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FCS Playoffs Semifinals Preview

The semifinals are here and both games feature a Valley team. Both games look like they could be doozies. Friday’s game features the two biggest powerhouses in FCS football over the last decade in NDSU and JMU, the winner of which will likely be the favorite in the title game. Saturday’s game features two squads that have been very good recently but haven’t quite been able to get over the hump. South Dakota State is looking to play in its second championship game in one calendar year, while Montana State is looking for its first title game appearance since they won it all in 1984. The previews for both games are below.

#3 James Madison (12-1) @ #2 North Dakota State (12-1) – 8:15pm Friday – ESPN2

For the average college football fan, this game represents about as mouthwatering a matchup that one could hope for in the FCS playoffs. As the only game on Friday night, it would be hard to do better than these two Championship Subdivision bluebloods. For the serious FCS fan though, while this will certainly be a tremendous game, it almost feels like watching Clemson and Alabama in the FBS title game. Like, “Yeah, we get it….ya’ll are good”. NDSU has won eight of the last ten national title games, while JMU won one of the others. The Bison have been borderline unbeatable at home in the playoffs during their run, but JMU is the reason why the word “borderline” is necessary. The Dukes are the only team that has knocked off the Bison in Fargo in the FCS playoffs, which they did in 2016. That ended a run of five consecutive NDSU titles. These two teams had absolutely no issues getting here. James Madison outscored Southeastern Louisiana and Montana by a combined score of 87-26, while NDSU outscored Southern Illinois and ETSU by a combined margin of 65-10. Both teams are stellar on both sides of the ball. NDSU focuses on a power running game supplemented with a long pass over the top here and there. They’ve averaged 356 rushing yards per game over their last four contests. They have a suffocating defense too, one that has allowed an average of just 257 total yards per game over their last four contests, much of which came in garbage time of blowouts. They have a full stable of backs with seven guys that have carried the ball between 47 and 107 times this year. James Madison rolls with a more balanced offense and a defense that will turn you over (they’ve forced seven turnovers in their two playoff games). They have the more dynamic QB in Cole Johnson who has thrown 39 TD passes to just two interceptions on the year. He has also run for 6 TDs and 225 yards. They can move the ball on the ground too with Latrele Palmer who averages 5 yards per carry on 169 carries this year. That the game is being played in Fargo may be the difference. The crowds at NDSU have been just OK so far in the playoffs, perhaps a product of a fanbase that is starting to take winning for granted (and why shouldn’t they?). But I would bet that most every seat in the house will be filled for this one. Their AD certainly hopes so. The dome crowd will look to disrupt James Madison’s passing game and keep the Bison defense off the field.

My Prediction: This should be a banger. If you’re a football fan looking for something to do on Friday night, ESPN2 will be the place to be. I have the Bison winning 30-24.

South Dakota State (11-3) @ #8 Montana State (11-2) – 1pm – ESPN2

The second game features two squads that are not as decorated as NDSU and JMU, and the winner of this game will likely be the underdog in Frisco. That said, these are still two extremely solid teams that have been considered among the best in the FCS all season and both are legitimate national title contenders. South Dakota State was ultimately unseeded entering the postseason, but they were one play away from winning the national title last year and entered the season as one of the favorites to win the championship this year. They opened the year with a blowout win over FBS Colorado State and rolled through the early part of their schedule, and were looking the part. Injuries and some unfortunate luck kept them from having the kind of season they were hoping for, though. They suffered tough losses to Southern Illinois, Northern Iowa and South Dakota. The SIU and USD losses were heartbreaking losses on the final play. Those defeats cost them a seed and have forced the Jackrabbits to travel the country in their quest to return to the title game. They’re the only unseeded team to beat a seeded team (which they’ve done twice), going to the west coast to beat Big Sky Champions Sacramento State, then the east coast to beat CAA champs Villanova. Don’t let their lack of a seed fool you, though. The Jackrabbits are contenders, a fact they proved by beating NDSU earlier this year. Montana State’s 8-seed doesn’t likely do them justice. After opening the season with a three-point loss at FBS Wyoming, they reeled off nine straight wins before losing the final game of the season at arch-rival Montana. The nine game win streak saw the Bobcats take games against the likes of Weber State and EWU. Going into their game at Montana, MSU was seen by many as a possible #1 seed for the playoffs. Their loss pushed them all the way down to #8, but they have been considered one of the top teams in the land all season. Montana State has a stellar defense that has held eight opponents to ten points or less this season. They absolutely shut down UT Martin in the second round of the playoffs and kept the high powered and top ranked Sam Houston State offense in check in their blowout quarterfinals road win. The folks in Bozeman are ready for this game. The stadium was sold out in less than 24 hours. They’re going to be pumped and rowdy and there should be a great atmosphere for FCS playoffs football. I expect a great contest between two great teams.

My Prediction: I am going to go with the all-Valley final because I am MV(F)C goddam Beat, not Big Sky Beat. But this should be an awesome game. I wish I could go because it should be a blast. I’ll pick SDSU by a 20-17 score.

And that’s that. I am really looking forward to both games, and what should be a great national title game no matter the matchup. I’ll see you later this week for the recap, which will probably be my last piece of FCS content for a while. Until then, GO VALLEY!

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