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FCS: First Round Playoffs Preview and How to Watch

The playoffs get going this Saturday with the eight first round games.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Delaware at Navy Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

At long last the FCS playoffs kick off this weekend. The first eight games of the tournament feature high-flying offenses, ball-hawking defenses and even dynamic special teams units that could all send their teams into the second round. Some programs are back in the fray after long droughts (or for the first time ever) while other mainstays are making their return trips after going last year. From Delaware to Montana and everywhere in between, the opening round is sure to be as exciting as ever.

Here’s the matchups we have to look forward to on Saturday.

Furman, Elon Duel For Right to Play UIW

This year the Paladins turned some heads in the SoCon and won nine games, enough to get them into the playoffs. Samford may have claimed the league crown but make no mistakes, Furman is really, really good. So is their first round dance partner Elon. The Phoenix went 8-3 this season and stayed competitive in the stacked CAA. Now the two collide in Greenville with each trying to keep their season alive.

Elon has seen success this season thanks to transfer quarterback Matthew McKay and standout running back Jalen Hampton. McKay has thrown for 2,452 yards while Hampton has racked up 1,032 more on the ground. McKay is responsible for 24 touchdowns with Hampton adding another 10. Receiver Bryson Daughtry also plays a big role on the offense with 41 catches for 743 yards and six scores.

Furman’s defense, however, is stingy and has a knack for creating turnovers. Safety Hugh Ryan has grabbed four interceptions to lead a unit that has 16 on the season. McKay, who has tossed just four picks this year, will need to know where Ryan is on the field during every play.

The Paladins will also have the talents of their own dynamic running back, Dominic Roberto, at their disposal. Roberto has rushed for 960 yards and 10 touchdowns. He's only had two 100-yard games this fall but still leads the team in rush yards and rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Tyler Huff is also capable of running efficiently when need be.

If Furman can keep the ball out of McKay hands and set a tone by controlling the clock then they'll have a good shot. Elon, meanwhile, will need to make the most of each possession because, if the Paladins have their way, there won't be an abundance of them.

The game will kick off at 12:00 PM (ET) on ESPN+.

Delaware Hosts NEC Champion St. Francis

Going into this season, not many pegged St. Francis to come out on top in the NEC but the Red Flash went unbeaten in conference play to take the league crown and reach the playoffs for just the second time in program history. They’ll face the Blue Hens who, after starting strong, limped to the finish line but still got through despite their 7-4 record. Head man Ryan Carty is looking for his first career playoff win as a head coach while the Red Flash are seeking their first ever postseason victory.

UD quarterback Nolan Henderson has had an up-and-down campaign and has been dealing with an injury as of late. Henderson threw three touchdowns last week in the Blue Hens' loss to Villanova but tossed two interceptions and no scores the week prior against Richmond. If Henderson has an off day, the Red Flash defense will make him pay. DB Travell Cook has picked off three passes this season and has four PBUs.

St. Francis will be piloted by Cole Doyle. Doyle has thrown 21 touchdowns and only three interceptions all season. Receiver Makai Jackson is Doyle's primary target with 80 catches and eight scores. Delaware will need to find an answer for the duo or they could be on upset alert.

The contest will start at 2:00 PM (ET) on ESPN+.

DeMorat Leads High-Powered Rams Against UNH

If it wasn’t for a brutally close defeat at the hands of Patriot League counterpart Holy Cross, Fordham would have won their conference this fall and maybe not had to play this weekend. The Rams boast perhaps the deadliest offense in the entire FCS which means that New Hampshire will probably have their hands full in this one. The Wildcats are no slouch themselves, though, and the fireworks could come raining down when the two meet on Saturday.

Fordham slinger Tim DeMorat is the only FCS quarterback to throw for over 4,000 yards this year and he's surpassed that mark handedly. He leads the country with 53 passing touchdowns as well thanks to receivers like Fotis Kokosioulis, DeQuece Carter and MJ Wright, all three of which have over 1,000 yards. On top of all that, running back Trey Sneed has also hit the 1,000-yard threshold on the ground.

