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

FCS First-Round Playoff Preview Capsules: Top 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 top of the bracket, which is anchored by No. 1 seed and defending national champion Sam Houston:

Sacred Heart (8-3, 6-1 NEC) at Holy Cross (9-2, 6-0 Patriot)

Kickoff – Noon at Fitton Field in Worcester, Massachusetts (ESPN+)

Series – Holy Cross leads 2-0

Coaches – Sacred Heart: Mark Nofri (62-46, 11 seasons); Holy Cross: Bob Chesney (24-15, four seasons; 91-40 overall)

3 Players to Watch – Sacred Heart: RB Julius Chestnut (74 carries, 487 yards, 3 TDs), RB Malik Grant (226 carries, 1,288 yards, 9 TDs), LB Kevin Peprah (43 tackles, 2.5 sacks); Holy Cross: QB Matthew Sluka (84 of 154, 1,172 yards, 10 TDs, 4 INTs; 672 rushing yards, 13 TDs), RB Peter Oliver (134 carries, 726 yards, 4 TDs), LB Jacob Dobbs (112 tackles, 8 sacks),

3 Key Factors – 1. Sacred Heart is full go at running back, with Chestnut back after missing seven-plus games and getting more carries over the last three games than Grant, the potential NEC offensive player of the year. Holy Cross counters with the No. 5 rushing defense in the FCS (77.9 ypg). 2. Behind Dobbs and LB Liam Anderson, the host Crusaders are tied for fourth in the FCS with 39 sacks and rank second in dropping quarterbacks for 272 yards in losses. 3. The three teams that beat the Pioneers attacked with the run (237 ypg, 5.5-yard average), which is a strength of Holy Cross’ offense.

Up Next – The winner will play at No. 5 seed Villanova (9-2) in the second round on Dec. 3.

Prediction – Holy Cross 24, Sacred Heart 21

UC Davis (8-3, 5-3 Big Sky) at South Dakota State (8-3, 5-3 MVFC)

Kickoff – 3 p.m. at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings, South Dakota (ESPN+)

Series – South Dakota State leads 5-2

Coaches – UC Davis: Dan Hawkins (31-21, five seasons; 143-82-1 overall); South Dakota State: John Stiegelmeier (181-110, 25 seasons)

3 Players to Watch – UC Davis: RB Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. (191 carries, 828 yards, 5 TDs; 35 receptions, 223 yards, 1 TD), WR Jared Harrell (44 receptions, 551 yards, 5 TDs), CB Jordan Prettyman (57 tackles, 1 INT, 12 pass breakups); South Dakota State: QB Chris Oladokun (184 of 288, 2,450 yards, 20 TDs, 5 INTs), RB Pierre Strong Jr. (190 carries, 1,317 yards, 15 TDs; 3 TD passes), LB Adam Bock (100 tackles, 6 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles)

3 Key Factors – 1. UC Davis isn’t shy about mixing and matching with three different signal callers: Miles Hastings, Hunter Rodrigues and run-oriented Trent Tompkins. 2. Strong is a home run hitter, averaging 23 yards on his 15 TD runs this season and 28.2 over 37 in his four-season career. 3. Appropriately, the host Jackrabbits are quicker out of the gate, outscoring opponents by 70 points in the first quarter and by 95 in the second for a 165-point first-half advantage. The Aggies have outscored opponents only by 13 points in the first half: a plus-five margin in the first quarter and a plus-eight margin in the second.

Up Next – The winner will play at No. 4 seed Sacramento State (9-2) in the second round on Dec. 4.

Prediction – South Dakota State 34, UC Davis 17

Stephen F. Austin (8-3, 4-2 AQ7) at UIW (9-2, 7-1 Southland)

Kickoff – 3 p.m. at Benson Stadium in San Antonio (ESPN+)

Series – Stephen F. Austin leads 5-1

Coaches – Stephen F. Austin: Colby Carthel (17-16, three seasons; 76-34 overall); UIW: Eric Morris (23-17, four seasons)

3 Players to Watch – Stephen F. Austin: QB Trae Self (222 of 345, 2,958 yards, 25 TDs, 7 INTs), WR/PR Xavier Gipson (68 receptions, 1,266 yards, 14 TDs), S Myles Heard (61 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 3 pass breakups); UIW: QB Cameron Ward (306 of 475, 3,839 yards, 38 TDs, 10 INTs), RB Kevin Brown (128 carries, 848 yards, 12 TDs; 26 receptions, 297 yards, 2 TDs), LB Kelechi Anyalebechi (112 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 3 takeaways)

3 Key Factors – 1.SFA seeks to disrupt Ward, who is fifth nationally in passing yards per game (349) and tied for third in TD passes (38). Out of 128 FCS teams, the Lumberjacks rank 11th in defensive passing efficiency (108.45 rating) and are tied for fourth in sacks per game (3.55). 2. Big-play day? Out of 57 FCS players with at least 10 TDs from scrimmage, Gipson ranks first (40.4) and Brown fourth (31.1) in yards per TD. Each has 14 TDs from scrimmage. 3. SFA has an edge in the kicking game with Chris Campos (20 of 24 on field goals, 53 long) and Max Quick (46.6-yard punting average).

Up Next – The winner will play at No. 1 seed Sam Houston (10-0) in the second round on Dec. 4.

Prediction – Stephen F. Austin 30, UIW 29

UT Martin (9-2, 5-1 OVC) at Missouri State (8-3, 6-2 MVFC)

Kickoff – 4 p.m. at Robert W. Plaster Stadium in Springfield, Missouri (ESPN+)

Series – Missouri State leads 6-0

Coaches – UT Martin: Jason Simpson (99-79, 16 seasons); Missouri State: Bobby Petrino (13-8, first season; 132-64 overall)

3 Players to Watch – UT Martin: QB Keon Howard (154 of 258, 1,811 yards, 15 TDs, 7 INTs; 472 rushing yards, 10 TDs), RB Peyton Logan (131 carries, 982 yards, 3 TDs; 24 receptions, 242 yards, 3 TDs), LB John Ford (74 tackles, 3 INTs, 3 pass breakups); Missouri State: QB Jason Shelley (213 of 358, 3,068 yards, 19 TDs, 6 INTs; 349 rushing yards, 10 TDs), WR Tyrone Scott (60 receptions, 1,039 yards, 10 TDs), LB Tylar Wiltz (90 tackles, 12.5 tackles, 4 takeaways)

3 Key Factors – 1. Which defense will step up its play? UT Martin attacks with the run (231.3 ypg) and Missouri State has a consistent passing attack (283.8 ypg). 2. While UTM’s defense has only 16 sacks (DE Eyabi Anoma leads with six), the host Bears have struggled to prevent them, allowing 44 this season after allowing 46 in 10 games last season. 3. MSU place-kicker Jose Pizano is 20 of 24 on field goals; UTM’s Tyler Larco is 5 of 12.

Up Next – The winner will play at No. 8 seed Montana State (9-2) in the second round on Dec. 4.

Prediction – Missouri State 26, UT Martin 21