- MVC Beat
FCS Playoffs - Round 1 Preview/Predictions (Spring 2021)
If I have learned anything from this FCS season it is that college football should not be played in the spring. It has been a weird, rough spring football season and I hope we never have to do it again. A huge number of games have been cancelled, teams have opted out, some teams have played very few games and the entire deal feels like a bit of a farce. All that said, we made it to the postseason and there isn’t much better in sports than the FCS playoffs. We have a bracket, and we will have a champion. I am going to break down the FCS first round playoff games below, predicting a winner at the end of each blurb. Since this is an MVFC blog, we’ll start with the four games that involve Valley teams. Then we’ll move on to the other four games and cover those as well. (The records shown in parenthesis are spring only, and all times are central because that is where I am).
-Holy Cross (3-0) @ #1 South Dakota State (5-1)- 2pm: The Jackrabbits went from possibly a bubble team to the MVFC champion and #1 overall seed by winning the Dakota Marker game over NDSU on the final day of the season. It was their first game in nearly a month after three consecutive games were lost to COVID and opt outs. Holy Cross dealt with significant adversity as well. With just four games initially on their Patriot League schedule, the last two of those games were cancelled. The Crusaders dealt with a campus wide “pause” in the early part of the week leading up to the Patriot League title game, causing them to lose half their practice week. There was concern about whether they’d even be able to play at all. But play they did, for the first time since March 27th, and they blew past the Bison for a 33-10 win. Both teams in this contest are coming off wins that won them a league title, and both played those games after a long break. On paper it seems like SDSU should win this game, but Holy Cross isn’t easy to judge as they’ve only played three games total. They’ve had a QB controversy throughout their limited season with senior Connor Degenhardt getting the bulk of the playing time in both their regular season games, but freshman Matt Sluka getting the bulk of the time in the title game. Despite limited opportunities, Sluka was named the Patriot League Freshman of the Year and a finalist for the Jerry Rice award given to the nation’s best freshman. He is a dual threat QB who is probably more dangerous with his legs than his arms (he ended up leading the team in rushing this season). He will probably be under center when the Crusaders kick off against SDSU. All the Holy Cross Patriot League first teamers were on the defensive side of the ball, however, and that is where they will need to shine if they want to win this game. They allowed an average of just 12.3 points per game this season, and only allowed 23 total points that weren’t the result of a special teams play or a short field. South Dakota State has a pretty good freshman dual threat QB of their own in Mark Goronowski who was also a Jerry Rice Award finalist. Goronowksi completed 57% of his passes for just over 1,000 yards and 8 TDs (and 3 picks). He was also very nearly the team’s leading rusher with 454 yards and 6 touchdowns (383 net yards if you include sacks). That last stat is particularly impressive considering the Jackrabbits have a Payton Award finalist at running back. Pierre Strong ran for 453 net yards and two TDs to garner the award nomination. The Jackrabbits are battle tested having played four of their six games on the road, coming away with wins at UNI, SIU and NDSU. Their loss at North Dakota left some FCS fans questioning why they were awarded the #1 seed when there were several undefeated teams. But the Jacks certainly had to go through the gauntlet. While those offensive numbers do jump off the page, the defense is the key to SDSU’s success. They allowed an average of just 14 points per game this year.
My Prediction: Matt Sluka is the wildcard here, as its hard to know what to expect from a guy who has played 5 quarters of college football. But ultimately, I think SDSU has too many weapons and too strong a defense to go down in this one. I am going to pick the Jackrabbits, and I think it will be relatively easy (but not a total rout).
