The FCS playoffs are here and it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Who’d have thought that a football season should be decided on the field rather than a computer matchup? Odd concept, if only there was a way to convince Bill Hancock and his cronies of this. The FCS playoffs are all that is right with college football, and anyone who says otherwise better square up and prepare to receive the swift justice of a steel-toed boot to the gunny sack.
The playoffs weren’t without a bit of controversy. The folks in Flagstaff are ready to do their best impression of Morgantown and set fire to every couch they can find due their perceived snub of a seed. Fans everywhere are left scratching their head after Lafayette won their conference due to Fordham offering scholarships a year early, getting into the playoffs with a 5-6 record. Then there’s the folks in the Missouri Valley Conference who feel they were snubbed a playoff bid with only North Dakota State and South Dakota State getting in, but three Ohio Valley Conference teams were awarded bids. And Sam Houston State.. a little bit of a head scratcher, but their reputation certainly helped them, despite two late season losses.
So how did the brackets shape up? Well, at least three unlucky teams may have to travel to Fargo.. gross. Let’s have a look at the first round of the FCS playoffs..
South Carolina State and Furman get us started with the Bulldogs hosting the Paladins. South Carolina comes in as the 82nd ranked offense in FCS while Furman checks in with the 100th ranked offense. With Furman being a fairly inept offense and a not so great defense, 75th, they could be in big trouble against South Carolina State. The Bulldogs have the FCS’s number one defense. Hard to think that the Paladins will move the ball too much against a superior defense. South Carolina State finished second in the MEAC, suffering losses to Coastal Carolina, Clemton, and conference champion Bethune Cookman. The biggest win for the Bulldogs was North Carolina A&T. Furman was the autobid of the Southern conference, whose biggest win was over Samford. Furman running back Hank McCloud has rushed for 1020 yards and five touchdowns for the Paladins. Tyler McDonald for the Bulldogs caught 917 yards worth of passes and seven touchdowns. I’m going to take the Bulldogs in this one 31-14. The winner advances to play North Dakota State.
Bethune Cookman will make their way up the coast to take on Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers are a surprise team this season led by a head coach who’s had a fascinating path to coaching. Coastal won the autobid from the Big South conference; Bethune Cookman won the autobid from the MEAC. Coastal Carolina piled up the wins but had a late season trip to Charleston Southern, then was pounded by FBS South Carolina. Bethune Cookman scored a win over FBS Florida International and suffered a pretty bad defeat to Florida State. Coastal Carolina comes in as the ninth ranked offense led by running back Lorenzo Teliaferro. Teliaferro rushed for 1487 yards and an eye popping 23 touchdowns. Bethune Cookman comes in as the 55th ranked offense and led by senior running back Isidore Jackson who rushed for 769 yards and eight scores. Bethune Cookman has the 2nd ranked defense while Coastal Carolina has the 93rd ranked defense. Hard to predict this game, both teams are evenly matched. I’m going to give the nod to Coastal Carolina, but not by much, 28-24. The winner of this game will go north to Montana.
New Hampshire will host Lafayette in their first round playoff matchup. Lafayette will represent the Patriot League as the autobid, while New Hampshire will represent the Colonial Athletic Association. Lafayette was a controversial playoff team due to their not having a winning record, but won their conference. Lafayette scored two big wins to end the season, over Fordham and Lehigh. The win over Lehigh knocked them from being conference champion. New Hampshire finished third in the CAA with their biggest win coming over CAA champion Maine in the last game of the regular season. Lafayette comes in with the 53rd ranked offense led by running back Ross Scheurerman who rushed for 1034 yards and 14 touchdowns. New Hampshire comes in with the 28th ranked offense led by running back Nico Steriti who rushed for 826 yards and seven touchdowns. New Hampshire comes in with the 81st ranked defense; Lafayette comes in with the 50th ranked defense. I have to give the nod in this one to New Hampshire, 42-10. The winner of this one will go to Maine.
In what could be one of the better first round playoff games Southern Utah will go further south to take on Sam Houston State. The Thunderbirds are making their first playoff appearance; Sam Houston State is coming off the FCS championship game last season. The Thunderbirds finished fourth in the Big Sky, Sam Houston finished third in the Southland. Sam Houston’s biggest win was over Eastern Washington. Southern Utah’s biggest win was vs. South Alabama. Southern Utah is not very good on offense, coming in at 110th. Sam Houston State comes in at 15th. Southern Utah is led by quarterback Aaron Cantu who threw for 1763 yards and 12 touchdowns. Sam Houston State is led by a nasty combination of quarterback Bryan Bell and running back Tim Flanders who rush for yards by the truck load. Good thing Southern Utah plays good defense, checking in at 22nd. Sam Houston has the 86th ranked defense. Which one of these units will give in first? My guess is the Southern Utah defense will have trouble stopping both Bell and Flanders. 35-27 Bearkats. The winner of this one will go to Southeastern Louisiana.
