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In the FCS Huddle: Six-pack of FCS playoff questions

5:43 AM, Nov 22, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The FCS playoffs are arriving Saturday and we know you have the six-pack ready for the tailgate party.

Brrr, it's late November, we'll take the hot chocolate for a change.

Nevertheless, we can still provide a six-pack. Here are six compelling questions as the 20-team field gets set to kick off the best postseason in Division I college football:

Is this the right field?

The NCAA playoff committee faced a daunting task with at-large selections and picked South Dakota State (8-3) and Stony Brook (9-2) with the final two at- large bids. There were enough teams on the playoff bubble that the committee was going to field criticism no matter its choices for the final teams. Eastern Kentucky (8-3), Towson (7-4) and Lehigh (10-1) had playoff resumes and reason to be angered by their omission from the field. That New Hampshire (8-3) wasn't one of the final two selections was most surprising considering the Wildcats were routed by Towson, 64-35, this past Saturday. It drew into question the value of head-to-head results and whether committee members had made their minds on UNH before Saturday's action.

Who are the winners and losers of the draw?

The winners are Wagner, which has a home game in the first round when geographically it was a natural fit for a road trip to Stony Brook; Old Dominion, whose No. 4 seed guarantees it won't have to travel to Georgia Southern again this year; and defending national champion North Dakota State, whose half of the draw is easier than the other half. The losers are Villanova, which earned CAA Football's automatic bid but is traveling to Stony Brook in the first round instead of possibly hosting Colgate; Central Arkansas, which went from a possible seed to having to go on the road to Georgia Southern in the second round; and the Big Sky Conference, whose three teams, Eastern Washington, Montana State and Cal Poly, are together in the Group of Death side of the bracket along with the likes of Appalachian State, Illinois State and Sam Houston State.

What are the best matchups/potential matchups?

In the first round, Villanova at Stony Brook is a matchup of the No. 6 (Stony Brook) and 8 (Villanova) rushing offenses in the FCS. In the second round, Illinois State-Appalachian State features quarterbacks Matt Brown (ISU) and Jamal Jackson (ASU), while Cal Poly takes its triple option to Sam Houston State, having already won road games at FBS member Wyoming and Northern Arizona. In the quarterfinals, it wouldn't get much better than Georgia Southern at Old Dominion and Sam Houston State at Montana State, both rematches from the last season's playoffs but with a reversal of home/away teams. In the semifinals, oh a Montana State-Eastern Washington rematch wouldn't be too bad, eh? In the championship game, North Dakota State versus, well, any of the top teams from the Group of Death (whose winner will welcome the three-week break before the Jan. 5 game in Frisco, Texas).

Which players have to rise to the occasion?

Montana State has underachieved in the playoffs the last two seasons, so it's time for junior quarterback DeNarius McGhee to make it right. Old Dominion sophomore quarterback Taylor Heinicke needs to put up points - lot of points - to overcome a suspect Monarchs defense. North Dakota State plays at a higher level when cornerback/kickoff returner Marcus Williams makes an electrifying play. Georgia Southern needs nose tackle Brent Russell to be, well, Brent Russell. And, hey, Willie Fritz, give the ball to your star running back at Sam Houston State, Timothy Flanders.

What will win in the playoffs?

It would seem good defense. With the exception of South Dakota State and Wagner, everybody has a fairly explosive offense, with 12 of the top 15 teams in the FCS in scoring offense part of the field. That includes the top three in Sam Houston State, Old Dominion and Colgate. The average national ranking among all 20 teams is 22.9, with a median of 13.5. Defensively, it's a different story behind North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Stony Brook and Wagner, which are four of the top 10 scoring defenses. Only 10 of the top 38 are in the field, going all the way down to Eastern Illinois at No. 102. The average national ranking among all 20 teams is 39.3, with a median of 33.5.

Who wins the national title?

The easy pick, and quite easily the right one, is No. 1-seeded North Dakota State, which was the best team in the regular season. But the Bison offense can throw in some clunkers, making the Missouri Valley Conference champ vulnerable. Keep in mind that in the last two years - the first two with 20-team playoff fields - the teams that only played home games leading up to the championship game advanced to Frisco, Texas (Eastern Washington and Delaware in 2010, and North Dakota State and Sam Houston State last season). But the FCS is balanced across the top, so any of the seeds - No. 2 Eastern Washington, No. 3 Montana State, No. 4 Old Dominion and No. 5 Georgia Southern - plus dangerous Sam Houston State are a threat to the defending national champion Bison.

THE PICKS

Last Week's Record: 48-12 (.800)

Season Record: 561-182 (.755)

All Times ET

Thursday, Nov. 22

Turkey Day Classic: Tuskegee (9-1) at X-Alabama State (7-3), 4 p.m. At the grand opening of ASU Stadium, the Hornets can't lose, can they?

Saturday, Nov. 24

FCS First Round: X-No. 24 Colgate (8-3) at Wagner (8-3), noon. Colgate quarterback Gavin McCarney and running back Jordan McCord are on too much of a roll.

FCS First Round: X-Coastal Carolina 7-4) at No. 22 Bethune-Cookman (9-2), 2 p.m. Coastal quarterback Aramis Hillary is the difference.

XXXIX Bayou Classic: Grambling State (1-9, 0-8 SWAC) at X-Southern (3-7, 2-6), 2:30 p.m. Southern's four losses against the tougher East Division are by a combined 11 points.

FCS First Round: No. 25 Eastern Illinois (7-4) at X-No. 19 South Dakota State (7-4), 3 p.m. But EIU's offense might be too good for the no-so-jackrabbit Jackrabbits.

FCS First Round: No. 14 Villanova (8-3) at X-No. 10 Stony Brook (9-2), 3 p.m. Each team has a chip on its shoulder.

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