College football fans will find out who will be playing in the CFP National Championship Game when the semifinals take place on December 31. FCS fans will find out who will be playing in next week’s semifinals, with Friday’s quarterfinal between James Madison and Montana followed by Saturday’s triple-header on tap.
North Dakota State is a heavy favorite in the early game against East Tennessee State, per oddsboards around the betting market. South Dakota State is a touchdown favorite against Villanova in the second. The defending champion, Sam Houston, is also touchdown chalk in the nightcap against Montana State, according to betting lines as of Thursday.
East Tennessee State University (11-1) vs. North Dakota St. (11-1)
The East Tennessee State Buccaneers have been a solid offensive team this season. Led by their FCS eighth-ranked running game (225.8 yards/game), the Bucs have averaged 429.5 yards a game and 35.2 points. They have not been as strong on the defensive side of the ball, giving up 381.5 yards and 22.3 points/game.
Like the Buccaneers, the North Dakota State Bisons are a solid offensive team powered by its run game. But while the Bucs have averaged 225 yards/game, the Bisons have been going for 281.6. While they do not throw it much, they are efficient, ranking sixth in the country in team passing efficiency.
But where these two teams differ dramatically is on the defensive side of the ball. North Dakota State has the No. 1 scoring defense in the FCS ranks. They are stingy against the run, allowing just 83.1 yards/game and are tough to throw on as well (180.8 yards/game allowed).
South Dakota St. (10-3) vs. Villanova (10-2)
The South Dakota State Jackrabbits have leaned on their run game throughout the season—and with good reason. Their veteran offensive line has done a solid job of creating running lanes for Pierre Strong Jr., Isaiah Davis, and everyone else that has carried the ball this year.
They rode that run game to a win last week against Sacramento State and will probably try to do the same to Villanova. But the Jackrabbits may find it a little harder to open holes against the Villanova defense.
The Wildcats have been one of the toughest defenses in the FCS ranks this season, allowing fewer than 100 yards rushing a game and just 15.2 points. That run defense will undoubtedly get rested against South Dakota State, but it might not be as good as it looks on paper.
In four of the last five games, Villanova has allowed 100+ yards rushing. In their one loss to an FCS team, the Wildcats defense gave up 258-yards on the ground to William & Mary.
Montana St. (10-2) vs. Sam Houston St. (11-0)
|Montana St. vs. Sam Houston, Saturday, 12/11 @ 7 PM ET||Best Montana St. Odds||Best Sam Houston Odds|
|BetMGM||+7.0 (+100)||Spread||-7.0 (-110)||Caesars|
|Under 48.5 (-108)||Total||Over 48.5 (-110)||BetMGM|
The Montana State Bobcats were handed a raw deal two days before their game last week against Tennessee-Martin when their starting quarterback, Matthew McKay, announced he was entering the transfer portal. McKay had not played particularly well the last few weeks, so it might not be a considerable loss.
But that meant starting a quarterback in a playoff game without giving him much time to work with the first-team offense. Freshman Tommy Mellott ended up getting the start. While he struggled to get the passing game on track, he and Isaiah Ifanse had big days in the running game going for 181 and 176 yards, respectively.
The Bobcats will undoubtedly have to lean on their run game this week against Sam Houston. But that will be easier said than done against the defending champions. The Bearkats have allowed just 75.7 yards/game this season, no running back has gained more than 69 yards, and only three teams have had over 100.
If Montana State is forced to pass, this game could get ugly fast. Then again, Incarnate Word quarterback Cameron Ward threw for 481 yards and five touchdowns against Sam Houston last week.