In the FCS Huddle: FCS Second-Round Playoff Preview

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Villanova, you're not invited to the party.

Illinois State, sorry, not this year.

Coastal Carolina, guess again after that one loss.

Imagine those excellent FCS teams not participating in the playoffs this year.

Yeah, take a deep breath.

Of course, the lower half of Division I college football has long had it right. For the second consecutive year the playoffs started with 24 teams, which is lights years better than, ahem, a four-team playoff.

If the FCS went only four deep, then seeded teams like Illinois State (5), Villanova (6), Coastal Carolina (7) and Chattanooga (8) would be out of the mix. They would be watching New Hampshire (1), North Dakota State (2), Jacksonville State (3) and Eastern Washington (4) get the only invites.

"Obviously, (the FCS playoffs are) the best possible way to crown a champion because you have to prove it on the field week in and week out," Villanova coach Andy Talley said. "But there's also some things you have to factor in. The year we won it in 2009, we were home the first three games. So playing at Villanova Stadium is a lot better than playing at North Dakota State or Youngstown State or one of those places. I think the matchup sometimes is very interesting as well. Sometimes in the playoffs you match up against a team that's a perfect matchup for you or a horrendous matchup for you."

That's often the case with matchups between conference teams because of the familiarity. There are three such games among the eight in the second round on Saturday.

Four playoff teams? Yeah, right.

FCS PREDICTIONS

Last Week's Record (including SWAC): 6-3 (.667)

This Season's Record: 633-189 (.770)

X-Predicted Winner

Saturday, Dec. 6

All Times ET

FCS Playoff Second Round

Fordham (11-2) at No. 1 seed New Hampshire (10-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m. (ESPN3)

What to Know: Top-ranked New Hampshire has a difficult assignment right away in Fordham, but the CAA Football champion has a veteran team that won three playoff games en route to reaching the national semifinals last year. The Wildcats also play their best at home, where they have tied the program record with 12 straight wins.

Quarterback Sean Goldrich is fully recovered from an early season knee injury and the Wildcats can really mix up the running game between Goldrich and backs Nico Steriti and Jimmy Owens.

Fordham, which won the Patriot League title, will be hard-pressed to stop the athleticism of UNH wide receiver R.J. Harris (79 receptions for 1,220 yards and 13 touchdowns) and tight end Harold Spears.

But as strong as UNH is offensively, the Wildcats will get tested by Fordham quarterback Mike Nebrich, who has been one of the best in the FCS over the last two seasons while going 20-2 as a starter. The Wildcats will rely on their defensive standouts, end Cody Muller and linebacker Akil Anderson in the front seven and Casey DeAndrade defending passes in the secondary.

Nebrich was 29-for-50 for 423 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions in Fordham's 44-22 win over Sacred Heart in the first round. He is protected by an excellent offensive line and his choice of passing options is almost unfair as Brian Wetzel, Tebucky Jones Jr. and Sam Ajala have each gone over 1,000 receiving yards for two straight seasons.

Running back Chase Edmonds was slowed by a thigh injury in November, but he can be dazzling, rushing for 1,630 yards and 22 yards in his rookie season.

Linebacker Austin Hancock has stepped up to be Fordham's leading tackler (95) since All-American Stephen Hodge was lost to a knee injury in the preseason. Cornerback Ian Williams has been phenomenal with four interceptions and 16 pass breakups, and he was especially strong in the win over Sacred Heart.

Fordham has a potential difference maker in senior place-kicker Michael Marando, who has kicked 19 field goals for the second consecutive season.

The winner will advance to play either Indiana State or No. 8 seed Chattanooga in the national quarterfinals.

Prediction: New Hampshire has the target of being the top seed and it didn't face CAA playoff teams Villanova and James Madison during the regular season. There will be some nerves on edge when Fordham is threatening with an upset in the second half. New Hampshire, 35-30.

Indiana State (8-5) at No. 8 seed Chattanooga (9-3)

Kickoff: 1 p.m. (ESPN3)

What to Know: This is a first-ever matchup between these two programs. Ironically, both teams are appearing in the playoffs for the first time since the 1984 season. Indiana State got a jump-start on Chattanooga last Saturday as it scored the final 36 points of a 36-16 first-round win at Eastern Kentucky.

Chattanooga quarterback Jacob Huesman leads the FCS in completion percentage (68.0) and has thrown only two interceptions against FCS competition, but he also is at the front of the consistent running game (204.8 ypg) that Indiana State has lacked this season. Huesman (763 yards, 10 touchdowns) likes to keep the ball and run with it and he can hand off to Keon Williams (891 yards, 13 TDs). They should give the Southern Conference champions an advantage if the forecasted rain falls during the game.