In another terrific first round matchup Northern Arizona will host South Dakota State in Flagstaff. The Lumberjacks, the 2nd place team from the Big Sky feel they were snubbed of a seed. South Dakota State is the 2nd place team from the Missouri Valley. Northern Arizona’s biggest win this year came over Montana, while South Dakota State’s biggest win this year was over Southeastern Louisiana. This game will feature two of the FCSs premier running backs, Zach Zenner from South Dakota State and Zach Bauman from Northern Arizona. Zenner is the 2nd leading rusher in FCS, rushing for 1695 yards and 20 touchdowns. Bauman has rushed for 1355 yards and eight touchdowns. South Dakota State has the 58th ranked offense; Northern Arizona has the75th ranked offense. The Lumberjacks have the 27th ranked defense; South Dakota State has the 59th ranked defense. This game is a tricky one to pick, as these teams I feel like are pretty evenly matched. Northern Arizona is making their first playoff appearance since 2003. I think Northern Arizona wins this one, but it’s going to be a dog fight, 21-17. The winner of this will go to Eastern Washington.
Don’t worry, Lumberjacks, while you may not have gotten a seed, at least you don’t have to go to Fargo.
Jacksonville State and Samford will lock up in Alabama in their first round matchup. Jacksonville State finished third in the Ohio Valley Conference, Samford finished second in the Southern Conference. Jacksonville State scored a FBS win over Georgia State, as did Samford. The Gamecocks come in with the 26th ranked offense, led by running back Damarcus James who rushed for 1180 yards and 23 touchdowns. Samford is with the 29th ranked offense, led by quarterback Andy Summerlin who passed for 3559 yards and 25 touchdowns. Samford has the 58th ranked defense while the Gamecocks have the 66th ranked defense. This is a tough one to pick because neither team seems that strong to me. I’m going to give the edge to the home team, but not by much. Gamecocks win 35-31. The winner of this will play McNeese State.
In what could be one of the more lopsided games this weekend we have Fordham taking on North East Conference champion Sacred Heart. The Fordham Rams were ineligible to win their conference due to a silly rule about offering scholarships before the rest of their conference, so they were selected as an at-large team. Their biggest win this season came over FBS Temple, and their only loss to Lafayette. Sacred Heart, the champion of the NEC saw their biggest win come over Lafayette. Sacred Heart comes into the game with the 45th ranked offense, led by running back Keshaudas Spence who has run for 1475 yards and 11 scores for the Pioneers. Fordham comes in with the 6th ranked offense led by wide receiver Sam Ajala who caught 1398 yards of passes and 11 touchdowns. Fordham has the 62nd ranked defense; Sacred Heart has the 10th ranked defense. Not sure how this one’s going to turn out. With Fordham quarterback Mike Nebrich back in the lineup I have to think Fordham has the edge in this one, 42-20. The winner of this will travel to Towson.
In what could be the least exciting playoff game of the first round we have Butler taking on Tennessee State. Butler is the Pioneer League champion after San Diego ruled themselves out of the playoffs. Butler’s biggest win was umm.. Dayton, I guess.. they had a winning record. They will take on Tennessee State who finished 2nd in the OVC and their biggest win coming against Jacksonville State. Butler, surprisingly, had the 12th ranked offense in FCS and is led by running back Trae Heeter who rushed for 1306 yards and 13 touchdowns. Tennessee State has the 81st ranked offense and is led by by running back Tim Broughton who rushed for 1046 yards and five touchdowns. Tennessee State has the 5th ranked defense, while Butler has the 83rd ranked defense. What to make of this game? I have no idea, but this is exhibit A of why the FCS playoff field might be too big. I think Tennessee State wins this one over a pretty overmatched Pioneer League opponent, 45-10. The winner of this game will travel to Eastern Illinois.
There are some terrific matchups in this first round. If I’m Northern Arizona I think I’m a little perturbed about having to face a tough South Dakota State team, just ask Montana who had to face them in the first round in 2009. If Northern Arizona can escape that game I think they probably matchup pretty well with Eastern Washington. Coastal Carolina and Bethune Cookman look like a pretty even matchup, too bad the winner has to come go up North to face a Montana team who’s experienced in cold weather games. Sam Houston State and Southern Utah looks like the most interesting game to me. When SHSU is clicking their offense is one of the best in the country and full of playmakers. Southern Utah plays pretty salty defense and might have a good chance of beating the Bearkats if their offense can find any traction. Fordham and Sacred Heart looks like it could be a fun game, but Fordham’s QB Nebrich is back from injury and he could probably throw for all the yards.
Should be an exciting weekend and I’m excited to see what it brings and what kind of matchups we’ll get in the 2nd round. Here’s to some great football the way it’s meant to be played.. outdoors and leaving it all on the field!