FCS Semifinal Previews: New Hampshire and North Dakota State Try To Set Up A 1-versus-2 showdown

While the FBS is new to this whole playoffs thing, the other divisions in college football are no strangers to settling things on the field. The FCS playoffs are into the semifinal round, and three seeded teams — including the top two seeds — remain in the hunt to claim the national title. Will it be North Dakota State yet again or will someone else spoil the party? Let’s find out.


(2) North Dakota State vs. Sam Houston State


Neither team has had a terribly smooth ride through the playoffs, with North Dakota State squeaking out a win over rival South Dakota State in the first round and holding off Coastal Carolina in the quarterfinals, while Sam Houston State defeated 6-seed Villanova in the quarterfinals last week, at least partially thanks to Wildcats quarterback John Robertson missing the game due to injury.

North Dakota State is the heavy favorite in this one, and for good reason. Its offensive line is the most imposing in the FCS, and behind it running back John Crockett has broken the school’s single-season rushing record. The Bison have looked mortal really in only one game, the loss to Northern Iowa, and for whatever good things Coastal Carolina did in the quarterfinal, its defensive line was completely overwhelmed by the NDSU offensive line. North Dakota State starting quarterback Carson Wentz has been efficient (63.1 percent completion rate), but he throws for just 192 yards per game on 22.6 attempts per game. Therefore, expect Sam Houston State to force the Bison to put the ball in the air… if they can stop their imposing run game enough to do so, that is.

Sam Houston State got off to a bit of a rough start this year, starting 1-3, but the Bearkats had a lot of new pieces to work into the team with a lot of transfers from FBS schools, not to mention first year head coach K.C. Keeler. The Bearkats run it a lot and run it well, averaging 5.45 yards per rush on 690 carries this year. While the Bearkats primarily run the ball, they also have a good group of physical receivers. Quarterback Jared Johnson doesn’t get enough credit for throwing the ball as well as he does, even if he can be erratic at times. The Bison were run on pretty well by Coastal Carolina, and the Bearkats have, if anything, a tougher, more diverse run game to defend. I also think it will help SHSU that the game will be on turf, allowing the Bearkats to use their speed to their advantage.

Though NDSU is favored by 10 points, I think Sam Houston State will be able to cover if its defensive line can get a push up front. However, I see the Bison moving on to the FCS title game yet again.

Tre Roberson tries to get Illinois State into the school’s first FCS title game.


(5) Illinois State at (1) New Hampshire


Fifth-seeded Illinois State, which shared the Missouri Valley Conference title with North Dakota State, travels to top-seeded New Hampshire, and it’s Illinois State which is favored in this one according to most Vegas sportsbooks.

Illinois State’s offense has been incredible all season: The Redbirds are scoring 43.8 points per game. Indiana transfer Tre Roberson set a school record this year for all-purpose yardage. Running back Marshaun Coprich has rushed for over 100 yards in each game this season, and went over 250 in Illinois State’s quarterfinal win over Eastern Washington.

Illinois State’s offensive line is big and physical, and I think both its lines have the advantage over New Hampshire. The Wildcats have been a bit soft this season, including last week when they gave up 30 points to Chattanooga in the quarterfinal. Offensively, New Hampshire will have to keep an eye on all-MVC defenders Teddy Corbin, the Redbirds’ star defensive end, and leading tackler, linebacker Pat Meehan.

New Hampshire’s offense is going to rely on misdirection in the passing game. Be sure to watch for R.J. Harris, who is tied for the school record for receptions in a career. The key to this one, though, could be Nico Steriti. Tempo is all the rage offensively, but Steriti reliably eats up medium chunks of yardage for the Wildcats, and could keep the Redbirds’ offense off the field for long periods of time.

I see why Illinois State is favored. New Hampshire’s defense has been suspect lately, the Wildcats have played soft at times this year, and the Redbirds have a high-octane offense. However, the Wildcats have a 13-game winning streak at home, and Illinois State traveled to Washington state last week, and now has to go to the opposite coast this week. FCS teams aren’t used to travel like that, and I think it’s going to catch up to the Redbirds in this one. I’m picking New Hampshire to set up a meeting between the top two seeds.