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Stan Becton | | November 22, 2021

Predictions, picks for every FCS playoff game and round

FCS bracket predictions: Every playoff game picked, through the national championship

The 2021 FCS playoffs are here! The full 24-team field was revealed on Sunday, Nov. 21. Sam Houston took the top seed, followed by North Dakota State and James Madison, respectively, at two and three.

With the complete field released and the first round starting on Saturday, Nov. 27, there’s no better time to predict every round and game for the 2021 tournament.

Here are my 2021 FCS playoff predictions.

2021 FCS Playoff predictions

Click or tap here for a closer look at the bracket

FCS Playoff Predictions

First round | Nov. 27

Sacred Heart at Holy Cross | 12 p.m. 

Winner: Holy Cross

Sacred Heart won the NEC and recently saw star running back Julius Chestnut return after missing most of the season with an injury. Chestnut joins running back Malik Grant in the Pioneer backfield to form a solid one-two punch for the playoffs. Yet, the playoffs are all about matchups and Sacred Heart’s first-round opponent is a horrible matchup for the Pioneers.

Holy Cross has a great run defense, allowing just under 78 rushing yards per game this season. The Crusaders have only allowed one 100-yard rusher all season and that Week 2 performance feels like ages ago. Expect Holy Cross to shut down Sacred Heart’s rushing attack and advance to the next round.

Davidson at Kennesaw State | 2 p.m.

Winner: Kennesaw State

If you like old-school football, this is the game for you. Davidson and Kennesaw State both run the triple-option offense, a rarity in today’s era of college football. However, that’s about all these teams have in common in this playoff matchup. Kennesaw State has proven to be a significantly better team in 2021 with zero losses to FCS opponents this season and should advance to the second round after being snubbed for a seed.

UC Davis at South Dakota State | 3 p.m.

Winner: South Dakota State

UC Davis enters the playoffs on a two-game losing streak. While the Aggies were a top-10 team earlier this year, it will be hard to rediscover the early-season magic against a solid South Dakota State team. 

The Jackrabbits are last year’s runner-up and they have arguably the best running back in the nation in Pierre Strong Jr. With running back Isaiah Davis’s return from injury coming just in time for the playoffs, South Dakota State should run away with a first-round victory.

Stephen F. Austin at UIW | 3 p.m. 

Winner: UIW

If you haven’t heard of UIW quarterback Cameron Ward, you’ll want to check him out in this playoff game. Less than a month ago, Ward threw for 610 yards and seven touchdowns in a Cardinal victory. Ward and crew will now play Stephen F. Austin, a team just one point away from defeating reigning champion Sam Houston earlier this year. 

The Lumberjacks are well deserving of its at-large bid to this year’s playoffs, but they won’t go far this go around. With Stephen F. Austin’s defense allowing nearly 300 passing yards per game, it will struggle to stop an elite opposing quarterback.

WATCH: Watch the 2021 FCS football championship selection show

UT Martin at Missouri State | 4 p.m.

Winner: Missouri State

UT Martin opens first-round play against Missouri State. The Skyhawks will try to stop a five-game Bears winning streak. UT Martin will put up a valiant effort, but Missouri State, led by head coach Bobby Petrino, will move on to the second round thanks to its experience from a competitive regular-season schedule.

Northern Iowa at Eastern Washington | 4 p.m.

Winner: Eastern Washington

UNI is a six-win playoff team, thanks to a trio of regular-season wins. Its reward, a trip to Eastern Washington to face one of the nation’s top offenses. On Eastern Washington’s famous red turf, the Panthers will struggle to slow down the Eagles and Eastern Washington will advance.

Southern Illinois at South Dakota | 6 p.m.

Winner: Southern Illinois

In a battle between Missouri Valley foes, Southern Illinois will come away victorious. The Salukis have been a more consistent team all season long, while South Dakota is a Hail Mary away from potentially being left out of this year’s field. Southern Illinois wins on the road in the first round. 

Florida A&M at Southeastern Louisiana | 7 p.m.

Winner: Southeastern Louisiana

After Florida A&M became the first HBCU to receive an at-large selection to the FCS playoffs since 2016, it will face Southeastern Louisiana in the first round. The first-round nightcap game will be a matchup of strength versus strength as the Rattler defense and Lion offense are two of the nation’s best. 

Reigning Walter Payton Award-winning quarterback Cole Kelley will lead the Southeastern Louisiana offense against Florida A&M linebacker Isaiah Land, a potential Buck Buchanan award winner this season. Yet, neither of these players will decide the game; Florida A&M’s offense won’t be able to keep up the scoring pace and Southeastern Louisiana will pull away for a victory.

HBCU: Keep up with scores and updates from the HBCU football season

Second round | Dec. 4

UIW vs. Sam Houston

Winner: Sam Houston

In a Texas battle, Sam Houston will land a victory by shutting down Cameron Ward and the UIW offense. The Bearkats have allowed just 16 passing touchdowns all season, a bad sign for UIW entering this game. Even if the Cardinals find success through the air, Sam Houston has the offensive firepower to match and will win the game.

Missouri State vs. Montana State

Winner: Montana State

Montana State will host a red-hot Missouri State team in the second round. Look for Montana State’s elite defense to bounce back after a disappointing showing in the Brawl of the Wild. The Bobcats will send the Bears home in round two.

