FCS Playoff Preview 2014

It's that time of year. We're talking playoffs.

It’s that time of year. We’re talking playoffs.

Most of you will be watching your favorite rivalry game in FBS ball this weekend, but Saturday is also a big day for the FCS level. It’s the first round of the FCS Playoffs. Sixteen of the 24 teams will be in action and it’s time to break the field down.

1. Is New Hampshire really the best team?

The Wildcats went undefeated against FCS foes this year, only losing to FBS Toledo 54-20. While the CAA has three other teams in field, UNH did not play two of them. Villanova, the six seed, and James Madison were not on the schedule. Therefore, it’s hard to justify a CAA crown with that conference slate.

Its toughest opponent, Richmond, was a close three-point win. Last week, New Hampshire survived a 5-5 Maine team 20-12. Doesn’t really sound like the best team in the FCS. The Wildcats are good, you have to be to go 10-1, but the top seed seems generous.

2. What Top 8 Seeds are on Upset Alert?

There is always a team or two who go down in the second round as a top eight seed. The four/five seeds need to look out as Illinois State and Eastern Washington may have tough match-ups. Illinois State shared the Missouri Valley Football Conference (FCS best five teams in the field) with North Dakota State but may have to deal with a dangerous Northern Iowa club. UNI lost to Illinois State by 14 on Nov. 1 but the Panthers did beat North Dakota State and almost shocked Iowa.

Montana should cruise through San Diego and meet conference rival Eastern Washington in the second round. Again, EWU won the first meeting but it was close. Beating a team like Northern Iowa and Montana twice in the same year is not easy. Montana is number one in FCS in turnover margin at plus 16. Eastern Washington better protect the ball in that game.

Chattanooga, the eight seed, would be favored against the Eastern Kentucky/Indiana State winner but it will not be a cake walk. And if you think Villanova is looking forward to the winner of James Madison/Liberty you’re crazy.

3. Will North Dakota State make it four straight championships?

The Bison have the best defense in the field giving up just 255 yards per game. The question for them will be on offense. North Dakota State averaged 429 yards per game so it’s hard to see them struggling, especially at home. Their first two games should be a breeze as the semifinals and championship will be the only places for the Bison to falter. But there is one team I think can beat them.

4. The Dark Horse: Jacksonville State

The Gamecocks are number four in offense and number 14 in defense. That’s a juggernaut folks. Jacksonville State won at Chattanooga in week 2 and should be ready to challenge anyone, including North Dakota State. That’s why I’m picking Jacksonville State to win it all this year.

Now if it loses to Southeastern Louisiana in the second round then you never read this column. Here is my bracket.
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FCS Defenders: Where the Upsets Will Happen

Because Photoshopping logos onto a tank is harder.

Because Photoshopping logos onto a tank is harder.

The first few weeks of the year is the only time college football has a March Madness flavor to it as FCS schools get a crack at the big boys. Fourty-six FCS teams will square off against FBS counterparts this week and roughly half have a chance of pulling off the upset. The big schools can’t recruit everyone and the FCS programs benefit greatly from transfers. FBS schools have a recruiting edge in grabbing the scarcity of quality linemen but skill positions (quarterbacks and receivers) are roughly the same quality in FCS.

Losing to a FCS school carries various degrees of shame. When a MAC school loses to a FCS squad, it is embarrassing, like losing to a 6-year-old at a video game. When a Big Ten school loses to a FCS program, it is crippling, like being interviewed by Chris Hansen on Dateline. See Michigan versus Appalachian State as exhibit A. Here are a few FCS vs. FBS games to look at in the opening week.

Abilene Christian at Georgia State

The season officially starts for FBS schools with a potential upset. The Panthers went 0-12 in 2013 and lost to three FCS programs in the process. Georgia State hopes to snap its 16-game losing streak against Abilene Christian, who lost most of its offense from a year ago.

ACU did finished 18 spots higher than GSU in the Sagarin rankings last season and appears to have a beefier offensive line. This is a 50/50 game but I have to give it to Georgia State. They have been marketing it like it’s their Super Bowl and they’ll need that mindset to end the losing streak.

UT-Martin at Kentucky

I know it’s a popular to pick an underdog over Kentucky but the Wildcats are 10-0 all-time vs. FCS programs. The only chance the Skyhawks have is hoping for complete incompetence from the Cats at quarterback. Kentucky is going with redshirt sophomore PatrickTowles who has little game experience. This opens the door for UT-Martin but don’t bet on it. Kentucky should win this one by at least a couple of touchdowns as Kentucky returns most of its defense.

Youngstown State at Illinois

Illinois went 4-8 last season and will be breaking in a new quarterback. The Fighting Illini also lost most of its receivers. In terms of size on the line of scrimmage Illinois is bigger but not by much. No. 21 FCS Youngstown State also lost its starting quarterback from last season so the QB position is a wash.

