FCS Football: Second-Round Playoff Games and Predictions

Big Sky, MVFC fill half of the Sweet 16

It's beginning to look a lot like the Big Sky-MVFC Challenge all over again.

 

Half of the 16 remaining teams in the FCS playoffs are from the two conferences which square off in an early-season series. The MVFC has won all three years in the series and features FCS dynasty North Dakota State, but the Big Sky begins its postseason run with four seeded teams, which never occurred previously.

 

The field is down to six conferences. The Southland has advanced three teams to the second round for the first time, the Big South and CAA have two teams each and the Ohio Valley one.

 

Here are the second-round games:

 

Saturday, Dec. 7

 

Note: All times ET.

 

Monmouth (11-2, 7-0 Big South) at No. 2 seed James Madison (11-1, 8-0 CAA)

Kickoff: 1 p.m. (ESPN3)

Series: First meeting

Notable: Monmouth's Pete Guerriero, the FCS rushing leader, needs 112 yards to reach 2,000 this season, but James Madison is surrendering an insanely low 63 rushing yards per game, and only one opponent has been above 100 (Stony Brook with 118). Whether Guerriero reaches the milestone adds a little intrigue to a first-time meeting in which the Dukes are heavily favored (but the Hawks beat UAlbany, the CAA runner-up to JMU, in September). Up front, the Dukes' two starting defensive ends, Ron'Dell Carter and John Daka, have combined for 43 tackles for a loss and 22 sacks. The winner will play either Northern Iowa or South Dakota State in the quarterfinals.

Pick: James Madison

 

Northern Iowa (9-4, 6-2 Missouri Valley) at No. 7 seed South Dakota State (8-4, 5-3 Missouri Valley)

Kickoff: 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

Series: Northern Iowa leads 31-22-2

Notable: Only one of UNI's last six opponents have scored more than 10 points and it was South Dakota State posting a 38-7 win on Nov. 16. The game was one-sided because Panthers quarterback Will McElvain had his worst game (four turnovers) in an otherwise excellent rookie season. The host Jackrabbits hope to get two-time 1,000-yard rusher Pierre Strong Jr. back from injury to team with veteran running back Mikey Daniel. The rivals have rotated wins in the series since 2014, including a SDSU playoff win two years ago, and that trend favors UNI this time. This game's winner will play either Monmouth or James Madison in the quarterfinals.

Pick: South Dakota State

 

Kennesaw State (11-2, 5-1 Big South) at No. 3 seed Weber State (9-3, 7-1 Big Sky)

Kickoff: 3 p.m. (ESPN3)

Series: First meeting

Notable: Kennesaw has won at least 11 games in each of the past three seasons and its first-round win at Wofford may have been its unlikeliest as little-used quarterback Jonathan Murphy was pressed into action in the second quarter and wound up rushing for 206 yards and three touchdowns. The Owls’ triple option offense leads the FCS in rushing and is a scheme seen by Weber State in the Big Sky with Cal Poly. The Wildcats’ defense is led by Big Sky co-defensive player of the year Jonah Williams and only one of their last seven opponents has exceeded 100 rushing yards. The winner will play either Southeastern Louisiana or Montana in the quarterfinals.

Pick: Weber State

 

UAlbany (9-4, 6-2 CAA) at No. 5 seed Montana State (9-3, 6-2 Big Sky)

Kickoff: 3 p.m. (ESPN3)

Series: First meeting

Notable: It's a good thing Albany has three players with at least 100 tackles because Montana State is going to run, run and run the ball with its deep unit of running backs, led by Logan Jones and Isaiah Ifanse. UAlbany will counter through the air with quarterback Jeff Undercuffler, who’s passed for 3,270 yards and an FCS-high 39 touchdowns, including six to five different receivers in the first round. Bobcats defensive end Bryce Sterk, an NFL prospect, will be in pursuit of Undercuffler. The winner will play either Austin Peay or Sacramento State in the quarterfinals.

Pick: Montana State

 

Illinois State (9-4, 5-3 Missouri Valley) at No. 8 Central Arkansas (9-3, 7-2 Southland)

Kickoff: 3 p.m. (ESPN3)

Series: Tied 1-1

Notable: Central Arkansas doesn't have to dive deep into Illinois State's offensive game plan: Redbirds All-American James Robinson is coming off career-highs for carries (41) and rushing yards (297) in the first round. Expect another heavy workload. Central Arkansas, which beat Western Kentucky for one of the three FCS wins over an FBS opponent, features quarterback Breylin Smith, who's passed for a school-record 3,506 yards as well as 31 TDs. The Bears won a 2016 playoff matchup with Illinois State on The Stripes, and this week's winner will advance to play either Nicholls or North Dakota State in the quarterfinals.

Pick: Central Arkansas

 

Southeastern Louisiana (8-4, 6-3 Southland) at No. 6 seed Montana (9-3, 6-2 Big Sky)

Kickoff: 3 p.m. (ESPN3)

Series: First meeting

Notable: One week after Southeastern Louisiana outlasted Villanova, 45-44, this game also has shootout written all over it with the Lions ranked eighth in the FCS in points per game (37.3) and Montana 13th (35.9). A potential wintry mix in Missoula is anything but Cajun, so quarterback Dalton Sneed and his Griz offense have a bit of an edge over Chason Virgil, who is coming off a career-high 474 passing yards. The last time Griz head coach Bobby Hauck was on the sidelines in the playoffs, it was at the 2009 national championship game against Villanova. The winner will play either Kennesaw State or Weber State in the quarterfinals.

Pick: Montana

 

Nicholls (9-4, 7-2 Southland) at No. 1 seed North Dakota State (12-0, 8-0 Missouri Valley)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

Series: North Dakota State leads 2-0

Notable: The two-time defending FCS champion Bison enter with 33 straight wins since 2017 and tied with their 2012-14 squads for the subdivision record. Neither head coach Matt Entz nor quarterback Trey Lance blinked in the regular season — Entz didn't lose a game as a rookie coach and the redshirt freshman Lance didn't throw an interception in 219 attempts (while throwing 23 touchdown passes). Nicholls senior QB Chase Fourcade is exceptional as well, leading all active FCS players with 12,482 career yards of total offense. The winner — and NDSU is a four-touchdown favorite — will play either Illinois State or Central Arkansas in the quarterfinals.

Pick: North Dakota State

 

Austin Peay (10-3, 7-1 Ohio Valley) at No. 4 seed Sacramento State (9-3, 7-1 Big Sky)

Kickoff: 9 p.m. (ESPN3)

Series: First meeting

Notable: There are a number of similarities between two programs appearing in their first FCS playoff, with Austin Peay coming off a 42-6 victory over Furman in the first round. For Austin Peay, there's a new head coach (Mark Hudspeth), a dual-threat quarterback (JaVaughn Craig), an all-purpose back (Kentel Williams) and an aggressive defense with a dominator up front (Josephus Smith). Sac State has all of that as well in Troy Taylor, Kevin Thomson, Elijah Dotson, and George Obinna, respectively. The winner will play either UAlbany or No. 5 seed Montana State in the quarterfinals Dec. 13 or 14.

Pick: Sacramento State

 

Last Week’s Record: 5-3 (.625)

Season Record: 95-43 (.688)

 

— 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 Garrett Becker/Montana State Athletics)

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