2020 FCS Championship Game Preview

The FCS regular season has come to a conclusion and we’re now looking forward to the FCS championship game. North Dakota State will be making their third straight appearance in the game, and eighth appearance in the last nine years. They will be facing off against James Madison. James Madison is making their third appearance in the last four years.

The Bison have turned in one of the most impressive decades of football in FCS history. NDSU has missed two title games since 2010. North Dakota State is led by first year head coach Matt Entz. Entz was promoted into the job after Chris Klieman left for a job at Kansas State. James Madison is led by first year head coach Curt Cignetti. Cignetti was previously the head coach at Elon and Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Cignetti came to James Madison after coach Mike Houston left for East Carolina.

North Dakota State entered the FCS playoffs as the overall number one seed. James Madison entered the playoffs as the overall number two seed. The Bison defeated Nicholls State, MVFC foe Illinois State, and Montana State on their way to the title game. James Madison arrived at the title game after defeating Monmouth, Northern Iowa, and Weber State. Generally speaking the FCS playoff bracket played out mostly predictable, with the exception of #4 Sacramento State and #8 Central Arkansas taking second round losses to unseeded teams.

North Dakota State Bison (15-0, 8-0)
Fargo, North Dakota
Missouri Valley Football Conference
Head Coach: Matt Entz (15-0, First season at NDSU)

Player Award Winners
QB Trey Lance, FCS Stats All-American, AP All-American, MVFC All-Conference, MVFC Offensive Player of the Year
OL Dillon Radunz, FCS Stats All-American, AP All-American, MVFC All-Conference
DL Derrek Tuszka, FCS Stats All-American, AP All-American, MVFC All-Conference, MVFC Defensive Player of the Year
LB Jabril Cox, FCS Stats All-American, AP All-American, MVFC All-Conference
TE Ben Ellefson, FCS Stats All-American, MVFC All-Conference
OL Zack Johnson, FCS Stats All-American, AP All-American, MVFC All-Conference
OL Cordell Volson, MVFC All-Conference
DB James Hendricks, MVFC All-Conference
WR Christian Watson, MVFC All-Conference
DB Marquise Bridges, MVFC All-Conference
DB Josh Hayes, MVFC All-Conference


Date Opponent Result
9-31-19 Butler 57-10
9-7-19 North Dakota 38-7
9-14-19 At Delaware 47-22
9-21-19 UC Davis 27-16
10-5-19 At Illinois State 37-3
10-12-19 Northern Iowa 46-14
10-19-19 Missouri State 22-0
10-26-19 At South Dakota State 23-16
11-2-19 At Youngstown State 56-17
11-9-19 Western Illinois 57-21
11-16-19 South Dakota 49-14
11-23-19 At Southern Illinois 21-7
12-7-19 Nicholls State (FCS 2nd Round) 37-13
12-14-19 Illinois State (FCS Quarters) 9-3
12-21-19 Montana State (FCS Semis) 42-14


NDSU Key Players
QB Trey Lance – 186/277 for 2714 yards, 28 TD, 0 INT, 1002 yards rushing, 13 TD
RB Ty Brooks – 130 att, 960 yards, 5 TD
RB Adam Cofield – 160 att, 806 yards, 11 TD
WR Christian Watson, 34 rec, 732 yards, 6 TD
TE Ben Ellefson, 14 rec, 184 yards, 5 TD
LB Jabril Cox – 84 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT
S Michael Tutsie – 98 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 7 INT
DL Derrek Tuszka – 42 tackles, 17.5 TFL, 12.5 sacks

North Dakota State generally had a favorable schedule throughout the year. The Bison played at home for ten of their fifteen games. Two of those games were against teams who made the FCS playoffs, and three of the five having winning records. The Bison, however, dominated in nearly every game they played. The only real tough games the Bison played this season was their early season match-up with UC-Davis, their annual tussle with South Dakota State, and a 9-3 win over Illinois State in the quarterfinals. The win over Illinois State was a defensive slug fest and had it not been for a called back touchdown on a defensive turnover, that came could have gone a different direction.

North Dakota State has generally followed the same recipe as they have for the last ten years. Be strong at running the football and controlling the clock. They will force teams to play their brand of football and most teams are not as good at playing that brand as NDSU is. The NDSU offensive line is obviously a strength again this season, with two of them gaining all-American honors and a third getting all-conference honors.

One of the biggest surprises for most of people, maybe not the NDSU faithful, was the emergence of freshman quarterback Trey Lance. Lance showed a lot of promise in his inaugural season, accounting for over 3700 yards of total offense and 41 touchdowns. Lance is also a finalist for the Doak Walker award that will be handed out prior to the championship game. Lance could very easily follow in the footsteps of Brock Jensen, Carson Wentz, and Easton Stick in a line of above average quarterbacks that also wear green and gold.

On defense it’s more of the same for North Dakota State. The Bison are still very talented and very hard hitting on that side of the football. Jabril Cox had a terrific season from the linebacker position. Derrek Tuszka piled up an eye opening 12.5 sacks on the season. Needless to say, the Bison can easily live in your backfield if your offensive line isn’t up to snuff. The only team better at defense in terms of total defense, is the team they are playing in Frisco.