Looking at common opponents, Youngstown State lost to Michigan State last season by 38. Illinois lost to Michigan State in 2013 by 39. Uh Oh! These teams are close to even and that is not a good sign for Illinois. I’m picking the Penguins because I always wanted to stay that.

Delaware at Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh went 7-6 last season and lost some big pieces on defense and its quarterback. Is that enough for the Delaware Blue Hens to capitalize on? Senior quarterback Trent Hurley returns after throwing 22 touchdowns in 2013 to only seven interceptions. That’s a big problem for the Panthers.

However, Delaware will be severely undersized at the line of scrimmage and this team was blown out by Navy a year ago. A team Pittsburgh defeated. I expect Delaware to stick around but I can’t pick the upset.

Montana at Wyoming

Wyoming is rolling the dice playing the No. 5 FCS team in Montana. The Cowboys return most of its team but will have a new starter a quarterback along with a new coach (Craig Bohl). For the Griz, quarterback Jordan Johnson returns after throwing 32 touchdowns to only five interceptions. Montana will have to overcome a moderate size difference up front but this will be a close one. I’ll pick Montana because of the coaching transition at Wyoming.

Plus how can you go against a school that has a hype video with a Batman style soundtrack.

Montana State at Arkansas State

Arkansas State won a bowl game last season and welcomes No. 17 FCS Montana State on Saturday. The Red Wolves lost a big chunk of its offense including quarterback. Montana State nearly took down FBS SMU last season and have a decent chance here too. It does not help that the Bobcats will be giving Dakota Prukop his first start at QB. The Bobcats are larger at offensive line and the Red Wolves went through a coaching change. Arkansas State’s defense will have to hold on to prevent the upset and I think they will against a new quarterback. I predict the Bobcats will come up short again.

Northern Arizona at San Diego State

Our third FCS school from the Big Sky on this list is No. 25 Northern Arizona. San Diego State was crushed by FCS Eastern Illinois last season 40-19 and lost most of its defense. However, the Lumberjacks don’t have an amazing quarterback like Eastern’s Jimmy Garoppolo. I’m calling the Aztecs to survive this one.

New Hampshire at Toledo

Toledo is a favorite to win the MAC but CAA New Hampshire is No. 4 in FCS. The Rockets have a new starter at quarterback but return most of its defense. The Wildcats have two quarterbacks that are experienced. I look for Toledo to hold on as New Hampshire barley lost to MAC foe Central Michigan last season. A team Toledo crushed. Plus, if these fans show up then the Rockets should feel safe.

Chattanooga at Central Michigan

Speaking of Central Michigan, it plays No. 16 Chattanooga in what should be a tight game. Central returns most of its team and is predicted to have a breakout year in the MAC. That doesn’t mean losing to a talented FCS program is out of question. Junior quarterback Jacob Huesman had 25 total touchdowns last season compared with five interceptions for the Mocs. They also want to get the bad taste of the Alabama beating they took at the end of last season 49-0. Huesman was unable to play much in that game due to injury. Central does not appear to have much of a size advantage on the line. I think it will come down to skill positions and that’s why I’m picking Chattanooga. http://www.gomocs.com/ViewArticle.dbml?ATCLID=205178820

Bethune-Cookman at FIU

No. 23 Bethune-Cookman beat Florida International last year 34-13. While FIU returns most of its players from its disastrous 1-11 campaign in 2013, the Panthers are going to be challenged to make up three touchdowns. Bethune-Cookman is 3-0 all time against FIU and that will probably be 4-0 after Saturday. FIU is giving away food and tuition to bring out fans. Good luck with that.

Cal-Poly at New Mexico State

New Mexico State went 2-10 last season and lost its top passer, rusher, receiver and six of its top seven tacklers. I don’t know if Cal-Poly, 6-6 in 2013, can take advantage though. The Mustangs will be undersized and that might prevent them from having much rushing success in its triple option. Not sure if their two quarterback system will work well in this one. Have to give the edge to the Aggies.

North Dakota State at Iowa State

Save the best for last and that’s the Bison, who have won three-straight FCS titles. They shocked Kansas State in 2013 and play a weaker Big 12 team this season in Iowa State. Did I mention Iowa State lost to FCS Northern Iowa last season 28-20?

But the Cyclones have experience on offense now as the defense is the question. No one has a clear size advantage on the line of scrimmage making quarterback play pivotal. That could be a problem for NDSU as new starting quarterback Carson Wentz is unproven. However, the two quarterback system for Iowa State cost them 14 interceptions last season and you can bet at least one more will come Saturday. That should be all NDSU needs as I’m picking them to extend its 24-game winning streak.

That means I’m picking five FCS programs over FBS teams this week with a few more tight contests. Here are other FCS vs. FBS games with some upset potential this week. Villanova at Syracuse; Liberty at North Carolina; Portland State at Oregon State; Nicholls State at Air Force; Morgan State at Eastern Michigan