The 16-team FCS spring playoffs begin with the first round on Saturday.
Monmouth (3-0 Big South) at No. 2 seed Sam Houston (6-0 Southland)
Site: Bowers Stadium in Huntsville, Texas
Kickoff – Noon ET
TV Coverage – ESPN3
Series – First meeting
Coaches – Monmouth: Kevin Callahan (166-124, 28th season); Sam Houston: K.C. Keeler (65-22, seventh season; 239-95-1 overall)
3 Players to Watch – Monmouth: RB Juwon Farri (79 carries, 422 yards, 9 TDs), LB Da’Quan Grimes (27 tackles, sack), CB Eddie Morales III (18 tackles, 5 passes defended, two takeaways); Sam Houston: QB Eric Schmid (124 of 200, 2,021 yards, 14 TDs, 7 INTs; 278 rush yards, 5 TDs), WR/PR Jequez Ezzard (136 all-purpose ypg, 8 TDs), DE Jahari Key (22 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles)
The Skinny – While Monmouth puts up points regularly, the matchup comes down to its defense versus the Sam Houston offense. Seven of the visiting Hawks’ 11 defensive starters were named to the All-Big South first team, with the unit particularly strong against the run. True freshman QB Tony Muskett (8 touchdown passes with no interceptions) has big-play wide receivers in Terrance Greene Jr. and Lonnie Moore IV, but the first offensive option is Farri, who has been over 100 rushing yards and scored multiple TDs in all three games so far. Sam Houston is 13-0 all-time in FCS home playoff games. The Schmid-led offense goes for the knockout blow, with 24 plays from scrimmage of 30-or-more yards. The Bearkats have outscored opponents 269-105, an FCS-high 164-point advantage and 44 better than James Madison’s second-highest margin. Quarterback pressure is a staple with the defenses: Monmouth leads the FCS in sacks per game (5.00) and Sam Houston is No. 2 (4.17).
Up Next – The winner will play either Eastern Washington or North Dakota State in the second round on May 1 or 2.
Prediction – Sam Houston 38, Monmouth 28
Eastern Washington (5-1 Big Sky) at North Dakota State (6-2, 5-2 Missouri Valley)
Site: Fargodome in Fargo, North Dakota
Kickoff – 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Coverage – ESPN3
Series – North Dakota State leads, 3-1 (last meeting: NDSU won 38-24 in 2018 FCS championship game on Jan. 5, 2019)
Coaches – Eastern Washington: Aaron Best (26-12, fourth season); North Dakota State: Matt Entz (22-2, second season)
3 Players to Watch – Eastern Washington: QB Eric Barriere (166 of 268, 2,192 yards, 18 TDs, 6 INTs), WR Talolo Limu-Jones (44 receptions, 721 yards, 16.4 ypc, 4 TDs), DE Mitchell Johnson (25 tackles. 4.5 TFL, 2 INTs); North Dakota State: RB Hunter Luepke (63 carries, 355 yards, 5 TDs), WR/KR Christian Watson (15 receptions, 374 yards, TD; 32 touches, 22.1-yard average), LB James Kaczor (70 tackles, 2 pass breakups, 3 QB hurries)
The Skinny – This is regarded as the most attractive matchup of the first round. North Dakota State has never failed to reach the quarterfinals and is 36-2 all-time in the FCS playoffs, with one of the losses coming at Eastern Washington in the 2010 quarters. While the Eagles need a huge game out of Barriere (365.3 passing yards per game, No. 5 in the FCS), they’ve committed to the run under Best, averaging 171.2 yards this spring. The Eagles have struggled to match NDSU’s offensive line surge in four previous matchups, surrendering 283.3 rushing yards per game. Their leading tackler, linebacker Ty Graham, has been lost to a season-ending knee injury. NDSU has yet to solve its issues at quarterback (Cam Miller, who may make his first start, and Zeb Noland). Even with the Trey Lance-led 39-28 win over Central Arkansas in October counting toward 2020-21 season statistics, the Bison’s 24.8 points per game are the low of their Division I era (since 2004) and 339.4 yards per game their second-lowest average. Punter Garret Wegner (46.2-yard average, 42.4 net) often makes a difference with field position.
Up Next – The winner will play either Monmouth or No. 2 seed Sam Houston in the second round on May 1 or 2.
Prediction – North Dakota State 31, Eastern Washington 21