FCS Second-Round Playoff Preview and Predictions: Bottom Half of the Bracket
The FCS playoffs got off to a high-scoring start last weekend, but the action figures to get more physical, defensive and heated in the second round on Saturday.
Or the round of 16, if that sounds sweeter in the trenches.
Eight seeded teams will come out of Thanksgiving byes, each hoping to feast on a first-round winner, but the visiting opponents must be loving their momentum.
Following are capsule previews of the second-round games in the bottom half of the bracket, which is anchored by No. 2 seed Sacramento State (all times ET; games on ESPN+):
Furman (10-2, 7-1 Southern) at No. 7 seed UIW (10-1, 5-1 Southland)
Kickoff – 2 p.m. at Benson Stadium in San Antonio
Series – First meeting
Coaches – Furman: Clay Hendrix (41-25, sixth season); UIW: G.J. Kinne (10-1, first season)
3 Players to Watch – Furman: QB Tyler Huff (183 of 264, 2,208 yards, 14 TDs, 6 INTs; 630 rushing yards, 6 TDs), RB Dominic Roberto (182 carries, 1,061 yards, 10 TDs), ILB Braden Gilby (83 tackles, 14.5 TFL, 4 sacks); UIW: QB Lindsey Scott Jr. (240 of 328, 3,791 yards, 50 TDs, 4 INTs; 342 rushing yards, 7 TDs); WR Taylor Grimes (59 receptions, 979 yards, 13 TDs); LB Kelechi Anyalebechi (88 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3 takeaways)
Notable – Furman TE Ryan Miller has a TD catch in 15 of the Paladins’ last 18 games since last season. Kickers Axel Lepveau and Ian Williams have combined to go 17 of 20 on field goals. The Paladins are allowing 261.9 passing yards per game, which is the strength of UIW’s FCS-leading scoring offense (52.9 points per game). With Scott twice passing for seven TDs in the first half of a game, the Cardinals have a +255 scoring margin before halftime as part of an overall +372 edge, the FCS high. While Grimes has 28 TD catches in a 23-game UIW career, WR Darion Chafin caught five of his 13 TDs in the final two regular-season games. Often overlooked in the passing exploits is RB Marcus Cooper (1,044 yards, 10 TDs).
Up Next – The winner will play either Richmond or No. 2 seed Sacramento State in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 9 or 10.
Prediction – UIW 35, Furman 28
Southeastern Louisiana (9-3, 5-1 Southland) at No. 6 seed Samford (10-1, 8-0 Southern)
Kickoff – 3 p.m. at Seibert Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama
Series – Southeastern Louisiana (last meeting: SLU won 34-31 at Samford on Sept. 21, 2013)
Coaches – Southeastern Louisiana: Frank Scelfo (34-22, fifth season); Samford: Chris Hatcher (50-37, eighth season; 171-94 overall)
3 Players to Watch – Southeastern Louisiana: QB Cephus Johnson III (1,354 passing yards, 11 TDs, 5 INTs; 488 rushing yards, 5 TDs), LB Donte’ Daniels (83 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 takeaways), S Zy Alexander (27 tackles, 3 INTs, 4 PBU); Samford: QB Michael Hiers (329 of 428, 3,290 yards, 35 TDs, 3 INTs), RB Jay Stanton (150 carries, 680 yards, 3 TDs; 31 receptions), LB Nathan East (63 tackles, INT, 6 PBU)
Notable – SLU is 4-0 at home and 0-4 on the road in its FCS playoff history. The Lions spread the wealth to various offensive weapons, including WR Gage Larvadain (51 receptions, 637 yards, 5 TDs) and RBs Carlos Washington (627 rushing yards, 13 TDs) and Jessie Britt (three straight games of 90+ rushing yards). The Lions have 16 interceptions to tie for the third-most in the FCS, and they include three TD returns. Hiers enters with a 76.9 completion percentage, which is on pace for an FCS single-season record. He often targets WRs Chandler Smith (86 receptions, 892 yards, 10 TDs) and Kendall Watson (73-851-9). The SoCon champion has allowed 500+ yards in three of their last five regular-season wins, including 695 to Mercer in a 50-44 overtime win to close the regular season.