Indiana State, one of five Missouri Valley Football Conference teams in the round of 16, relies on record-setting quarterback Mike Perish to move the ball up the field. He carved up Eastern Kentucky with 41 completions for 407 yards and three touchdowns, and he did so by spreading the ball around to different receivers. Perish was only sacked once and had 57 pass attempts.

There may be some sacks on Saturday, however. Two of the nation's premier pass rushers will be on display - Indiana State outside linebacker Connor Underwood (ISU-record 28.5 career sacks) and Chattanooga defensive end Davis Tull (SoCon-record 37 career sacks). The two are Buck Buchanan Award finalists.

Despite a 60-40 pass-to-run ratio, Indiana State can give a ball a little more to running back Buck Logan (776 yards, seven TDs) if the weather dictates it. And it might not be a bad idea considering the Sycamores start five 300- pounders on the offensive line, including 6-foot-8, 380-pound right guard Zach Borens.

Chattanooga will combat Perish with a young, but talented secondary. Cornerback Dee Virgin and safety Cedric Nettles, a pair of sophomores, and freshman cornerback Lucas Webb made either the All-SoCon coaches or media first team. The Mocs limited opponents to 57 percent passing and 147.2 passing yards per game.

The winner will advance to play either Fordham or No. 1 seed New Hampshire in the national quarterfinals.

Prediction: Indiana State has compiled an impressive list of road wins this season, but Chattanooga has pointed toward a return to the playoffs for a long time. The Mocs won't disappoint the home crowd. Chattanooga, 28-26.

Richmond (9-4) at No. 7 seed Coastal Carolina (11-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m. (ESPN3)

What to Know: In a strong season for the Big South, it was a good sign for Coastal Carolina that Liberty won in the first round at a former national champion from the CAA, James Madison. The Chanticleers are at home against the 2008 national champion out of the CAA and are anxious to rebound from their only loss - to Liberty to end the regular season.

Richmond, which beat Liberty in two overtimes back in early October, was in control of Morgan State at home in the first round, winning, 46-24, as Michael Strauss threw two of his four touchdown passes to wide receiver Reggie Diggs and running back Seth Fisher scored three times to push his CAA-high touchdown total to 16.

The Spiders had a 4-2 advantage in turnover margin against Morgan State. That's pivotal. They are plus-4 in their wins, yet a brutal minus-16 in losses.

Richmond has the tendency of starting games well, outscoring opponents, 129-43, in the first quarter. The Spiders are the best in the nation on converting third down attempts (54 percent) and fourth down attempts (81.8).

The Spiders face a challenge in slowing Coastal's offense, which averages 468.1 yards and 37.8 points per game. The effectiveness of defensive end Justin Williamson and defensive tackle Evan Kelly - who have a combined 13 sacks - often goes a long way in allowing the back end of the defense to be aggressive and opportunistic.

Coastal is 3-4 all-time against CAA opponents, and each win is at Brooks Stadium. All quarterback Alex Ross seems to do is win games, especially at home. He makes good, quick decisions for the Chanticleers' offense. The redshirt junior will be helped immensely by De'Angelo Henderson (Big South- high 1,257 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns) getting into gear behind a strong offensive line led by left tackle Chad Hamilton.

Earlier this season, Coastal had a stretch of 13 straight quarters without allowing a touchdown. Linebacker Quinn Backus had led the Big South in tackles for three straight season and captured the conference's defensive player of the year award each time.

The winner will advance to play either South Dakota State or No. 2 seed North Dakota State in the national quarterfinals.

Prediction: Strauss is the best quarterback Coastal has faced all season and knows how to win games late. It will be surprising if this matchup isn't tight in the fourth quarter. Richmond, 28-24.

Sam Houston State (9-4) at No. 3 seed Jacksonville State (10-1)

Kickoff: 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

What to Know: Two former Southland Conference foes collide at Jacksonville State. Before becoming an Ohio Valley Conference power, and this year's conference champion, the host Gamecocks were an associate football member in the Southland from 1996-2002. The Gamecocks haven't met Sam Houston since they departed the Southland and the two programs have split eight all-time matchups.

There's no hiding - and possibly little defending - what each team wants to do. They are two of the three FCS teams (along with Alcorn State) to have four players with 600 or more rushing yards this season.

For Sam Houston State, duel-threat quarterback Jared Johnson (2,363 passing yards, 816 rushing yards) is the offensive leader. He had a team-high 63 rushing yards when the Bearkats played without rushing leader Keshawn Hill (1,001 yards, 18 TDs) in a 21-17 first-round win over Southland co-champion Southeastern Louisiana. Hill went down with a head injury on the opening kickoff.

