Below find everything you need to know about this weekend’s FCS Playoff games and the SWAC Championship, including full previews, and our staff’s predictions on how the games are going to go.
SWAC Champ/FCS Playoff Quarterfinals, May 1st-2nd, 2021
Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium
FCS Football TV/Streaming Information
Alabama A&M vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (SWAC Championship Game, Jackson, MS)
Streaming: ESPN3 (subscription req’d)
First Round Results
FCS Playoffs Round 1, April 24th, 2021
FCS Roundtable – Round 1
CSJ: Surprise of the first round?
JAMIE WILLIAMS: I cant say there were any huge surprises. I thought Delaware would perform a little better against Sacred Heart. It does give me pause for their chances this week against Jacksonville State
CHUCK BURTON: North Dakota State handling Eastern Washington so easily after falling behind by 2 TDs probably shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. The Bison were not their dominant selves most of the spring, and Eastern Washington had played their Big Sky schedule fairly well. But it felt like a regular, dominating Bison playoff win in the Fargodome, only in April, not December.
BEN SCHLEIGER: That the Big Sky went down with only a fight from Weber State. Eastern Washington’s second half performance was abysmal – 35 straight points allowed. That won’t win any games for anyone.
RAY MALONEY: Weber State surprised me. Not so much that Southern Illinois won the game, but the way in which the Salukis did so. The mental collapse by the Wildcats on the fake field goal that resulted in a wide open receiver is something that simply cannot happen in playoff football. I had not been sold on Weber State all season, and I proved to be on the money when I predicted it would come down to whichever team had the ball last.
ROB BUTLER: The Big Sky making an early exit was the biggest surprise. Weber State and Eastern Washington did not play any true contenders during the spring season. And it showed Saturday. Both squads squandered two-touchdown leads – the Bison finally figured out how to stop Eric Barriere and Southern Illinois racked up four long scoring drives.
PRESTON ADAMS: Monmouth playing SHSU so close. I thought the game would be good, but Sam Houston couldn’t seem to pull away. Credit to both defenses as well I thought there would be more points in the game.
CSJ: What didn’t surprise you?
RAY: North Dakota State winning came as little surprise. After all, no team in the history of football is better at winning playoff games than the Bison.
BEN: I’m not surprised that North Dakota came to play. They are a stout team that fights with real spirit. Hopefully they didn’t use it all up on round one.
JAMIE: That Southern Illinois/Weber State came down to the last minute. Weber State played with fire all Spring against teams who aren’t nearly as good as Southern Illinois and they finally got burned. I am also not surprised that Missouri State got bounced so easily.
ROB: The Missouri Valley managed to get four at-large bids – NDSU and North Dakota
were undoubtedly deserving of postseason berths, something they validated with blowout victories on Saturday. Southern Illinois and Missouri State team were questionable playoff teams, and they went in complete opposite directions in terms of their first-round results. Obviously, the Salukis handed Weber State its first loss of the season, but Missouri State got stomped by North Dakota. It just proves how strong the top of the MVFC is.
PRESTON: VMI. The game for JMU was never in doubt, and I expected VMI to be competitive. They’re a much improved program and a legit top 15 team this year.
CHUCK: I’m not surprised Monmouth played Sam Houston so closely. I felt like Monmouth was kind of a forgotten team out East, with a great offense and a great young QB with plenty of weapons, but their season was affected a lot by COVID (mostly due to their opponents opting out). I thought that a great team, a short week, and little game film would mean a close game, and it ended up coming down to the final minute.
CSJ: Best individual performance of the first round?
CHUCK/PRESTON: RB Julius Chestnut. Sacred Heart had only 236 total yards of offense against Delaware’s tough defense – and Chestnut was responsible for more than half the total offense 138 yards rushing) and the Pioneers’ only touchdown. Delaware knew he’d be getting the ball every other play, and he still carved out 4.5 yards per carry. He’s an exceptional talent.
BEN: Sam Houston RB Ramon Jefferson – 9 rushes for 95 yards and 2 TDs. Jefferson helped secure the win for the Bearcats.
RAY: Does NDSU’s offensive line, the “Rams”, count as individuals? It wasn’t so much the play of one player that troubled the Bison this season in losing two games. After all, football has always been a team game. But, the “Rams”, long a force in Fargo, had not been playing up to their normal standards this season. EWU just caught them when the stakes took on an enhanced hue and NDSU responded in a big way behind its “Rams.”
JAMIE/ROB: It would be hard to find a better performance than Juwon Hamilton of James Madison. He had 171 yards on just 19 carries including a 99 yarder that opened the scoring in the game.
