The heavyweight division is on full display in the quarterfinal round of the FCS playoffs this weekend.
Six of the eight programs have won FCS championships, and a seventh, South Dakota State, finished as the 2020 runner-up in a playoff that was contested last spring. ETSU is the exception in a group that has combined for 15 titles and 25 championship game appearances.
Sam Houston, the defending national champ, will host Montana State, the 1984 winner, in one of the quarterfinals on Saturday. They met last in the 2012 quarters – a 34-16 Bearkats’ win on the road.
Following is capsule preview of their matchup:
No. 8 seed Montana State (10-2) at No. 1 seed Sam Houston (11-0)
Kickoff – 8:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Bowers Stadium in Huntsville, Texas (ESPN+)
Series – Sam Houston leads 4-2
Coaches – Montana State: Brent Vigen (10-2, one season); Sam Houston: K.C. Keeler (80-22, eight seasons; 254-95-1 overall)
5 Players to Watch – Montana State: QB Tommy Mellott (59 carries, 474 yards, 6 TDs; 10 of 24, 63 yards), RB Isaiah Ifanse (238 carries, 1,434 yards, 9 TDs; 12 receptions, 100 yards, 1 TD). LB Troy Andersen (116 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 2 INTs, 7 pass breakups), DE Daniel Hardy (58 tackles, 18.5 TFL, 12 sacks), DT Chase Benson (41 tackles, 8 TFL, 3.5 scks, 3 pass breakups); Sam Houston: QB Eric Schmid (178 of 328, 2,464 yards, 27 TDs, 7 INTS; 338 rushing yards, 5 TDs), RB Ramon Jefferson (162 carries, 1,138 yards, 13 TDs), WR/PR Jequez Ezzard (36 receptions, 538 yards, 6 TDs; 11.1-yard punt return average), DE Jahari Kay (31 tackles, 12 TFL, 6 sacks, 11 QB hurries), LB Markel Perry (39 tackles, 15 TFL, 5 sacks)
5 Key Factors – 1. Sam Houston is 17-0 all-time in FCS home playoff games, and the reigning national champion has displayed a knack for winning close postseason games this year, winning all five times by seven or fewer points. 2. SHSU has a balanced offense and a 43-point average, which ranks third in the FCS. Montana State, though, is second in the FCS in allowing just 12.7 points per game. 3. Still developing as a passer, Mellott was spectacular on the ground in his first career start, combining with Ifanse for 356 of Montana State’s 387 rushing yards against UT Martin in the second round. SHSU has yet to allow more than 123 rushing yards to an opponent, and just 75.7 on average. 4. MSU (35 sacks) figures to pressure Schmid, but SHSU can spread out the Bobcats with multiple receivers, including wide receivers Cody Chrest (46 receptions), Ife Adeyi (45) and the gamebreaker Ezzard, and running back Noah Smith (21). 5. MSU is making its third straight playoff appearance since 2018. Nine of its 11 losses in that time are on the road.
Up Next – The winner will face either No. 5 seed Villanova (10-2) or South Dakota State (10-3) in a national semifinal on Dec. 17 or 18.
Prediction – Sam Houston 23, Montana State 22