Competitive matchups abound as the 2023 FCS playoffs 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. 7 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. 2 seed Montana:

Sacramento State (7-4) at North Dakota (7-4)

Kickoff – 1 p.m. ET at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota (ESPN+)

Series – North Dakota leads 4-2 (last meeting: UND won 41-15 at home on Oct. 20, 2018)

Coaches – Sacramento State: Andy Thompson (7-4, first season); North Dakota: Bubba Schweigert (61-49, 10th season; 83-70 overall)

3 Players to Watch – Sacramento State: RB Marcus Fulcher (97 carries, 486 yards, 5 TDs; 14 receptions), LB Armon Bailey (82 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 QB hurries), S Cameron Broussard (73 tackles, 2 INTs, 5 pass breakups); North Dakota: QB Tommy Schuster (197 of 277, 2,119 yards, 18 TDs, 4 INTs), WR Bo Belquist (61 receptions, 682 yards, 5 TDs), LB Wyatt Pedigo (68 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 fumble recoveries)

Notable – These two programs were in the Big Sky together from 2014-17, but UND is now an MVFC member. Each team has played four games against playoff qualifiers, and Sac State owns an FBS Power-Five win over Stanford. In Sac State’s last four games, true freshman Carson Conklin (744 passing yards, six touchdowns) has become the starting QB. Tight end Marshel Martin IV caught 22 passes for 292 yards and four TDs in two playoff games last year. UND has won its last eight one-score games and 25 of its last 27 home games, including a 6-0 mark this year. Schuster is the school’s all-time leader in passing yards (8,938), completions (832) and TD passes (62). Behind Luke Slokna and Red Wilson scoring TDs, the Fighting Hawks lead the FCS in kickoff return average (28.2)

Up Next – The winner advances to a second-round game at No. 3 seed South Dakota (9-2) on Dec. 2 (2 p.m. ET).

Prediction – North Dakota 28, Sacramento State 26

Lafayette (9-2) at Delaware (8-3)

Kickoff – 2 p.m. ET at Delaware Stadium in Newark, Delaware (ESPN+)

Series – Delaware leads 21-7 (Delaware won 37-0 at home on Sept. 8, 2018)

Coaches – Lafayette: John Troxell (13-9, second season); Delaware: Ryan Carty (16-8, second season)

3 Players to Watch – Lafayette: QB Dean DeNobile (160 of 240, 1,833 yards, 18 TDs, 5 INTs; 6 rush TDs), RB Jamar Curtis (206 carries, 1,333 yards, 12 TDs), LB Billy Shaeffer (75 tackles, 20.5 TFL, 10 sacks, 4 forced fumbles); Delaware: RB Marcus Yarns (118 carries, 846 yards, 14 TDs; 24 receptions, 3 TDs), LB Jackson Taylor (97 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 5 QB hurries, 4 pass breakups), DE Chase McGowan (39 tackles, 14 TFL, 5 sacks, 9 QB hurries)

Notable – Delaware has won the last 14 meetings, but Lafayette poses more formidable competition in a season with its highest win total since 1981. Curtis’ seven games with 100+ rushing yards are tied for the second-most in the FCS (Texas Southern’s LaDarius Owens has eight). The Leopards have the fifth-most sacks (35) among 128 FCS teams, and the pass rush could be a problem for Delaware, which has surrendered 27 sacks. Ryan O’Connor (1,907 passing yards, 17 TDs, seven interceptions) is the Blue Hens QB when healthy, but Zach Marker (678-3-2) has made two starts and Nick Minicucci came off the bench against Villanova last week. Carty has been a part of 13 playoff qualifiers, including two national championship seasons (2003 UD player and 2020 Sam Houston assistant coach).

Up Next – The winner advances to a second-round game at No. 2 seed Montana (10-1) on Dec. 2 (9 p.m. ET).

