28, which is absurd. Weber State played a stronger opponent in Kennesaw State and needed a small comeback to win 26-20. Montana also beat Weber State 35-16 just last month. Furthermore, Weber’s passing defense has been aggressively mediocre going up against one of the best aerial attacks in FCS.

HOWEVA, Weber State is my pick for two reasons. First, they have been great at home this year and haven’t lost in Ogden yet. Second, they’re going to be hyped up for this chance at revenge on Montana. The loss to the Griz marked the only time that Weber State lost to an FCS opponent. Additionally, they’re home dogs in the playoffs. We’ve seen hype play a huge role in a couple of playoff matchups (Austin Peay’s first game and UNI’s revenge spot against SDSU). Get that sweet revenge, Wildcats.

Weber State 31 Montana 27

Illinois State @ North Dakota State (-20.5) , 12 pm, ESPN

The only game being played on college football’s traditional day! Unfortunately, this one is probably the easiest to predict. Illinois State is injured at the quarterback spot, so they’ve become completely reliant on their run game. Specifically, the Redbirds have put their offense in the hands of running back James Robinson. As Sam Herder of Hero Sports pointed out, he’s been an absolute workhorse for ISU.

He’s 5th in the nation for rushing yards, but 43rd in rushing yards per carry and has 42 more carries than any other back in the country. But you can’t beat NDSU with just a strong rushing attack and a stingy defense. It’s just impossible to out-Bison the Bison.

But if NDSU does end up losing at some point, we may look back at the game against Nicholls as the “if it bleeds, we can kill it” moment. The Bison’s offense mightily struggled until the middle of the 3rd quarter. Then, they scored 23 unanswered points. It’s probably not a big deal, but their struggles were a bit surprising in light of their offensive power this year. Either way, NDSU is winning this game easily.