Bison Media Zone 2021 FCS First Round Primer
The playoffs return to a full format with a pair of intriguing first round games
FARGO - After a year that featured multiple top ten ranked teams losing for six straight weeks, who knows what's going to happen when the playoffs begin?
The FCS Playoffs return today to their normal format, after a spring tournament that featured 16 teams and a champion crowned in the middle of May. Ten teams return from the spring playoff to the fall, including defending champion Sam Houston, who enters with a 21 game win streak. The Bearkats last loss came on November 16, 2019 to Northwestern State. So much has changed for KC Keeler's team since then, including an announcement of moving up to FBS.
Here's a quick primer for all the games this weekend, including my predictions for the entire tournament at the end.
A quick reminder, all of today's and next week's games are exclusively on ESPN Plus. The quarterfinals will have a game on Friday, December 10th on ESPN2, another on ESPN at 11 am on December 11th and the other two games on ESPN Plus.
Sacred Heart at Holy Cross - 11 am: Two schools separated by less than two hours face each other, each looking for a first playoff win. Holy Cross is in the postseason for the third straight year, they have lost to Monmouth and South Dakota State. The Pioneers won the Northeast Conference for the second straight season, they have won six straight entering today's game. The winner plays Villanova next week.
Davidson at Kennesaw State - 1 pm: Kennesaw returns to the playoffs for the first time since 2019 with a 10-1 record and another Big South championship. The Owls bring their triple option offense up against a Davidson team that comes in at 8-2 and won the Pioneer League for a second straight year. These teams are the two top rushing offenses in the country, Davidson averages 348 yards, while KSU goes for 275. Kennesaw has won at least one playoff game each year they've made it. The winner faces East Tennessee State.
UT Martin at Missouri State - 3pm: The Bears are one of the best stories in the FCS this year, an 8-3 record and a second place finish in the Missouri Valley. Jason Shelley transformed MSU and they are one of the sleeper teams in this tournament. They'll face a UT Martin team that won the Ohio Valley Conference, but wasn't tested throughout the season. The winner faces Montana State in Bozeman.
Stephen F Austin at Incarnate Word - 2pm: Two former conference rivals meet up in the opening round to face another former conference foe. Stephen F. Austin is an interesting team, they won eight games, but their most impressive game may be a one point loss to Sam Houston, who was without its starting quarterback in that game. Incarnate Word had a wild year, that started with a loss to Youngstown State, included an FBS win and a Southland championship. The winner gets Sam Houston next weekend.
Florida A&M at Southeastern Louisiana - 6pm: The Rattlers earned an at-large bid out of the SWAC, the first time that's happened since 1997. FAMU is 9-2 with losses to Jackson State and South Florida and brings a terrific defense into this game. The Rattlers have the best defense statistically in the country, allowing just 156 points in 11 games. They will face reigning Walter Payton winner Cole Kelley, SELA's quarterback, who has had another impressive season. The Lions lost their regular season finale to Nicholls, at home, so they are poised for a big bounceback game. The winner plays James Madison.
UC Davis at South Dakota State - 2pm: Two former Great West Conference rivals meet in Brookings today. The Aggies are limping in, after an 8-1 start they have lost their last two games and not by close margins, blown out by Eastern Washington and Sacramento State. It will be difficult to recapture the magic on the road against South Dakota State, who is hoping for another run to Frisco. The Jacks were able to hang on and beat North Dakota last weekend to get to 8-3 and with the return of Isaiah Davis, gives SDSU a dynamic 1-2 running game with Pierre Strong. The winner heads to Sacramento State.
Northern Iowa at Eastern Washington - 3pm: Two teams that likely sighed when they saw the bracket, knowing what a difficult game lies ahead. The Panthers have three wins against playoff teams, including Big Sky champion Sacramento State. UNI is a hard team to read, with great wins over SDSU and Southern Illinois and a mindnumbing loss to Illinois State. The great Panther defense, led by Valley defensive player of the year Jared Brinkman will have a handful trying to stop Eric Barriere, who's back for another FCS playoff run. The Eagles will likely feel jaded, after a 9-2 season and a FBS season of not being seeded. To go on top of that, the winner gets a date in Missoula next week with Montana on a Friday night.
Southern Illinois at South Dakota - 5pm: An all-Valley matchup rounds out the first round. These two teams did not play in the regular season, making this matchup a possibility. The Salukis are a bewildering team, that was 6-1 out of the gates, but barely winning games, including overtime wins over Western Illinois and South Dakota State. But they stumbled to the finish line, including a blowout loss at home to Youngstown State. USD has to be smarting as well, after NDSU ran all over them last weekend. Carson Camp is not healthy, but Bob Nielson is hoping for a better Travis Theis, who missed nearly all of last week's game with an illness. The Dakota Dome has not hosted a playoff game since 1986 and it will likely be lively in there, with the USD volleyball team playing next door for a Summit League title. The winner gets a date in Fargo against NDSU next week.
Here's my predictions for the playoffs, have fun!