-Southern Illinois (4-3) @ Weber State (5-0)- 3pm: The winner of the SDSU-Holy Cross game will get the winner of this one between the Big Sky Champion Weber State Wildcats and the Missouri Valley’s fifth place team in Southern Illinois. SIU’s inclusion in the field has proven to be controversial amongst FCS fans as they were the fifth and final team from the same league to be given a bid in a year that the field was significantly reduced. Sending the Salukis on the road to face an undefeated conference champion that many thought would be seeded provides them the perfect opportunity to show the critics why they’re in this tournament. SIU is likely here because they went through a complete gauntlet and came out still breathing. They were the only MVFC team to face every other playoff team (losses to MSU, SDSU and UND…win over NDSU), and they challenged themselves with another bubble team on the final week of the season when they hosted Southeastern Louisiana. SIU survived the shootout, and the one-time FCS powerhouse is in the field for the first time since 2009. The Salukis have struggled to keep a QB on the field. Wisconsin transfer Kare Lyles started the first game of the spring and left with an injury. He made a cameo in the blowout loss to SDSU but that has been it for him since. Nic Baker started the next three games before leaving with an injury himself. Stone Labanowitz has taken over since then. After a rough start against SDSU he has played pretty well. He led the offensive explosion that was the 55-48 season ending victory. Javon Williams Jr has been SIU’s other primary weapon, running for 529 yards and 7 TDs in eight games. Elliot Romeir added 456 yards on the ground. Avante Cox has caught 55 passes for 660 yards. The SIU defense has been up-and-down this year, and they’ve really struggled their last few games allowing 48, 30 and 44 points. They’ve struggled mightily against the better offensive teams they have faced, and you have to wonder if they’ll be sucking air at the high altitudes in Ogden. Weber can’t be happy they didn’t get a seed after finishing undefeated, and the journey to prove they deserved more respect begins with this game against Southern Illinois. You know they want a crack at the #1 seed SDSU, but they have to win this one in order to get that opportunity. Their bevy of close calls is probably what cost them one of the top four spots. After a blowout over Idaho State, the Wildcats beat UC-Davis by 5, needed a Hail Mary to beat Northern Arizona by 5, rallied to beat Southern Utah by a field goal, and needed a late TD to beat Idaho State by five. But the key takeaway there is that all of those games were wins. Weber was still the undefeated outright Big Sky champions. That said, it remains to be seen whether the Wildcats have the kind of offense that can take advantage of the Salukis’ leaky defense. Weber has used multiple QBs this year, but for the most part the snaps have gone to freshman Bronson Barron who has completed 56% of his passes for 861 yards, six TDs and no interceptions. It is a very solid, if businesslike stat line for the young signal caller. But the kid has guts, as he has been playing QB with a broken wrist on his non-throwing hand for the last two weeks. Josh Davis is the team’s leading rusher but has been banged up and Dontae McMillan has filled in nicely. The two have combined for 693 yards and six TDs over their five games and Weber expects both to be in action for this game. The offense has been hit-or-miss since a 49-21 win in game one. But they’ve battled through injuries and should be set up to be as healthy as they’ve been for this game. They’ve allowed less than 18 points per game total, and like many teams on this list, the defense is the steadying factor. I am really looking forward to this one.
My Prediction: This one is tough as both teams look good on paper, but there is no way of really knowing what the level of the competition they have faced truly is. Weber hasn’t lost a game and SIU has lost thrice, sometimes badly. SIU has a leaky defense and is playing on the road at high altitude. I am hopeful the Salukis prove they belong with a solid performance, and my heart wants to pick them. But my mind says that the homefield advantage will be the difference for Weber to get the win. If SIU’s defense comes to play, though, the Salukis can win.
