The menu is divine, but will the serving still be home cooking?
If there’s one place FCS playoff teams have wanted to be the last few weeks, it’s home sweet home.
The home teams are 15-1 through two rounds. The pace far exceeds what happened in the first five seasons since the playoffs were expanded to 24 teams. The best overall record for home teams was 16-6, accomplished in 2016 and last season.
There are some strong teams on the road in the quarterfinals, so it could be a closer weekend. The first three games are first-time matchups between the programs, while in the final one Eastern Washington is 7-0 all-time against UC Davis.
The FCS quarterfinal-round playoff games:
Note: All times ET
Friday, Dec. 7
No. 7 seed Maine (9-3) at No. 2 seed Weber State (10-2), 8 p.m. (ESPN2)
Maine and Weber State are physical and defensively strong and don’t fit the definition of explosive teams, but they’re both coming off season-high point totals in the second round. They’re similar in other ways as well, each with a quarterback coming off a five-touchdown game (Maine’s Chris Ferguson and Weber’s Jake Constantine), a freshman rushing leader (Ramon Jefferson and Josh Davis), a standout wide receiver/kick returner (Earnest Edwards and Rashid Shaheed) and a linebacker duo leading the team in tackles (DeShawn Stevens and Sterling Sheffield and LeGrand Toia and Landon Stice). So which team will show the other a look it hasn’t seen? The winner will play either UC Davis or Eastern Washington in the semifinals Dec. 14 or 15.
The Pick: Weber State
Saturday, Dec. 8
No. 8 seed Colgate (10-1) at No. 1 seed North Dakota State (12-0), 12 p.m. (ESPN)
The way defending FCS champion North Dakota State opened its playoff run was scary — six straight scoring drives in a second-round rout of Montana State. Colgate’s FCS-leading defense is more than capable of troubling the Bison offense, but probably not for four quarters because quarterback Easton Stick and running backs Lance Dunn and Bruce Anderson always seem to find their way to end zone. Colgate’s backfield duo of quarterback Grant Breneman and running back James Holland Jr. must find a way to control the clock and have the Raiders playing with a lead. First-time visitors to the Fargodome are rarely first-time victors, but the Raiders are unbeaten versus FCS opponents. The winner will play either South Dakota State or Kennesaw State in the semifinals Dec. 14 or 15.
The Pick: Surprise! It’s North Dakota State.
No. 5 seed South Dakota State (9-2) at No. 4 seed Kennesaw State (11-1), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)
South Dakota State is the FCS team that probably stands the best chance of beating North Dakota State inside the Fargodome, but the Jackrabbits first have to get through a tricky matchup against Kennesaw State. The Jackrabbits aren’t accustomed to facing a triple-option offense and they’ve been up and down in defending the run, plus Kennesaw State has won 15 straight home games. It should be a slugfest with SDSU second in the FCS in scoring offense (45.9 ppg) and Kennesaw State third (45.7). Their senior quarterbacks are among the best in the nation yet have different styles — SDSU’s Taryn Christion is the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s all-time passing leader and KSU’s Chandler Burks has set the FCS single-season record for touchdown runs by a signal-caller with 29. The winner will play either Colgate or North Dakota State in the semifinals Dec. 14 or 15.
The Pick: South Dakota State
No. 6 seed UC Davis (10-2) at No. 3 seed Eastern Washington (10-2), 4 p.m. (ESPN3)
When these two teams met on Nov. 10, Eastern Washington overcame a 10-0 deficit to pound UC Davis, 59-10, but the Big Sky tri-champs (along with Weber State) are much closer teams than that score. Think offense with this matchup. Eastern Washington has an edge at the line of scrimmage and will pound the rock with Sam McPherson and his backfield mates, but quarterback Eric Barriere also keeps the offense balanced with Nsimba Webster. UC Davis, making its first FCS playoff appearance, boasts a high-flying offense led by the Jake Maier-to-Keelan Doss passing duo, and running backs Ulonzo Gilliam and Tehran Thomas form a dangerous, versatile combo. The winner will play either Maine or Weber State in the semifinals Dec. 14 or 15.
The Pick: Eastern Washington
Last Week’s Record: 6-2 (.750)
Season Record: 98-51 (.658)
— 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 Eastern Washington Athletics)