FCS Football Playoff Projections - Second Round

FCS Second Round Projections
Friday, December 3 (all times Eastern)
Holy Cross (10-2) @ #5 Villanova (9-2), 7:00pm
The Crusaders took Sacred Heart’s best shot in the First Round. Ultimately, their defense continued its terrific play and QB Matthew Sluka willed them to victory by hitting WR Jalen Coker on a 35 yard touchdown pass with just 14 seconds remaining. Holy Cross probably felt internally they would have had an easier time, but tough wins sometimes help moving forward in a bracket. That will remain to be seen. Villanova comes in as the automatic qualifier from the Colonial Athletic Association. The Wildcats’ offense goes as QB Daniel Smith takes them. And he’s one of the really good ones. His numbers aren’t eye popping, but he’s the kind of quarterback who’s in total control. Expect RB Justin Covington to get a good load carries to balance everything out. Defensively, this unit is about as stingy as a wicked godmother right before midnight. LB Forrest Rhyne is the lead tackler in this group and he’s in on plays constantly. Looks like a low scoring affair.
PROJECTION: Villanova 24, Holy Cross 7
Eastern Washington (10-2) @ #6 Montana (9-2), 9:00pm
Back on October 2, these teams got together in Cheney, Washington. It took one huge quarter for Eastern Washington to take over the game and send their visitors home with a loss. Just last week, the Eagles, at home again, were in a war with Northern Iowa. And as mentioned before, these tough wins build a team’s moxie towards tougher situations moving forward. Eric Barriere was held in check, at least as far as scoring was concerned. That right there should be a troubling factor in this week’s match-up because, let’s face it, he doesn’t get shut down too often. If someone can do it though, Montana is one of them. The previous game was totally controlled by the Grizzlies. Then that explosion undid all that previous effort. This defense is as tough as a $2.00 steak and they have elite players at every level. So the likelihood of a second straight shutdown is there. Question is, can the offense generate enough scoring to win? EWU’s defense looked better last weekend, but that was against a suspect UNI offense. This will be a fun one to watch. Glad it’s on Friday night to showcase all by itself.
PROJECTION: Eastern Washington 31, Montana 24
Saturday, December 4 (all times Eastern)
Kennesaw State (11-1) @ #7 East Tennessee State (10-1), 2:00pm
As expected, Kennesaw State dominated the non-scholarship Wildcats of Davidson to advance to the Second Round. You’d figure, it’s going to be a lot tougher to score 48 this week. The Owls do what the Owls do and that’s run the ball. In the win over Davidson, that was 56 attempts for 305 yards! Oh, the days of triple option football will never truly go away, will they? What’s shocking is that QB Xavior Shepherd threw 15 passes, only completing 4. Again, this is triple option offense. But those four completions went for 115 more yards, including a 56 yard touchdown. The element of surprise. East Tennessee State sees this kind of offense on the regular in the Southern Conference. Being one dimensional is definitely an advantage defensively. However, the Buccaneers are just an average outfit stopping the run. They actually struggle more against the pass, which makes you wonder about those sneaky situations and their effectiveness. You don’t need to worry about ETSU’s offense, they’re very good. They run at a top 5 clip nationally also with RB Quay Holmes leading the charge. The team who controls the ball and the clock will likely win this one.
PROJECTION: East Tennessee State 28, Kennesaw State 21
Southeastern Louisiana (9-3) @ #3 James Madison (10-1), 2:00pm
Did anybody hear the Lions roar last Saturday? Southeastern Louisiana hosted and dismantled Florida A&M. One has to wonder if that was a function of the Lions getting their act together or of the Rattlers just being overmatched. It was probably a little of both. Losing their regular season finale may have brought some focus back to the boys from Hammond. Probably didn’t need that for QB Cole Kelly, who puts up huge numbers just about every time he steps on the field. It’ll be very interesting to see how that plays out this week, because James Madison plays defense and plays it well. The Dukes are top 10 in scoring defense, second nationally against the run, which probably won’t matter and 12th against the pass. One huge factor, JMU is the best team in FCS in turnover margin. So if they’re able to throw a few wrinkles and cause some miscues, this could get ugly. QB Cole Johnson leads a terrifically balanced offense that will be licking their chops against a team who could be labeled as “defense optional.” Expect the Lions to get theirs, but the Dukes will get theirs more.