-Missouri State (5-1) @ North Dakota (4-1) - 3pm: Moving to the other side of the bracket, two MVFC co-champions will face off with the opportunity to play the winner of the JMU/VMI game. I typically don’t like intraconference matchups early in the playoffs. In this case I am OK with it because the MVFC has almost a third of the field and these two teams did not play each other during the season. In fact, these two teams have NEVER played each other as members of the same league. This is UND’s first season as a member of the MVFC and these squads are meeting for just the second time ever. For Missouri State, it has been quite a season. Under Eddie Robinson Award finalist Bobby Petrino, the Bears got off to an 0-3 start in the fall. Their hopes were not high entering the spring. MSU hadn’t made the playoffs in 31 years and they were picked second-to-last in the preseason poll. They opened the year with a come-from-behind 30-24 win over the only team that was picked to finish behind them, Western Illinois. After losing 25-0 to NDSU in week two, the Bears went on a run. It started with a 27-24 win over South Dakota that included a Bear kickoff return, interception return, and two missed Coyote field goals. Next, they scored on their opening drive and kept UNI out of the end zone in a 13-6 win at the UNI-Dome. Their 30-27 victory over SIU included a 75-yard TD pass on the first play, overcoming a 19-7 halftime deficit, ten points in the final three minutes and a last-second field goal. They clinched a share of the league title with a more straightforward 21-10 win over Youngstown. But they did not win the tiebreakers for the autobid and had to wait until selection Sunday to find out that they made the playoff field. MSU started the season with Jaden Johnson at QB, but an injury forced them to go to Matt Struck midseason. Johnson recovered and usurped Struck to get his job back in the final game of the season. The Bears have had three different leading rushers over their six spring games (and two more counting the fall). No one in the spring eclipsed 100 yards in a contest (although Celdon Manning came close with 99 in their final game). Lets be real, the Bears stats aren’t going to jump out at you. They won five games by a combined total of 30 points, four by a total of 19. They got here by sheer force of will and a little bit of luck. Speaking of luck, you have to think that North Dakota hasn’t had much of it lately. The Fighting Hawks haven’t taken the field since a 34-13 loss to North Dakota State on March 20th. They have had four games get cancelled since then and will have had a month off when they finally hit the gridiron this week for the playoffs. Expectations weren’t high in Grand Forks either, but before March 20th things were going damn good for UND. They had posted four wins, all by double-digits. They beat SIU 44-21 in their first game and then beat the eventual #1 seed SDSU 28-17 in game #2. Things were going swimmingly, but for the last month they haven’t been able to take the field and their most recent experience has been a blowout loss to North Dakota State. Yet another freshman QB has led the Fighting Hawks. This time it is Tommy Schuster who completed 65% of his passes for 992 yards and 8 TDs (and 3 picks) for the Fighting Hawks. He has had a very good season and will look to shake off the rust and continue it this weekend. Otis Weah has been the Hawks’ biggest weapon on the ground with 572 yards on 76 carries. Weah averages 7.5 yards a carry and has scored 7 TDs. This is a team that relies more on its offense than its defense, although the D has had its moments as well. North Dakota is back in the playoffs for the second season in a row and the first since becoming a member of the MVFC.
My Prediction: This should be a good game on paper, but I am going with the Fighting Hawks. They have won games going away, while Mo State has squeaked by. Both got blown out by NDSU, but the Hawks performed better against WIU, SIU and USD. All that plus home field advantage means I am going with North Dakota.
