Momentum is everything in football.
It can effect the outcome of a game with a flip of the switch, such as a interception return for a touchdown, a blocked kick or a timely forced fumble.
It can ignite thousands of fans in just seconds, or it can shut them up and send them home packing.
But when it comes to the FCS playoffs, momentum can be used in a different form.
In 2010, when the playoff field expanded to 20 teams for the first time, 12 teams received an extra bye week and had to wait to see who their destined opponent would be in the second round.
History shows that the teams which played in the new first round might have a tougher road to the national championship and not have the luxury of getting healthy or resting up after a brutal regular season. But the question still remains: Is it better to have a week off, or is it better to remain fresh and gain momentum heading into the second round?
"There was a lot of guys that we had playing who, you know, football is a really physical game," North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl said. "You get to the tail-end of the year and you're just out there, it's hard. For some guys, to be able to come back and have nagging injuries that they've played with for several weeks to have a week off, where they're not getting pounded and get prepared certainly has helped."
Bohl understands this firsthand from experience, as his team won the national championship last season and handled its competition well leading up to the title game. Interestingly, in just two years with the expanded bracket, only two teams, NDSU and Georgia Southern in 2010, won their second-round matchups after playing in the first round of the playoffs.
The Bison defeated Robert Morris, then took down Montana State on the road, before falling to eventual national champion Eastern Washington in the national quarterfinals. Georgia Southern made it all the way to the semifinals, winning three games along the way.
"Bye weeks can be really healthy and helpful when you handle them that way," Bohl said. "However, they can be detrimental if you lose your timing or your focus. You're not playing football for a week, there's times that teams don't handle it well. It's been our experience in the past. We've handled it well. We'll need to handle it well this Saturday."
Like last season, North Dakota State enters its second-round matchup this year as the overall No. 1 seed and has had an extra week to prepare for the team's first opponent. Ironically, the Bison will host rival South Dakota State for the second time this year.
The Jackrabbits ran away with their first playoff game last week, defeating Eastern Illinois, 58-10, as running back Zach Zenner rushed for a school- record 295 yards and three touchdowns. One could argue South Dakota State picked up plenty of confidence heading into the Fargodome for the rematch. Olus it seeks revenge after a 20-17 defeat on Nov. 10.
On the other side of the bracket, Stony Brook, representing the Big South Conference, heads to Bozeman, Mont., to play No. 3 seed Montana State.
The Seawolves not only proved they belonged in the postseason last week in a 20-10 victory over CAA Football automatic qualifier Villanova, but they also won without the FCS' leader in pass efficiency. That is, starting quarterback Kyle Essington, who missed the game with a thigh injury, while backup Lyle Negron completed just 3-of-6 passes for 37 yards in harsh, windy conditions. Priore said he expects Esssington to be close to 100 percent by Saturday's game.
SBU's two-headed running back monster of Miguel Maysonet and Marcus Coker, who literally paved the way to victory last week, will face a tough challenge with MSU's stout defense.
It's probably better the Seawolves played last week rather than receiving a bye because the team finished the regular season on Nov. 10 and would have had to wait nearly three weeks to play again.
Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore didn't look to momentum, but rather playing the type of football that his team has been capable of all season.
"The reality of it is, it's going to be cold, it's going to be a hostile environment and we just have to play the game with our emotions to us and not really worry about it," Priore said. "That's easier said than done. I think this team can really focus in on what we need to do and hopefully be able to, by playing well and keep the crowd out of it and the conditions both teams have to play in."
Senior cornerback Dominick Reyes agreed the Seawolves have embraced an underdog mentality going into the game.
"We know most people have never heard of Stony Brook," Reyes said. "We are aware of that."