PROJECTION: James Madison 52, Southeastern Louisiana 31
Incarnate Word (10-2) @ #1 Sam Houston (10-0), 3:00pm
The first part of the Texas two-step was completed last week by Incarnate Word, when they turned back Stephen F. Austin in overtime, 35-28. Now the Cardinals get a former conference foe who just happens to be the defending FCS national champions. No small order indeed. QB Cameron Ward chucked the ball all over the field, completing 39-54 for 328 and four touchdowns. If you’re going to beat the national champions, you need to do it through the air. Sam Houston ranks 110th against the pass, so you’d think their defense will be looking at darts flying around in this one. It will be up to Eric Schmid to keep the Bearkats’ offense on schedule and scoring points. Interestingly enough, Sam Houston only beat SFA, 21-20. If you consider UIW’s overtime game, they were tied at the end of regulation. This game is a lot closer than one would typically see for a first playoff game for the tournament’s #1 seed. The upset potential is very possible here. Break out the antacids for both fanbases.
PROJECTION: Sam Houston 35, Incarnate Word 34
Southern Illinois (8-4) @ #2 North Dakota State (10-1), 3:30pm
We come to the Missouri Valley section of the bracket. Southern Illinois went to the DakotaDome last week and beat South Dakota. The way the Salukis had entered the playoffs, you could call that a bit of a surprise. But this is also a team who went to South Dakota State and won in overtime. This week doesn’t get any easier as they travel to the FargoDome, except the MVFC champion Bison will be waiting. Don’t expect SIU to be intimidated. QB Nick Baker will likely need his best game to pull this upset. Only problem is, North Dakota State doesn’t care if you’re intimidated or not. Offensively, they’re going to line up with their gigantic line and what seems like an endless stable of running backs and test you physically. Many times, opponents are able to match this physicality, but eventually the game of attrition takes over, you wear down and there are gaping holes to run through in the second half. There are a continual stream of tight ends and wide outs who are always waiting for a big play. This team might be the most dangerous special teams return team in the FCS. Don’t be shocked to see a kick or punt return. At worst, they win field position this way.
PROJECTION: North Dakota State 30, Southern Illinois 17
Tennessee-Martin (10-2) @ #8 Montana State (9-2), 4:00pm
Very few people gave Tennessee-Martin a real shot at winning at Missouri State, but the Skyhawks are the ones laughing, while everyone else doing FCS bracket challenges are sitting there wondering what happened. I’ll tell you what happened, UTM turned the Bears over SIX times! When you win the turnover battle 6 to 1, you better win. The fact they needed a late score to win 32-31 tells you how good Missouri State was. Still, the Skyhawks advanced and the rest, as they say, is history. QB Dresser Winn is going to have to be better than 23-43 passing or they can forget about winning this one. They’re getting an elite level defense here in the Second Round. RB Peyton Logan may need to carry an even bigger load this week. Montana State is pretty straight forward. They are going to run the ball with RB Isaiah Ifanse and pass enough to beat you over the top. Defensively, you better be able to run the ball because passing is a bad option, as the Bobcats only give up about 160 yards per game. And that’s in the Big Sky, where teams still like to air it out a lot of the time. Giving up 11.6 points per game? That’s scary. This should be a lower scoring kind of game, it’s what Montana State is used to. With 15-20,000 fans in support, it’ll be raucous.
PROJECTION: Montana State 20, Tennessee-Martin 13
South Dakota State (9-3) @ #4 Sacramento State (9-2), 9:00pm
After that 56-24 thrashing of UC-Davis, one has to think how South Dakota State ever found themselves in the First Round to begin with. Just about everything the Jackrabbits wanted to do, they did. The one thing they didn’t do was throw the ball much, as Chris Oladokun was just 8-17 for 89 yards. Two of those eight completions did go for touchdowns. Heck, he even caught a 10 yard touchdown pass. RBs Pierre Strong Jr. and Isaiah Davis ran for a combined 389 yards on 34 carries. It’s shocking they had to pass at all. The defense came up with six interceptions, two of those the pick-six variety. It was a very thorough victory. When the brackets came out, Sacramento State couldn’t have liked seeing they were playing the winner of SDSU and UC-D. That’s not a very good reward for winning the Big Sky Conference and earning the #4 seed. Still, you have to play those teams eventually. The Hornets season turned after a loss to Northern Iowa. The team has become a two quarterback offense with Jake Dunniway handling the passing situations and Asher O’Hara the running. You’d think it would make them predictable, but they’re the #8 offense nationally and scoring almost 32 points per game. On defense, they don’t really seem to excel in any one area, but they’re good at every level. Being the one home team in this round who’s an underdog has got to be an extra factor of motivation. This is a really good team. Expect a spirited effort.
PROJECTION: South Dakota State 27, Sacramento State 24