FCS Playoffs: Second Round Picks

Published on 12/03/2021
By Jack Fitzpatrick
May 16, 2021; Frisco, Texas, USA; Sam Houston State Bearkats head coach K.C. Keeler holds up the championship trophy after the game against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits at the Division I FCS Championship football game at Toyota Stadium.
© Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

While we all argue about how many teams the FBS College Football Playoff should expand to, the FCS (formerly I-AA) has ironed out a fantastic playoff system that began last weekend and will go until January 8th when they crown a national champion in Frisco, Texas. 

Historically this second round of games is when things start to get really good. The top 8 teams in the country had a bye week last week while the next best 16 faced off. Last weekend’s games are normally fairly chalky and you see plenty of blowouts. 

This year Kennesaw State beat Davidson, 48-21 and South Dakota State beat UC Davis, 56-24. This second weekend is when you get more good-on-good matchups that bring electricity to the subdivision. 

Since 2015 seeded teams have gone 28-12 in the second round, but this year might be a little different after the way the bracket shook itself out.

UIW vs. No. 1 Sam Houston (-13.5) - Saturday at 3 PM ET

This is a matchup of old conference mates. Sam Houston was a perennial power in the Southland conference up until this year when they left to go to the WAC. Now, UIW took advantage of that opening and finished 10-2 overall and 7-1 in the Southland to earn the auto bid. 

Sam Houston is a top 5 offense in the FCS and UIW is top 10, the offensive fireworks are going to be on full display in this one. The difference is on the defensive side, where UIW is the 92nd best defense in the FCS. They allowed over 5,000 yards this season, over 400 a game and 5.4 yards per play. 

Sam Houston is a potent offense that will take advantage of that and put up points. UIW hasn’t played a team like Sam Houston all season and it will show. 

The pick: Sam Houston -13.5 with ease 

Southern Illinois vs. No. 2 NDSU (-14.5) - Saturday at 3:30 PM ET

Southern Illinois had a very weird season this year. The Salukis started off red hot, opening the season 6-1 with wins over at the time No. 2 South Dakota State and No. 22 North Dakota. Then they faded hard down the stretch losing back-to-back games to UNI and Missouri State and finished 1-1 in their last two.  

North Dakota State on the other hand went 10-1 this season and its only loss was to bitter rival South Dakota State. All of the Bison’s success this season came from their stifling defense that only allowed 12.1 points per game. Their offense was stagnant and lacked creativity and explosive plays at times. They were carried by a solid rushing attack that made their offense look like it was transported from 1921 rather than 2021.

With all that being said and me sort of trashing NDSU there, this is a game in the FargoDome where the Bison have lost in the playoffs just once since 2011. 

The Pick: Southern Illinois (-14.5) but NDSU to win. I just don’t see how NDSU will be able to fully pull away on a Southern Illinois team that is solid. 

Southeastern Louisiana vs. No. 3 JMU (-14.5) - Saturday at 2 PM ET

Upset watch?

No, probably not but it is fun to think. 

Southeastern Louisiana travels to Harrisonburg, VA to take on the number three team in the nation, JMU. 

The Lions boast the most potent offense in the FCS and the 2020 Walter Payton Award winner and most dynamic QB in the FCS, Cole Kelley. SLU scores 47.2 ppg and racks up over 560 yards of total offense each game. 

Kelley is a 6’7, 260 pound senior QB who was a former 4-star recruit and starter at Arkansas. Now, he has transferred to Southeastern and is tearing up FCS defenses. 

The achilles heel for the Lions is their young and inexperienced defense. While the offense is putting up gaudy numbers, the defense is allowing just as gaudy numbers, over 400 yards allowed a game, 96th in the FCS. 

On the other side of the field is perennial power JMU. The Dukes have one of the most efficient QBs in the nation and two of the top receivers in Kris Thornton and Antwane Wells Jr. 

They are a top 20 total offense and are No. 2 in total defense. The key in this game is the pure  talent gap between SLU and JMU. Southeastern Louisiana has never played a top 65 defense and beat up on bottom tier teams for the majority of the season, this game may be a rude awakening for the Lions. 