-Eastern Washington (5-1) @ North Dakota State (5-2) – 2:30pm: Eastern Washington heads to Fargo to face perennial National Champion North Dakota State in what might be the premier game of the first round. The winner will likely hit the road to face Sam Houston State in round two (assuming they beat Monmouth). The Bison won the most recent National Championship……and (almost) all of them for the decade prior, but they are as vulnerable as they’ve been since joining the MVFC. As I said in my power rankings, NDSU has a freshman QB who has never made a start in college and does not have a seed like they normally do. If they win it again this year, the rest of us should stop trying. This is the first time in many years they are not operating with an NFL caliber QB and the offense has suffered for it. The 2021 spring edition of NDSU does not win games by throwing the ball all over the field. They win by controlling the ground game and playing defense. Iowa State transfer Zeb Noland has been under center for a majority of the season and completed just 51 of 100 passes for 721 yards and 5 TDs with 6 picks. He was finally replaced by (yet another) freshman in Cam Miller who hasn’t been much better throwing the ball but has been able to make some plays with his feet. The two QBs combined to average just 135 yards through the air per game. There wasn’t one single standout on the ground either, as they’ve spread the ball around. Trey Lance, the NFL prospect QB who played in one game in the fall, actually finished as the team’s fifth leading rusher. As it is, Hunter Luepke has been the top rusher the last few games and leads the team with 355 yards on 63 carries. Luepke, Dominic Gonnella, Kobe Johnson and Jalen Bussey combined for 1,158 yards on 212 carries for 5.5 yards a carry. The Bison ran the ball more than twice as many times as they threw it, so this depth in the backfield has been crucial. NDSU still has a stellar defense that held its opponents to 15.4 PPG and 11.2 if you take away one bad loss to SIU. They may not have an NFL QB, or an MVFC title, or a seed, but they are still the NDSU Bison until proven otherwise. Eastern Washington had a typically above average season as they continue to be a Big Sky power despite their faculty’s calls to end athletics. The Eagles haven’t lost in March or April after opening the season with a 28-21 loss at Idaho at the end of February. EWU has reeled off five consecutive wins and has scored a metric crap-ton of points while doing so. They’ve averaged 44.6 points per game in their winning streak and have outscored their opponents by a total of 105 points. Most of that difference came in two blowout wins, though, as they had to navigate a four-point win over Idaho State and a seven-point comeback win over Idaho. The offense is anchored by QB Eric Barriere who is NOT a freshman, and is the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year and a Payton Award finalist. He is a redshirt senior, and he has been playing like it. He threw for no less than 284 yards in any single game this season. In total he has completed 62% of his passes for 2193 yards and 18 TDs (with six picks). He is also his team’s third leading rusher with 189 yards on 38 carries. That trails Pierce Tamarick who has 447 yards on 78 carries and 4 TDs. The defense has been hit-or-miss, but it hasn’t really mattered as the offense has been more than able to shoulder the load for the Eagles.
My Prediction: If you’re a neutral and you don’t have a dog in the fight, this is probably the game to watch. You have the powerhouse FCS program in a down year going up against perhaps the most high powered offense in the nation (and EWU is pretty close to a powerhouse themselves). NDSU has a stellar defense, EWU has a stellar offense. The Bison have been playing in a league with a lot of freshmen QBs and probably haven’t seen a guy like Eric Barriere yet. His worst passing game was over 100 yards better than anything NDSU QBs put up this season. On the flip side, it is doubtful Barriere and the Eagles have seen a defense like NDSU’s yet. Still, the Bison offense is going to have to take it up a notch to stay with the Eagles here as I expect them to put up points. I think on a neutral field EWU is probably the better team, but the Fargodome is a factor. In the end this is a very tough one to predict, but I am going to have to go with NDSU. The Bison are still the Bison, and they are playing at home. EWU certainly has a great chance to win though, and this game is probably a coin flip. If EWU can move the ball consistently against the NDSU defense, I don’t know if the Bison will be able to keep up. I’m very excited for this one.