Transfers Jalen Overstreet (610 yards) and Donavan Williams (609) combined for Sam Houston's three touchdowns in the win.

On defense, defensive end P.J. Hall can hardly be considered a freshman anymore. He's been a destroyer with 26 tackles for loss, nine sacks, six pass breakups, four blocked kicks, three forced fumbles and an interception.

There are plenty of fresh faces on a Sam Houston team that played in both the 2011 and '12 national championship games, but one of the key veterans on first-coach K.C. Keeeler's team is senior safety Michael Wade, who leads the Bearkats in tackles (101). He had eight stops in the 2012 title game.

Jacksonville State's 10-game winning streak is the second-longest in the FCS to Harvard's 14 in a row. The Gamecocks offense ranks fifth in the FCS in rushing yards per game (287.6) and fourth in total yards per game (510.5).

Their big runners are DaMarcus James (1,023 yards), who has scored a touchdown against 21 straight FCS opponents, Troymaine Pope (692), quarterback Eli Jenkins (614) and Miles Jones (605). Center Max Holcombe will make his 49th career start, an OVC record.

Jacksonville State has filled the gaps against the run, allowing just 3.3 yards per carry and 117.4 yards per game. Junior tackle Devaunte Sigler, who goes 6-foot-5, 292 pounds, was named the OVC's defensive player of the year.

The winner will advance to play either Liberty or No. 6 seed Villanova in the national quarterfinals.

Prediction: Jacksonville State's most impressive win last season came against a Southland opponent in the playoffs ((McNeese State). The Gamecocks are rested up for another rival from their past. Jacksonville State, 35-24.

Northern Iowa (9-4) at No. 5 seed Illinois State (10-1)

Kickoff: 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

What to Know: What Missouri Valley Football Conference co-champions North Dakota State and Illinois State have in common is their only losses are to Northern Iowa. For ISU, it was a 42-28 setback on Nov. 1, but that game was played at the UNI-Dome. The Redbirds haven't lost at home in the last two seasons - a combined 12 straight wins at Hancock Stadium.

Their star running back, Marshaun Coprich (1,683 yards), the MVFC offensive player of the year, has the chance to surpass Pierre Rembert's single-season rushing record (1,743). Coprich has opened the season with 11 straight games of 100 or more rushing yards, which is one game off Rembert's ISU consecutive games record.

Coprich and quarterback Tre Roberson feed off each other. The threat of Coprich opens up the downfield passing. Roberson, the newcomer of the year in the MVFC, has combined for 29 passing and rushing touchdowns, and his top three receivers - Cameron Meredith, Lechein Neblett and tight end James O'Shaughnessy - all average 18 or more yards per reception.

Illinois State has been tough against the run, which is a must against UNI. Inside linebacker Pat Meehan, the Redbirds' leading tackler (88), and 6-5, 260-pound defensive end Teddy Corwin are the defensive leaders.

Northern Iowa has won six straight games, including a 44-10 blasting of Stephen F. Austin in the first round of the playoffs. The Panthers are the historical power in the MVFC and are in their 17th playoff appearance, with 20 all-time wins. Coach Mark Farley is the conference's all-time wins leader at 73-31.

Senior running back David Johnson has been at an other-worldly level over the second half of the season. He has gone over 200 all-purpose yards in five of the past six games, including 236 yards (152 rushing, 84 receiving) against Stephen F. Austin.

During UNI's hot streak, quarterback Brion Carnes has come on with increased effectiveness, although he doesn't put up big numbers.

But the Panthers' season also is about defense. They added three more sacks against SFA to climb to 50 this season, ranking No. 1 in the FCS. Linebacker Brett McMakin has the team high with 10 sacks.

In addition, the Panthers are plus-11 in turnovers. They have 11 fumble recoveries, each by a different player. Deiondre' Hall and Tim Kilfroy, who had a pick-six and two interceptions in the win over ISU, lead the team with five takeaways each.

ISU's Nick Aussieker has a pair of late game-winning field goals, but UNI kicker Michael Schmadeke is having an All-American season with 27 field goals and 129 points.

The winner will advance to play either Montana or No. 4 seed Eastern Washington in the national quarterfinals.

Prediction: Playing in the rugged Missouri Valley, Illinois State has felt overlooked all season. Here's the Redbirds' chance to gain some postseason attention. Illinois State, 21-20.