The UNH defense will have a lot of work to do and their own offense will need to find a way to keep pace because DeMorat and company will get their yards. Quarterback Max Brosmer will lead the way for the Wildcats. He's thrown for 2,564 yards and 22 touchdowns and like to spread the wealth. Nine different pass-catchers have hauled in scores for the Wildcats this year. Running back Dylan Laube will pace the rushing attack. His 996 yards and 12 touchdowns leads the team.

This one could be a long, trying day for the defensive coordinators. The Rams and Wildcats will both put up their fair share of points so it could very well come down to has the ball last.

ESPN+ will have the game at 2:00 PM (ET).

Richmond Welcomes Davidson

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Richmond at Virginia Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Davidson earned the Pioneer League’s auto bid for the third straight year but only did so this time because newcomer St. Thomas was ineligible to compete in the playoffs. The Wildcats will ride into to Richmond with the best rushing attack in the country but the Spiders have only lost once at home all year and that was to CAA champ William & Mary last weekend.

Richmond will be commanded by quarterback Reece Udinski who is one of the more effective passers in the nation. Udinski is completing throws at a 73.9% clip right now and has passed for over 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. The Spiders offense will function largely through what Udinski is able to do in the air. If he has a good day, they likely will too.

Davidson, meanwhile, will almost exclusively look to the ground game via the triple option attack. 16 different players have registered a carry this year with four rushing for over 400 yards. The Wildcats average 350.5 rush yards per game while only passing for 119.2. Running backs Dylan Sparks and Coy Williams will see the bulk of the workload but most anyone on the offense can and may tote the rock.

Spiders linebacker Tristan Wheeler will have his work cut out for him but he may be just the guy for the job. The All-American has recorded 94 total tackles and two sacks this season. He and fellow linebacker Philip O'Connor will man the middle and be key in slowing down Davidson's triple option scheme.

Simply put, if Richmond can bottle up the run and force Davidson into passing situations then they should be alright. If the Wildcats start to have success on the ground, though, and get Wheeler and company on their heels then this one gets interesting.

The game will begin at 2:00 PM (ET) on ESPN+.

Weber State Renews Retired Big Sky Rivalry with North Dakota

It’s been a while since Weber State and North Dakota have met on the gridiron. Back in 2019 the two teams clashed as UND was fresh on its way out of the Big Sky, the league the Wildcats still call home. This Saturday they’ll come together again but this time in the playoffs as members of different conferences. WSU might be the best non-seeded team in this year’s bracket at 9-2 but the Hawks battled one of the toughest schedules in the country and still came out with seven wins.

Special teams could be the deciding factor here and Weber State has one of the best units in the country as far as that’s concerned. Sophomore return specialist Abraham Williams is lethal with the ball in his hands as he’s run back four kickoffs for scores this year. This means North Dakota kicker Brady Stevens will need to boot the ball through the end zone every time he has the chance. The best way to combat a guy like Williams is to not let him even get the opportunity.

Offensively the Wildcats like to pass the ball with quarterback Bronson Barron. Barron often looks to receiver Ty MacPherson and sees his best numbers when doing so. MacPherson has 10 touchdowns and 917 yards on 52 receptions. The speedy wideout was one of the Big Sky’s best in 2022 and has the ability to turn a game on its head.

On the other side, Hawks quarterback Tommy Schuster will need to be wary of Maxwell Anderson. Anderson leads the WSU defense with five interceptions and has eight PBUs to go along with it. Schuster, while throwing 17 touchdowns this year, has tossed five interceptions.

UND will need a mistake free game to get by the Wildcats in Ogden. If there's one thing this Hawks team is, though, it's battle tested. Having played the likes of North Dakota State, South Dakota State and even Nebraska, you can bet these guys won't be intimidated by the caliber of their opponent.

The Wildcats and Hawks will kick at 4:00 PM (ET) on ESPN+.

Gardner-Webb Makes Playoff Debut at EKU

The Bulldogs are primed to make their first ever postseason appearance after beating Big South foe North Carolina A&T last weekend to snag the conference title. The 6-5 record might not jump off the page, but Gardner-Webb has a talented bunch who will have to face the AQ7’s top team Eastern Kentucky. The Colonels strung together seven wins and their only loss at home this year came to FBS-bound Sam Houston.

