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FCS second-round playoff preview capsules, predictions

This week, the action will be even sweeter with the round of 16 continuing on the Road to Frisco.

FSA FCS football.jpg
FCS illustration. Forum News Service

(Stats Perform) -- With late-game heroics, overtime, road upsets and three first-time winners, the FCS playoffs got off to a fast start with the first round last Saturday.

This week, the action will be even sweeter with the round of 16 continuing on the Road to Frisco (Texas).

Following are capsule previews of the second-round playoff games (all times CST):

Holy Cross (10-2) at No. 5 seed Villanova (9-2)

Kickoff - 6 p.m. Friday at Villanova Stadium in Villanova, Pennsylvania (ESPN+)

Series - Villanova leads 13-9

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Coaches - Holy Cross: Bob Chesney (25-15, five seasons; 92-40 overall); Villanova: Mark Ferrante (30-20, five seasons)

3 Players to Watch - Holy Cross: QB Matthew Sluka (97 of 173, 1,343 yards, 11 TDs, 4 INTs; 762 rushing yards, 13 TDs), RB Peter Oliver (140 carries, 741 yards, 4 TDs), LB Jacob Dobbs (130 tackles, 17.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks); Villanova: QB Daniel Smith (159 of 284, 2,163 yards, 22 TDs, 9 INTs; 203 rushing yards, 7 TDs), LB Forrest Rhyne (110 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 4 QB hits), CB Christian Benford (36 tackles, 7 INTs, 16 pass breakups)

3 Key Factors - 1. Both offenses will seek balance and efficiency given the defenses rank first (Holy Cross, 253.4) and second (Villanova, 254.9) in the FCS, respectively, in fewest yards allowed per game. 2. The visiting Crusaders have not been fazed by road games, going 6-0 to tie for the best mark in the FCS (also Eastern Washington). It includes wins at UConn, Yale, Monmouth and Fordham. 3. Perhaps it's overlooked because he spent two seasons at Campbell, but Villanova third-year quarterback Daniel Smith Jr. is tied for the most total touchdowns among active FCS players (138 via passing, rushing and receiving). He produced five in his only career playoff game in 2019.

Up Next - The winner will play South Dakota State (9-3) or No. 4 seed Sacramento State (9-2) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 10 or 11.

Prediction - Villanova 24, Holy Cross 13

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Eastern Washington (10-2) at No. 6 seed Montana (9-2)

Kickoff - 8 p.m. Friday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, Montana (ESPN+)

Series - Montana leads 28-18-1

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Coaches - Eastern Washington: Aaron Best (40-14, fifth season); Montana: Bobby Hauck (107-28, 10 seasons; 122-77 overall)

3 Players to Watch - Eastern Washington: QB Eric Barriere (314 of 472, 4,540 yards, 41 TDs, 7 INTs; 242 rushing yards, 4 TDs), RB Dennis Merritt (186 carries, 853 yards, 14 TDs; 30 receptions, 368 yards, 3 TDs), LB Ty Graham (107 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 2 takeaways); Montana: QB Cam Humphrey (124 of 198, 1,541 yards, 13 TDs, & INTs), LB Patrick O'Donnell (107 tackles, 4.5 TFL), CB Justin Ford (33 tackles, 8 INTs, 8 pass breakups, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 TDs)

3 Key Factors - EWU is ranked No. 2 in the FCS in points per game (44.2) and Montana has the same ranking in fewest points allowed per game (13.0). Their Big Sky regular-season matchup fell in between with the Eagles rallying in the fourth quarter to a 34-28 triumph on Oct. 2 in Cheney, Washington. 2. Montana will seek to get pressure on Barriere, who has been sacked eight times in two career meetings. The Griz have 39 sacks this season, led by O'Connell and LB Marcus Welnel with 13 and six, respectively. 3. Third downs are pivotal: EWU's offense has converted 50.3 percent of attempts into first downs (No. 3 in the nation) and UM has defended at a 29.4 percent rate (No. 8).