South Dakota State (9-4) at No. 2 seed North Dakota State (11-1)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

What to Know: Two more Missouri Valley teams collide and South Dakota State hopes to change its luck against North Dakota State's three-time reigning FCS champions, who have manhandled the Jackrabbits with defense in recent years.

NDSU has won the last six meetings, including 37-17 earlier this season, and SDSU All-American running back Zach Zenner has been kept in check - this despite him being on three straight 2,000-yard campaigns (he's 114 yards shy this season). He has rushed for 223 yards and two touchdowns on 61 carries (3.7 yards per carry) in five career games against the Bison.

The Bison haven't worn their traditional green jerseys in a home playoff game since 2011, but, as the envy of FCS programs, they will break them out Saturday. They have won all 10 FCS playoff games at the Fargodome.

Defensive end Kyle Emanuel, linebacker Carlton Littlejohn and safeties Christian Dudzik and Colton Heagle are veterans of the NDSU postseason runs, but the Bison no longer have 2011 national championship game MVP Travis Beck after he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in the regular-season finale. Sophomore Nick DeLuca takes over Beck's spot at linebacker.

An NDSU defense rested from a first-round bye is never good for opponents, but Zenner is coming off one of his all-time best performances: 252 rushing yards, 324 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns in a 47-40 first-round win in the snow at Montana State. No doubt, he's determined to change history against NDSU.

The SDSU offense is so much more dangerous with a veteran leader, quarterback Austin Sumner, under center. He won't have to deal with falling snow as he looks for his targets, led by wideout Jake Wieneke.

The Jackrabbits don't want to play behind because NDSU is usually lights-out in the second half. With running back John Crockett (1,425 yards, 16 total touchdowns) and a more-seasoned Carson Wentz under center, the Bison are No. 1 in the FCS in time of possession (34 minutes, 19 seconds).

Not to be lost in all the NDSU excellence is its dominant set of kickers in Adam Keller (school-record 23 field goals this season; 103 straight PATs) and punter Ben LeCompte (45-yard average).

The winner will advance to play either Richmond or No. 7 seed Coastal Carolina in the national quarterfinals.

Prediction: Zenner could write a story for the ages if he takes down North Dakota State at the Fargodome. But the Bison have too much overall experience in this big matchup and will leave the Jackrabbits emotionally spent. North Dakota State, 30-21.

Montana (9-4) at No. 4 seed Eastern Washington (10-2)

Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

What to Know: It was a battle of quarterbacks when Big Sky champion Eastern Washington defeated Montana, 36-26, on Nov. 8 in Cheney, Washington. Eastern's Vernon Adams Jr., in returning from a four-game absence because of a broken right foot, threw for 410 yards and four touchdowns. Montana fifth-year senior Jordan Johnson passed for a career-high 447 yards as well as three touchdowns and two interceptions.

More offensive fireworks are expected between an Eastern squad that leads the FCS in points per game (44.6) and a Montana squad that isn't too shabby at 30.4 points per game. Incredibly, EWU has scored in 40 consecutive quarters and 47 of 48 this season.

There's a clear statistical difference on the other side of the ball as Montana leads the Big Sky in scoring defense (19.8 ppg) and doesn't get into as many high-scoring duels as Eastern Washington, which has allowed 30 points per game.

But the visiting Grizzlies have found it hard to stop EWU wide receiver Cooper Kupp (35 TD receptions in 26 career games) the last two seasons, and he's just one of many weapons in the Eagles' arsenal. One of the keys for the Eagles is having a productive Quincy Forte (6.9 yards per carry), who is listed as questionable with an ankle injury, but he's also backed by reliable Mario Brown, who is set to tie the EWU school record by playing his 52nd career game.

Eastern linebacker Ronnie Hamlin also is set for his 52nd career game. He is the Eagles' all-time tackle leader (448) and sits seventh on the Big Sky career list, but only 23 tackles behind the leader.

Montana must contain Adams (391.5 total yards per game) from the edge. The Big Sky's two-time offensive player of the year will be pursued by Grizzlies defensive ends Zack Wagenmann, the Big Sky defensive player of the year, and Tyrone Holmes. They lead a pass rush that has accounted for a Big Sky-high 40 sacks. Conversely, Eastern Washington has allowed too many sacks - 36 in 12 games.

With a plus-16 turnover ratio to lead the FCS, Montana has a chance to win field position. The Grizzlies' game plan is simple: Keep feeding the ball to running back Jordan Canada (1,128 yards, 10 touchdowns) to set up the JJs, Jordan Johnson and 1,000-yard receiver Jamaal Jones. Canada struggled in the loss to Eastern, but he's averaged 149 yards in the Grizzlies' three wins since then.

