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FCS Game of the Week Preview: No. 4 UC Davis at No. 1 North Dakota State

NCAA Football: UC - Davis at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Game Time: Saturday, September 21, 2019, 3:30 p.m. ET

Location: Fargodome, Fargo, North Dakota

How To Watch: ESPN Plus

Betting Odds: North Dakota State -25.5, O/U 59

North Dakota State is the No. 1 team in the nation once more. The Bison have yet to be tested this season, thrashing Butler, North Dakota and Delaware by a combined margin of 142-39 in their first three games of 2019.

UC Davis enters this game ranked No. 4, but the Aggies have had some tougher tests. They are 2-1 with a 27-13 loss to FBS Cal in their opener, and they squeaked by San Diego, 38-35, in their first game against an FCS opponent. The Aggies finally registered a big win last week, hammering Patriot League patsy Lehigh, 41-13.

Reasons to Like North Dakota State

What’s not to like about the Bison? This has been the preeminent team in the FCS throughout the decade, and they produced the most well-known FCS player of the decade in Carson Wentz.

North Dakota State enters this game averaging a whopping 8.1 yards per play. The Bison are averaging a full half-yard more per play than any other team in the FCS, and that’s indicative of their dominance. They have run the ball with ease (averaging 316.3 YPG on the ground), and that makes play action incredibly effective.

The defense is one of the best in the country too. North Dakota State rank fourth in the country in total defense, and the the Bison give up just four yards per play. They have already recorded 20 tackles for loss and nine sacks on the year with Derrek Tuszka leading the way.

Reasons Not to Like North Dakota State

In my eyes, there are only two reasons not to like the Bison here. The first is the relative inexperience of young quarterback Trey Lance. Lance is a redshirt freshman who has started each of ND State’s first three games this season, and he is an excellent dual-threat quarterback. He has thrown just 50 passes during his short career though, so there’s still a lot to be seen.

The other reason is the quality of North Dakota State’s opponents. Butler lost to NAIA Taylor University and needed double overtime to beat NAIA Indiana Wesleyan. North Dakota is transitioning from becoming an independent to joining the Missouri Valley, and the Fighting Hawks weren’t good last year. The only decent opponent the Bison have faced is Delaware, and the Blue Hens don’t have great quarterback play.

Reasons to Like UC Davis

Jake Maier is one of the best quarterbacks at the FCS level. Maier was named a Preseason All-American by most publications that cover the FCS, and he was the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year in 2018. He did not have a great start to the season, struggling mightily against a very good Cal defense, but he has been sharp in FCS play. Maier has completed 77 percent of his passes against FCS opponents, averaging 8.6 yards per pass attempt.

Ulonzo Gilliam has had a good season as the team’s primary running back, and Gilliam even had some moderate success against Cal. That bodes well against a North Dakota State front that is great at stopping the run.

Reasons Not to Like UC Davis

The Aggies don’t have a great defense, and North Dakota State is probably going to run for a lot of yards against this front seven. UC Davis has the 49th-best run defense in the country coming into this game, but that is likely to fall after this game.

Prediction

North Dakota State is going to win this game, but UC Davis will keep it somewhat close. The Aggies have a very good quarterback that should have some success against the Bison secondary in Maier, and Lance is not the type of quarterback that will light up opponents through the air. NDSU will have a big day on the ground, but UC Davis will earn the cover.

Final Score: North Dakota State 41, UC Davis 24