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FCS Football: Predictions for First-Round Playoff Games

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Phil and Tiger have it right. There’s no taking off over Thanksgiving weekend, it’s FCS playoff time. Let the trash talk fall where it may.

FCS

Two-thirds of the 24-team field will be in action. Eight winners will take the first steps on the Road to Frisco and eight losers will find Black Friday has been extended into Saturday.

Let’s get it on.

P.S. The eight seeded teams with byes, and resting on a comfy couch, say Phil and Tiger have it all wrong.

The FCS first-round playoff games:

Note: All times ET

Saturday, Nov. 24

Duquesne (8-3) at Towson (7-4), 2 p.m.

Flacco. Yeah, in Pittsburgh, they’re used to hearing that name. Duquesne, the Northeast Conference co-champ, seeks to throw a Steel Curtain on Joe Flacco’s younger brother Tom, the CAA Football offensive player of the year who’s third in the FCS in total offense. The Dukes’ offense will pound away with junior running back A.J. Hines, who’s 3-for-3 in 1,000-yard seasons and won four straight conference offensive player of the week awards during their five-game winning streak. The winner of this first-time matchup will play at No. 5 seed South Dakota State (8-2) in the second round Dec. 1.

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Pick: Towson

Elon (6-4) at Wofford (8-3), 2 p.m.

There are five first-time meetings in the first round, but these two teams know each other well, with Wofford holding a 26-11 series lead, including 9-2 when they were together in the Southern Conference. At quarterback, Elon has gone back to 2016 starter Daniel Thompson, the third-stringer just last month. Wofford’s offensive backfield is all experience with quarterback Joe Newman and triple option backs Andre Stoddard and Lennox McAfee. The winner will play at No. 4 seed Kennesaw State (10-1) in the second round Dec. 1.

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Pick: Wofford

Stony Brook (7-4) at Southeast Missouri (8-3), 2 p.m.

Southeast Missouri has reversed its 3-8 record in each of the past two seasons behind a surprisingly diverse offense, which averages more than 39 points behind the outstanding trio of quarterback Daniel Santacaterina, running back Marquis Terry and wide receiver Daniel Santacaterina. But the defenses they face in the Ohio Valley Conference aren’t as strong as the Stony Brook unit, which features linebackers Shayne Lawless and Noah McGinty. The winner of this first-time meeting will play at No. 2 seed Weber State (9-2) in the second round Dec. 1.

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Pick: Southeast Missouri

Delaware (7-4) at James Madison (8-3), 3 p.m.

Two of the record six CAA playoff qualifiers square off in the first round because they didn’t meet in the regular season. Head coach Mike Houston and the Dukes are miffed — you can insert a different verb — to not be seeded with an opening bye. Both teams want to win the battle of field position and avoid turnovers because they can’t expect to rack up a lot of points against the other’s defense. JMU’s run game, led by Cardon Johnson and Trai Sharp, is a bit better than Delaware’s, which boasts Kani Kane and DeJoun Lee. The winner — make that survivor — will play at No. 8 seed Colgate (9-1) in the second round Dec. 1.

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Pick: James Madison

Incarnate Word (6-4) at Montana State (7-4), 3 p.m.

This isn’t just a first-time meeting, this is UIW’s first playoff game — a stunning Southland Conference co-champ that was 1-10 last season before head coach Eric Morris’ arrival. His Texas Tech offensive mentality, plus quarterback Jon Copeland and running back Ra’Quanne Dickens, could trouble Montana State’s defense. But they’ll be in Big Sky country, where temperatures in the 20s will be about 50 degrees colder than back at their San Antonio campus. Advantage, Bobcats and their heavy dose of quarterback Troy Anderson keepers. The winner will play at No. 1 seed North Dakota State (11-0) — gulp — in the second round Dec. 1.

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Pick: Montana State

San Diego (9-2) at Nicholls (8-3), 4 p.m.

Name the score. Whatever it is, go higher. San Diego quarterback Anthony Lawrence will pass the ball all over the field, especially to wide receiver Michael Bandy (he of the FCS-high 1,554 receiving yards). Nicholls boasts the Southland player of the year in signal-caller Chase Fourcade, but the Colonels will keep running the ball, not just because of their rich stable of backs, but because San Diego ranks 103rd nationally against the run. Davidson rushed for a Division I-record 789 yards against the Toreros two weeks ago. The winner of this first-time meeting will play at No. 3 seed Eastern Washington (9-2) in the second round Dec. 1.
Pick: Nicholls

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Lamar (7-4) at Northern Iowa (6-5), 5 p.m.

UNI is a playoff staple; Lamar is a first-time qualifier — it just sounds ominous for the visitors, who are considered the biggest first-round underdog. Still, the Cardinals are on a six-game roll with offensive production from everybody but the scout team (but if they ever suit up...). Panthers running back Marcus Weymiller is on a late-season roll and the Missouri Valley Football Conference grows its linemen a wee bit bigger than in the Southland. A first-team meeting? Well, of course. The winner will play at No. 6 seed UC Davis (9-2) in the second round Dec. 1.

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Pick: Northern Iowa

ETSU (8-3) at Jacksonville State (8-3), 7:30 p.m.

At least these schools know each other. OK, we’re only talking a split in 1959 and ’60, but they’re back together for a potentially close matchup. OVC kingpin Jacksonville State has to exorcise some early-round demons, but It’s never had a passing attack quite like the one led by quarterback Zerrick Cooper and wide receiver Josh Pearson. SoCon tri-champ ETSU keeps it a little more simple on offense with freshman running backs Quay Holmes and Jacob Saylors. The winner will play at No. 7 seed Maine (8-3) in the second round Dec. 1.

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Pick: Jacksonville State

Last Week’s Record: 8-7 (.533)

Season Record: 85-48 (.639)

— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.

(Photo courtesy of James Madison Athletics)