Breaking Down the FCS Playoff Bracket: Can North Dakota State Be Stopped?

Breaking Down the FCS Playoff Bracket:  Can North Dakota State Be Stopped?
Darrius Shepherd and five-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State remain the odds-on favorite to wear the crown. (NDSU athletics photo)

When the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs kick off Saturday, five-time defending national champion North Dakota State remains the lead dog in the FCS title chase.

The Bison–which play in the Missouri Valley Football Conference along with Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Western Illinois–are the No. 1 overall seed yet again.

NDSU’s season included five wins over ranked FCS opponents and a victory at Iowa against the then-ranked Hawkeyes of the FBS.

The Bison have won five games in a row since dropping their Oct. 15 matchup with South Dakota State. NDSU features a relentless defense that is holding opponents to under 18 points a game.

Illinois State is making its school-record third consecutive playoff appearance. The Redbirds lost 29-27 to NDSU in the waning moments of the 2014 national championship game.

Head coach Brock Spack’s Redbirds play their first-round game at 2 p.m. Saturday at Central Arkansas. Spack has led Illinois State to the playoffs four times in his eight years in Normal.

North Dakota State and ISU are joined by two other MVFC members in this year’s playoff bracket. South Dakota State–slayers of NDSU and the league’s regular season champion–and Youngstown State also made the 24-team field.

The way the bracket is set up NDSU and SDSU could play each other in the national quarterfinals. That game would be a rematch played in the Fargodome, home of the Bison.

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(Click to enlarge bracket)

Eastern Washington (10-1) is the No. 2 seed after capturing the automatic qualifying berth from the Big Sky Conference. The Eagles, the 2010 champion, are making their 12th appearance in the championship.

Jacksonville State (10-1) is the No. 3 seed after capturing the Ohio Valley Conference automatic berth. JSU throttled Eastern Illinois 47-14 Oct. 29 in conference play. The Gamecocks have won three straight OVC titles; EIU is the last non-JSU team to win the league when Jimmy Garoppolo and the Panthers captured the 2013 championship.

The Gamecocks, 2016 national finalist, are making their fourth straight and seventh overall appearance in the championship.

James Madison (10-1) is the fourth seed after capturing the automatic qualifying berth from the Colonial Athletic Association. The Dukes, the 2004 champion, are making their third straight and 13th overall appearance in the championship.

Winner of the Southland Conference automatic qualifying berth, Sam Houston State (11-0), the 2011 and 2012 national finalist will be the fifth seed. The Bearkats are making their sixth straight and 10th overall appearance in the championship.

The No. 6 seed is The Citadel (10-1). The Bulldogs earned the automatic qualifying berth from the Southern Conference and are making their second straight and fifth overall appearance in the championship.

North Dakota (9-2) earned an at-large berth in championship after finishing as co-champion of the Big Sky Conference. The Fighting Hawks are making their inaugural appearance in the championship and will be the seventh seed.

The eighth and final seeded team will be South Dakota State (8-3). The Jackrabbits will be making their fifth straight appearance and sixth overall after capturing the Missouri Valley Football Conference automatic berth, tying with North Dakota State.

The 2016 championship field consists of 10 automatic qualifiers and 14 at-large qualifiers.

The FCS championship game is Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas.

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