Big Sky Conference FCS Playoff Preview (Eastern Washington/North Dakota State, Southern Illinois/Weber State)

The Big Sky Conference earned two bids for the Football Championship Subdivision Playoff bracket. Eastern Washington will travel to Fargo, North Dakota to face the Bison and Weber State will play host to the Southern Illinois Salukis. Both Big Sky teams drew stiff Missouri Valley Conference competition that will provide sufficient challenges for being able to advance.

Via EWU Athletics.

Eastern Washington (5-1) at North Dakota State (6-2)
TV: ESPN3 (subscription req’d), Radio: 700-AM ESPN & 105.3-FM in Spokane/Cheney

Eastern Washington and North Dakota State meet in a first round marquee matchup of a national championship rematch. NDSU’s season has been more turbulent than previous seasons. With Trey Lance getting ready for the NFL Draft the other Bison quarterbacks, namely Zeb Noland, have struggled in leading the offense triumphantly.

For Eastern Washington it is business as usual with Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year Eric Barriere putting on outstanding performances. Other than a hiccup loss to Idaho in the first game of the season the Eagles have shown a lot of offensive prowess. Their Achilles heel is the ability to finish drives and protect the end zone against running quarterbacks.

The result of this weekend’s game could be vastly different depending on the Bison’s starting quarterback. If Zeb Noland starts then the Eagles will have a favorable matchup, but if the Bison are brave enough to start young Cam Miller trouble will follow. Miller has raw talent in the running and passing game that could disrupt the Eagles schemes and cause a mismatch.

Notable Team Rankings in FCS STATS

  • Passing Offense: EWU 3rd, NDSU 80th
  • Rushing Offense: EWU 25th, NDSU 16th
  • Total Defense: EWU 57th, NDSU 23rd
  • Turnover Margin: EWU 57th, NDSU 84th

Fearless Prediction (assuming Cam Miller starts): EWU 34 NDSU 31 in Overtime

Eastern Washington has a better overall attack of all sides of the ball than the Bison, but when NDSU is consistent they are able to work through teams like a well-oiled machine. If EWU is able function on all cylinders they have the offensive explosiveness behind Barriere and enough playmakers in the secondary to limit the passing threat from NDSU. The biggest problem in question is who wins in the trenches, EWU’s defensive front seven or NDSU’s rushing attack. I see EWU almost blowing the game late in the fourth quarter to force overtime. In overtime EWU will pull out a razor thin victory based off Barriere’s talent and experience.

Via Weber State Athletics.

Southern Illinois (5-3) at Weber State (5-0)
TV: ESPN3 (subscription req’d), Radio: 103.1 The Wave

Southern Illinois travels to Weber State to hope for an unlikely upset. Southern Illinois have been able to pull off some significant ranked wins, including a win over NDSU. Other FCS Top 20 teams hoped to take the Saluki’s spot, but the at-the-time rankings of SIU’s wins allowed them to sneak in with a hot and cold resume.

Weber State is not a perfect playoff example either as they diligently earned their nickname of “The Cardiac Cats”. Weber found themselves in serval late game shootouts including a Sports Center Play of the Day Hail Mary. Despite a well balanced attack on all sides of the ball the Wildcats struggle to produce high value margin of victories.

Notable team rankings in FCS Stats

  • Passing Offense: Weber 42nd, SIU 36th
  • Rushing Offense: Weber 15th, SIU 18th
  • Total Defense: Weber 51st, SIU 64th
  • Turnover Margin: Weber 16th, SIU 85th

Fearless Prediction: Weber State 26 Southern Illinois 24

Weber State will struggle through three-fourths of the game as they play true to their name of “The Cardiac Cats”. Weber State is a well rounded team that can score on all sides of the ball, but they are unreliable when it comes to how much or how little they will score. While they are both hot-and-cold teams Weber State has not lost yet this season and I wager it stays that way for at least this week.

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