Up Next - The winner will play Southeastern Louisiana (9-3) or No. 3 seed James Madison (10-1) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 10 or 11.

Prediction - Montana 31, Eastern Washington 27

Southeastern Louisiana (9-3) at No. 3 seed James Madison (10-1)

Kickoff - 1 p.m. Saturday at Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg, Virginia (ESPN+)

Series - First meeting

Coaches - Southeastern Louisiana: Frank Scelfo (25-18, four seasons); James Madison: Curt Cignetti (31-4, three seasons; 98-30 overall)

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3 Players to Watch - Southeastern Louisiana: QB Cole Kelley (370 of 502, 4,727 yards, 42 TDs, 7 INTs; 480 rushing yards, 16 TDs), RB Taron Jones (76 carries, 352 yards, 6 TDs; 37 receptions, 351 yards, 2 TDs), CB Zy Alexander (37 tackles, 6 INTs, 7 pass breakups); James Madison: QB Cole Johnson (233 of 342, 2,953 yards, 2 INTs; 184 rushing yards, 5 TDs), LB Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey (86 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 INTs, 1 fumble recovery), PK Ethan Ratke (28 of 31 FGs with 47 long, 133 points)

3 Key Factors - 1. SLU's Kelley is the FCS leader in total offense (433.9 yards per game), directing a team that ranks No. 1 in yards per game (561.3) and points per game (47.2). JMU's season highs allowed are 388 yards and 28 points in a loss to Villanova. The Dukes kept five opponents under 200 offensive yards and five opponents to 10 or fewer points during the regular season. 2. While Kelley spreads the ball to the Lions' FCS-high 10 players with 200 or more receiving yards, JMU's Antwane Wells Jr. (67 receptions, 994 yards, 11 TDs) and Kris Thornton (69, 896, 11) form one of only two FCS duos to both have 850 or more receiving yards. 3. Johnson has led with excellent efficiency while JMU has tied for the fewest turnovers (seven) and produced the best turnover margin (plus-17) in the FCS.

Up Next - The winner will play Eastern Washington (10-2) or No. 6 seed Montana (9-2) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 10 or 11.

Prediction - James Madison 30, Southeastern Louisiana 24

Kennesaw State (11-1) at No. 7 seed ETSU (10-1)

Kickoff - 1 p.m. ET Saturday at William B. Greene Stadium in Johnson City, Tennessee (ESPN+)

Series - Tied 1-1

Coaches - Kennesaw State: Brian Bohannon (63-17, seven seasons); ETSU: Randy Sanders (25-16, four seasons)

3 Players to Watch - Kennesaw State: QB Xavier Shepherd (234 yards, 851 yards, 23 TDs; 73 of 118, 1,296 yards, 15 TDs, 3 INTs), RB Kyle Glover (121 carries, 590 yards, 1 TD), LB Evan Thompson (107 tackles, 10 TFL, 5 QB hurries); ETSU: RB Quay Holmes (238 carries, 1,431 yards, 16 TDs; 20 receptions, 204 yards, 1 TD), RB/KR Jacob Saylors (129 carries, 968 yards, 10 TDs; 155.2 all-purpose ypg), LB Donovan Manuel (104 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 1 fumble recovery)

3 Key Factors - 1. Both teams are known for their rushing attacks. Kennesaw State, which has 150+ rushing yards in 79 of 80 all-time games, is averaging 275.5 yards to rank second in the FCS, and ETSU is churning out 239.9 per game to rank sixth. However, the visiting Owls have been stronger in defending the run (99.1 yards per game, 3.7 yards per carry, 8 TDs) than the Buccaneers (130.8, 4.0, 14). 2. The Owls enter with a 10-game winning streak that is second-longest in the FCS. Shepherd has been red hot, rushing for 11 TDs in their last three games after throwing for 10 in their three previous games. His 15 TD passes are the seven-year program's single-season record. 3. ETSU, which is tied for the best home record in the FCS (6-0), boasts the 1-2 duo of Holmes and Saylors. They have produced the most rushing yards (2,399) and all-purpose yards (3,342) between a pair of FCS teammates.