The following is a game-by-game breakdown for the eight FCS playoff games this week:
No. 16 Illinois State (8-3) at No. 7 Appalachian State (8-3)
Date & Time: Saturday, Dec. 1, 2 p.m. ET
Fact & Stats: Site: Kidd Brewer Stadium (24,050) -- Boone, N.C. Surface: FieldTurf. Television: ESPN3.com. Announcers: Ryan Rose, Rene' Ingoglia, Angela Mallen. Home Record: Illinois State 3-3; Appalachian State 4-2. Away Record: Illinois State 5-0; Appalachian State 4-1. Series Record: First Meeting. Conference: Illinois State - Missouri Valley; Appalachian State - Southern. Nicknames: Illinois State Redbirds; Appalachian State Mountaineers. Sports Network FCS Ranking: Illinois State (16); Appalachian State (7). NCAA Playoff Seedings: Illinois State (NS); Appalachian State (NS). Head Coaches: Illinois State - Brock Spack (4th season, 27-17 at Illinois State and overall); Appalachian State - Jerry Moore (24th season, 215-86 at Appalachian State, 31st season, 242-134-2 overall). Playoff Records: Illinois State (3-3); Appalachian State (24-16, 3 national championships, 2005-07). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Illinois State 3 (1998-99, 2006); Appalachian State 19 (1986-87, 89, 91-92, 94-95, 98-99, 2000-02, 05-11). Current Playoff Streak: Illinois State lost its last playoff game in 2006; Appalachian State has lost three of its last four playoff games.
Game Notes: Appalachian State will be looking to make a statement after its last two trips to the playoffs have ended in disappointing fashion. In 2010, the Mountaineers were outplayed versus Villanova, losing, 42-24. Last season, Maine went into Boone, N.C., and shocked ASU, running away with a 34-12 victory.
Perhaps the worst news for coach Jerry Moore's squad is that it has a 21-day break between games. The team had its bye week on Nov. 17 on top of receiving a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Despite falling to eventual No. 1 seed North Dakota State to end the regular season, Illinois State earned its first trip to the playoffs since 2006. The Redbirds have the ability to make some noise with Missouri Valley Conference offensive player of the year Matt Brown under center and first-team all- conference defensive end Colton Underwood.
Brown owns numerous Illinois State passing records, and in 11 games this season he's thrown for 2,676 yards and 20 touchdowns and averages 243 yards per game. Underwood leads a ISU defense which ranks second in the FCS in pass efficiency defense with a 98.09 rating. The junior has totaled 9.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss in 11 games.
Appalachian State will need to get off to a fast start and quarterback Jamal Jackson can't try to do too much. He has plenty of playmakers like Steven Miller (1,307 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns), Sean Price (68 receptions, 1,029 yards, eight touchdowns) and Andrew Peacock (68 receptions, 716 yards, three touchdowns) who can do a lot of damage with the ball in their hands.
MVFC teams are 3-13 versus the Southern Conference in playoff contests, - ISU is 1-7 all-time against SoCon opponents - not to mention, ASU is 4-0 all-time against Valley teams and each victory has come in the playoffs.
Although the game will be in a very tough environment at "The Rock," Illinois State shouldn't be overwhelmed because the team is 5-0 on the road this season.
Prediction: Appalachian State 38, Illinois State 35 (OT).
No. 8 Central Arkansas (9-2) at No. 6 Georgia Southern (8-3)
Date & Time: Saturday, Dec. 1, 2 p.m. ET
Facts & Stats: Site: Allen E. Paulson Stadium (18,000) -- Statesboro, Ga. Surface: Natural Grass. Television: ESPN3.com. Announcers: Shawn Kenney, John Bunting, Tiffany Green. Home Record: Central Arkansas 6-0; Georgia Southern 5-1. Away Record: Central Arkansas 3-2; Georgia Southern 3-2. Series Record: Central Arkansas (1-0). Last Meeting: Nov. 18, 2006 (Central Arkansas, 34-31 (OT) at Georgia Southern). Nicknames: Central Arkansas Bears; Georgia Southern Eagles. Conference: Central Arkansas - Southland; Georgia Southern - Southern. Sports Network Ranking: Central Arkansas (8); Georgia Southern (6). NCAA Playoff Seedings: Central Arkansas (NS); Georgia Southern (5). Head Coaches: Central Arkansas - Clint Conque (13th season, 98-53 at Central Arkansas and overall); Georgia Southern - Jeff Monken (3rd season, 29-11 at Georgia Southern and overall). FCS Playoff Records: Central Arkansas (1-1); Georgia Southern (6 National Championships - 1985-86, 89-90, 99-2000 - 43-12). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Central Arkansas 1 (2011); Georgia Southern 18 (1985-90, 1993, 1995, 1997-2002, 2004-05, 10-11). Current Playoff Streak: Central Arkansas has split its last two playoffs games; Georgia Southern has won five of its last seven playoffs games.
