2018 FCS Championship Game Preview

North Dakota State will take on James Madison in the FCS Championship this Saturday. The game will air at 12:00pm on ESPN2 live from Frisco, TX.

January in college football means a furious dash to the finish line to end the football season. This Saturday in Frisco, Texas the FCS football season will be coming to and end as the North Dakota State Bison will take on the James Madison Dukes.

The teams were seeded one and two in the playoffs and will meet each other for the second consecutive season. Last season the Dukes defeated the Bison in Fargo in the semifinals to advance, and eventually win the FCS championship. The Dukes sat atop the FCS rankings all season and never wavered. Their season started off with a win against FBS East Carolina and eventually led to an undefeated season behind a balanced offense led by Brian Schor and a top flight defense led by Andrew Ankrah. The Bison suffered one loss in route to their number two seed in the playoffs, a road contest at cross-border rival South Dakota State. The Dukes handily defeated the Jackrabbits in the semifinals in Harrisonburg.

James Madison will be looking for their third national championship, while the Bison will be looking for their sixth. The Bison cruised through their playoff schedule, defeating their opponents by an average of 36 points. James Madison was not quite as fortunate in their playoff draws, with their average victory being 19 points. The Dukes got a scare when the Big Sky’s Weber State came to town and nearly pulled an upset of the defending champions. Weber State held an eight point lead with 3:04 left in the game, but the Dukes showed their championship attitude and quickly scored to tie the game, then Ethan Ratke knocking through a 46 yard field goal as time expired.

The current betting line for the game (as of 1/2) has North Dakota State -3.5 to win the game, with the over/under coming in at 47.

North Dakota State Bison (13-1, 7-1, 4-1 on the road)
Fargo, North Dakota
Missouri Valley Football Conference
Head Coach: Chris Klieman (53-6 as Head Coach)

OL Austin Kuhnert 1st Team AP FCS All-American, 1st Team STATS All-American, 1st Team All-Missouri Valley
LB Nick DeLuca 1st Team AP FCS All-American, 1st Team STATS All-American, 1st Team All-Missouri Valley
LS James Fisher 1st Team STATS All-American, 1st Team All-Missouri Valley
FB Connor Wentz 1st Team All-Missouri Valley
DB Tre Dempsey 1st Team All-Missouri Valley
DB Robbie Grimsley 1st Team All-Missouri Valley
RB Bruce Anderson 2nd Team All-Missouri Valley
WR RJ Urzendowski 2nd Team All-Missouri Valley
OL Tanner Volson 2nd Team All-Missouri Valley
DL Aaron Steidl 2nd Team All-Missouri Valley
LB Jabril Cox 2nd Team All-Missouri Valley, MVFC Newcomer of the Year, MVFC Freshman of the Year
HC Chris Klieman MVFC Coach of the Year

9/2/2017 Mississippi Valley State W 72-7
9/9/2017 at Eastern Washington W 40-13
9/23/2017 Robert Morris W 56-0
9/30/2017 Missouri State W 38-11
10/7/2017 at Indiana State W 52-0
10/14/2017 at Youngstown State W 27-24
10/21/2017 Western Illinois W 24-12
10/28/2017 Northern Iowa W 30-14
11/4/2017 at South Dakota State L 21-33
11/11/2017 South Dakota W 49-14
11/18/2017 Western Illinois W 20-7
12/2/2017 San Diego (FCS 2nd Round Playoff) W 38-3
12/9/2017 Wofford (FCS Quarterfinal) W 42-10
12/15/2017 Sam Houston State (FCS Semifinal) W 55-13

Key Players:

QB Easton Stick – 151/242 for 2336 yards. 27 touchdowns, 8 interceptions. 777 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns.
RB Bruce Anderson – 216 rushes for 1186 yards and 11 touchdowns. 186 yards receiving, 3 touchdowns.
RB Ty Brooks – 76 rushes for 718 yards and 7 touchdowns.
RB Lance Dunn – 80 rushes for 642 yards and 12 touchdowns.
WR RJ Urzendowski – 35 receptions for 589 yards and 8 touchdowns.
DB Trey Dempsey – 47 tackles. 6 interceptions, 1 touchdown. 4 pass break-ups, 10 pass deflections.
LB Jabril Cox – 72 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble.
LB Nick DeLuca – 70 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks.

