FCS First-Round Playoff Preview and Predictions: Top Half of the Bracket
The 2022 FCS playoffs will kick off with eight first-round games on Saturday.
The 24-team field will play at school host sites until the championship game on Jan. 8 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
Following are capsule previews of the first-round games in the top half of the bracket, which is anchored by No. 1 seed South Dakota State (all times ET):
Saint Francis (9-2, 7-0 Northeast) at Delaware (7-4, 4-4 CAA)
Kickoff – 2 p.m. at Delaware Stadium in Newark, Delaware (ESPN+)
Series – Delaware leads 1-0 (Delaware won 27-10 at home on Sept. 11, 2021)
Coaches – Saint Francis: Chris Villarrial (60-73, 12th season); Delaware: Ryan Carty (7-4, first season)
3 Players to Watch – Saint Francis: QB Cole Doyle (134 of 196, 1,849 yards, 21 TDs, 3 INTs; 310 rushing yards), WR Makai Jackson (80 receptions, 920 yards, 8 TDs; KOR TD), DE Donnell Brown (46 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks); Delaware: QB Nolan Henderson 266 of 418, 2,934 yards, 28 TDs, 8 INTs), LB Johnny Buchanan (120 tackles, 5.5 TFL), S Kedrick Whitehead (61 tackles, 3.5 TFL, INT, FF)
Notable – Saint Francis has a nine-game winning streak entering its second all-time playoff appearance, while UD begins its 18th appearance (tying for seventh place in FCS history) off back-to-back losses. While guiding the most-potent offense in SFU’s FCS history, Doyle has 14 TD passes against zero interceptions in his last three games. However, UD’s stout passing defense ranks second among 130 FCS teams in passing yards allowed per game (134.1) and third in pass efficiency rating (100.8). Twelve of the Blue Hens’ 20 turnovers have occurred in their four losses (eight in seven wins).
Up Next – The winner will advance to play at No. 1 seed South Dakota State (10-1) in the second round (3 p.m. ET on Dec. 3)
Prediction – Delaware 28, Saint Francis 17
Fordham (9-2, 5-1 Patriot) at New Hampshire (8-3, 7-1 CAA)
Kickoff – 2 p.m. at Wildcat Stadium in Durham, New Hampshire (ESPN+)
Series – New Hampshire leads 1-0 (UNH won 44-19 at home in second round on Dec. 6, 2014)
Coaches – Fordham: Joe Conlin (23-25, fifth season); New Hampshire: Rick Santos (14-8, second season)
3 Players to Watch – Fordham: QB Tim DeMorat (301 of 458, 4,561 yards, 53 TDs), WR Fotis Kokosiouslis (89 receptions, 1,180 yards, 14 TDs), LB Ryan Greenhagen (103 tackles, 4.5 sacks); New Hampshire: QB Max Brosmer (2,564 passing yards, 22 TDs, 5 INTs), RB Dylan Laube (162.5 all-purpose yards per game, 15 TDs), DE Josiah Silver (42 tackles, 14 TFL, 8.5 sacks)
Notable – Conlin spent the 2004-10 seasons on the UNH coaching staff. UNH returns to the playoffs for the first time since a 14-year run ended in 2017 (it started with Santos quarterbacking the 2004 team). In addition to the offensive exploits of DeMorat and Kokosiouslis, Fordham’s FCS-leading offense (611.5 yards per game) boasts a second 1,000-yard receiver (Dequece Carter, 1,194) and a 1,000-yard rusher (Trey Sneed, 1,002). UNH ranks second in the CAA with 31 sacks, but it surrendered a season-high 538 yards to Maine in a 42-41 overtime win last Saturday.
Up Next – The winner will advance to play at No. 8 seed Holy Cross (11-0) in the second round (noon ET on Dec. 3)
Prediction – Fordham 38, New Hampshire 35
North Dakota (7-4, 5-3) at Weber State (9-2, 6-2 Big Sky)
Kickoff – 4 p.m. at Stewart Stadium in Ogden, Utah (ESPN+)
Series – Weber State leads 4-1 (last meeting: Weber State won 30-27 at home on Nov. 9, 2019)
Coaches – North Dakota: Bubba Schweigert (54-44, ninth season; 76-66 overall); Weber State: Jay Hill (67-38, ninth season)
3 Players to Watch – North Dakota: QB Tommy Schuster (228 of 322, 2,546 yards, 17 TDs, 5 INTs), RB Tyler Hoosman (885 rushing yards, 12 TDs), LB Devon Krzanowski (54 tackles, 3 sacks); Weber State: QB Bronson Barron (190 of 320, 2,337 yards, 19 TDs, 7 INTs), LB Winston Reid (94 tackles, 10 TFL, 4 FF), CB Maxwell Anderson (38 tackles, 5 INTs, 9 PBU)
Notable – Weber State is the highest-ranked team (No. 9, behind the eight seeds) to be playing in the first round. The Wildcats’ rushing attack (Dontae McMillan leads with 681 yards) usually goes with the hot hand, and UND has allowed 5.1 yards per carry to the opposition. Abraham Williams has a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in four of the last seven games. The Fighting Hawks, behind the efficient Schuster (70.8 completion% – fourth-best in the FCS), ranks fifth nationally in average time of possession (33 minutes, 47 seconds), but while they’ve done well to convert third downs (45.9%), the defense has struggled to get off the field in allowing a 50.4 conversion percentage to opponent.
Up Next – The winner will advance to play at No. 4 seed Montana State (10-1) in the second round (3 p.m. ET on Dec. 3)
Prediction – Weber State 29, North Dakota 21
Gardner-Webb (6-5, 5-0 Big South) at Eastern Kentucky (7-4, 3-2 ASUN)
Kickoff – 5 p.m. at Roy Kidd Stadium in Richmond, Kentucky (ESPN+)
Series – First meeting
Coaches – Gardner-Webb: Tre Lamb (12-14, third season); Eastern Kentucky: Walt Wells (16-13, third season)
3 Players to Watch – Gardner-Webb: QB Bailey Fisher (220 of 339, 2,755 yards, 18 TDs, 10 INTs; 8 TD rushes), DE Ty French (61 tackles, 11 sacks, 15 QBH), LB William Rainey (92 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 3 takeaways); Eastern Kentucky: QB Parker McKinney (278 of 402, 3,502 yards, 28 TDs, 7 INTs; 372 rushing yards, 8 TDs), RB Braedon Sloan (600 rushing yards, 7 TDs; 39 receptions, 495 yards, 3 TDs), LB Matthew Jackson (77 tackles, 4 PBU, 2 FR)
Notable – While Gardner-Webb is making its first playoff appearance compared to EKU’s 22nd (tied for second-most in history), the Runnin’ Bulldogs can be encouraged by the Big South’s 9-6 all-time first-round record. Additionally, the Colonels haven’t won a game in their last seven appearances (last playoff win in 1993). When G-W earned FedEx Ground FCS National Team of the Week honors by defeating North Carolina A&T for the conference title, Narii Gaither and Jayden Brown combined to rush for 200 yards and four touchdowns. EKU powered into the playoffs by beating Kennesaw State as McKinney passed for a career-high 427 yards and tied the program’s single-game record with five TD passes.
Up Next – The winner will advance to play at No. 5 seed William & Mary (10-1) in the second round (2 p.m. ET on Dec. 3)
Prediction – Eastern Kentucky 31, Gardner-Webb 28