Game Notes: Georgia Southern, one of the FCS' most successful programs when it comes to the playoffs, will try to add to its impressive 32-3 home postseason record versus an underrated Central Arkansas squad. The Eagles have been flying high, reaching the national semifinals in the last two seasons.
Central Arkansas looks to play spoiler, even though the Bears shared the Southland Conference title and were the only FCS team this season to defeat Sam Houston State.
Quarterback Wynrick Smothers has had an outstanding season, throwing for 2,852 yards and 31 touchdowns. But it's his accuracy which relates to his success. Smothers ranks No. 10 in the FCS in passing efficiency with a 151.52 rating and he's completed 67 percent of his passes in 11 games.
UCA won't hurt opponents on the ground, averaging 132 yards per game, but through the air, the Bears are dangerous. Receivers Jesse Grandy and Dominique Croom lead the way, accounting for a combined 108 receptions, 1,391 yards and 15 touchdowns in 11 games. Grandy doubles as a dangerous playmaker on special teams as well, returning punts and kickoffs.
Having an extra week of preparation to prepare for GSU's No. 1-ranked rushing offense (392 yards per game) and tough triple option attack certainly will help. The Bears are going to need to force turnovers and put the Eagles in difficult down-and-distance situations. Easier said than done.
Georgia Southern quarterback Jerick McKinnon has 1,162 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in 11 games and B-back Dominique Swope has rushed for 924 yards and 14 touchdowns in nine games. McKinnon averages 6.6 yards per carry and 105.6 yards per game, compared to Swope's 6.1 yards per carry and 102.1 yards per game.
UCA is tied for seventh in the FCS with over 7.6 tackles for loss per game. Linebacker Justin Heard (14 tackles for loss) and defensive end Jonathan Woodard (10.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks) will need to step up and penetrate into the GSU backfield.
This is the second all-time meeting between the schools, the first came in the 2006 regular-season finale. UCA defeated the Eagles, 34-31, in overtime at Paulson Stadium.
Prediction: Georgia Southern 42, Central Arkansas 34.
Coastal Carolina (8-4) at No. 3 Old Dominion (10-1)
Date & Time: Saturday, Dec. 1, 2 p.m. ET
Facts & Stats: Site: Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium (20,068) -- Norfolk, Va. Surface: Astroturf GameDay Grass 3D. Television: ESPN3.com. Announcers: John Sadak, Jay Walker. Home Record: Coastal Carolina 3-2; Old Dominion 5-1. Away Record: Coastal Carolina 5-2; Old Dominion 5-0. Series Record: First Meeting. Conference: Coastal Carolina - Big South; Old Dominion - Colonial Athletic Association. Nicknames: Coastal Carolina Chanticleers; Old Dominion Monarchs. Sports Network FCS Ranking: Coastal Carolina (NR); Old Dominion (3). NCAA Playoff Seedings: Coastal Carolina (NS); Old Dominion (4). Head Coaches: Coastal Carolina - Joe Moglia (1st season, 8-4 at Coastal Carolina and overall); Old Dominion - Bobby Wilder (3rd season, 36-9 at Old Dominion and overall). Playoff Records: Coastal Carolina (1-2); Old Dominion (1-1). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Coastal Carolina 2 (2006, 10); Old Dominion 1 (2011). Current Playoffs Streak: Coastal Carolina won its last playoff game; Old Dominion has split its last two playoffs games.
Game Notes: Coastal Carolina won a playoff game for the first time in program history last week, defeating Bethune-Cookman on the road, 24-14. The Chanticleers have benefited from a tough early schedule and the team's running game has come alive.
CCU has rushed for more than 200 yards in seven straight games and averaged 261 yards on the ground during that span. Amazingly, 200 rushing yards seems to be the key to success because in just 10 years as a football program, Coastal is 45-5 all-time when hitting that plateau.
Of course, playing well on offense won't be the team's only concern this week because the Chants have to try to contain Old Dominion's prolific offense.
ODU coach Bobby Wilder's offense ranks first in the FCS in total offense (538 yards per game) and second in passing (382 yards per game) and scoring offense (44 points per game).
Quarterback Taylor Heinicke is one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Award and he's thrown for an FCS-high 4,158 yards and 35 touchdowns in 11 games. The Monarchs have so much success because of their ability to put together quick-scoring drives. Receivers Nick Mayers, Antonio Vaughan, Blair Roberts and Larry Pinkard all average 59 receiving yards per game or better and they have accounted for 28 touchdowns through the regular season.