The Bison continued their run of dominance through the Missouri Valley this season, despite challenges from South Dakota, South Dakota State, Western Illinois, and Illinois State. Needless to say, the Missouri Valley was a gauntlet of teams this season who made life difficult. The Bison passed most of those tests, only tripping up against their rival South Dakota State. Chris Klieman continues the legacy left behind by Craig Bohl in making the Bison a premier FCS team. The Bison got a nice out of conference win at Eastern Washington, handily beating the Eagles who struggled in the beginning of the season. Last year’s championship representative, Youngstown State, gave the Bison a run for their money midway through the season, but they kept trudging. The Bison’s sole loss, to South Dakota State, was a game they never led and never had much of a chance in. The Jackrabbits were too much.

Quarterback Easton Stick was a force for the Bison, following in his predecessor’s lead. The quarterback totaled over 3000 yards of offense to lead the Bison in all-purpose yards. The Bison used a rushing attack that wore opponents down all season. NDSU averaged nearly 300 yards rushing per game. Four backs rushed for over 500 yards. Bruce Anderson was a beast in the backfield this season, rushing for over 1100 yards and eleven touchdowns.

On the defensive side of the ball the Bison were again one of the best in FCS. Jabril Cox and Nick DeLuca were the heart and soul of that crew, combining for over 140 tackles and 9.5 sacks. DeLuca will leave the Bison as one of the best in their history of their program. Cox, while only a freshman, played like one of the best players in the country at times through the course of the season. If Cox continues on his current trajectory he could be one of the best defensive players in FCS in recent memory.

This will be the first time the Bison have left the snowy grounds of Fargo since November 18th when they closed their season with a win over Illinois State.

James Madison Dukes (14-0, 8-0, 5-0 on the road)
Harrisonburg, Virginia
Colonial Athletic Association
Head Coach: Mike Houston (28-1 as Head Coach)

OL Aaron Stinnie 1st Team AP FCS All-American, 1st Team STATS All-American, 1st Team All-Colonial Athletic Conferec
DL Andrew Ankrah 1st Team AP FCS All-American, 1st Team STATS All-American, CAA Defensive Player of the Year, 1st Team All-Colonial Athletic Conference
DB Jordan Brown 1st Team AP FCS All-American, 2nd Team All-Colonial Athletic Conference
DB Rashad Robinson 1st Team AP FCS All-American, 3rd Team STATS All-American, 1st Team All-Colonial Athletic Conference
DB Raven Greene 2nd Team STATS All-American, 1st Team All-Colonial Athletic Conference
ST John Miller CAA Special Teams Player of the Year
DL Simeyon Robinson 1st Team All-Colonial Athletic Conference
LB Kyre Hawkins 1st Team All-Colonial Athletic Conference
DB Jimmy Moreland 1st Team All-Colonial Athletic Conference
QB Brian Schor 2nd Team All-Colonial Athletic Conference
OL Jahee Jackson 2nd Team All-Colonial Athletic Conference
P Harry O’Kelly 2nd Team All-Colonial Athletic Conference
RB Trai Sharp 3rd Team All-Colonial Athletic Conference
WR Terrence Alls 3rd Team All-Colonial Athletic Conference
DL Darrious Carter 3rd Team All-Colonial Athletic Conference
LB Brandon Hereford 3rd Team All-Colonial Athletic Conference

9/2/2017 at East Carolina W 34-14
9/9/2017 East Tennessee State W 52-10
9/16/2017 Norfolk State W 75-14
9/23/2017 Maine W 28-10
9/30/2017 at Delaware W 20-10
10/14/2017 Villanova W 30-8
10/21/2017 at William and Mary W 46-14
10/28/2017 New Hampshire W 21-0
11/4/2017 at Rhode Island W 38-3
11/11/2017 Richmond W 20-13
11/18/2017 at Elon W 31-3
12/2/2017 Stony Brook (FCS 2nd Round Playoff) W 26-7
12/8/2017 Weber State (FCS Quarterfinal) W 31-28
12/16/2017 South Dakota State (FCS Semifinal) W 51-16

Key Players:
QB Bryan Schor – 257/385 for 3074 yards with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. 522 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns.
RB Marcus Marshall – 132 rushes for 844 yards and 10 touchdowns.
RB Trai Sharp – 159 rushes for 761 yards and 4 touchdowns.
WR Terrence Alls – 53 receptions for 681 yards and 2 touchdowns.
WR David Eldridge – 41 receptions for 524 yards and 4 touchdowns.
DL Andrew Ankrah – 54 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 2 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries.
LB Kyre Hawkins – 101 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 7 sacks.
DB Raven Greene – 75 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss.
DL Darrious Carter – 46 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks.