Full Game Previews and Fearless Predictions
SWAC Championship Game: Alabama A&M vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Jackson, MS)
“Lest you think this game will be all about offense, these defenses aren’t too shabby either. Alabama A&M boasts the second best scoring defense in the SWAC while Arkansas Pine Bluff has the fifth. Each defense has shown a knack for stepping up when they need to, and I expect both units will be keen on showing off their own prowess as the offensive side of the ball gets all the shine.” – Read our full preview here.
CSJ’s Fearless Predictions:
Preston: “At the end of the day, Alabama A&M have been building towards this moment, and I see them taking it on the back of Aqeel Glass and that potent wide receiver corp. Alabama A&M 38, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 30.”
Chuck: “I think defense wins Championships, and that applies to the SWAC as well. I’ve been singing the praises of Arkansas-Pine Bluff all season and I’m not stopping today. Arkansas-Pine Bluff 24, Alabama A&M 19.”
North Dakota State at Sam Houston (FCS Playoff Quarterfinals)
“North Dakota State has a 14-1 record against teams from the Southland Conference, including a 39-28 home victory over Central Arkansas in October. The Bison are 5-0 in the playoffs against Sam Houston (4-0) and Nicholls (1-0). “ – Read our full preview here.
CSJ’s Fearless Predictions:
Rob: “North Dakota State can run the football, but the Sam Houston defense is among the best in the FCS at stopping the run. The Bearkats will win this game and advance to face either North Dakota or James Madison in the semifinal round. Sam Houston 24 North Dakota State 23.”
Chuck: “It’s literally the monkey that Sam Houston needs to get off their backs. The Bearkats, rightly or wrongly, have the “is Joe Flacco Elite” question hanging around their football program in so many ways, whether it’s a lack of a national championship despite being so dominant in the Southland for many years, or some brutal exits from the playoffs the last four playoff opportunities they’ve had (55-13 and 35-3 losses to the Bison stand out). The question is whether home field will make a difference, and considering Frisco is Fargo South, I seriously doubt it. North Dakota State 38, Sam Houston 10.”
Ray: “There was a time that a game between Sam Houston State and NDSU was considered to be a marquee game of the season, but the series between the two schools has been lopsided, to say the least. Included in that are two when the stakes could not have been higher. But that’s when the Bison take their game to a whole other level and this weekend will be no exception. Home field advantage be damned, it won’t make much of a difference this time as the Bison prevail 34-14.”
Jamie: “As good as Sam Houston State has looked and as shaky as North Dakota State has looked, it’s hard to bet against the Bison in the playoffs. Its strength versus strength in this one with Sam Houston’s run defense against North Dakota State’s run offense. Sam Houston has the athletes on defense to force NDSU to pass more, but can they do it? It will also be interesting to see how North Dakota State gameplans against the Sam Houston offense. They should take a good look at the Monmouth tape as they really shut down Eric Schmid. I think we are looking at a close game with the winning points scored in the last five minutes. North Dakota State 27, Sam Houston 23.”
Ben: “The Bearkats should have a home-field advantage, but playing the Bison almost always seems to level the playing field. While SHSU will be a bigger test and a more talented team than Eastern Washington, the NDSU rushing attack will still be just as much of a threat. Eric Schmid is a great leader for SHSU, but I don’t know if that’ll be enough to keep the Bison from moving on to the semi finals. North Dakota State 31, Sam Houston 27.”
Delaware at Jacksonville State (FCS Quarterfinals)
“This game may be for the birds, but it will certainly not be for the faint of heart and it certainly has all the earmarks of an instant classic. “ – Read our full preview here.
CSJ’s Fearless Predictions:
Ray: “This is one of the most intriguing games of the weekend and the outcome will depend on which JSU team shows up. Yes, the Gamecocks have proven to be capable running the ball and passing ball and the defense has also been brilliant at times. But the old bugaboo of miscues often spells the difference in the outcome of many games. If JSU can limit penalties they should escape over an equally talented Delaware team,
Jacksonville State 24, Delaware 22.”
Chuck: “It feels like Delaware was exposed a bit last week, and making a trip to Jacksonville to play the Gamecocks won’t help. Look for the OVC champs to run over the Blue Hen defense and win surprisingly easy. Jacksonville State 31, Delaware 3.“
Rob: “Delaware struggled against Sacred Heart in the first-round last week. They can’t afford to poke around this week – Jacksonville State obliterated Davidson 49-14 last week. The Gamecocks will not underestimate the Blue Hens – JSU wins this one in a close game. Jacksonville State 21 Delaware 20.”