Running back Tyree Lee continues to improve, which is good news because ODU needs to become more balanced. The sophomore totaled 751 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in 11 games, although he only averages 68 yards per contest.
Coastal Carolina signal-caller Aramis Hillary earned first-team All-Big South honors and can play with the big boys. The senior has completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,313 yards and 18 touchdowns. Plus, he's added 522 rushing yards and three touchdowns in 11 games.
CCU could keep the game close in the first quarter. Ultimately, however, ODU's athleticism and speed should take control of the game.
Prediction: Old Dominion 40, Coastal Carolina 26.
No. 11 New Hampshire Wildcats (8-3) at No. 9 Wofford (8-3)
Date & Time: Saturday, Dec. 1, 2 p.m. ET
Facts & Stats: Site: Gibbs Stadium (13,000) -- Spartanburg, S.C. Surface: Grass. Television: ESPN3.com. Announcers: Mike Gleason, Rocky Boiman, Rontina McCann. Home Record: New Hampshire 4-1; Wofford 5-0: Away Record: New Hampshire 4-2; Wofford 3-3. Series Record: First meeting. Conference: New Hampshire - Colonial Atlantic Athletic Association; Wofford - Southern. Nicknames: New Hampshire Wildcats; Wofford Terriers. Sports Network FCS Ranking: New Hampshire (11); Wofford (9). NCAA Playoff Seedings: New Hampshire (NS); Wofford (NS). Head Coaches: New Hampshire - Sean McDonnell (14th season, 104-65 at New Hampshire and overall); Wofford - Mike Ayers (25th year 170-114-1 at Wofford, 28th year 181-135-2 overall). Playoff Records: New Hampshire (6-10); Wofford (4-5). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: New Hampshire 10 (1991, 94, 2004-11); Wofford 5 (2003, 2007-08, 2010-11). Current Playoff Streak: New Hampshire has lost two straight and three of its last four playoffs games; Wofford has lost three of its last four playoffs games.
Game Notes: Wofford and New Hampshire meet for the first time as two teams who are really good at what they do when they play their "A" game.
The Terriers rank second in the FCS with 348 rushing yards per game and average nearly six yards per carry. They have attempted only 75 passes in 11 games and gain 52 yards per game through the air, but who needs to throw the ball when you have Eric Breitenstein, a healthy Donovan Johnson and many other capable ball-carriers.
Breitenstein is a bearded bowling ball who's rushed for 1,653 yards and 16 touchdowns this season. The senior fullback averages 150 yards per game - third in the in FCS - and he repeated as the Southern Conference's offensive player of the year. Quarterbacks Brian Kass and Michael Weimer will both see playing time, while Kass (six touchdown passes, two interceptions) is a better thrower and Weimer is more effective on the ground.
New Hampshire actually has found much success running the ball this season, averaging 234 yards per game, good for No. 13 in the FCS. Running back Nico Steriti leads the team with 870 yards and nine touchdowns this season, while quarterbacks Andy Vailas and Sean Goldrich both have the ability to use their legs in the school's spread, zone-read offense.
UNH got whipped on Nov. 17 versus Towson and the offense's two-quarterback system looked out of rhythm and troublesome for the first time this year. Plus, the defense was exploited and embarrassed in the 64-35 loss.
The 'Cats allow 164 rushing yards per game, which looks great compared to 269 passing yards, and the secondary really shouldn't be tested too much this week. Expect Breitenstein to get his yards and for Wofford to attack an inconsistent UNH defensive front.
Wofford's triple option attack matches up very well against New Hampshire's fast-striking offense because the Wildcats rank 114th in the FCS in time of possession and rarely put together long drives. If the Terriers can hold onto the ball and keep the clock moving, the UNH defense could be in trouble.
Prediction: Wofford 42, New Hampshire 31.
