Here’s to another successful fall of FCS football. This season feels as if it has had it all - FBS upsets, resurgent programs, and an exciting playoff field. Let’s take a look at this year’s bracket as well as three must-see matchups for Round One.
Round 1 Matchups to Watch
Fordham at New Hampshire
Fordham, led by QB Tim DeMorat, takes their 9-2 record and high-powered offense to meet a resurgent UNH squad. One that former Wildcat QB Ricky Santos has brought back to their winning ways in only his first year. Each of these programs are no strangers to the FCS Playoffs. UNH returns from a Quarterfinal run in 2017, while Fordham is back for the first time since the 2015 season.
The Rams and Wildcats met in the 2014 playoffs, where UNH ended Fordham’s season in a 44-19 second round thrashing. This matchup we predict to be much closer. Fordham’s Tim DeMorat currently ranks #1 in passing yards (4,561), passing TD’s (53), and total offense/game at 417.4ypg. Even though the Rams have found the endzone over 50 times in the air, RB Trey Sneed has rushed for 1,002 yards and five touchdowns this season. Typically there would be an imbalance between the SOS for a Patriot League and CAA team. Fordham scheduled three CAA opponents this year and went 3-0 in those games. UNH is battle tested after splitting two games against CAA playoff teams, with a win against Elon and a loss at Richmond. There is no doubt that this game will be full of offense, but does UNH have the stamina and firepower to keep up with the #2 offense in the nation? Tune into ESPN+ at 2:00pm ET on Saturday for what will prove to be one of the most exciting first round matchups. Should Fordham leave Durham, NH victorious this weekend, they will meet conference rival Holy Cross in a Week 9 rematch. One in which the Crusaders salvaged their hopes of an undefeated season with a 53-52 OT thriller.
Southeast Missouri State at Montana
For those of us going back for our 12th plate of Thanksgiving leftovers and hoping for more football on Saturday, we are in luck. SE Missouri State and Montana kickoff at 10:15pm ET on ESPN2 Saturday night. As OVC Co-Champions, SEMO secured the conference’s AQ bid over UT-Martin after posting a 9-2 record. Their pair of losses came to FBS Iowa State and an FCS playoff team in Eastern Kentucky. SEMO will travel some 1,700 miles to Missoula looking to pick up their second playoff victory in five tries. Montana managed to find themselves back in the playoffs with a 7-4 record after a 10-3 showing last season. Three of their four losses came down to a touchdown or less, with all four of their losses to two ranked and two unranked FCS playoff teams. This Grizzlies team is not one to count out, but they will have to match the firepower of the SEMO offense. Montana has struggled to keep up with the top-tier opponents they have faced this season. My key to the game is how well the Montana defense can contain SEMO RB Geno Hess. Hess has racked up over 1,500 rushing yards and a FCS-leading 19 TD’s on the ground this season. After dark in Missoula on Saturday, the temperatures will be well below freezing. Look for SEMO to feed Hess in order to secure their date with NDSU in the Second Round.
Elon at Furman
For anyone following along, yes, I will venture outside of the CAA and SoCon someday. Just give me until the offseason, this is going to be a great matchup. Halfway through the season, it looked like Elon was going to run away with the CAA. The Phoenix started out 5-1, with back-to-back victories over William & Mary and Richmond. They paired that with a loss against URI, and a three-score defeat at New Hampshire. Due to strong play in the CAA this season, Elon was able to sneak in with a contingent of five CAA teams. Furman’s journey was a bit more straightforward. Coming in at 9-2, with losses to Clemson and SoCon Champion Samford, the Paladins earned their chance to fight for a Second Round matchup with #7 Incarnate Word. This is an exciting matchup for a few key reasons. First, we needed another SoCon-CAA matchup this season. The Week 2 Elon-Wofford debacle was a fluke, Wofford hit their stride late this season. We need to settle the argument for 2022 since the SoCon plays a full conference schedule and CAA manages to get five teams in. Second, this is going to be a battle. Both teams like to run the ball, and will need to - it will likely be a wet one for Saturday’s Noon ET kickoff in Greenville. Furman’s defense ranks #1 in the Southern Conference allowing under 20 points per game on average. The Paladins’ stellar defense is going to need to keep an eye on Elon RB Jalen Hampton who is averaging over 100 rushing yards per game. He will cause defenses fits when he gets loose. Concluding the fact that this battle between CAA-SoCon teams will be a great way to kickoff the playoff slate, this is likely the most evenly-matched First Round tilt we will see this weekend. The way each team plays, their offensive and defensive weapons, and strength of schedule is all very comparable. No matter what the role the impending weather plays on each team’s gameplan, look for this to be a close, low-scoring game throughout. Furman ranks #1 in the FCS in blocked kicks this season with nine. Expect special teams playing a large role in shifting the landscape of Saturday’s game.