Holy Cross vs. Villanova

Winner: Villanova

Villanova should make easy work of Holy Cross in the second round. Keep in mind this is the same Holy Cross team that lost to Merrimack, a team with a losing record this season. Meanwhile, the Wildcats have the eighth-best scoring defense and should shut down the Crusaders at home.

South Dakota State vs. Sacramento State

Winner: South Dakota State

The 2021 Big Sky champion, Sacramento State, will fall at home in its first playoff game to South Dakota State. While Sacramento State is talented, I believe South Dakota State is the better all-around team. 

South Dakota State’s linebackers Adam Bock and Logan Backhaus can fly around the ball to shut down the Sacramento State rushing attack. Moreover, Jackrabbit tight end Tucker Kraft presents a mismatch for the Hornet defense, and a big day from him will lead South Dakota State to an upset.

AUTO-BIDS: Here is every automatic bid for the 2021 FCS playoffs

Southeastern Louisiana vs. James Madison

Winner: Southeastern Louisiana

The biggest upset of the 2021 playoffs will be Southeastern Louisiana knocking off James Madison in the second round. The Lions are a better team than their record shows, with all three of their losses coming by just three points. Southeastern Louisiana has what it takes to knock off James Madison.

I expect this to be a shootout with James Madison quarterback Cole Johnson and Southeastern Louisiana quarterback Cole Kelley putting on a show. This game could come down to the last possession, but Southeastern Louisiana will emerge victorious behind the nation’s top offense.

Eastern Washington vs. Montana

Winner: Eastern Washington

Eastern Washington meets Montana in a rematch of a thrilling Week 5 contest. This time, the Eagles will head to Montana. When the schools last met, Eastern Washington scored 24 fourth-quarter points en route to a win. The Eagles won’t need a fourth-quarter surge this go around and will knock off Montana, landing a road playoff victory.

Kennesaw State vs. ETSU

Winner: Kennesaw State

Two one-loss teams meet up in the second round when Kennesaw State visits ETSU. ETSU running back Quay Holmes leads the FCS in rushing, but he’ll run into the 12th leading rush defense in Kennesaw State to open the playoffs. The Owls will do just enough to slow Holmes down to win the game.

Southern Illinois vs. North Dakota State

Winner: North Dakota State

Two Missouri Valley foes will battle in the second round when North Dakota State hosts Southern Illinois. North Dakota State, led by a great defense, will pick up its eighth win over an MVFC opponent and advance to the quarterfinals.

RANKINGS: See every poll from the end of the regular season

Quarterfinals | Dec. 10 and Dec. 11

Montana State vs. Sam Houston

Winner: Sam Houston

While Montana State’s defense has been outstanding this year, Sam Houston has a quarterback in Eric Schmid that has shown the poise to find weaknesses in great defense. Schmid with a Bearkat defense filled with stars like defensive end Jahari Kay gives Sam Houston the perfect combination to take down Montana State.

South Dakota State vs. Villanova

Winner: Villanova

Two FCS powerhouse programs will meet up earlier than some may have expected in the preseason when South Dakota State visits Villanova. South Dakota State will have plenty of momentum entering this game, but beating Villanova on the road is a tall task. 

South Dakota State’s offense runs through its rushing attack but Villanova has shown an ability to stop the run all season. Even while stopping the run, Villanova’s defense can eliminate the opposing passing offense; the Wildcats allowed zero passing touchdowns against James Madison, William and Mary, and Delaware. Defense will carry the Wildcats to the semifinals.

Southeastern Louisiana vs. Eastern Washington

Winner: Eastern Washington

Last spring's Walter Payton Award winner and runner-up will meet in this year’s quarterfinals when Southeastern Louisiana plays Eastern Washington. While Kelley and Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere will draw all the attention, the final result will be a result of more than just quarterback play. Eastern Washington will win this game thanks to having a more complete team.

WALTER PAYTON AWARD: Complete history of the FCS offensive honor

Kennesaw State vs. North Dakota State

Winner: North Dakota State

As mentioned earlier, Kennesaw State runs the triple-option offense. The run-heavy Owls will run into a wall in the form of the Bison defense. North Dakota State allows just 85.1 rushing yards per game and has only allowed six rushing touchdowns this season. North Dakota State will take Kennesaw State out of its comfort zone and the Bison will walk away with a victory.

Semifinals | Dec. 17 and Dec. 18

Villanova vs. Sam Houston

Winner: Sam Houston

Sam Houston will use its home-field advantage to win a semifinal game against Villanova. Sam Houston's talent across the board will overwhelm the Wildcats, carrying Sam Houston to victory. It will be a nice run for Villanova, making it this deep in the playoffs, and the road still ends in Texas; it just won’t be in Frisco.

Eastern Washington vs. North Dakota State

Winner: Eastern Washington

Eastern Washington will upset North Dakota State in Fargo to advance to the national championship. Eastern Washington’s explosive offense will light up the scoreboard against North Dakota State. The Bison let up 27 points earlier this season to South Dakota State and the Eagles have a more talented offense than the one the Bison faced. North Dakota State won’t be able to keep up with Eastern Washington and fall short at home.

🏆: Schools with the most FCS national championships

National Championship | Jan. 8 at 12 p.m. in Frisco, TX

Eastern Washington vs. Sam Houston

2021 National Champion: Sam Houston

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