No. 19 South Dakota State (9-3) at No. 1 North Dakota State (10-1)
Date & Time: Saturday, Dec. 1, 4 p.m. ET
Facts & Stats: Site: Gate City Bank Field / Fargodome (18,600) -- Fargo, N.D. Surface: StroTurf's GameDay Grass 3D60 infilled turf. Television: ESPN GamePlan and ESPN3.com. Announcers: Dan Gutowsky and John Gregory. Home Record: South Dakota State 6-0; North Dakota State 5-1. Away Record: South Dakota State 3-3; North Dakota State 4-0. Neutral Record: South Dakota State 0-0; North Dakota State 1-0. Series Record: North Dakota State (54-40-5). Last Meeting: Nov. 10, 2012 (North Dakota State, 20-17 at NDST). Series Streak: North Dakota State has won the last three meetings. Nicknames: South Dakota State Jackrabbits; North Dakota State Bison. Conferences: South Dakota State - Missouri Valley; South Dakota State - Missouri Valley. Sports Network Ranking: South Dakota State (19); North Dakota State (1). NCAA FCS Playoffs Seedings: South Dakota State (NS); North Dakota State (1). Coaches: South Dakota State - John Stiegelmeier (16th season, 102-75 at South Dakota State and overall); North Dakota State - Craig Bohl (10th season, 85-32 at North Dakota State at overall). FCS playoff records: South Dakota State 1-1; North Dakota State 6-1. Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: South Dakota State 1 (2009); North Dakota State 2 (2010-11). Current Playoff Streak: South Dakota State won its last playoff game; North Dakota State has won its last four playoff games.
Game Notes: You have to love the irony of the FCS playoffs, especially this week, when rivals North Dakota State and South Dakota State square off for the second time this season.
This is the 100th meeting between the two schools in a series which started in 1903. The Jackrabbits will certainly have the series' 99th meeting on their mind - a 20-17 loss on Nov. 10, also in the Fargodome - because they were limited to just 209 yards of offense and lost the battle for the Dakota Marker for the third straight season.
Believe it or not, this is just the third trip to the FCS playoffs for the Bison, but it's the second straight season that the team has earned the overall No. 1 seed.
NDSU's defense has remained atop FCS defensive rankings throughout the season, ranking first in six major categories. Most notably, scoring defense (11 points per game), total defense (195 yards per game), rush defense (67 yards per game), pass defense (128 yards per game) and defensive third down efficiency (25.95 percent).
However, few realize the Bison also lead the FCS in time of possession at 35 minutes, 30 seconds per game, which not only keeps foes off the field, but it also gives the team's defense time to rest.
South Dakota State has the advantage of momentum, after dominating Eastern Illinois last week, 58-10, in first-round action. Running back Zach Zenner regained his seat atop the FCS rushing charter with a 295-yard, three- touchdown performance. The sophomore leads all FCS players with 1,998 rushing yards and 166 yards per game, in 12 contests this season.
Zenner rushed for a season-low 43 yards in the Nov. 10 loss at North Dakota State.
Interestingly, the key to the game could be the play of both signal-callers. NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen and SDSU quarterback Austin Sumner need to make the most of their play action pass opportunities. Neither quarterback is going to put up huge numbers, but they need to be efficient and limit turnovers.
There's just something about playoff football in the Fargodome that makes it such a daunting task for opponents. Expect the role of special teams to be the difference maker when it's all said and done.
Prediction: North Dakota State 28, South Dakota State 24.
No. 12 Cal Poly (9-2) at No. 5 Sam Houston State (8-3)
Date & Time: Saturday, Dec. 1, 4 p.m.
Facts & Stats: Site: Elliott T. Bowers Stadium (12,976) - Huntsville, Texas. Surface: RealGrass Pro. Television: ESPN3.com. Announcers: Jonathon Yardley, Forrest Conoly. Home record: Cal Poly 5-0; Sam Houston State 3-0. Road record: Cal Poly 4-2; Sam Houston State 4-3. Neutral record: Cal Poly 0-0; Sam Houston State 1-0. Conference: Cal Poly - Big Sky; Sam Houston State - Southland. Nicknames: Cal Poly Mustangs; Sam Houston State Bearkats. Sports Network FCS Rankings: Cal Poly (12); Sam Houston State (5). NCAA Playoff Seedings: Cal Poly (NS); Sam Houston State (NS). Series record: First meeting. Head Coaches: Cal Poly - Tim Walsh (4th season, 26-18 at Cal Poly; 22nd season, 143-100 overall); Sam Houston State - Willie Fritz (3rd season, 28-9 at Sam Houston; 19th season, 164-61-1 overall). Playoff records: Cal Poly (1-2); Sam Houston State (0-0). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Cal Poly 2 (2005, 08); Sam Houston State 5 (1986, 91, 2001, 04, 11). Current Playoff Streak: Cal Poly has lost its last two playoff games; Sam Houston State has won three of its last four playoffs games.
