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FCS: Second Round Playoffs Preview and How to Watch

The seeded teams are coming off their byes and ready to battle for spots in the quarterfinals.

North Dakota v North Dakota State Photo by Sean Arbaut/Getty Images

Fans got all they asked for and more in the opening round of the FCS playoffs last weekend and now it’s time to do it all again. Eight more games dot the postseason schedule this weekend and by Saturday night only eight teams will remain in the field. With all the seeded squads taking center stage now, the second round is sure to feature more exhilarating football.

Holy Cross Welcomes New Hampshire

The Crusaders have been playing football since 1891 and this year they probably fielded their best team in all that time. Bob Chesney’s bunch went 11-0 this season and, while the Patriot League doesn’t yield the toughest competition, Holy Cross still earned a seed and will have the chance to really prove their mettle this Saturday. New Hampshire did something not many teams can do last weekend by outpacing Fordham’s high-powered offense. Now they get a chance to land a blow on the other Patriot League representative in Worcester.

This could be a shootout thanks to the two quarterbacks taking the field. UNH’s Max Brosmer is fresh off a three-touchdown performance last week and a season high in yardage (348) against Fordham. He hasn’t thrown a pick since mid-October and is completing passes at a 63% clip. He’ll go up against the dual-threat Crusaders signal-caller Matthew Sluka. Sluka has thrown for 2,303 yards and 25 touchdowns this fall while rushing for 918 yards and eight scores.

With two potent offenses going at it, it could be the defenses that decide this one. Holy Cross linebacker Liam Anderson has 11.5 tackles for loss this season (70 total) while senior cornerback Devin Haskins locks things down on the back end. Haskins has grabbed four interceptions and has broken up 12 passes. On the other side, New Hampshire’s D boasts standout end Dylan Ruiz. Ruiz has authored 11 sacks this year and has forced a fumble.

Crusaders running back Peter Oliver will likely split the bulk of the ground work with Sluka. Olver has ran for 785 yards and five touchdowns. Dylan Laube will handle similar duties for the Wildcats. Last week he had a monster day with 157 yards and three scores. He averages over five yards per carry and has scored at least one touchdown in six straight games.

Both teams have their work cut out for them in this game. Holy Cross has proven that it’s capable of keeping up with a team like New Hampshire but UNH did just get by the one team that gave the Crusaders the most trouble they saw this year. Fans are in for a treat on Saturday.

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

Furman Takes on High-Powered Incarnate Word

Only one team has been able to stymie the lethal Cardinals offense this fall and even then it was more of an outpacing on SLU’s part than actually slowing them down. It’s difficult to imagine a world in which quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr. doesn’t walk away with the Walter Payton Award and with studs on the outside, Incarnate Word seems almost impossible to stop. Furman, however, will step up to the plate this weekend and try to do just that. The Paladins are riding a seven-game win streak into San Antonio this weekend and to make it eight, they’ll need to find answers for a UIW team that can score at will.

Scott has put up video games this year for the Cardinals. His 50 passing touchdowns are second in the FCS and his 3,791 yards rank seventh best among quarterbacks at both the FCS and FBS levels. He averages 344.6 yards and over four touchdowns per contest. Guys like receiver Taylor Grimes make those stats possible. Grimes is responsible for over 1,000 of those yards and 13 of the scores.

Furman has a good secondary but it will be tested greatly in this one. Safety Ryan Hugh has notched four interceptions and eight PBUs this year while cornerback Micah Robinson is right behind him with three picks. These two will have a tall order in keeping Grimes locked down but if the Paladins want a chance at the upset, they’ll need to find a way.

Tyler Huff will command the Furman offense. He controlled the game well against Elon last week and, while his numbers don’t jump off the page, he played mistake-free and will need to do so again this week. Huff will likely look to tight end Ryan Miller often. Miller leads the team with 726 receiving yards and has 12 touchdowns on the year.

There’s no other way to say it, the Paladins need to limit the damage from Scott and company or this one could be over before it really starts. On the same token, if the offense can’t do its part to keep pace then the Cardinals could run away with it early and things could get ugly.

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

Gardner-Webb Looks to Keep Run Going at William & Mary

It was a monumental weekend for the Bulldogs last week who picked up their first ever playoff win thanks to the thrashing they gave EKU. Now things get trickier, though, as Gardner-Webb eyes down a 10-1 William & Mary team that’s having a banner year of their own. The Tribe picked up a share of the CAA championship on the back of an electric offense and stout defense. If the Bulldogs want to keep their run going they’ll need to find a way to get past one of the best defensive lines in the nation and do it on the road.

Gardner-Webb is hoping for running back Narii Gaither to duplicate his performance from last week. Against the Colonels Gaither ran for a career-high 245 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Bailey Fisher ran for three touchdowns in that game but is typically more of a true passer. He’s thrown for 2,837 yards and 19 touchdowns over the course of the season.