Up Next - The winner will play Southern Illinois (9-3) or No. 2 seed North Dakota State (10-1) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 10 or 11.

Prediction - Kennesaw State 31, ETSU 29

UIW (10-2) at No. 1 seed Sam Houston (10-0)

Kickoff - 2 p.m. Saturday at Bowers Stadium in Huntsville, Texas (ESPN+)

Series - Sam Houston leads 8-1

Coaches - UIW: Eric Morris (24-17, four seasons); Sam Houston: K.C. Keeler (79-22, eight seasons; 253-95-1 overall)

3 Players to Watch - UIW: QB Cameron Ward (345 of 529, 4,167 yards, 42 TDs, 10 INTs), WR Taylor Grimes (78 receptions, 1,041 yards, 14 TDs), LB Kelechi Anyalebechi (119 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 3 takeaways); Sam Houston: QB Eric Schmid (167 of 296, 2,254 yards, 26 TDs, 7 INTS; 291 rushing yards, 3 TDs), RB Ramon Jefferson (140 carries, 972 yards, 11 TDs), LB Markel Perry (38 tackles, 15 TFL, 5 sacks)

3 Key Factors - 1. Sam Houston, the reigning FCS champion, owns the longest active win streak in Division I at 21 games and is 16-0 all-time in FCS home playoff games. UIW is 0-5 all-time at Bowers Stadium. 2. UIW is ready to go end zone-to-end zone with the Bearkats. Ward is tied for No. 1 in the FCS in TD passes (42), while Grimes (15) and RB Kevin Brown (14) have combined for 29 TDs, the most for a pair of FCS teammates. 3. Special teams could play a pivotal role. In their careers, Sam Houston's Jequez Ezzard is averaging 12.6 yards on punt returns and UIW's Robert Ferrel 12.3 per return. SHSU's Matt McRobert is averaging 46.1 yards per punt this season, while UIW is second in the FCS in net punting average, featuring Keven Nguyen and his 45.6-yard average.

Up Next - The winner will play UT Martin (10-2) or No. 8 seed Montana State (9-2) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 10 or 11.

Prediction - Sam Houston 38, UIW 28

Southern Illinois (9-3) at No. 2 seed North Dakota State (10-1)

Kickoff - 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Fargodome (ESPN+)

Series - North Dakota State leads 9-4

Coaches - Southern Illinois: Nick Hill (31-36, six seasons); North Dakota State: Matt Entz (34-4, three seasons)

3 Players to Watch - Southern Illinois: QB Nic Baker (242 of 388, 3,026 yards, 26 TDs, 11 INTs), RB Javon Williams Jr. (92 carries, 522 yards, 9 TDs), DE Anthony Knighton (41 tackles, 11 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 blocked kicks); North Dakota State: QB Cam Miller (65 of 89, 942 yards, 11 TDs, 2 INTs; 149 rushing yards, 1 TD), WR/KR Christian Watson (39 receptions, 740 yards, 7 TDs), DE Brayden Thomas (21 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 7 sacks)

3 Key Factors - 1. While SIU has opened each of the last two postseasons with a road win (only seven months apart), NDSU has a 28-1 home record in the FCS playoffs since the first of its 12 straight appearances in 2010. The Bison are seeking revenge after the Salukis ended their FCS-record 39-game winning streak with a 38-14 stunner during the spring regular season. 2. The Bison usually ride the hot rusher behind their dominating offensive line, ranking third in the FCS in rushing yards per game (271.8) even without having a player above 500 yards. The Salukis' split in rushing yards allowed per game is much stronger in wins (131) than in losses (223.8). 3. Baker will be pressured by an NDSU pass rush that ranks fourth nationally in sacks per game (3.64), but he locates productive receivers. Landon Lenoir and Avante Cox have a combined 356 receptions, 4,739 receiving yards and 33 TD catches in their SIU careers, making them arguably the most-dangerous duo in program history.

