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Anthony Chiusano | | October 31, 2016

Horror matchups: Scariest teams heading into FCS playoffs

  James Madison haunted URI last week in an 84-7 win.

It’s Halloween, which means there are plenty of scary movies to choose from that are filled with ghosts, goblins and other creatures to keep you up at night.

But now just under a month to go until the beginning of the FCS playoffs, there are other spooks haunting the playoff dreams of this year’s top contenders. While Sam Houston State continues its reign as No. 1 and five-time defending national champion North Dakota State looks to be a favorite once again, a handful of darkhorse candidates continue to hide in the shadows waiting to make their case.

So, in the spirit of Halloween, here are the scariest teams looking to terrorize the FCS playoffs.

James Madison (7-1)

Defenses, beware when going up against the Dukes.

James Madison carved up Rhode Island’s defense like a jack-o-lantern in an 84-7 win last week, marking a new program record for most points scored in a single game. The previous high mark was achieved in this year’s season-opening 80-7 blowout win over Morehead State.

Now, Rhode Island is struggling at 1-8, so James Madison’s win was hardly a surprise. However, the astonishing margin of victory serves as a great indication of just how prolific the Dukes are on the offensive side of the ball.

Three Dukes have scored at least eight touchdowns on the ground this year and quarterback Bryan Schor has thrown for 15 scores while maintaining a 71 percent completion mark.

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Only one team – No. 1 Sam Houston State -- has averaged more points per game than James Madison and the Dukes continue to score in bunches against all levels of talent.

James Madison has already knocked off two ranked opponents this year and will have a shot against two more in the next few weeks against Richmond and Villanova.

The adage that “defense win championships” often holds true come playoff time. But with James Madison’s ability to put points on the board against anyone, the Dukes can be a whole lot of trouble in the bracket.

The Citadel (8-0)

Only two unbeaten teams remain in the FCS, led by the No. 1 Bearkats. Can you guess the other?

That would be No. 7 The Citadel, who plays a style of football that teams should fear in late November.

While pass-happy offenses are becoming more common across all of college football, The Citadel prefers the old school, ground and pound style of play. And it’s as effective as any team in the nation.

The Bulldogs boast the second-most rushing yards per game (362.9) while only attempting an FCS-low 70 passing attempts this year. It’s a stark imbalance that’s allowed The Citadel to control the ball for nearly 34 minutes per game.

It’s a nightmare for either unit when going against the Bulldogs. The offense knows it must make the most out of every limited opportunity – no opponent has posted more than 24 points against The Citadel -- while the defense must prepare for four different feature rushers, each with over 400 yards through eight games.

Setting an early tone and winning the possession time battle is critical during the playoffs. The Citadel has proved it can do both all year.

South Dakota State (5-3)

  South Dakota State proved it's a scary matchup after wins over North Dakota State and Youngstown State.
Last week’s loss to Illinois State was surely a disappointment for the Jackrabbits, who were riding high after back-to-back wins over then-unanimous No. 1 North Dakota State and a top tier program in Youngstown State.

Despite the setback, these big-time wins cannot be overlooked heading into the playoff field.

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It’s been the offense that’s carried the Jackrabbits most of the season thus far, reaching 40 points on four occasions. Taryn Christion has been one of the nation’s best quarterbacks with 2,558 yards and 26 touchdowns and he’s developed quite a bit of chemistry with wide receiver Jake Wieneke (14 touchdowns).

However, their defense shouldn’t be overshadowed either.

SDSU held the Bison and Penguins to 17 and 10 points respectively, showing that the Jackrabbits’ unit can shut down opponents when offense is at a premium. Both opposing quarterbacks were held to under 200 yards passing in those matchups.

The brackets would have to line up right, but wouldn’t it be a treat to see a Dakota Marker rematch in the playoffs? 

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