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FCS First Round Prediction and Preview: Eastern Washington vs. North Dakota State

FCS First Round Prediction and Preview: Eastern Washington vs. North Dakota State

FCS First Round Prediction and Preview: Eastern Washington vs. North Dakota State

A tumultuous season for FCS programs nationwide culminates with 16 teams — down from the usual 24 — vying to take home the championship crown. The North Dakota State Bison have accomplished that feat in each of the last three seasons — and in eight of the last nine — but the first team standing in their way is the Eastern Washington Eagles, who lost their season opener but enter the playoffs with plenty of momentum on the heels of a five-game winning streak.

Speaking of streaks, Eastern Washington (at 14) now owns the longest active streak in the FCS of consecutive winning seasons with McNeese suffering its first sub-.500 campaign after 15 straight winning seasons. The Eagles closed the regular season with a seven-point win over Idaho, avenging their season-opening loss to the Vandals by the same margin. North Dakota State, meanwhile, saw its stretch of four straight wins — and nine straight conference championships — come to an end with a 10-point home loss to South Dakota State last weekend, the Bison's first loss in their last 32 games at the Fargodome.

This will be the fifth meeting between the two schools. North Dakota State has won the past three after Eastern Washington was victorious in the first-ever matchup back in 2010. The most recent encounter was in the national title game two seasons ago. The Bison, led by quarterback Easton Stick's five total touchdowns, beat the Eagles 38-24 in Frisco, Texas, on Jan. 5, 2019 to claim a second straight championship. EWU quarterback Eric Barriere, then a sophomore, finished with only 198 passing yards while tossing two interceptions. He'll get an opportunity to redeem himself on Saturday.

FCS Playoffs First Round: Eastern Washington at North Dakota State

Kickoff: Saturday, April 24 at 3:30 p.m. ET


Spread: North Dakota State -6.5

When Eastern Washington Has the Ball

The Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year, Eagles quarterback Eric Barriere also is one of 16 finalists for the prestigious Walter Payton Award, which goes to the best offensive player in the FCS. The senior finished fifth in the voting in 2019 and is considered one of the favorites to win it this season after finishing the regular season in the top five nationally in passing yards (2,199, fourth) and touchdown passes (18, third). He's avearging 367 yards per game through the air and even more impressive, a whopping 13.3 yards per completion. Barriere has been putting up big numbers throughout his EWU career and has led his Eagles to the doorstep of a national championship, falling to North Dakota State two seasons ago. He will no doubt be extra motivated to erase that painful memory.

But Barriere is far from alone when it comes to major contributors on offense for the Eagles, who boast the top offense (562.5 ypg) in the FCS thanks to a host of dynamic playmakers, both through the air and on the ground. Tamarick Pierce enters the weekend as the Big Sky's leading rusher with 437 yards, while he and backfield mate Dennis Merritt have each scored four times on the ground. Talolo Limu-Jones leads the subdivision with 120.2 receiving yards per game and is averaging seven catches per contest. Keep an eye on Anthony Stell Jr., a big-play threat (16.8 ypr) in his own right. All told, 10 different Eagles have caught at least one touchdown pass, meaning Barriere is not afraid to spread the ball around.