FCS Football Playoff Projections - First Round

FCS First Round Projections
All games Saturday, November 27 (all times Eastern)
Sacred Heart (8-3) @ Holy Cross (9-2), 12:00pm
Both of these teams are coming into the playoffs toting six game winning streaks. Sacred Heart is the champion of the Northeast Conference. They’re a team who’s not going to wow you offensively, especially through the air. They do have a very good running game, led by Malik Grant. The Pioneers also have a very good defense, allowing only 14.0 points per game. The fact their offense is only four points better, you can see they were the beneficiary of winning close games if need be. Grinding out the clock would be to their liking. Holy Cross enters as the Patriot League champion. The Crusaders are built very similarly offensively. They’d much rather grind the ball down the field via the ground. Statistically, there’s no true single force relied upon to generate that offense. Many times, that’s a recipe for making a team harder to defend. Holy Cross is also very adept on that side of the ball. LB Jacob Dobbs is the big leader here. He leads the team in tackles and sacks. They’ve been rolling in conference and Sacred Heart is very much like a Patriot League-styled opponent.
PROJECTION: Holy Cross 34, Sacred Heart 13
Davidson (8-2) @ Kennesaw State (10-1), 2:00pm
This may end up being the fastest game played over the whole weekend. Both of these teams run a version of the triple option. So the element of surprise will not be there in this match-up. Davidson ranks #1 in FCS as a rushing outfit, with a cast of balanced runners averaging almost 335 yards per game. The passing game is virtually non-existent and they’ll not want to go to it unless it’s by surprise. If the Wildcats are forced into it by necessity, they’ll be in trouble. The defense is balanced and maybe a little above average as compared to the rest of FCS. Kennesaw State, comparatively, is a slouch rushing offense, only #4 in the nation. The Owls passing game is also virtually invisible. They prefer to spring it by surprise also. A total mirror image of Davidson, except they run a more traditional option game. Davidson runs more from the pistol or shotgun. The Owls’ defense ranks better than the Wildcats, which bodes well considering they play in a conference that gives athletic scholarships. Pundits are guessing a total of 12 or 13 passes for the game. If that’s the case, it’ll be done before the sun goes down.
PROJECTION: Kennesaw State 44, Davidson 17
UC-Davis (8-3) @ South Dakota State (8-3), 3:00pm
The first of two Big Sky vs. Missouri Valley First Round games will showcase a pair of teams who, at one point, were each seen as one of the two or three best teams in all of FCS. UC Davis has lost their last two games, but those were against Eastern Washington and Sacramento State. A well balanced offense charged by QB Hunter Rodrigues and RB Ulonzo Gilliam Jr., the Aggies scored at a rate of almost 31 per game. The defense is a classic “bend, but not break” brand, ranking 90th in yards allowed but 18th in scoring (19 points per game). That will be a dangerous way to play against South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits have offense to spare. RB Pierre Strong is as good as anyone at the FCS level. Oladokan to Janke is one of the better QB-WR combos in the MVFC. They average 38.6 points per game, which is 5th in FCS. Every aspect of the offense is above average. Defensively, if you’re going to get them, you need to do it through the air. They’re a bottom half pass defense but a near top ten defense against the run. They’re near a top ten turnover ratio team also. There’s a positive just about everywhere you look at this team.
PROJECTION: South Dakota State 27, UC-Davis 20
Stephen F. Austin (8-3) @ Incarnate Word (9-2), 3:00pm
The first step of the Texas playoff triangular begins in San Antonio before moving to Huntsville next week. Stephen F. Austin comes into this game having won five in a row. QB Trae Self is the straw mixing the Lumberjacks’ drink. Overall, the team ranks 12th in the FCS passing, 20th overall. But it’s not just the offense that has it going on, the defense is a top quarter of FCS in just about every way measured. Inside the top 20 in both yardage and scoring. Not to mention they have two defensive linemen who get to the opposing quarterback; end B.J. Thompson and tackle Rayshad Nichols. Can they get to Incarnate Word QB Cameron Ward? Guy is a stat stacking machine, passing for nearly 4000 yards. Of course, that’s in the defensive optional Southland Conference, which the Cardinals won. And if the ‘Jacks focus too much on Ward, RB Kevin Brown is more than capable of making you pay. Brown was huge in the late season road win over Southeastern Louisiana. This game will probably be high scoring and the winner will be the one who gets a few more stops.