James Madison Dukes (14-1, 8-0)
Harrisonburg, Virginia
Colonial Athletic Association
Head Coach: Curt Cignetti (81-27, First season at JMU)

Player Award Winners
OL Liam Fornadel, FCS Stats All-American, AP All-American, CAA All-Conference
DL Ron’Dell Carter, FCS Stats All-American, AP All-American, CAA All-Conference, CAA Defensive Player of the Year
DL John Daka, FCS Stats All-American, AP All-American, CAA All-Conference
LB Dimitri Holloway, FCS Stats All-American, AP All-American, CAA All-Conference
DB Adam Smith, FCS Stats All-American, AP All-American, CAA All-Conference
K Ethan Ratke, AP All-American, CAA All-Conference
QB Ben DiNucci, CAA All-Conference, CAA Offensive Player of the Year
RB Percy Agyei-Obese, CAA All-Conference
OL Mac Patrick, CAA All-Conference
S/PR D’Angelo Amos, CAA All-Conference
WR Brandon Polk, CAA All-Conference
TE Dylan Stapleton, CAA All-Conference
DB Rashad Robinson, CAA All-Conference
RB Jawon Hamilton, CAA All-Conference
OL Truvell Wilson, CAA All-Conference
DL Mike Greene, CAA All-Conference
LB Landan Word, CAA All-Conference


Date Opponent Result
9-31-19 At West Virginia 13-20
9-7-19 Saint Francis (PA) 44-7
9-14-19 Morgan State 63-12
9-21-19 At Chattanooga 37-14
9-28-19 At Elon 45-10
10-5-19 At Stony Brook 45-38
10-12-19 Villanova 38-24
10-19-19 At William and Mary 38-10
10-26-19 Towson 27-10
11-9-19 New Hampshire 54-16
11-16-19 Richmond 48-6
11-23-19 At Rhode Island 55-21
12-7-19 Monmouth (FCS 2nd Round) 66-21
12-14-19 Northern Iowa (FCS Quarters) 17-0
12-21-19 Weber State (FCS Semis) 30-14


JMU Key Players
QB Ben DiNucci – 246/345 for 3237 yards, 27 TD, 5 INT, 721 yards rushing, 7 TD
RB Percy Agyei-Obese – 241 att, 1163 yards, 19 TD
RB Jawon Hamilton – 160 att, 913 yards, 5 TD
WR Brandon Polk – 73 rec, 1173 yards, 11 TD
WR Riley Stapleton – 55 rec, 688 yards, 8 TD
LB Dimitri Holloway – 115 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 2 sacks
DL John Daka – 59 tackles, 26.5 TFL, 16.5 sacks
DL Ron’Dell Carter – 59 tackles, 25.5 TFL, 11.5 sacks

James Madison is making yet another appearance in the FCS championship game. They will be seeking their first title since 2016 when they defeated Youngstown State 28-14. The only blemish on the record of the Dukes this season was a first game loss at West Virginia. The Dukes managed only two field goals in the second half after taking a lead to the locker room at halftime. A Ben DiNucci interception led to an easy Mountaineer score which gave them the lead that would hold for the game. After that game the Dukes wouldn’t play another close game, unless you count a 17-0 shutout of Northern Iowa in the quarterfinals a close game. James Madison dominated every team they played in the playoffs.

James Madison follows a similar recipe as NDSU in the offensive department. The Dukes are very talented on the offensive line and has allowed quarterback Ben DiNucci and running backs Percy Agyei-Obese and Jawon Hamilton to carry the ball for nearly 2800 yards. DiNucci isn’t a slouch behind center, however, throwing for over 3000 yards. DiNucci came to the Dukes from Pittsburgh, where he palyed parts of two seasons for the Panthers before transferring to James Madison. Brandon Polk was the target of a third of those passing yards from DiNucci and hauled in 11 touchdowns.

Defensively the Dukes have playmakers in Dimitri Holloway, John Daka, and Ron’Dell Carter. Those three Dukes combined for 62.5 tackles for loss and 30 sacks. The defensive front of James Madison should provide the Bison offensive line with a good test. This match-up could end up being a smash mouth football lover’s dream in the trenches.


Key Statistics

Category North Dakota State James Madison
Sagarin Ranking 34 49
Massey Index 1 2
Total Offense 477.3 472.5
Total Defense 269.9 264.7
Passing Yards Per Game 189.3 224.1
Rushing Yards Per Game 288.0 248.3
Def. Rushing Yards Per Game 135.6 61.1
Def. Passing Yards Per Game 134.3 203.6
Turnover Margin +16 +11
Third Down Conversions 50% 54%
Red Zone Offense 83.9% 92.4%
Red Zone Defense 72.4% 71.9%
Penalty Yards Per Game 54.5 51.2


Final Thoughts

This is not the first time we’ve seen this match-up in a championship game, and the way the world is trending it may not be the last either. With both of these coaches being first year coaches at their respective school they both could sustain the current dynasties they have going. The last game was a 17-13 tussle in 2018 which featured a defensive battle that resulted in their being no scores after James Madison ran a touchdown in from one yard out with 9:26 left in the third quarter. You can more than likely expect a similar result in this game.

The defenses in this game are both terrific. Both are very good against the rush, both teams have taken away the football far more than they’ve given it away, and both are good in the defensive red zone. I don’t know if we’ll see a score this low in the game. With all of the talk of how powerful the defenses in this game are, the offenses are not exactly slackers either. Both teams are more than capable of running the football. James Madison is probably a little more skilled at throwing the football, but the Bison don’t give up a whole lot of passing yards.

For the gambling degenerates out there has (at the time of this writing) James Madison favored by -1.5 with an over/under of 51. If you happen to live near Las Vegas, this is on the books at the Caesar’s Palace sports book.

My prediction for this game will be a defensive slugfest, we’re going to hit the under posted by Vegas, and we’re going to see a new national champion this year. James Madison is a very well rounded team. They may not be as battle tested as the Bison are, but it feels like it’s time for a new champion to be crowned in FCS. It also wouldn’t surprise me to see these two playing again in Frisco in 2021.

This game will be played in Frisco, Texas at Toyota Stadium. The game will kick off at 12pm ET on January 11th and be aired on ABC. Tickets are still available through VividSeats at the time of this writing.

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!

Related posts