The Tribe defense allows just 139.4 yards per game and guys like Buck Buchanan Award finalist Joh Pius are a big reason why. Pius has made 19 tackles for loss this year and has sacked opposing QBs 11 times. He will be key in slowing down Gaither and Fisher. Defensive lineman Nate Lynn will also play a big role in closing the gaps. Lynn has six sacks and 51 total tackles.

Darius Wilson will be under center for William & Mary and will be looking for his third consecutive 200-yard passing game. Wilson is on the cusp of eclipsing 2,000 yards for the year and has tossed 13 touchdowns.

It will, admittedly, take a lot for Gardner-Webb to keep their run going but it’s not impossible. If they can get another big day from Gaither and Fisher then anything is possible. However, if the Tribe defense shows up and handles business at home then it should be on to the quarterfinals for W&M for the first time since 2009.

ESPN+ will carry the game which kicks at 2:00 PM (ET) on Saturday.

#1 Jacks, Blue Hens Battle in Brookings

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 29 Indiana State at South Dakota State Photo by Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It takes a lot to knock off the #1 team in the land but Delaware will be tasked with that job this weekend after dismantling St. Francis last Saturday. The Jackrabbits seemed primed to make a run at a national title and their postseason journey kicks off this Saturday when they welcome in the Blue Hens. While Delaware sputtered into the playoffs, losing three of its final four games, South Dakota State scorched its way in on the heels of 10-consecutive victories. The Jacks, however, haven’t played in almost three weeks due to the way their byes lined up this year and UD is hoping for that to play in their favor.

SDSU does it right in about every department but perhaps none more so than their run defense. The Jacks lead the FCS with allowing just a mere 71.4 rush yards per contest and they’re expected to have stud linebacker Adam Bock returning to the lineup. It likely won’t be the running defense, though, that’s put on the hot seat here but more so the passing defense.

Delaware quarterback Nolan Henderson knows how to light up a scoreboard. Last week he torched St. Francis for 266 yards and four touchdowns. Henderson has six games this fall in which he’s thrown for at least three scores and four in which he has at least 300 passing yards. He will look to receivers Jourdan Townsend and Chandler Harvin a lot. The duo has combined for 1,072 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Mark Gronowski will guide the Jackrabbits offense as will running back Isaiah Davis. Davis 68 yards away from breaking 1,000 on the year and Gronowski has tossed for 2,247 yards. Also boosting the offense will be the Janke brothers Jaxon and Jaden. The pair have racked up 1,201 yards on 85 total catches and have 10 touchdowns between them.

Only one team beat John Stiegelmeier’s SDSU team this fall and that was Iowa (barely). They haven’t lost in Brookings since October of last year meaning that Delaware’s task this weekend is truly gargantuan. The Blue Hens, though, are scrappy and have shown glimpses of being a contender under first-year head man Ryan Carty.

The game will begin at 3:00 PM (ET) on ESPN+.

Montana State Hosts Weber State in Big Sky Rematch

When Weber State and Montana State met up back in October it was a nail-biting game that was ultimately decided by the record-setting four safeties MSU scored because of bad snaps from long snapper Grant Sands. Sands is still handling long ball duties for the Wildcats and he’ll get his shot at redemption this Saturday when Weber State heads back to Bozeman. The Bobcats, though, are not easy to beat at home as they’ve 18 straight in their building. It’s shaping up to be a good one between the two Big Sky rivals.

Special teams could easily be the deciding factor here and not just because of Sands. Weber State return man Abraham Williams is as dangerous as anyone with the ball in his hands as he’s returned four kickoffs for touchdowns this year including one against Montana State earlier in the season. Bobcats kicker Blake Glessner should probably just boot it out of the end zone if he can.

The Bobcats haven’t been full bore at running back all season and still are one of the top rushing teams with 325.7 yards per game. This week they’re expected to have All-American running back Isaiah Ifanse back in the fold after he’s missed all season with an injury. Last year Ifanse was one of the best backs in the nation with 1,623 yards. Also running the ball for MSU will be their one-two punch at quarterback; Sean Chambers and Tommy Mellott. Chambers has run for 17 touchdowns this fall while Mellott leads the team with 846 rush yards.

Bronson Barron will run the ship for the Wildcats. He didn’t throw often against UND last week but he didn’t need to and that’s because Josh Davis and Damon Bankston were handling business on the ground. Both backs had over 100 yards against the Hawks. Receiver Ty MacPherson will also be a key player if Bronson does look to the air. The first time out against MSU, MacPherson hauled in five passes for 69 yards and a score.

If any team wants a do-over from a loss earlier this season its definitely Weber State against Montana State. Jay Hill’s team would have probably won that game had it not been for the bad snaps. The Bobcats, however, have part of the Big Sky crown this year and they’re out to prove that was no fluke. It’ll be a fun one when the two meet for their second act this weekend.

The contest will kick off at 3:00 PM (ET) on ESPN+.

