Teams to watch:
#1 North Dakota State
This much is obvious. That being said, their defense is missing their two best players for the year (LB Nick Deluca, DT Nate Tanguay) and is not as good as what the Bison are accustomed to. It's still quite dominant but I worry that the missing pieces will show up at some point. Offensively they can score in a hurry or they can disappear for quarters at a time. I firmly believe the Bison coaching staff has to be more aggressive on offense in order to win a 6th consecutive National Championship. Is QB Easton Stick up to the task?
#2 Eastern Washington
This is the only Big Sky Conference team with a chance to win it all, in my opinion, but they'll have to outscore everybody. My guess is they run into somebody who can play defense and lose unexpectedly.
#3 Jacksonville State
They've been a great team over the past 3 seasons. They're not in the same class as the Missouri Valley teams but they're probably getting some prospects out of the South that other FCS schools don't have access to.
#5 Sam Houston State
The only undefeated team in the bracket (that I'm aware of) but, like Jacksonville State, they're in a lesser conference than other top teams and that's why they were only given the 5 seed despite their record.
#7 North Dakota
I think they're a year ahead of when they'll actually be contenders but North Dakota is my alma mater and they play their home games at the Alerus Center, one of my places of employment. I have every intention of working their first home playoff game on December 3rd and cheering on the Fighting Hawks. That is, unless I can get Bison tickets. North Dakota has a great defense and a balanced offense with a two headed backfield with John Santiago and Brady Oliveira. Quarterback Keaton Studsrud has progressed far beyond anything I ever expected. Like I said, I think the Fighting Hawks are a year away, but with how balanced they are, they are certainly dangerous.
#8 South Dakota State
The Jacks are loaded in the passing game with a good QB who can throw and run and some big targets. Defensively they're solid if unspectacular. They're in North Dakota State's bracket, so expect a rematch of the Bison's lone loss.
I don't believe in their style of offense in a playoff setting but they are big and physical and play a nasty brand of defensive football.
Remember Bo Pelini? He's coaching the Penguins, now. Their offense blows but their defense is fucking nasty. If they can find a way to score some damn points, they'll be dangerous.
The Redbirds had no business in the playoff discussion 6 weeks ago but have rallied off a bunch of impressive wins, including a win against South Dakota State. Let's see what they can make of it.
You heard it here, first: I don't think North Dakota State repeats. There's such a drop off on defense and at the QB position that I think someone will capitalize on an unexpected mistake. Don't be surprise if South Dakota State knocks them out in what seems an inevitable rematch.