Game Notes: Sam Houston State and Cal Poly meet in a critical matchup between the Bearkats' third-ranked FCS rushing defense (76 yards per game) and the Mustangs' third-ranked FCS rushing offense (333 yards per game).
Southland Conference teams are 9-3 overall when playing home games versus the Big Sky Conference, while Big Sky teams are 0-4 all-time in the postseason at Sam Houston State.
The Bearkats have only played three home contests this season, this game being the fourth, which will help for a decent crowd. Plus, they are 5-0 all-time in playoff action at Bowers Stadium and 13-0 at home overall, dating back to the 2010 season.
SHSU has a wealth of experience and weapons. Running back Timothy Flanders has scored 17 touchdowns in 11 games and averages 104 rushing yards per contest. Receivers Trey Diller and Chance Nelson don't receive much of credit because of Flanders and quarterback Brian Bell share the limelight. They have accounted for 76 receptions, for 1,280 yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games.
The Mustangs clearly like to set the tone on the ground with their triple option attack and slotback Deonte Williams leads the way with 1,458 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 11 games. Quarterback Andre Broadous is the general of the offense and he's accounted for 18 passing touchdowns and nine rushing touchdowns through the regular season.
In fact, few realize just how effective CP has been throwing the ball. The team ranks first in the FCS in passing efficiency with a 176.38 rating. Broadous has completed 78-of-133 passes and just three interceptions.
The Bearkats defense has been solid against the run through the regular season, but even more telling? Against FCS competition this season, SHSU has allowed one rushing touchdown. Only one FCS team, Southeastern Louisiana, managed to cross the 100-yard rushing mark and they lost that game, 70-0. The only time SHSU has been hurt against the run was against FBS foes Baylor (232 yards) and Texas A&M (157 yards).
Cal Poly, however, has scored 36 rushing touchdowns in 11 games and averages nearly 5.3 yards per carry. The team will need to get close to that average in order to have any shot for a victory.
Prediction: Sam Houston State 40, Cal Poly 30
Wagner (9-3) at No. 4 Eastern Washington (9-2)
Date & Time: Saturday, Dec. 1, 6 p.m.
Facts & Stats: Site: Roos Field (8,600) - Cheney, Wash. Surface: SprinTurf (red). Television: ESPN3.com. Announcers: Trey Bender, Jay Taylor. Home record: Wagner 5-1, Eastern Washington 5-0. Road record: Wagner 4-2; Eastern Washington 4-2. Conference: Wagner - Northeast; Eastern Washington - Big Sky. Nicknames: Wagner Seahawks; Eastern Washington Eagles. Sports Network FCS Rankings: Wagner (NR); Eastern Washington (4). NCAA Playoff Seedings: Wagner (NS); Eastern Washington (2). Series record: First meeting. Head Coaches: Wagner - Walt Hameline (32nd season, 213-126-2 at Wagner and overall); Eastern Washington - Beau Baldwin (6th season, 42-18 at Eastern Washington, 52-21 overall). Playoff records: Wagner (1-0); Eastern Washington (9-7). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Wagner 0; Eastern Washington 8 (1985, 92, 97, 2004-05, 07, 2009-10, National Champion in 2010). Current Playoff Streak: Wagner has won its only playoff game; Eastern Washington has won its last four playoff games.
Game Notes: Wagner enters the contest with a lot of confidence after an impressive 31-20 victory over Colgate. It was the program's first-ever FCS playoff victory and the Northeast Conference's first playoff victory since it received an automatic qualifying bid in 2010.
Wagner's statistical success has been overlooked because the team came out of nowhere, reeling off nine straight wins during its playoff push. Quarterback Nick Doscher holds the key for success on offense, as he has thrown 210 straight passes without an interception and the team has committed just one turnover during its nine-game win streak. Running back Dominique Williams (1,268 yards, 12 touchdowns) is a shifty back who can handle a load of carries if needed.
Eastern Washington captured a share of the Big Sky Conference title and won the tiebreaker for its automatic bid to the playoffs. Plus, the Eagles have an extra week to get healthy and prepare for their opponent. EWU has to be pleased with the No. 2 overall seed and the potential to continue playing football at Roos Field on the infamous "Inferno" red turf playing surface, if the team can keep winning.