Prediction – Delaware 27, Lafayette 21

Chattanooga (7-4) at Austin Peay (9-2)

Kickoff – 3 p.m. ET at Fortera Stadium in Clarksville, Tennessee (ESPN+)

Series – Chattanooga leads 6-1 (last meeting: Austin Peay won 30-20 at Chattanooga on Sept. 2, 2021)

Coaches – Chattanooga: Rusty Wright (29-21, fifth season); Austin Peay: Scotty Walden (26-13, fourth season, 34-19 overall)    

3 Players to Watch – Chattanooga: QB Chase Artopoeus (187 of 298, 2,672 yards, 20 TDs, 7 INTs), WR Jamoi Mayes (55 receptions, 941 yards, 4 TDs), DE Jay Person (53 tackles, 2 sacks, 6 QB hurries, 3 forced fumbles); Austin Peay: Mike DiLiello (230 of 340, 3,057 yards, 27 TDs, 10 INTs; 5 rush TDs), RB Jevon Jackson (229 carries, 1,189 yards, 8 TDs), LB Tyler Long (98 tackles, 7 QB hurries, 1 INT)

Notable – Both coaches are guiding playoff teams for the first time. Artopoeus seeks to be back in action after missing Chattanooga’s regular season finale at Alabama (Luke Schomburg made his first start). In the 66-10 loss at ‘Bama, Gino Appleberry had 22 carries for 104 yards and a TD. Defensive back Kameron Brown has 11 career interceptions, including three this season. Austin Peay enters with nine straight wins, tied for the second-longest active streak in the FCS. The Governors’ top-10 offense is led by DiLiello, one of five FCS QBs to surpass 3,000 passing yards in the regular season, but the unit is susceptible to sacks, allowing 32 (the second-most among playoff qualifiers). Kam Thomas not only has 50 receptions, but his 22.5-yard punt return average ranks No. 1 nationally.

Up Next – The winner advances to a second-round game at No. 7 seed Furman (9-2) on Dec. 2 (1 p.m. ET).

Prediction – Austin Peay 35, Chattanooga 27

Drake (8-3) at North Dakota State (8-3)

Kickoff – 3:30 p.m. ET at the Fargodome in Fargo, North Dakota (ESPN+)

Series – Drake leads 2-1 (North Dakota State won 56-14 at home on Sept. 3, 2022)

Coaches – Drake: Todd Stepsis (21-28, fourth season); North Dakota State: Matt Entz (57-10, fifth season)

3 Players to Watch – Drake: QB Luke Bailey (199 of 362, 2,446 yards, 16 TDs, 7 INTs), WR Dorian Boyland (147 carries, 630 yards, 7 TDs), DE Finn Claypool (55 tackles, 19 TFL, 12.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles); North Dakota State: QB Cam Miller (171 of 229, 2,049 yards, 14 TDs, 4 INTs; 563 rush yards, 11 TDs), LB Logan Kopp (68 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3 INTs, 4 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles), S Cole Wisniewski (63 tackles, 5 INTs for 204 return yards, 5 pass breakups)

Notable – Drake is making its first playoff appearance after sweeping through the Pioneer Football League. While NDSU is long known for winning time of possession, Drake held the ball for nearly 35 minutes in last year’s matchup. Bailey spreads out the passes, as the Bulldogs have nine players with 10+ receptions, but none more than 27. Claypool’s 1.14 sacks per game ranks second in the FCS. NDSU, one of the MVFC’s record-tying six teams in the playoffs, is 34-1 in home playoff games, and one shy of tying Georgia Southern’s all-time playoff-record 45 wins. Miller leads the FCS in completion percentage (74.7), with Zach Mathis (41 receptions, 580 yards, five TDs) and Eli Green (28-509-1) the top targets. In his career, place-kicker Griffin Crosa is 37 of 45 (82.2 percent) on field goal attempts.

Up Next – The winner advances to a second-round game at No. 6 seed Montana State (8-3) on Dec. 2 (3 p.m. ET).

Prediction – North Dakota State 41, Drake 7