The numbers don’t lie with FCS finalists South Dakota State and Montana – in some statistics, they’re among the very best in the 128-school subdivision, if not the best.

On Jan. 7, their strengths will go head-to-head in a much-anticipated championship game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. SDSU (14-0) is the defending national champion and enters on a 28-game winning streak (third-longest in FCS history), while blue blood Montana (13-1) makes its eighth all-time appearance in the final, but the first since 2009.  

Following is how the two powers stack up against each other.

Pictured: South Dakota State running back Isaiah Davis and Montana defensive end Kale Edwards. (SDSU/UM Athletics Photos)

When South Dakota State Has the Ball

The Jackrabbits have an offense full of 2024 NFL prospects, including left tackle Garret Greenfield (6-foot-7, 320 pounds) and left guard Mason McCormick (6-5, 315) fueling what many believe to be the top offensive line in the FCS. Quarterback Mark Gronowski, the most outstanding player of the 2022 championship game, distributes the ball to a wealth of weapons led by running back Isaiah Davis, who has 100 or more rushing yards in 12 of his 15 career playoff games.

On defense, Montana utilizes a 3-3-5 base alignment. Nose tackle Alex Gubner (6-3, 284) overpowers blockers through the middle of the line, which brings more effectiveness to the Braxton Hill-led linebackers unit and a stout secondary.

Interestingly, SDSU is the best in the FCS with converting third downs (54.8), but Montana ranks third-best in third-down conversion percentage defense (28.6).

Pictured: Montana quarterback Clifton McDowell and South Dakota State linebacker Isaiah Stalbird. (UM/SDSU Athletics Photos)

When Montana Has the Ball

Grizzlies quarterback Clifton McDowell has directed 10 straight wins since becoming the full-time starter, accounting for a combined 21 passing and rushing touchdowns in that time. He gets the ball to various weapons, including tailbacks Eli Gillman, the 2023 Jerry Rice Award recipient, and Nick Ostmo, and wide receivers Junior Bergen and Keelan White. The dynamic Bergen has been one of the stars of the FCS playoffs, with three combined TD returns – two on punts and one on a kickoff – in the last two wins.

SDSU will counter Bergen and the Griz with the FCS’ top-ranked defense, just the second to post two shutout wins in the same playoffs (the other is Montana’s 1995 national championship team). The ‘Rabbits unit is led by the three starting linebackers – Jason Freeman, Adam Bock and Isaiah Stalbird.

SDSU’s No. 1 ranking in red zone offense is well-known (success on 98 of its last 100 trips since last season), but the Jackrabbits also are the best in the FCS at defending in its red zone (59.4 percent, with opponents scoring 10 touchdowns and nine field goals on 32 red zone attempts). Montana has scored on 43 of 52 trips into an opponent’s red zone, although the 82.9 success percentage ranks just 50th out of 128 FCS teams.

(Here are the all-time results of the FCS championship game)