To really spice up the fun, Eastern coach Beau Baldwin is being mentioned as a possible successor to retiring Montana coach Mick Delaney.

The winner will advance to play either Northern Iowa or No. 5 seed Illinois State in the national quarterfinals.

Prediction: This is EWU's 23rd all-time playoff game but its first against a Big Sky rival. Despite their defensive deficiencies, the Eagles have enough offense to win a classic. Eastern Washington, 35-31.

Liberty (9-4) at No. 6 seed Villanova (10-2)

Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

What to Know: After taking down James Madison, 26-21, on the road in the first round, Liberty goes after another CAA team, albeit a stronger one. In fact, Villanova's only two losses (at Syracuse and at Richmond) are by one point each.

Against JMU, coach Turner Gill's Flames went back to veteran quarterback Josh Woodrum after he missed two games with an injury, and he responded with 244 yards on 18-of-27 passing. He had played on an extremely high level in the first half of the season, especially with the Flames possessing one of the better wide receivers in the FCS in Darrin Peterson (80 receptions for 1,276 yards and 12 touchdowns).

But Liberty has steadily become more run-oriented behind junior D.J. Abnar, who has totaled 1,235 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground.

The defense came up big in the wins over James Madison and then-unbeaten Coastal Carolina to end the regular season. Safety Jacob Hagen leads the nation with eight interceptions. It would be big to get at least one against 'Nova because quarterback John Robertson has only thrown three picks in 12 games.

Liberty also features the best long-range kicker in the FCS, John Lunsford, has the three longest field goals (60, 57 and 56 yards) this season. Conversely, Villanova is 4-for-9 on field goal attempts.

The Wildcats have to contend with Liberty's strong defensive line. In past seasons, their wide receivers often looked to become blockers when Robertson would roll out of the pocket. This season, they have continued to try to get open, and that has benefited the passing game. Robertson has completed 67 percent of his passes and fired 34 touchdowns.

The dual-threat Robertson also has been helped by resurgent running back Kevin Monangai as the two have combined for 1,848 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. Running back Gary Underwood is another important cog, but he has been banged up and might be unavailable for the game.

Linebackers Don Cherry (112 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks) and Dillon Lucas lead the 'Nova defense. It's a hard-hitting, steady unit whose job is to get off the field and put the ball back in Robertson's hands.

The winner will advance to play either Sam Houston State or No. 3 seed Jacksonville State in the national quarterfinals.

Prediction: Making their first-ever playoff appearance, the Flames are playing with house money after last week's win. But they might find themselves to be a tired team (three road games in 15 days against nationally ranked opponents) when Robertson is moving the 'Nova offense. Villanova, 29-20.

SWAC Championship Game

Alcorn State (9-3) vs. Southern (9-3) in Houston

Kickoff: 4:02 p.m. (ESPNU)

What to Know: The regular-season meeting was one-sided as Alcorn State crushed Southern at home, 56-16. But this is the Braves' first appearance in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game, and defending champion Southern has plenty of experienced players back from last year's 34-27, double-overtime win over Jackson State at NRG Stadium.

Alcorn racked up 410 yards and six touchdowns on the ground in the regular- season win. Anthony Williams III rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns, and Darry Ragsdale 125 yards and a score.

Quarterback John Gibbs is the Braves' leading rusher (874, 11 TDs) and they have increased the workload of freshman running back Arron Baker (667 yards, 13 TDs), who leads the team in touchdowns. The Braves average nearly 6.6 yards per carry, which is tops in the FCS.

The 6-6 Gibbs also has thrown for 18 touchdowns as part of Alcorn's 44.5- points-per-game average. He's well protected as the Braves have allowed only seven sacks.

Conversely, Southern, which also has allowed only seven sacks, will look to limit the Alcorn pass rush of Jamil Cooks (10 sacks), Darien Moody (7.5) and Corey Williams (six) because the Jaguars start a freshman at quarterback, Austin Howard. He played well, though, in last Saturday's 52-45 win over Grambling State in the Bayou Classic, passing for 258 yards and three touchdowns.

But the Jaguars will first look to put the ball in the hands of surging running back Lenard Tillery (1,141 yards, nine TDs). He had 168 yards and two touchdowns against Grambling.

Southern's defense gives up too yards (418.8 per game), but linebacker Demetrius Carter is having a big season with a team-high 94 tackles.

Special teams might make a difference. Both teams have breakaway ability on returns. Also, Southern has watched its opponents successfully convert all three onside kicks.

Prediction: It won't be a 40-point difference this time, but Southern has to first prove it can stop the Alcorn run game. Alcorn, 35-27.