Up Next – The winner will play either Montana or No. 3 seed North Dakota State in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 9 or 10.
Prediction – Samford 37, Southeastern Louisiana 35
(Who’s next? Potential FCS records surrounding second-round games)
Montana (8-4) at No. 3 seed North Dakota State (9-2, 7-1 MVFC)
Kickoff – 3:30 p.m. at the Fargodome in Fargo, North Dakota
Series – North Dakota State leads 5-4 (last meeting: NDSU won 37-6 at home in FCS playoff second round on Dec. 5, 2015)
Coaches – Montana: Bobby Hauck (116-33, 12th season; 131-82 overall); North Dakota State: Matt Entz (46-6, fourth season)
3 Players to Watch – Montana: QB Lucas Johnson (179 of 291, 2,163 yards, 21 TDs, 7 INTs; 294 rushing yards, 7 TDs), LB Patrick O’Connell (72 tackles, 13 TFL, 8 sacks, 3 takeaways), S Robby Hauck (110 tackles, 5 TFL); North Dakota State: QB Cam Miller (120 of 174, 1,458 yards, 10 TDs, 2 INTs; 263 rushing yards, 11 TDs), FB Hunter Luepke (621 rushing yards, 9 TDs; 196 receiving yards, 4 TDs), LB James Kaczor (69 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks)
Notable – NDSU is the defending national champion and has won nine of the last 11 titles, posting an absurd 31-1 record in FCS home playoff games. As is often the case with their opponent, the big question is whether the UM defense can handle the Bison in the trenches. NDSU is averaging 261.7 rushing yards per game, ranking fourth among 130 FCS teams with Luepke, TaMerik Williams (559) and Kobe Johnson (508) leading the way. The Griz allowed 439 rushing yards to Montana State on Nov. 19, but 11 other opponents have averaged only 101.4 per game. With an experienced secondary and DE Spencer Waege (seven sacks) on the pass rush, NDSU has not allowed 200 passing yards to an FCS opponent. Griz punter Patrick Rohrbach ranks second nationally with a 45.9-yard average.
Up Next – The winner will play either Southeastern Louisiana or No. 6 seed Samford in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 9 or 10.
Prediction – North Dakota State 30, Montana 17
Richmond (9-3, 6-2 CAA) at No. 2 seed Sacramento State (11-0, 8-0 Big Sky)
Kickoff – 5 p.m. at Hornet Stadium in Sacramento, California
Series – First meeting
Coaches – Richmond: Russ Huesman (33-28, sixth season; 92-65 overall); Sacramento State: Troy Taylor (29-7, third season)
3 Players to Watch – Richmond: QB Reece Udinski (357 of 476, 3,398 yards, 26 TDs, 4 INTs), Jakob Herres (70 receptions, 900 yards, 6 TDs), LB Tristan Wheeler (105 tackles, 11 TFL, 2 INTs); Sacramento State: RB Cam Skattebo (169 carries, 1,251 yards, 5 TDs; 24 receptions, 281 yards, 3 TDs), TE Marshel Martin (43 receptions, 587 yards, 8 TDs, NB Marte Mapu (64 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 4 PBU)
Notable – The Spiders will make the 2,782-mile cross-country trip for their program’s first game in California. In the first round against Davidson, Udinski was 28 of 31 to set an FCS single-game playoff record for completion percentage (90.3) with at least 15 attempts. Herres, who played with Udinski at VMI in the 2018-22 seasons, joins Jasiah Williams (80), Leroy Henley (66) and Nick DeGennaro (50) in the FCS’ only quartet of four 50-catch receivers. The Spiders’ big quarter is often the second, where they’ve outscored opponents 137-58. Sac State, one of three FCS unbeaten teams along with Holy Cross and Jackson State, ranks third in the FCS with a +217 scoring margin. The QB rotation of Jake Dunniway (1,872 passing yards, 16 TDs) and Asher O’Hara (797 rushing yards, 19 TDs) has been lethal. The Hornets are 0-2 in the FCS playoffs, losing at home in the second round in 2019 and last year.
Up Next – The winner will play either Furman or No. 7 seed UIW in a national quarterfinal on Dec. 9 or 10.
Prediction – Sacramento State 31, Richmond 21