PROJECTION: Stephen F. Austin 41, Incarnate Word 35
Northern Iowa (6-5) @ Eastern Washington (9-2), 4:00pm
The second Missouri Valley/Big Sky game will come from the red turfed Inferno (Roos Field). Yes, it takes some getting used to watching and probably playing too. Northern Iowa has been here recently, as these two had a home-and-home series just a few years back. The Panthers are definitely the yang to this game’s equation. They play defense. Almost all Panthers teams do. Particularly tough up the middle where tackles Jared Brinkman and Tim Butcher clog running lanes. The offense is here and there and sometimes nowhere. QB Theo Day saved the day, coming in after halftime of their huge upset at Sacramento State early in the season. Eastern Washington will be the yin here as, debatably, the best offense in FCS. Eric Barriere could go down as the best passer in FCS history and that’s saying something. His favorite target, Talolo Limu-Jones is a match-up nightmare and RB Dennis Merritt makes the most of his rushing opportunities. Defensively, the Eagles struggle. Part of that is the efficiency of their offense, the other is weakness against the run. They’re better against the pass, but that’s really a low bar to clear. They try to outscore you and usually pull it off.
PROJECTION: Eastern Washington 35, Northern Iowa 30
Tennessee-Martin (9-2) @ Missouri State (8-3), 4:00pm
This game will be a neighborly affair, just a stone’s throw from each other. Of course, throwing a stone across the Mississippi River would be a Herculean task. Tennessee-Martin just lost on this side of the river last week, at Southeast Missouri State. Unfortunately for the Skyhawks, it may have cost them a national seed and a First Round bye. We’ll never know. RB Peyton Logan is the bellcow as a near 1,000 yard rusher this season. Overall, the Skyhawks rank 7th nationally, but 87th in passing. It’s still a good recipe as they score almost 34 per game. The defense is solid but pretty much middle of the road across the board. They try to limit damage and allow their offense’s running game to grind out wins. Missouri State didn’t win their conference like UT-Martin did the Ohio Valley. But finishing second in the Missouri Valley is something most programs couldn’t do. The Bears aren’t afraid to get into a high scoring tussle. QB Jason Shelley is an amazing athlete and he makes plays with both his arm and legs. Speaking of which, RB Kevon Latulas doesn’t have those giant screaming numbers, but the guy is a load to bring down. The defense is the weaker side, but they depend on big plays to make stops and they’re not bad at turning over opponents.
PROJECTION: Missouri State 35, Tennessee-Martin 27
Southern Illinois (7-4) @ South Dakota (7-4), 6:00pm
Wanna make a bet that a Missouri Valley team doesn’t win this game? It’s a guarantee as both reside there. These two missed each other in the regular season because the MVFC plays eight conference games and you have ten different opponents. Southern Illinois was once considered one of the FCS’ best teams. The Salukis had just won a road game at SDSU and were in the top 3 afterward. They’ve lost three games since then. QB Nick Baker headlines an offense that scores even better than their #22 ranking, #12 in scoring. His favorite target is WR Landon Lenoir, who seems like the twentieth Lanoir brother to grace MVFC gridirons. The defense leaves much to be desired, but they can get to the quarterback, averaging almost three sacks per game. They’ll need that pressure this week against South Dakota. QB Carson Camp doesn’t have the numbers some do, but by this point everyone has seen his Hail Mary to end the game against South Dakota State. Overall though, the offense is pretty average. That doesn’t mean there isn’t explosiveness there, it’s just not always there. The defense is more well-rounded. The rush defense is brutal, giving up less than 100 yards per game. LB Jack Cochrane seems to have a nose for the ball. Even when not directly in on a play, he still seems to be nearby. Much like SIU, they rack up sacks. They take pride in their pressure.
PROJECTION: South Dakota 27, Southern Illinois 21
Florida A&M (9-2) @ Southeastern Louisiana (8-3), 7:00pm
The First Round nightcap will come from the swamps. No one will be happier to be there than the fans of Florida A&M. Having lost almost three months ago to Jackson State, they could never get any help to win their division in the SWAC. So they got a chance at an at-large playoff bid and The Committee awarded them for their 9-2 season. The Rattlers have average offensive numbers but QB Rasean McKay and RB Bishop Bonnett are the main cogs. But really, it’s the defense that has the eye-popping numbers. Both FCS top ten in rushing and passing against, they’re #1 overall by yardage. LB Isaiah Land has compiled an absurd 19 sacks this season. Yes! 19 sacks! You could say he lives in the opponents’ backfield. That’s something that should concern Southeastern Louisiana and their Walter Payton Award finalists, Cole Kelly. He’s thrown for nearly 4,400 yards in eleven games and also leads the team in rushing at 442 yards. Don’t fool yourself though, the Lions want to throw and throw it a lot. They score gobs of points, to the tune of 48.6 per game. Sounds about like seven touchdowns. Wow! The Lions defense gives up huge numbers, namely because teams have to throw all of the time to keep up with their offense. Only twice were they held to less than 40 points, both by McNeese. This game will be high scoring, it’s a virtual guarantee in any SLU game.
PROJECTION: Southeastern Louisiana 52, Florida A&M 41