However, before coach Beau Baldwin's squad can start looking ahead, it has to get by Wagner's defense which ranks sixth in the FCS in scoring, allowing 16 points per game and 11th in passing defense with 164 yards per game.
Of course, one could argue that the NEC offenses offer little comparisons to the athletes and skill sets of Eastern Washington, but it's important to remember that even the Eagles have had to win close games this season. Of the team's seven conference wins this season, six have come by a combined margin of 28 points.
Whichever quarterback has the hot hand coming into the contest, Vernon Adams or Kyle Padron - who have combined for 3,270 passing yards and 24 touchdowns in 11 games - certainly has quality receivers to play catch with each game. Wagner could be overmatched with pass catchers Brandon Kaufman, Greg Herd and Nicholas Edwards attacking all levels of the secondary.
If any team remaining in the playoffs can play through adversity, it has to be Wagner. Sure, the Seahawks have to travel across the country and play in a different time zone for the first time this season, but if they overcame the effects of Hurricane Sandy, start the season 0-3 and effectively shut down a dangerous Colgate offense to win a playoff game, anything can happen.
Prediction: Eastern Washington 35, Wagner 24.
No. 10 Stony Brook (10-2) at No. 2 Montana State (10-1)
Date & Time: Saturday, Dec. 1, 7 p.m.
Facts & Stats: Site: Bobcat Stadium (17,777) - Bozeman, Mont. Surface: FieldTurf. Television: ESPN3.com. Announcers: Peter Young, Corey Chavous. Home record: Stony Brook 7-0; Montana State 5-1. Away record: Stony Brook 3-2; Montana State 5-0. Conference: Stony Brook - Big South; Montana State - Big Sky. Nicknames: Stony Brook Seawolves; Montana State Bobcats. Series record: First meeting. Sports Network FCS Ranking: Stony Brook (10); Montana State (2). NCAA Playoff Seeding: Stony Brook (NS); Montana State (3). Head coaches: Stony Brook - Chuck Priore (7th season, 47-33 at Stony Brook; 86-42 overall); Montana State - Rob Ash (6th season, 49-21 at Montana State; 33rd season, 225-120-5 overall). FCS playoff records: Stony Brook 2-1; Montana State 5-5. Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Stony Brook 1 (2011); Montana State 6 (1984, 2002-03, 06, 10-11, National Champion in 1984). Current Playoff Streak: Stony Brook won its last playoff game; Montana State has lost three of its last four playoff games.
Game Notes: It's either really good or really bad news that Stony Brook proved just how solid its run game was in the team's 20-10 victory versus Villanova last week.
On the one hand, the Seawolves had no problem relying on stud running back Miguel Maysonet and his capable backup Marcus Coker, who combined for 54 carries for 160 and 107 yards, respectively. On the other hand, quarterback Lyle Negron, who replaced the FCS' leader in passing efficiency (quarterback Kyle Essington) completed just 3-of-6 passes for 37 yards.
Essington's status this week is still unknown, as he suffered a right thigh contusion in the regular-season finale, but there's no question. He makes a huge difference on offense when healthy.
Montana State's stout defense should be able to answer questions about whether SBU's run attack is indeed the real deal. The Bobcats defense ranks seventh in the FCS in against the run, allowing 96 yards per game and only 3.2 yards per carry. To put some numbers in perspective, Maysonet, a Walter Payton Award finalist, averages nearly 7.6 yards per carry in 12 games this season. He has scored 23 total touchdowns to share the FCS high.
MSU's offense should give Stony Brook plenty of problems as well. Quarterback DeNarius McGhee leads a unit which averages 36 points per game and the team's running attack has thrived in the second half of the season. Running back Cody Kirk averages 90 yards per game and has rushed for 815 yards and 13 touchdowns in just nine contests this season. Orenzo Davis, like Coker, is also a solid backup, rushing for seven touchdowns and 550 yards in 10 games.
Stony Brook has played in some tough environments this year, including games at Syracuse and Army, which will help this weekend in Bozeman. However, the Bobcats faithful will be out in full force in only the second true night game in Bobcat Stadium history.
The key to this contest could be third-down conversions. SBU ranks ninth in the FCS, converting 50.36 percent on third down, while Montana State ranks fifth in the FCS in defensive third-down efficiency, as opponents are converting just 28.83 percent of the time.
Prediction: Montana State 33, Stony Brook 21.