Illinois State at Central Arkansas FCS Football 2016 Playoffs First Round Breakdown

Illinois State at Central Arkansas, Saturday 3:00 pm
Imagine the surprise when Illinois State’s name was called on Selection Sunday.  Everybody but those in Bloomington/Normal, Illinois were surprised.  The Redbirds have had a true up and down season.  They came out of the gate good, including a win over the Big Ten’s Northwestern.  Then a nasty losing spell had many wondering if their senior graduations of 2015 meant more than originally thought.  They got it together at the end and won their final three games, including wins over South Dakota State and Western Illinois.  The offense is decent, but not overpowering like years past.  QB Jake Kolbe and WR Anthony Warrum are a legit combination.  The defense is porous, giving up lots of yardage and over 30 points per game.  They don’t produce a lot of pressure and give up big plays, though they have played better down the stretch.  Continued improvement is imperative to any chances of advancing.
Central Arkansas was unceremoniously dismantled by Sam Houston State to end the regular season, only the Bears’ second loss.  A lot of that has to do with their defense.  This is a classic case of a team, where the sum of the total is worth way more than all of its parts.  They rank as the #1 rushing defense in FCS, they’re #13 in turnover margin (+11) and #17 in sacks.  The offense doesn’t have a 1,000 yard rusher or receiver, but overall is still a top 15 unit and averages more than 36 points per game.  Everything about the Bears appears under the radar, which has to make them difficult to prepare for.
It seems like the last couple of years there’s a team who makes the playoffs that nobody saw making it, and they win a first round game.  Illinois State is that team this year.  Does that mean they’re going to win this one?  It appears not, but would it be a total shock?  No.  Central Arkansas has the advantage in most statistical areas.  On top of that, they also have the home field.
Projected Score: Central Arkansas 35, Illinois State 17