Ben: “The CAA Conference champions versus the OVC conference champions should be one of the most interesting matchups of the weekend. Does the Blue Hens’ well-balanced team prevail against the gamecocks aggressive offense? Delaware overall is better suited to be a playoff team, but if Jacksonville State works together as well they have in the past this group of play makers will be able to rally as a team for a win. Jacksonville State 28 Delaware 24.“
Jamie: “Both of these teams were expected to cruise past lesser competition in the first round, but only one team did so, Jacksonville State. Delaware let Sacred Heart hang around all game but eventually did enough to get the win. This will be the best team either of these teams has faced this season. Both teams want to establish the run, both teams play excellent defense. Expect a low scoring game. Delaware 17, Jacksonville State 16.“
North Dakota at James Madison (FCS Quarterfinals)
“North Dakota is a much different team at the Alerus Center than they are away from it. Over the last two seasons, the Fighting Hawks have won all 10 games they have played in front of their home crowd. In that same time frame, they have won just two of eight games.” – Read our full preview here.
CSJ’s Fearless Predictions:
Jamie: “If JMU limits the turnovers and forces North Dakota to go on long drives, its advantage Dukes. If North Dakota can get off the field on third down and take the ball away, forcing JMU into obvious passing situations, its advantage Fighting Hawks. But the real advantage is location. James Madison 24, North Dakota 17.”
Chuck: “North Dakota has had a great season, and announced themselves in the tough Missouri Valley in a tremendous way. But playing outside in Bridgefoth is way different than the friendly confines of the Alerus Center. James Madison 34, North Dakota 14.”
Rob: “James Madison has the best rush defense in the FCS. North Dakota has one of the best running backs in the FCS – Otis Weah averages 7.1 yards per carry to lead the Fighting Hawks offense. We thought North Dakota was an elite team before it faced NDSU earlier this spring season – the Bison pounded them with their run game and sent them back to the drawing board. James Madison will advance to the semifinals. James Madison 24 North Dakota 21.“
Ben: “The Fighting Hawks at one point in the season could be labeled as the consensus number one FCS team in the land. Since a couple bad losses, North Dakota has been very hot and very cold. While James Madison did not have a very tough strength of schedule they have systematically taken care of every opponent they have faith so far. For James Madison to not be able to move on would be a total loss for the season as this team is one of the best prepared to take on South Dakota State. James Madison 35 North Dakota 20.“
Ray: “Sometimes the most dangerous opponent in athletics is a team that has nothing to lose. Enter North Dakota. The Hawks, in their first year as members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference have performed admirably and few people outside of Grand Forks are expecting their season to come to a close at JMU. In the infamous words of Lee Corso, “not so fast my friend.” The Hawks’ physicality were get the better of the Dukes in a slugfest. North Dakota 13, James Madison 11.“
Southern Illinois at South Dakota State (FCS Quarterfinals)
“These two Missouri Valley Football Conference foes have survived a tough conference schedule and the first round of the playoffs. Southern Illinois will be looking for the upset of the playoffs and revenge against the Jackrabbits for their 44-3 loss earlier in the year. “ – Read our full preview here.
CSJ’s Fearless Predictions:
Ben: “The Salukis I’ve had a great season with wins against North Dakota State and eliminating Weeber State from the playoffs. The problem with being one of the last teams in is having one of the hardest roads to the championship. If Southern Illinois finds a way to win, this would be the biggest upset of the weekend by far. Last time these two teams played, South Dakota State won by a margin of 41 points. I think that margin can be decreased, but I don’t see a way that the Jackrabbits rabbits lose this weekend. South Dakota State 34 Southern Illinois 13.”
Chuck: “The one thing that makes me pause about this game is that it’s a rematch of a true regular-season beatdown, a 44-3 annihilation that simply had to be an outlier. The Salukis have to be fired up beyond belief to avenge that loss, but will it be enough? I think this will be the closest of all the games this Sunday, unless South Dakota State has some Kryptonite that somehow makes Southern Illinois an ordinary team. They might – but it feels like this will be a war between heroes that comes down to the end, not a one-sided beatdown. South Dakota State 28, Southern Illinois 26.“
Rob: “The Jackrabbits ran all over SIU in their first matchup this spring – SDSU ran for almost 400 yards in a 44-3 blowout victory… nobody is giving the Salukis much of a chance in this game. SIU will bring their best effort, but it is a hard task to stop such a powerful rushing attack. South Dakota State 38 Southern Illinois 20.“
Jamie: “South Dakota State smashed the Salukis earlier this season, 44-3. The game won’t be that close this time. Think back to the 2019 season where NDSU pasted Illinois State but only beat them by 1 in the playoffs. SIU will be better prepared. But South Dakota State is the #1 seed for a reason. They’re the most balanced team in the FCS and they will take this one and roll into the semis. South Dakota State 31, Southern Illinois 10.”
Ray: “Knocking off the No. 1 team in the nation, and doing it with a punctuation mark the way SIU did against NDSU earlier in the year and then stopping highly-ranked Weber State in heart-stopping fashion on the road in the first round of the playoffs gives a team plenty of adrenaline and optimism. Sprinkle with some lackluster performances in other games tempers much of that excitement. The journey ends for the Salukis. South Dakota State 24, Southern Illinois 14.“