North Dakota State vs. Jacksonville State FCS Football 2015 Final Breakdown

George Hammond

North Dakota State vs. Jacksonville State FCS Football 2015 Final Breakdown


No. 3 North Dakota State vs. No. 1 Jacksonville State, Saturday, Jan. 9, Noon, ET

Perhaps the most interesting matchup for North Dakota State (12-2) in its five consecutive FCS national championship appearances will take place Jan. 9 in the Bison’ winter home, Frisco, Texas, when they meet Jacksonville State (13-1). To recap its championship history, the Bison rallied to beat MVFC rival Illinois State, 29-27, last year. Two years ago, North Dakota State crushed Towson, 35-7, as the Tigers, quite honestly, had nothing left for the Bison after a grueling playoff run. In 2012, the Bison beat Sam Houston State, 39-13, and in 2011, they beat Sam Houston State, 17-6.

North Dakota State and Sam Houston State had surprisingly easy semifinal victories as both jumped out to big leads early and were never threatened. The Bison trounced CAA entry Richmond, 33-7, while Jacksonville State embarrassed Sam Houston State, 62-10. There can be little argument the best two FCS teams are meeting for the title in the contest where North Dakota State has been installed as a four-point favorite.

And that seems about right. Until somebody knocks off North Dakota State, the Bison should be the favorite. Their two losses this year were to Montana in the season opener, 38-35, while the other loss came against South Dakota, 24-21, at the Fargodome on Oct. 17, but the Bison had just played two of their biggest rivals – South Dakota State and Northern Iowa. Plus that was the game starting quarterback Carson Wentz hurt his wrist and he hasn’t played since. Meanwhile, Jacksonville State’s only loss came in overtime to Auburn, 27-20, in a contest the Gamecocks could have easily won.

So how does the title game play out? We know what each team will try to do: North Dakota State wants to control the clock with its running game (228.3 yards per game in the playoffs), play stout defense and gain good field position with its special-teams play. The Bison are No. 1 nationally in time of possession with a staggering 36:21 advantage per game. In the playoffs, they held their three opponents to season-lows in offensive yards and they’ve had five returns for scores in the playoffs. In Wentz’ absence, all redshirt-freshman Eason Stick has done is gone 8-0 and managed North Dakota State’s offense efficiently.

Jacksonville State, meanwhile, likes to spread teams out and use its outstanding speed behind quarterback Eli Jenkins and running back Troymaine Pope, who have combined for 2,800 yards rushing and 34 touchdowns this season. And outstanding wide receiver Josh Barge has more than 200 career receptions. The Gamecocks aren’t any slouch on defense either. They are a top 15 team nationally in total defense and have 40 sacks this season.

This is just the third meeting between the two and the first since 1989’s Division II quarterfinal. Both are solid up front on both sides of the ball. A lot might depend on the Bison’ quarterback situation. Stick has been outstanding, but he hasn’t had to win a game with his arm. As bloggers have said on various posts, there’s a big difference between passing when you want to and passing when you have to. And what about Wentz? If he plays, how sharp will he be? The Bison, obviously, don’t want to play from behind and neither does Jacksonville State for that matter.

Although the two didn’t have any common opponents, I’m guessing the closest comparison is Chattanooga is similar to what North Dakota State tries to do. Jacksonville State beat Chattanooga twice this year in close games both times, so figure this championship should be close, too. But somehow, someway, North Dakota State finds a way to win.

Projected Score: North Dakota State 24, Jacksonville State 20


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