The pick: JMU (-14.5) but it may not pull away until the 4th quarter 

South Dakota St. vs. No. 4 Sacramento St. (+8.5) - Saturday at 9 PM ET

Before the playoffs began last weekend, SDSU was my dark horse pick to win the national championship and I feel a lot better about that after last week’s beatdown vs. UC Davis. UC Davis was a top team in the nation, at least according to the polls, for the majority of the season and South Dakota State absolutely tore them down in embarrassing fashion. 

Now the Jackrabbits take on another Big Sky team in Sacramento State that, according to a lot of the FCS public, was seeded a little high. 

South Dakota State is the better team in this game. The only issue in terms of covering the spread is being a road favorite by more than a TD and Sacramento State has a solid offense averages over 30 points per game and a defense that is quite similar to SDSU.

The pick: South Dakota State to win but Sacrament State to cover +8.5 

Holy Cross vs. No. 5 Villanova (-13.5) - Friday at 7 PM  ET

Holy Cross is coming off a 13-10 thriller of a win in the first round over Sacred Heart. The Crusaders have the best defense in the nation when it comes to yards allowed per game at 252.2. Villanova? It’s third, allowing 254.9. 

This may be a battle between two defensive minded teams swinging knockout blows back and forth. 

Where Villanova has the major advantage, and the reason they can pull away and cover the spread, is their offense. The Wildcats have a veteran signal caller in Daniel Smith and a top RB not just in the Colonial Athletic Association but all of the FCS in Justin Covington. The offense, which can sputter and fail to move the ball, also has the ability to rattle off consecutive scoring drives in a matter of minutes due to the high level of play from the defense. 

Holy Cross may be able to dirty this game up and keep the Villanova offense from scoring a lot of points but Holy Cross won’t be able to score either in that scenario and if the Crusaders have any shot of winning they have to score often, early and consistently something they just won’t be capable of doing. 

The pick: Villanova (-13.5) and Holy Cross may not even break double digits.  

 Eastern Washington (+3) vs. No. 6 Montana - Friday at 9 PM ET 

I love Eastern Washington here against No. 6 Montana. These two teams faced off in the beginning of October in an ESPN2 nationally televised game and the Eagles came out with the 34-28 win. 

Eastern Washington has one of the most potent offenses in the nation, led by QB Eric Barriere who throws for 378 yards a game and has accounted for 45 TDs this season. The problem for EWU has been the defense, but since allowing 56 points to Western Illinois early in the season it has allowed 30+ points just once and is coming off an effort where it only allowed 9 points to Northern Iowa. 

Montana has been one of the best teams in the nation ever since its loss to Sacramento State back on October 16. The Griz have outscored opponents 148-46 including a shutout vs. Northern Colorado and a 19 point win over rival Montana State. 

The pick: Eastern Washington not only to cover but to go on the road to Montana and take down the Griz for the second time this season 

Kennesaw St. (-2.5) vs. No. 7 ETSU - Saturday at 2 PM ET

Honestly, I’m still not entirely sure how ETSU got a seed. Maybe because the Buccaneers have an FBS win over Vanderbilt, other than that they have a very underwhelming resume with no wins over playoff teams. Granted, Kennesaw State didn’t have any wins over playoff teams until last week when they won a playoff game, but the Owls also didn’t have an FCS loss this season. 

The pick: Kennesaw State -2.5 and they probably win by multiple scores 

UT Martin vs. No. 8 Montana St. (-12.5) - Saturday at 4 PM ET 

Montana State was in the spotlight a bit this week not because of this game but because one of their QBs left the team and entered the transfer portal. 

That really won’t impact the game just thought it was fun to mention in case your school needs a QB. 

On a serious note, Montana State is better in almost every single major statistical category and plays in a much tougher conference than UT Martin. Montana State plays in the Big Sky, a conference that got five teams into the playoffs, UT Martin plays in the Ohio Valley conference and it was the only team to make the playoffs. 

Montana State is going to flex its muscle at home and show why they should have been a higher seed than what they received. 

The pick: Montana State -12.5 


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