Eastern Kentucky quarterback Parker McKinney is capable of lighting up the stat sheet and might have a big day against a Bulldogs defense that surrenders 240.2 passing yards per game. McKinney has thrown for 3,502 yards and 28 touchdowns this fall. He's had three games this year in which he's tossed at least four scores.

Meanwhile on Gardner-Webb's side, receiver TJ Luther has the ability to be a gamebreaker. Luther averages 18.8 yards per reception and has 1,072 total yards. He's brought in seven touchdowns from signal-caller Bailey Fisher.

Fisher and Luther will need to have their connection rolling if the Bulldogs want an opportunity of unending EKU. Likewise, if Gardner-Webb can't slow down McKinney then their playoff debut will be short-lived.

The contest will kick off at 5:00 PM (ET) on ESPN+.

Idaho’s Postseason Drought Ends with Bout Against SLU

NCAA Football: Idaho at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a long time since fans in Moscow have seen their beloved Vandals in the FCS playoffs. Not since 1995 has Idaho made a showing in the tournament and, while of course the program spent several years in the FBS between then and now, this is a monumental feat for first-year head coach Jason Eck and his staff. The 7-4 Vandals will duel with Southland champions Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday night. The Lions are making a return trip to the playoffs in spite of losing one of the best passers the program has ever seen last year in Cole Kelley.

One reason Idaho has had so much success is the play of freshman quarterback Gevani McCoy and receiver Hayden Hatten. The pair has been virtually unstoppable this season as McCoy has thrown for 2,392 yards and 25 touchdowns. Even more impressive, the first-year signal caller has only thrown five picks. Hatten has been on the receiving end of 15 of those scores and has 1,000 yards.

Southeastern Louisiana will look to thwart the McCoy-Hatten connection with one of the best DBs out there in Zy Alexander. He may only have two interceptions this season but on his career Alexander has picked off opposing passers eight times. His numbers are only lower this year because no one wants to look his way. He will be a key player in slowing the Vandals passing attack down.

On offense, SLU will likely run two quarterbacks with Cephus Johnson and Eli Sawyer. With almost identical passing numbers this fall, Johnson and Sawyer have combined for nearly 3,000 passing yards and 21 touchdowns. Johnson is much more mobile and can run the ball too when needed. He’s carried it 77 times for 419 yards.

Idaho will need to not only weather a long trip but also need to be ready for an offense that can hurt its opponents in a variety of ways. If McCoy and Hatten get going, however, then don't be surprised if the Vandals keep it within striking distance late.

The game can be streamed on ESPN+ at 7:00 PM (ET).

SEMO, Montana Battle on Saturday Night

Griz fans breathed a collective sigh of relief when the committee called their name last Sunday because it wasn’t for-sure thing they’d be here, especially after the ugly loss to in-state rival MSU in the finale. Nonetheless, Montana is in and hosting Southeast Missouri State on Saturday night. The Redhawks come in with a stout rushing attack but the Grizzlies are typically good at stuffing the run. Something will have to give in Missoula.

Bobby Hauck’s team will need to be better on defense than they were last weekend or SEMO running back Geno Hess will have himself a day. Hess has rushed for 1,569 yards and 19 touchdowns this year and has three games in which he’s surpassed 200 yards on the ground. Last week Montana gave up 439 rush yards but on the season they only surrender 128.4 per contest.

Both starting quarterbacks could be a no-go in this one as well, adding another layer to the chess match. UM’s Lucas Johnson went down with a leg injury in the Brawl of the Wild last Saturday while Redhawks signal-caller Paxton DeLaurent has been dealing with his own lower body issue. If neither can play, then it will be a battle of the backups. Montana’s Daniel Britt has shown flashes in his limited time this season while Patrick Heitert has been filling in for DeLaurent on the other side.

The Grizzlies have some of the best defensive talent in the FCS with linebacker Patrick O’Connell, corner Justin Ford and Buck Buchanan finalist safety Robby Hauck. Those three will need to correct last week’s mistakes, though, if Montana doesn’t want to suffer a rare home loss and get bounced early.

ESPN2 will carry the game at 10:00 PM (ET).