One FCS quarterfinal usually gets prime-time treatment on a Friday night, with three more games to follow the next day.
The FCS has flipped the script this week, with three quarterfinals scheduled for Friday night. Rightfully so, too, because the matchups are strong. Four of the quarterfinalists are former national champs and two others have been finalists.
Wait, it's Friday the 13th... what could possibly go wrong with the higher seeds?
Here are the quarterfinal-round games:
Note: All times ET.
Friday, Dec. 13
Northern Iowa (10-4, 6-2 Missouri Valley) at No. 2 seed James Madison (12-1, 8-0 CAA)
Kickoff: 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Series: First meeting
Notable: Both teams have ferocious defenses that are ranked in the FCS top 10, so the difference-maker should be on offense. James Madison is averaging 44.1 points per game – No. 1 in the FCS – behind dual-threat quarterback Ben DiNucci, and the CAA champion Dukes put their collective foot on the pedal to pull away from Monmouth in the second round with program playoff records for points (66) and offensive yards (623). UNI doesn’t have such capability, so redshirt freshman Will McElvain needs to revert back to earlier form (he has only one touchdown pass in the last four games) because he will be under the fire of JMU pass rushers Ron’Dell Carter and John Daka. The winner will play either Montana or Weber State in a national semifinal on Dec. 21.
Pick: James Madison
Austin Peay (11-3, 7-1 Ohio Valley) at No. 5 seed Montana State (10-3, 6-2 Big Sky)
Kickoff: 8 p.m. (ESPN3)
Series: First meeting
Notable: People outside the OVC have finally awoken to Austin Peay, which has been underrated in head coach Mark Hudspeth’s first season. Quarterback JaVaughn Craig has led an offense that has shattered the school’s single-season record by 1,445 yards already, often distributing the ball to versatile back Kentel Williams and wide receivers DeAngelo Wilson and Baniko Harley. The question is, can the first-time playoff qualifier handle a second straight long trip to the Big Sky Conference and outscore a surging Bobcats team that has the eighth-best rushing offense in the FCS? Five different players have led the ‘Cats in rushing in a game this season, including Travis Jonsen for the fourth time last week. Defensive end Bryce Sterk must be annoyed he wasn’t on the all-conference first team because he had another big game in the second round. The winner will play either Illinois State or North Dakota State in a national semifinal on Dec. 21.
Pick: Montana State
No. 6 seed Montana (10-3, 6-2 Big Sky) at No. 3 seed Weber State (10-3, 7-1 Big Sky)
Kickoff: 10 p.m. (ESPN2)
Series: Montana leads, 40-15
Notable: Even fans in the East realize this is a game that’s worth staying up Friday night. Montana is back to a high level in head coach Bobby Hauck’s second stint (he led the Griz to their last finals appearance in 2009). In their two most recent wins against Weber State (35-16) and Southeastern Louisiana (73-28), junior wide receiver Samori Toure had 20 receptions for 496 yards and six touchdowns. It’s a good thing Weber State has a strong defense because it also has to deal with Griz quarterback Dalton Sneed, running back Marcus Knight (school-record 25 TDs) and the FCS’ No. 5-scoring offense. The Big Sky co-champion Wildcats, in the quarterfinals for the third straight season, will throw defensive ends Adam Rodriguez and Jonah Williams at the Griz and, even better, their offense is good at ball control to keep the Griz defense on the field. The winner will play either Northern Iowa and James Madison in a national semifinal Dec. 21.
Saturday, Dec. 14
Illinois State (10-4, 5-3 Missouri Valley) at No. 1 North Dakota State (13-0, 8-0 Missouri Valley)
Kickoff: Noon (ESPN)
Series: North Dakota State leads, 10-2
Notable: The Illinois State postseason has been about giving All-America running back James Robinson the ball and seeing if the opposition can stop him. To date, defenses have swung and missed (and missed) as the senior has racked up 507 rushing yards, giving him 1,823 for the season. Now he’s running into two-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State and its great defense. Redbirds head coach Brock Spack must have a surprise or two in store considering his program has lost eight straight meetings wih the Bison, including 37-3 at home on Oct. 5. Bison first-year head coach Matt Entz had a young squad to open the season, but it’s all grown up, especially redshirt freshman QB Trey Lance (36 total TDs, including 25 TD pass versus zero interceptions). The winner will play either Austin Peay or Montana State in a national semifinal Dec. 21.
Pick: North Dakota State
Last Week’s Record: 5-3 (.625)
Season Record: 100-46 (.685)
— 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 Robert Casey/Weber State Athletics)