The James Madison Dukes look like a team who’s ready to repeat as FCS national champions. You could make an argument that the Dukes had a tougher road to the playoffs, and I think you’d be right. The Dukes took on conference opponent Stony Brook, then got a Weber State who was grossly underrated coming into the playoffs, then got to play the only team who beat North Dakota State this season. Weber State gave the Dukes more than they wanted, and save for an offensive lapse late in the fourth quarter from Weber State, the Dukes would be sitting at home right now. However, none of that happened the Dukes responded by beating the ever loving hell out of a very good opponent in South Dakota State.

The Dukes started off with a win over East Carolina this season. Every FBS win for an FCS team is a good one, however, the Pirates were really really bad this year which unfortunately diluted that dominating win by the Dukes. The momentum from that win carried them into the conference season. And boy, did it carry them into the conference season. The Dukes defense gave up 61 points during the conference season, averaging almost 8 points a game for opponents. Folks, that’s a suffocating defense. That defense was led by defensive lineman Andrew Ankrah. Ankrah piled up the post season awards for his stellar play this season, earning first team All-American on the AP and STATS ballots. Kyre Hawkins was also an important cog to that defense, who was all over the field collecting 101 tackles this season.

On offense the Dukes are a balanced attack. Quarterback Bryan Schor piled up over 3500 yards total offense and 33 touchdowns. He’s a leader who will be making his second start in the FCS championship. He brings experience for a team looking to repeat. He had help in the rushing game, with a two headed monster of Marcus Marshall and Trai Sharp who combined for about 1500 yards and 14 touchdowns of their own. Efficiently executing that offense will be key to getting past the top ranked defense of NDSU.

Key Statistics:

Sagarin Ranking 33 43
Total Offense 462.1 (8th) 431.7 (21st)
Total Defense 237.1 (1st) 251.1 (3rd)
Passing Yards Per Game 180 (88th) 230.2 (41st)
Rushing Yards Per Game 282.1 (4th) 201.5 (19th)
Defensive Rushing Yards Per Game 89.2 (7th) 87.4 (6th)
Defensive Passing Yards Per Game 147.9 (3rd) 163.8 (12th)
Turnover Margin +17 (7th) +24 (1st)
Third Down Conversions 47% (8th) 41% (29th)
Red Zone Offense 86% (21st) 86% (22nd)
Red Zone Defense 80% (59th) 68% (10th)
Penalties Per Game 4.79 (10th) 6.93 (75th)

Final Thoughts:

These teams do a lot of things very well. Both of them score very highly in a lot of key statistics that are typical indicators of success. Both teams know what it’s like to play on a big stage, so this moment shouldn’t be too big for either team. I’m sure both teams will enjoy getting out of their frigid environments and going to a slightly warmer in environment in Dallas.

Both of these teams play a salty defense, and I guess that’s why you see the over/under of this game at 47. Vegas isn’t planning on a real high scoring game, and I tend to agree with them. This is a rare time where we see two elite defense shows up to play. Both quarterbacks are capable of putting the teams on their shoulders and win this game. Easton Stick has accounted for a lot of defensive yards and touchdowns for the Bison, but so has Bryan Schor. They both have the ability to keep a defense off-balance by threatening to run all game. The James Madison offensive line could be the right recipe to keep the NDSU defensive front seven at bay. On the other side, NDSU will have their hands full with Andrew Ankrah. Both teams are very well versed in forcing turnovers.

I can see a scenario playing out where we’re within two or three and halftime, and likely finish the game that way. My prediction? James Madison 23, North Dakota State 21.

The game will be played at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. The game can be seen on ESPN2 starting at noon CST.

Written by 

I'm a Wyoming native living in Missoula, Montana. I'm the owner of, a fan site for the Wyoming Cowboys. Now that I live in the heart of the Big Sky Conference I write about things that focus on those teams. I watch and read a lot of college football, probably more than is healthy. Hit me up on the Twitters @MrTitleist or @WyoNationDotCom Go Pokes, Go Griz!

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