Friday, January 6, 2017

2016 FCS National Championship Preview

James Madison (13-1) vs. Youngstown State (12-3)
Frisco, Texas

     The FCS football season culminates tomorrow in the national championship game at Frisco, Texas between the James Madison Dukes and the Youngstown State Penguins. This will mark the first time in six years that the national champion will not be North Dakota State, as the Bison had won the previous five titles. NDSU fell short against JMU in their quest for a 6th national title.
     James Madison won the national title in 2004 under then coach Mickey Matthews in a 31-21 win over Montana. The Dukes have won 11 straight this season, with their last loss coming against North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The Duke are in the title game by way of a strong road win in Fargo, beating North Dakota State to end their 22 game FCS playoff win streak. In November, the Dukes picked up back to back wins over top 10 opponents when they beat Richmond and Villanova, with both of those games coming on the road.
     The Dukes are led by Mike Houston, who is in his first season as head coach after bringing life to what had been a dismal Citadel program. Houston is now 13-1 in his first season, and owns a 4-1 record overall in the playoffs.
     QB Brian Schor is the leader of the of the Dukes on offense. He took over as the full time starter after backing up Vad Lee last season, and passed for 2890 yards, with 27 TDs and just 6 INTs. He was the CAA player of the week 4 times in a 6 week span this season, and completed 21/22 passes in a win over Rhode Island, a school single game completion record. He started the last 4 games of 2015 when Lee went down to injury, and rushed for 129 yards in the season opener this fall in a win over Morehead State.
     What makes JMU dangerous is their ability to mix run and pass, as Khalid Abdullah rushed for 1728 yards this season. Abdullah has scored 33 TDs rushing the last two seasons, with 20 of those coming this year. He has 3577 career rushing yards, and topped a career high with 272 carries in 2016. Cardon Johnson is dangerous as well, having rushed for 704 yards, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He scored 8 times this season.
     Brandon Ravanel (45-720-5) and Duke transfer Terrence Alls (35-575-5) will likely be the two go to receivers for Schor in the passing game, and Domo Taylor is high on the list as well (34-547-3).
     Defensively, the secondary is a huge strength for the Dukes, led by CB Taylor Reynolds, who has 14 Passes Defended on the year. This will be his final game. The Dukes led the nation with 20 INTs this season, and finished 9th in turnover margin at +15.
     For Youngstown State, this will be a return to a familiar territory that the Penguins dominated in the 90s. Bo Pelini has led this program back from mediocrity, and now has the Penguins primed to win their first title since 1997, a 10-9 win over McNeese State. YSU has 4 total titles in their history, winning in 1991, 1993, 1994, and the 1997 win. This will be the Penguins' 8th all-time title game appearance.
     The Penguins will take a more defensive approach to winning this game, as they depend on pressure up front to wreak havoc on opposing backfields, and they like to disrupt the flow of a football game. The Penguins recorded a school record 47 sacks in 2016. Derek Rivers is the all-time sack leader at both Youngstown State and in the Missouri Valley Conference, as he has 40 for his career. He is joined off the edge by fellow DE, and Nebraska transfer, Avery Moss. Moss added 9.5 sacks to the record tally this season, and gets freed up when teams pay too much attention to Rivers coming off the other side.
     Offensively, it will come down to the offensive line, led by All-American LT Dylan Colucci. The line dominated the trenches in the playoff win over Eastern Washington, allowing Tevin McCester and Jody Webb to combine for 255 yards rushing against the Eagles.
     Webb rushed for 101 of those yards, but is a multi-purpose weapon, lining up as a receiver and a back, and is also a dangerous kick return weapon for YSU. McCester rushed for 154 yards in the win over EWU, and once he finds the hole, he is gone. Webb has rushed for 100 yards or more in each of the Penguin playoff wins. Chances are, if he manages to go over 100 again, YSU could be winning their 5th title.

Key Matchup Points

  • Youngstown State leads the all-time series over James Madison 3-1
  • They last played in 2006, with YSU winning a playoff game 35-31 with 15 unanswered points
  • JMU finished 2nd in FCS football with 48 points per game
  • JMU allows only 1.9 sacks per game, while YSU averages 3.3 sacks per game
  • Schor has a 10:3 TD to INT ratio in the playoffs
  • Jody Webb has not rushed for less than 100 yards in a playoff game this season for YSU
  • If YSU wins, they will be the 1st 3 loss champ since Richmond in 2008
  • YSU is on a 6 game winning streak, JMU has won 11 straight
How They Match Up

Passing: JMU over YSU
The Dues win out in the passing game with Schor getting a clear edge over Penguin QB Hunter Wells. JMU ranked 36th nationally in passing, with the Penguins not finishing in the top 50. Wells started the season as the 4th string QB, and is 7-1 since gaining the starting job in October. 

Rushing: JMU and YSU Virtually Tied
The difference is just 3 spots. The Dukes finished 4th nationally in rushing, while the Penguins finished 7th. Both teams like to run the ball first, as JMU averaged 284.6 yards per game, and the Penguins averaged 257.5. Whichever team establishes the run wins the game. 

Rushing Defense: Youngstown State over James Madison
The Penguins finished 14 spots ahead of James Madison here at 24th in the nation against the run. The Penguins give up 128.1 yards rushing, and just 3.75 yards per carry. The Dukes ranked 38th, giving up 137.8 yards per game, with 4.28 yards per carry. The edge goes to the Penguins, but just by a hair. 

Pass Defense: YSU and JMU Virtually Tied
Between the Dukes' ability to pick up turnovers by INT, and the Penguins' ability to generate pressure and sacks, this is anyone's game. Whichever unit can generate turnovers in what could be an icy and snowy venue will decide the outcome. 

Time of Possession Battle
Again, there is not much separating the two. YSU ranked 3rd, however, and so wins the battle here on average. The Penguins held onto the football for 510 minutes on the season, averaging 34 minutes per game. The Dukes held onto the football for 474 minutes on the season, or 32 minutes per game. 

Penalties Per Game
This could be a separating factor. Youngstown State is the only one of the two teams here that ranked in the top 50 of teams with the fewest penalties per game. The Penguins ranked 26th nationally with just 79 penalties, or just 5.27 per game. This could factor in during the game. 

  • Both teams finished in the top 10 in 3rd down conversion percentage
  • Both teams are nearly identical in stopping 3rd down attempts
  • YSU leads by .17% in 4th down conversions at 58.8% success
  • YSU stopped 5/15 4th down conversions, a clear winner there
  • YSU recovered 11 fumbles, which could have an effect in the weather
  • James Madison averaged 48 points per game, YSU averaged 28.5
Final Assessment
It would seem that body for body, James Madison has the edge in this football game, as they have a higher powered offense, and the ability to mitigate the Youngstown passing game by having the ability to create turnovers. If, however, the Penguins can force the Dukes to put the ball on the ground by way of fumbles in cold weather, Youngstown State has their own way of creating turnovers. These teams are very close in every aspect except for scoring, where James Madison has the clear margin, and that starts and ends with the passing game and Schor. If he can avoid those YSU ends coming on the pass rush, he could be the difference here for the Dukes. 
Pick: James Madison
The Dukes have the better overall resume, but it is hard for me to make this pick, as I believe that Bo Pelini has his Penguins motivated in this game. James Madison's offense is just a shade better, but it should be a very close game, as both defenses can do so many things to stagger the tempo of each offense. 


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