-Sacred Heart (3-1) @ Delaware (5-0) – 6pm- Two conference champions square off in this first round matchup. Sacred Heart won a doozy of an NEC title game to play their way into this contest with the Delaware Blue Hens. UD was voted as the CAA champ over James Madison as both finished the year undefeated. It could be argued they played a tougher schedule than the Dukes with wins over Maine, Rhode Island and Villanova. But while they got the title, they didn’t get the seed as JMU was awarded with the 3-seed and UD will have to make do with just one guaranteed home game. All that said, Delaware had a very good season. Their average margin of victory in their four CAA games was over 21 points as they systematically plowed through the CAA North. Unlike many teams who dealt with a lot of turnover, UD had the same leading passer and rusher in all of their games and the same leading receiver in all but their first game. Junior QB Nolan Henderson completed 70% of his passes on the season for 988 yards and nine TDs to just two interceptions over five games. Senior running back Dejoun Lee ran for 516 yards and 5 TDs on 77 carries, including a 221 yard performance against Rhode Island. Lee is a finalist for the Walter Payton Award. Junior receiver Thyrick Pitts caught 22 passes for 368 yards and 3 scores. Unlike several highly touted teams in this competition, the Blue Hens feature upperclassmen playing several of the skill positions. Credit Coach Danny Rocco, Robinson Award Finalist, for keeping his team together and ready to get consistent results throughout an awkward and splintered season. Sacred Heart, best known as being the hospital from Scrubs, also brings some experience to the big positions. The Pioneers only played four games including the NEC title game and finished 3-1. After opening the year with a 30-27 loss to Duquesne, Sacred Heart had no problem with Long Island or Merrimack. They faced the Dukes again in the NEC title game and won an exciting game in which they scored a 29-yard TD on 4th and 14 in OT and forced a goal line fumble by Duquesne to hold on for the win. Sophomore QB Marquez McCray completed 64% of his passes, throwing for 772 yards and 7 TDs (with two picks). Junior back Julius Chestnut was by far the Pioneers’ leading rusher with 717 yards in the ground and 8 TDs on 93 carries (an average of 7.7 YPC). Chestnut was named a Payton Award Finalist for his efforts. Sacred Heart ran the ball 60% of the time and no receiver had more than 14 receptions on the year.
My Prediction: Sacred Heart is a good team, but Delaware is on another level to me. I am impressed with how easily the Blue Hens handled their schedule this year and I think with their experience they are a legitimate national title contender. McCray and Chestnut will get some things done for Sacred Heart, but I think Delaware will pull away late in the second quarter and win this one easily. This will set up a possible doozy of a matchup with Jacksonville State in round two.
-Davidson (4-2) @ #4 Jacksonville State (6-1) – 1pm- The Ohio Valley Conference champion squares off against the Pioneer League champion in this first round contest. Jacksonville State’s seed surprised some, as it came at the expense of an undefeated Weber State. It is hard to tell how much fall competition factored into this committee’s decisions, but the Gamecocks’ seed makes it appear that it was a factor. JSU had possibly the best fall of any FCS team. They took a two TD lead against Florida State and kept that lead until late in the third quarter. They won three other games including a win over FBS Florida International. In the spring they “mostly” dominated the OVC, a head scratching 13-10 loss to Austin Peay notwithstanding. They won the rest of their league games by no less than fourteen points, and by an average of 18.2 points. The OVC isn’t the strongest league, but the performance was good enough to get the Gamecocks a four-seed and at least two home playoff games should they advance. Junior QB Zion Webb has been the man under center for Jacksonville state with 1524 yards passing, 11 TDs and 7 picks in eight games including one in the spring. Josh Samuel and Uriah West have split the running duties for JSU, combining for over 1,300 yards between the fall and spring while Webb has added 316 yards on the ground in 69 (nice) carries. Jacksonville State’s defense is anchored by a star in Nicario Harper. The safety is a transfer from Southern Miss and was named the OVC Defensive Player of the Year and a Buck Buchanan Award finalist. The defense held nine straight opponents to under 100 rushing yards (dating back to the fall). The Pioneer League Champion Davidson Wildcats also won a league championship but were not as dominant as the Gamecocks. After opening the season with a 26-23 non-conference loss to the fully funded Elon Phoenix, Davidson survived a couple of close wins over Stetson and Morehead State. Next, they squared off with San Diego who had 39 consecutive league wins. The Wildcats snapped the streak with a 31-25 win on the road and were one win away from clinching the league title. They slipped up in their next game against Presbyterian but clinched the league title the next week when their game against Stetson was cancelled. Davidson plays in the non-scholarship Pioneer League and three of their four wins were by six points or fewer. Senior QB Tyler Phelps is possibly more of a threat with his legs (312 yards on 70 carries) than his arm (617 yards on 76 pass attempts). The Wildcat rushing attack is spearheaded by sophomore Dylan Sparks and junior Coy Williams who combined for nearly 1,000 yards between them over Davidson’s six game schedule. The Wildcats ran the ball 358 times to just 76 pass attempts. Coach Scott Abell was named a finalist for the Eddie Robinson award for his efforts in ending San Diego’s Pioneer League dominance.
