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.
SDSU, the only unseeded team alive in the playoffs, will play at Villanova, the 2009 champion, in one of the quarterfinals on Saturday.
Following is capsule preview of the matchup:
South Dakota State (10-3) at No. 5 seed Villanova (10-2)
Kickoff – 2 p.m. ET Saturday at Villanova Stadium in Villanova, Pennsylvania (ESPN+)
Series – South Dakota State leads 1-0
Coaches – South Dakota State: John Stiegelmeier (183-110, 25 seasons); Villanova: Mark Ferrante (31-20, five seasons)
5 Players to Watch – South Dakota State: QB Chris Oladokun (204 of 328, 2,697 yards, 22 TDs, 5 INTs), RB Pierre Strong Jr. (223 carries, 1,575 yards, 17 TDs; 21 receptions, 144 yards), RB Isaiah Davis (61 carries, 514 yards, 4 TDs), LB Adam Bock (112 tackles, 9 TFL, 2 TDs, 6 pass breakups), LB Isaiah Stalbird (66 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 4 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble); Villanova: QB Daniel Smith (167 of 306, 2,296 yards, 22 TDs, 9 INTs; 226 rushing yards, 7 TDs), RB Justin Covington (119 carries, 717 yards, 6 TDs), DE Malik Fisher (49 tackles, 9 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles), LB Forrest Rhyne (131 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 5 QB hurries), CB Christian Benford (36 tackles, 7 INTs, 18 pass breakups)
5 Key Factors – 1. SDSU not only boasts the FCS leader in rushing yards with Strong, but also Davis, whose body appears fresher since his return from an injury that limited him to 27 carries in the regular season. He’s rushed for 325 yards and three touchdowns in the Jackrabbits’ two playoff wins. 2. Villanova’s 3-3-5 aligned defense ranks first in the FCS in passing efficiency defense and seeks to combat an SDSU receivers group with excellent size, including 6-foot-3 wide receivers Jadon and Jaxon Janke, 6-7 tight end Zach Heins and 6-5 tight end Tucker Kraft. 3. The visiting Jackrabbits’ plus-16 turnover margin ranks second in the FCS. They’ve committed only four turnovers in 10 wins, but six in three losses. 4. That ‘Nova establishes the run is a difference maker. In Ferrante’s five seasons, the Wildcats have lost 14 of the 15 games with the lowest rushing totals. They’re 30-6 in all other games, each with 124 or more rushing yards. 5. Travel fatigue could be in the mix with SDSU coming off a 3,400-mile round trip to Sacramento State followed by the nearly 1,400-mile trek to Villanova.
Up Next – The winner will face either No. 1 seed Sam Houston (11-0) or No. 8 seed Montana State (10-2) in a national semifinal on Dec. 17 or 18.
Prediction – South Dakota State 23, Villanova 19