Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The two best teams in the FCS are playing for the FCS national championship, and they're both confident of different outcomes.
North Dakota State (14-0) will try to become the second program to win three straight FCS national titles when they meet Towson (13-2) at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Jan. 4.
NDSU head coach Craig Bohl hopes to ride off to his Wyoming Cowboys sunset with the three-peat, while Towson will go West - Terrance West - with hope of ruining what seems to be the Bison's destiny.
The Bison have been the best FCS team, with the most dominant defense, for three straight years. Towson, though, has showed it belongs in the title game against the Bison, having beaten the No. 2 (Eastern Illinois) and No. 3 seeds (Eastern Washington) along the way this postseason.
Sixty minutes are all that remain in the FCS' first 24-team playoff bracket. Both teams will try to stake their claim to the title in what could be a classic showdown. Let's hope for that anyway.
Why North Dakota State will win the FCS championship: The Bison have more than just the best defense in the FCS. They are in the Top 10 nationally in scoring offense at 39 points per game, have terrific special teams in kicking, returns and coverage, and they won't have many butterflies (unlike Towson) as they make their third straight trip to Frisco. Oh yes, foremost is that nobody seems to solve Chris Klieman's kick-butt defense.
Why North Dakota State won't win the FCS championship: The enormous moment devours the Bison. The two-time defending national champs out of the Missouri Valley Football Conference have really been on the ropes only twice this season, and that goes way back to Kansas State on Aug. 30 and Northern Iowa on Oct. 5. If Towson pushes the bully on the block well into the third quarter, the unbeaten Bison might start playing not to lose instead of playing to win.
Why Towson will win the FCS championship: Terrance West. He's the Tigers' hope. NDSU has solved two-time 2,000-yard rusher Zach Zenner of South Dakota State over the last two seasons, but West has reached a higher level, willing the Tigers through the playoffs with his north-south style of domination. The junior, who has FCS single-season records with 2,416 rushing yards and 41 touchdowns, gives the Tigers confidence when he is steamrolling an opponent.
Why Towson won't win the FCS championship: If the Bison simply continue to be the best team in the nation, and there's been no indication otherwise. The Tigers have to be in the game, and probably leading, at halftime. If they turn the ball over or West doesn't have a huge game, the Tigers will have a hard time matching the Bison's ball-hawking defense, which is really goal No. 1 for the CAA Football squad.
PLAYOFF SEMIFINALS SCOREBOARD
A roundup of the two FCS playoff semifinals can be found at http://tinyurl.com/l489n4f.
Offense - West is just too good to deny again. The junior helped the Tigers to a 35-31 win over Eastern Washington in the FCS semifinals with 119 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. Most impressive was the fact he set a new FCS single-season record with his 40th and 41st overall touchdowns, but then he downplayed the new standard because the Tigers are headed to the FCS championship game.
Defense - North Dakota State junior linebacker Carlton Littlejohn led the Bison in tackles for the second straight playoff game, this time with 10. But he added in two tackles for loss, a sack and three pass breakups to help drop New Hampshire, 52-14, and send the Bison to a third straight FCS national championship game.
Special Teams - The North Dakota State special teams have been a huge part of the Bison's success in recent years. Punter Ben LeCompte did his part in the win over New Hampshire, sending all three of his punts inside the Wildcats' 20-yard line and averaging 47.3 yards per attempt, with a long of 58 yards.
The Missouri Valley Football Conference (North Dakota State) and CAA Football (Towson) are the last conferences standing as the 24-team field pairs to two for the national championship game.
Records of the 11 FCS conferences in the FCS playoffs:
Missouri Valley - 4-1 (.800)
CAA - 6-2 (.750)
Big South - 2-1 (.667)
Ohio Valley - 4-3 (.571)
Southland - 2-3 (.400)
Big Sky - 2-4 (.333)
Patriot - 1-2 (.333)
Southern - 1-2 (.333)
Northeast - 0-1 (.000)
Pioneer - 0-1 (.000)
Mid-Eastern Athletic - 0-2 (.000)
The winners of the four major awards in the FCS were: 27th Walter Payton Award (outstanding player), Eastern Illinois senior quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo; 19th Buck Buchanan Award (outstanding defensive player), Montana State senior defensive end Brad Daly; 3rd Jerry Rice Award (FCS freshman of the year), Eastern Washington freshman wide receiver Cooper Kupp; and 27th Eddie Robinson Award (FCS coach of the year), North Dakota State's Craig Bohl.
The FCS Awards, sponsored by The Sports Network, can be found at http://tinyurl.com/yhv6oh8.
THE FINAL PICK
Week 17 Record: 2-0 (1.000)
Season Record: 635-222 (.741)
FCS Championship Game
Saturday, Jan. 4
Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas
2 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
No. 7 seed Towson (13-2) vs. X-No. 1 seed North Dakota State (14-0) - Towson will need more than West (OK, maybe) to solve the Bison defense. The Yellow and Green machine also have a pretty dominant signal caller in senior Brock Jensen who has received his just accolodes. Three straight national titles appears to be the Bison's destiny.