Up Next - The winner will play Kennesaw State (11-1) or No. 7 seed ETSU (10-1) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 10 or 11.

Prediction - North Dakota State 31, Southern Illinois 21

UT Martin (10-2) at No. 8 seed Montana State (9-2)

Kickoff - 3 p.m. Saturday at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, Montana (ESPN+)

Series - First meeting

Coaches - UT Martin: Jason Simpson (100-79, 16 seasons); Montana State: Brent Vigen (9-2, one season)

3 Players to Watch - UT Martin: RB Peyton Logan (143 carries, 1,050 yards, 4 TDs; 27 receptions, 253 yards, 3 TDs), RB Zak Wallace (142 carries, 788 yards, 15 TDs), LB John Ford (76 tackles, 5 TFL, 4 INTs, 4 pass breakups); Montana State: QB Matthew McKay (153 of 246, 2,021 yards, 16 TDs, 3 INTs; 316 yards, 2 TDs), RB Isaiah Ifanse (210 carries, 1,258 yards, 8 TDs; 11 receptions, 100 yards, 1 TD). LB Troy Andersen (111 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 2 INTs, 7 pass breakups)

3 Key Factors - 1. Following UT Martin QB Keon Howard, the Ohio Valley Conference's offensive player of the year, missing the first-round win at Missouri State with an injury, the school has listed Dresser Winn atop the depth chart this week. Winn passed for 272 yards and two TDs in the Skyhawks' first FCS playoff win while they had their season low in rushing (89 yards; second low 165). 2. Montana State ranks No. 9 in the FCS in rushing yards per game (218.5), just one spot behind UTM. The Bobcats have had their lowest rushing totals in their two losses. 3. The Bobcats rank third nationally in scoring defense (13.2 ppg), allowing a TD on only 11 of their opponents' 25 trips into the red zone. Led by DE Daniel Hardy, they have four players with at least eight tackles for loss.

Up Next - The winner will play UIW (10-2) or No. 1 seed Sam Houston (10-0) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 10 or 11.

Prediction - Montana State 34, UT Martin 21

South Dakota State (9-3) at No. 4 seed Sacramento State (9-2)

Kickoff - 8 p.m. Saturday at Hornet Stadium in Sacramento, California (ESPN+)

Series - First meeting

Coaches - South Dakota State: John Stiegelmeier (182-110, 25 seasons); Sacramento State: Troy Taylor (18-6, two seasons)

3 Players to Watch - South Dakota State: RB Pierre Strong Jr. (209 carries, 1,502 yards, 16 TDs; 21 receptions, 144 yards), RB Isaiah Davis (42 carries, 406 yards, 2 TDs), LB Adam Bock (106 tackles, 9 TFL, 2 TDs, 5 pass breakups); Sacramento State: QB Jake Dunniway (156 of 245, 2,245 yards, 11 TDs, 3 INTs), LB Marcus Hawkins (74 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 INTs, 3 forced fumbles), PK Kyle Sentkowski (19 of 23 FGs, 10 of 12 40+, 95 points)

3 Key Factors - 1. SDSU is coming off a season-high 446 rushing yards (Davis and Strong combined for 402) while eliminating UC Davis in the first round. Sac State has kept five of its last seven opponents and six overall to under 100 rushing yards. 2. The Hornets rotate two QBs: Jake Dunniway is the chief passer with 2,245 yards and 11 TD passes, and Asher O'Hara leads the team in rushing yards (655) and TDs (nine). 3. Two of the FCS' more productive tight ends seek to be difference makers - SDSU's Tucker Kraft (53 receptions, 612 yards, 6 TDs) and Sac State's Marshel Martin (47, 590, 6).

Up Next - The winner will play Holy Cross (10-2) or No. 5 seed Villanova (9-2) in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 10 or 11.

Prediction - South Dakota State 35, Sacramento State 24

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