Tuesday, November 22, 2011

FCS 2011 Playoffs At a Glance

We projected the playoffs on Saturday night, and I am happy to say that we only missed on one projection, which was Illinois State falling out of the group due to their last game loss to Northern Iowa. Eastern Kentucky, who we projected as one of several schools fighting for the final two spots, made it in to the field, taking their place. Let's take a look at how the field shakes out...

First Round, Saturday 11/26

Stony Brook (8-3) vs. Albany (8-3)
Stony Brook won the Big South title with a win over Liberty last weekend. Players to watch include the dual rushing threat of Brock Jackolski and Miguel Maysonet, both All-Bilo Big South 1st teamers. Albany, winners of the Northeast Conference, has won 8 of their last 9 games, and is anchored on offense QB Dan DiLella (24 TD passes), RB Drew Smith (1052 yards rushing, 9 scores), and WR Ryan Kirchner (9 TD receptions). Despite the balance of the Great Danes, if the defense does not find a way to stop the SeaWolves run game, they may be dead in the water.
I pick: Stony Brook...The red hot SeaWolves should slow the tempo and let their defense make up the difference. Stack up to stop Jackolski and Maysonet, get burned by QB Kyle Essington, who is sneaky good.

Tennessee Tech (7-3) vs. Central Arkansas (8-3)
This is the first appearance for both teams in the FCS playoffs. The Eagles of Tech are coached by veteran Watson Brown. Brown stated on today's conference call that pass happy teams present an issue for his defense, as the only pass happy teams that they have played against both resulted in losses (Murray State and Tennessee State). The Eagles are solid in their own right with RB Dontey Gay, who rushed for 1009 yards and 15 TDs during the season. WR Tim Benford (58-826-5) was named the OVC Offensive MVP today. If the Eagles can control the pace, they have a solid shot.
UCA comes out flying with QB Nathan Dick, who has passed for 28 TDs on the season. Jesse Grandy and Dominique Croom are two very athletic receivers for the Bears, and will be hell for the Eagles to defend.
Tech scored 34.1 points per game on the season, but they gave up 24.5. UCA scores an average of 33.7 per game, but gives up 28.9. Look for a high scoring affair.
I pick: Tennessee Tech...When it's this close, the home team gets the edge. Look for the defense to be minimalized, but Tech only wins by slowing things down, making Gay the most important guy on the field.

Old Dominion (9-2) vs. Norfolk State (9-2)
It took the ODU program very little time to evolve into a playoff team, as the program has been around just a few short years. The Monarchs are going to come out strong against their regional neighbors, as Tyler Heinicke will come out slinging the ball around. Heinicke passed for 1770 yards with 15 TDs to just 1 pick on the season. Don't discount the Monarch run game, as Angus Harper rushed for 3 scores against William & Mary and has 9 for the season. Five different receivers caught at least 30 passes this season.
For Norfolk State, it's all about defense. The Spartans gave up only an average of 265.1 yards per game, and gave up only 21 TDs in 11 games this fall. NSU held 8 opponents to 14 points or less on the season. Chris Walley also gets the job done at QB, passing for 209 yards per game with 17 TDs to just 4 picks on the season. Walley also added another 5 rushing scores on the year.
I pick: Old Dominion...The MEAC has not been a power player in the FCS playoffs, and the Colonial is as tough as it gets from top to bottom. A tougher level of competition will probably have seasoned ODU more for this moment, but the Spartans will not let the game go easily.

Eastern Kentucky (7-4) vs. James Madison (7-4)
EKU is one of the most succesful programs in FCS history, but they have struggled in recent years to secure their dominance of the Ohio Valley Conference. TJ Pryor is solid at QB for the Colonels, passing for 18 scores, but he also tossed 7 picks in 11 games this fall. Tyron Goard is the man at WR, as he caught 11 of Pryors scoring strikes this fall. The key will be the run game with RB Matt Denham having rushed for 1445 yards and 9 scores on the season. The other key will be stopping the JMU run, and keying up DB Kevin Hamlin (4 picks) in on the QB.
For the Dukes, they have experience here as well, but they have issues as well. They were one of the last teams to make the bracket, as they finished 5th in the Colonial. They have virtually no passing game to speak of, but they run the ball incredibly well with Dae'Quan Scott (1166 yards rushing, 12 TDs, 5.9 yards per carry, 106 yards per game) and Jordan Anderson(5.3 yards per carry). Freshman Drew Marlowe led the team with 4 picks, and will be ball hawking Pryor. The edge rush of DJ Bryant and Pat Williams on defense, along with the tackling ability of LBs Stephon Robertson and Lamar Middleton could make all of the difference.
I pick: James Madison...I like the road upset here. JMU has the tools on defense to slow EKU down, but the run game must work out for the Dukes to survive this huge test. A passing game would be nice if they could muster one as well.

Round 2
Analysis for the second round will be provided next Monday. Here is the slate for the games on December 3rd:
Sam Houston State vs. Albany/Stony Brook
New Hampshire at Montana State
Wofford at Northern Iowa
Montana vs. Tennessee Tech/Central Arkansas
Georgia Southern vs. Old dominion/Norfolk State
Maine at Appalachian State
Lehigh at Towson
North Dakota State vs. James Madison/Eastern Kentucky

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