My Prediction: This is probably going to be the most lopsided game of the first round. Davidson has been an awesome story, and congrats to them for dethroning San Diego and winning the league title. But they are a non-scholarship team with a 4-2 record and several close victories. Jacksonville State is playing at home, has been prolific of late, and is a contender for the national title. I am going with JSU in a blowout.
-VMI (6-1) @ #3 James Madison (5-0) – 1pm- I said EWU-NDSU is probably the game of the week, but if I were to pick another this one would be a dark horse candidate. Just how good is Southern Conference Champion VMI? I think the Keydets may be better than some people have given them credit for. The Southern Conference has one of the proudest traditions in the FCS. It isn’t what it used to be since the defections of some of its best programs, but VMI still won a tough league. I think sometimes people underestimate a good team with a bad history. And as histories go, VMI’s recent history is about as bad as it gets. Without a winning season since 1981, and no SoCon title since 1977, we aren’t used to seeing VMI in this position. Yes, they lost to ETSU and had to squeak by Furman, Samford and Wofford. But they also handled Western Carolina, Mercer and The Citadel with relative ease in getting to 6-1 and winning the outright title. Their story was so good it made their coach, Scott Wachenheim, a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award (and he just might win it). They accomplished all this without their starting QB (senior Reece Udinski) for the second half of the season. But freshman Seth Morgan (a Jerry Rice Award finalist) has filled in more than adequately with a 76% completion percentage and 1,088 yards on 92 completions (with 8 TDs and one pick) since taking over in the fifth game of the season against Wofford. VMI has done more damage through the air than on the ground, and Morgan ended up as the team’s third leading rusher in just three games under center (amassing 198 yards on 45 carries). But Junior Korey Bridy and freshman Rashad Raymond have amassed over 500 yards on the ground between them. Junior wideout Jakob Herres has been one of the most prolific receivers in the nation, catching 67 balls for 807 yards and seven TDs. He has been named a finalist for the Payton award. Linebacker Stone Snyder anchors the VMI defense, and he was named a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award. The JMU Dukes will be playing with a chip on their shoulder despite finishing the season undefeated and claiming the #3 seed in the playoffs. JMU has been the most nationally relevant program this side of NDSU for the last half decade plus, and the Dukes were ranked #1 in the committee’s initial rankings on April 1. The Dukes won their only game since that time, a 23-6 win over #11 Richmond. In the aftermath, not only did JMU lose the CAA title by a vote to Delaware, but they fell from #1 to #3 in the committee’s eyes as well. It probably didn’t help that their own conference didn’t choose JMU as the best team. They think they are the best team, however, and are out prove it. The results are hard to argue. Although their schedule was limited in scope, JMU won their five games by an average of 24 points. Other than a 20-17 head scratcher at Elon, the Dukes won each of their contests convincingly. None of their opponents were elite, but they did to those opponents what you would expect an elite team to do…..dominate. They had nearly a month off before playing their final game, and they held Richmond to 200 yards in the businesslike 23-6 win. JMU has experience under center as senior Cole Johnson has completed 67% of his passes for 907 yards and 4 TDs (but also 4 picks). James Madison prefers to run the ball, though, as they ran it nearly twice as often as they passed. They spread the ball around, too. Their top rusher, senior Percy Agyei-Obese carried the ball 69 (nice) times for 381 yards and 5 scores which was good enough to make him a finalist for the Payton Award. But they had four other running backs get at least 16 and as many as 52 carries. Defensively the Dukes are led by Buchanan Award finalist Percy Agyei-Obese. The JMU defense allowed just under 10 points a game this season. Their overall performance was enough to make coach Curt Cignetti a Robinson Award finalist.