SLU Faces SoCon Champ Samford

The surprise team of the year might be Samford. The SoCon was picked to send two or perhaps even three teams but the Bulldogs weren’t considered by many to be one of said teams. Chris Hatcher’s group has done nothing but prove the naysayers wrong all year and now his team is three wins away from Frisco. Southeastern Louisiana, however, is coming in hot off a shootout win over Idaho last Saturday night and if they can keep their rhythm Samford could find itself in some hot water. Can the Southland champs knock off the SoCon kings? We’ll find out this weekend.

Samford quarterback Michael Hiers has been one of the best in the business this season with 3,290 yards and 35 touchdowns. Hiers has three straight four-touchdown games and went 43-of-55 against Mercer in the season finale a couple weeks ago. The Bulldogs will go as far as he can take them and right now he’s as hot as any QB out there.

Cephus Johnson will look to put on another big showing like he did against Idaho last weekend. Johnson did not throw any touchdowns but he ran for two and had 277 all-purpose yards. On the season Johnson has thrown for 1,354 yards and ten touchdowns while running 488 yards and five more.

This game may come down to whichever defense can deliver a big stop. Samford has forced nine fumbles and picked off opposing passers 10 times this year while SLU has authored 23 takeaways of their own. Zy Alexander came up with a huge interception last week and could have hands all over a game-icing play again this time out.

Both teams come into this one with a ton of excitement. The Bulldogs are playing a home playoff game for the first time ever while the Lions are still flying high after their heart-stopping win in the opening round. With all that momentum colliding on Saturday, fans are in for a treat.

The game starts at 3:00 PM (ET) on ESPN+.

NDSU, Montana Face Off in Fargo

Only one team in recent memory has been able to beat North Dakota State on the road in the playoffs and that team (JMU) is no longer in the subdivision. This week, Montana will look to join that rarified air after staging an incredible comeback to get by SEMO last weekend. The Bison are no joke this time of year and, even though they’ve lost three players to the transfer portal and All-American Hunter Luepke is injured, it’s difficult to bet against them. It’ll be a battle of two FCS bluebloods on Saturday afternoon and someone’s road is coming to an end.

Montana has seen two different versions of its offense this year and both showed up in last week’s comeback win. If the Griz get the offense from the first half then they’re in trouble but if they get the offense from the third quarter then they have a chance. Quarterback Lucas Johnson has been battling a leg injury this year but did play last week. He threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns against the Redhawks.

Where UM is really dangerous, though, is their special teams. Malik Flowers is scarier than anyone in the country on kickoffs and he proved it again last week. Flowers now has seven career kick return touchdowns this year but watch out for Junior Bergen in the punt game as well. He also took one the distance last time out.

North Dakota State will again try and lean on their vaunted rushing attack to get it done. Hunter Luepke may still be sidelined with a shoulder injury and, while that would be a big blow, they still have guys who can get it done on the ground. TaMerik Williams has run for 559 yards and seven touchdowns this year while Kobe Johnson is right behind him with 512 yards and three scores.

The Grizzlies had a disappointing end to their regular season but it feels like the page is turned on a new season now. If they can manage to do the unthinkable and beat the Bison at home then they’re as scary as anyone on their side of the bracket. We’ve seen this story before, though, with NDSU. The Bison are just different in December and while Matt Entz’s team may not look quite like versions from the past, this is still their game to lose.

Montana and North Dakota State get underway at 3:30 PM (ET) on ESPN+.

Sac State Looks to End Playoff Woes vs Richmond

Montana v Sacramento State Photo by Tommy Martino/University of Montana/Getty Images

Over the last few year, Sacramento State has picked up a nasty habit of winning Big Sky titles then floundering in the playoffs. Since 2019 the Hornets are 29-7 but 0-2 in the postseason. This year they are looking to finally get over their playoff hiccups against a Richmond squad that lit it up in their first round win last weekend. While the Spiders are riding in off the heels of a 41-0 beatdown of Davidson, Sac State has the momentum of a perfect 11-0 season backing them. The question now is, whose head of steam will carry them further on Saturday?

The Hornets will need to find an answer for Spiders quarterback Reece Udinski because he was on fire last week. Udinski only had three incompletions (28-of-31) as he threw for 246 yards and two touchdowns. He spreads the ball effectively to a myriad of targets and can keep the chains moving with the best of them.

Sac State, though, has twice as many effective signal-callers with Asher O’Hara and Jake Dunniway. O’Hara likes to run more while Dunniway handles the majority of the passing but together they are nearly unstoppable. O’Hara’s 19 rushing touchdowns rank second best in the FCS.

Cameron Skattebo is also a force to be reckoned with for the Hornets offense. He’s ran for 1,250 yards and five scores this fall. Skattebo has game-breaking ability every time he gets a touch and if Richmond’s defensive front lets him by then look out. Linebacker Tristan Wheeler will need to be ready on every handoff.

This one may end up being the best one of the entire slate if the Spiders play the way they did last weekend. Sac State will get their points but if Udinski is on his game then it could be a track meet. The Hornets have won those before but would they be able to do it again under the bright lights of the playoffs?

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