Breakdown of top contenders for FCS championship

Nick Fattori

Although the FBS playoffs are still a month away, the FCS playoffs are in full swing as 16 teams will be looking to book a trip to the quarterfinals next week. Some teams, like sixth-ranked Villanova, received a bye. Villanova will open up their playoff slate against Liberty, which beat James Madison last weekend in Harrisonburg. 

For those who have been asleep all season, ‘Nova is having one of their finest seasons in program history. Its record heading into this weekend stands at 10-2, with both of those losses coming by only one point to Syracuse and Richmond.

Villanova’s bread and butter this season has been junior quarterback John Robertson. Despite battling a broken bone in his left hand for half the season he still managed to throw for nearly 2,700 yards, 34 touchdowns to only three interceptions and rush for nearly 1,000 yards and another nine scores.

The offense does not stop there. Senior running back Kevin Monangai has returned to his sophomore year form by rushing for nearly 900 yards and 14 total touchdowns. 

On the receiving end, senior wide receiver Poppy Livers has had a breakout season, catching 59 passes for 860 and eight touchdowns.

Defense, specifically the secondary, will be the question mark as the Wildcats go deeper into the playoffs. The secondary ranks 97th out of 121 teams in passing yards allowed a game, giving up nearly 250. But, as weak as the secondary is, it is the complete opposite for the run game. Villanova is the sixth best run team in the country, giving up 106 yards per game. 

While ‘Nova is confident in its chances, it has some stiff competition to get through, if it wants to be crowned champions in a month in Frisco, TX. Fellow CAA foe New Hampshire is the top ranked team and has not lost since week one to the Toledo Rockets of the FBS. Their 10 game winning streak is tied for the longest in the nation.

The Wildcats are led by senior wide receiver R.J. Harris, who had 79 receptions for 1,220 yards and 13 touchdowns during the regular season. Getting the ball to him will be key if New Hampshire wants a chance at the program’s first national title.

Even though New Hampshire is the top seed, the clear favorite still has to be the number two seed North Dakota State Bison. 

They have won three consecutive national titles and dropped just their first game since 2012 earlier this season to Northern Iowa. Before that loss they had won 33 straight games, which is the longest streak in FCS history.

NDSU’s main weapon on offense is senior running back John Crockett. He has been an absolute beast this season, rushing for 1,425 yards and 15 touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, the Bison defense gives up only an average of 255 yards a game, which is good for third in the nation in total defense.

The number three seed in the tournament is Jacksonville St. Gamecocks. It too, like New Hampshire, has not lost since an opening weekend decision to Michigan St. and carries in a ten game winning streak. While their record is impressive, it must be noted that JSU played a very weak schedule, having only played one team above .500 in conference play, fellow tournament participant Eastern Kentucky. 

One thing that every team must watch out for though is the Gamecock’s deadly ground game. They rank fifth in the nation with 279.7 rushing yards per game. One interesting tidbit about this is no one player has over 1,000 yards. They spread the ball out equally and four separate players have at least 540 yards, five touchdowns, and all average more than five yards a carry.

The final team being highlighted is the fourth seeded Eagles of Eastern Washington. The Eagles have been an unstoppable force on offense all season, ranking third and second nationally in total yards per game (522.8) and touchdowns (67), respectively. Their offense is led by junior quarterback Vernon Adam Jr., who in only eight games has thrown for almost 2,900 yards, 30 touchdowns, and only five picks.

What makes them susceptible to the rest of the field is their defense. 

They give up over 440 yards a game, which is 95th nationally. They have also given up at least 50 points three times and 26 or more on eight occasions. 

For the first time in a few years it looks like any of the top seeds has a chance to win the title. Every team has its strengths and weaknesses, but it will all come down to who can take advantage of them come crunch time.