My Prediction: JMU thinks it is very good, and most FCS fans think they are good too. They probably are good; they just haven’t had much of a chance to prove it yet. VMI has done all it can to prove it is good as well, but their reputation lingers. A part of me believes that VMI is underrated because of their history, and James Madison might be slightly overrated for the same reason. It would be bold to pick an upset here, and I’m not going to. Part of me wants to roll the dice on this VMI team with their exciting freshman QB who wants to throw the ball all over the field and then take off running. But I’ll say experience and home field advantage prevail here. I’ll take JMU in a game that will be closer than many people might expect.
-Monmouth (3-0) @ #2 Sam Houston State (6-0) – 11am- You like defense? You like a long, slow, Big Ten style knock-em-down drag-it-out game? Well then don’t watch this one because these two teams are going to score points. Monmouth won the Big South title after beating their top challenger, Kennesaw State, 42-17. They won their other two games 48-19 and 35-17. They weren’t facing premier competition, but they still averaged nearly 42 points per game in their three games and won by an average of 24 points. THAT IS PRETTY GOOD. This will be the Hawks third playoff appearance in four seasons. Over that period, they have finished no worse than 8-3 and amassed a 31-9 record overall. They’ve become a quality program seemingly overnight, but their efforts have come mostly against the Big South and Patriot League style of competition. Against top programs it has been more of a mixed bag. That 2017 playoff season ended with a 46-7 loss to UNI. They missed the playoffs in 2018 despite an 8-3 record due to a lack of tough competition on their schedule. Last year they turned the corner a bit with an OT win over a playoff bound UAlbany team and a playoff win over Holy Cross, but still lost 47-27 at Montana early in the season and 66-21 at James Madison in the playoffs. Monmouth has become a good program, but they are still looking for that win that pushes them into the next echelon. This game provides another opportunity. The Hawks have yet another freshman QB under center. Tony Muskett, a Jerry Rice Award finalist, has completed 51 of 82 passes for 742 yards over three games. Sophomore Juwon Farri is a Payton Award finalist and has handled the Lion’s share of the ground game with 79 carries for 422 yards and NINE TDs (in just three games). This season’s efforts got Head Coach Kevin Callahan nominated for the Robinson Award. The Hawks have proven they are good in a limited sample size, but now they get a chance to show just how good they are when they take on Sam Houston State. You want to talk about an offense? How about a squad that dominated the Southland to the tune of nearly 45 points per game over six contests? They won games by an average of over 27 points. After opening the season with an exciting 43-38 win over a decent SE Louisiana team, Sam Houston State has not been seriously challenged again. Starting QB Eric Schmid (a junior) was named the Southland Conference Player of the Year after he threw for over 2000 yards in six games, throwing fourteen touchdown passes with seven interceptions. These guys like to sling it, but they also run the ball. Schmid himself is the Bearkats’ second leading rusher with 278 yards and 5 TDs on 56 carries. That is just behind Ramon Jefferson, the junior back from the Bronx who carried for 475 yards on 73 attempts. Senior Jequez Ezzard caught 20 passes for 608 yards and 6 scores. He was one of six Bearkats to catch at least ten passes this year. The defense is not as strong as the offense, but it has also had its moments this year, holding its final five opponents to just 13.4 ppg (and 17.5 ppg overall in six games).
My Prediction: I don’t think Monmouth is far away from getting that huge signature win. That said, I also don’t think it will happen this week. Both teams have firepower, but I think SHSU’s defense will be the difference. I think SHSU will be able to slow Monmouth down enough to pull away. This one feels like one of those 50-30 type games, and I am going with the Bearkats.
And that is all of the games! Enjoy football watching this weekend, fans, and I will see you on the other side!