FCS First-Round Playoff Preview Capsules: Bottom Half of the Bracket
FCS

FCS First-Round Playoff Preview Capsules: Bottom Half of the Bracket

The 2021 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 bottom half of the bracket, which is anchored by No. 2 seed North Dakota State (all times EST):

Davidson (8-2, 7-1 Pioneer) at Kennesaw State (10-1, 7-0 Big South)

Kickoff – 2 p.m. at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw, Georgia (ESPN+)

Series – First meeting

Coaches – Davidson: Scott Abell (26-14, four seasons); Kennesaw State: Brian Bohannon (62-17, seven seasons)

3 Players to Watch – Davidson: QB Louis Colosimo (63 of 103, 953 yards, 11 TDs, 4 INTs; 434 rushing yards, 2 TDs), RB Dylan Sparks (162 carries, 796 yards, 8 TDs), DE Jonathan Hammond (56 tackles, 9.5 sacks); Kennesaw State: QB Xavier Shepherd (221 carries, 836 yards, 19 TDs; 69 of 113, 1,181 yards, 14 TDs, 3 INTs), RB Kyle Glover (112 carries, 519 yards, 1 TD), LB Evan Thompson (93 tackles, 9.5 TFL)

3 Key Factors – 1. Run, run, run the ball. Davidson (348.4) and Kennesaw (275.5) rank first and second in the FCS in rushing yards per game. Kennesaw (98.5 ypg, 3.7 yards per carry) has been stronger with defending the run than Davidson (126.4, 4.4). 2. Kennesaw’s option offense is more prone to fumbles, with 24 overall and 13 lost compared to the Wildcats’ 13 overall and eight lost. 3. Home for the holiday weekend: The Owls have won 10 straight and 29 of their last 31 games at FTB Stadium.

Up Next – The winner will play at No. 7 seed ETSU (10-1) in the second round on Dec. 4.

Prediction – Kennesaw State 38, Davidson 21

Northern Iowa (6-5, 4-4 MVFC) at Eastern Washington (9-2, 6-2 Big Sky)

Kickoff – 4 p.m. at Roos Field in Cheney, Washington (ESPN+)

Series – Northern Iowa leads 6-1

Coaches – Northern Iowa: Mark Farley (168-92, 21 seasons); Eastern Washington: Aaron Best (40-14, fifth season)

3 Players to Watch – Northern Iowa: WR Isaiah Weston (33 receptions, 792 yards, 5 TDs), LT Trevor Penning (received first invitation to 2022 Senior Bowl), DL Jared Brinkman (67 tackles, 7 sacks); Eastern Washington: QB Eric Barriere (294 of 438, 4,257 yards, 40 TDs, 6 INTs; 224 rushing yards, 3 TDs), RB Dennis Merritt (168 carries, 812 yards, 14 TDs; 28 receptions, 339 yards, 3 TDs), LB Ty Graham (94 tackles, 8 TFL, 3 sacks)

3 Key Factors – 1. Eastern Washington is 9-0 when Barriere is above 250 passing yards and 0-2 when he’s below that mark. UNI is 0-3 when allowing more than 250 passing yards. 2. Third downs are pivotal. The host Eagles have converted 51.3 percent of attempts into first downs, ranking third out of 128 FCS teams. UNI is the eighth-best in defending third downs, with opponents converting at a 29.2 percent clip. 3. UNI is 6-0 when leading after the third quarter, but has lost all five times when trailing or tied during the fourth quarter.

Up Next – The winner will play at No. 6 seed Montana in the second round on Dec. 3.

Prediction – Eastern Washington 31, Northern Iowa 28

Southern Illinois (7-4, 5-3 MVFC) at South Dakota (7-4, 5-3 MVFC)

Kickoff – 6 p.m. at DakotaDome in Vermillion, South Dakota (ESPN+)

Series – Tied 3-3

Coaches – Southern Illinois: Nick Hill (30-36, six seasons); South Dakota: Bob Nielson (29-33, six seasons; 215-113-1 overall)

3 Players to Watch – Southern Illinois: QB Nic Baker (221 of 358, 2,816 yards, 25 TDs, 11 INTs), WR Landon Lenoir (56 receptions, 830 yards, 9 TDs), SS Qua Brown (72 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR); South Dakota: QB Carson Camp (161 of 245, 2,050 yards, 17 TDs), DE/LB Jacob Matthew (61 tackles, 6 sacks, 5 passes defended), LB Jack Cochrane (92 tackles, 9 TFL, 4 INTs, 6 pass breakups)

3 Key Factors – 1. SIU has averaged 273 rushing yards in its last two games and can go with the hot hand (or foot) at running back between Javon Williams Jr., Justin Strong, Romeir Elliott and Donnavan Spencer. 2. The Coyotes figure to control game clock behind its offensive split of 63.4 percent rushing plays to 37.6 percent passing. 3. It’s a punters duel: SIU’s Jack Colquhoun (44.9-yard average, 17 of 41 inside 20-yard line) vs. USD’s Brady Schutt (43.9, 25 of 54). Both teams are top 10 in the FCS in net punting.

Up Next – The winner will play at No. 2 seed North Dakota State (10-1) in the second round on Dec. 4.

Prediction – Southern Illinois 31, South Dakota 28

Florida A&M (9-2, 7-1 SWAC) at Southeastern Louisiana (8-3, 6-2 Southland)

Kickoff – 7 p.m. at Strawberry Stadium in Hammond, Louisiana (ESPN+)

Series – First meeting

Coaches – Florida A&M: Willie Simmons (24-9, three seasons; 45-20 overall); Southeastern Louisiana: Frank Scelfo (24-18, four season)

3 Players to Watch – Florida A&M: QB Rasean McKay (193 of 324, 2,219 yards, 20 TDs, 4 INTs), LB Isaiah Land (43 tackles, 25.5 TFL, 19 sacks), S Markquese Bell (79 tackles, 4 forced fumbles); Southeastern Louisiana: QB Cole Kelley (339 of 457, 4,382 yards, 38 TDs, 6 INTs; 442 rushing yards, 16 TDs), WR Austin Mitchell (66 receptions, 1,035 yards, 9 TDs; 199 rushing yards), CB Zy Alexander (36 tackles, 6 INTs, 6 pass breakups)

3 Key Factors – 1. It’s offense vs. defense. Southeastern ranks first among 128 FCS teams in offensive yards per game (567) and points per game (48). FAMU, making its first postseason appearance since 1999, is allowing only 257.5 ypg (fifth) and 15.1 ppg (tied for eighth). 2. Kelley, the Walter Payton Award recipient after the spring season, has passed for two or more TDs in 15 straight games. The visiting Rattlers have allowed only eight scores through the air this season. 3. The rushing duo of Bishop Bonnett (934 yards) and Terrell Jennings (516) has helped FAMU to a nearly 33-minute average in time of possession. The Rattlers seek to control game clock and keep Kelley off the field.

Up Next – The winner will play at No. 3 seed James Madison (10-1) in the second round on Dec. 4.

Prediction – Southeastern Louisiana 31, Florida A&M 24