FCS National Championship Preview


Football on field | Image by David Lee/Shutterstock

The North Dakota State Bison (12-2) and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits (13-1) will meet in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Championship at Toyota Stadium in Frisco on Sunday at 1 p.m. CT.

North Dakota State is the defending national champion and is making its 10th trip to the national title game in its 15 years as an FCS program. The Bison currently hold the FCS record for most appearances in the game, and most championship wins, including five consecutive titles from 2011 to 2015.

However, South Dakota State is no stranger to the championship game itself. The Jackrabbits are in the title game for the second time in the last three years — finishing as the runner-up to Sam Houston State in 2020.

Plus, it has had a better season overall and defeated North Dakota State 23-21 on the road on October 15.

Frisco has hosted the FCS National Championship Game since 2010, moving the game away from Chattanooga, Tennessee. That year, Eastern Washington defeated the University of Delaware 20-19.

Huntington, West Virginia; Statesboro, Georgia; Pocatello, Idaho; Wichita Falls, Texas; Charleston, South Carolina; Tacoma, Washington; and Orlando, Florida, have also hosted the game.

The national championship game will be the 114th meeting between these two teams in a series that dates back to 1903. North Dakota State leads the series 63-45-5, and South Dakota State has won the last three battles for the Dakota Marker. It is the fifth time they have met in the playoffs and the first since the 2018 semifinals.

This will be the second time two teams from the Missouri Valley Conference will face each other in the FCS Championship. In 2014, North Dakota State beat Illinois State to claim the title.

South Dakota State enters the game as the No.1 seed after a 13-1 season and has yet to lose to a fellow FCS opponent. The only blemish on the Jackrabbits’ record is a 7-3 loss to the University of Iowa in Week One. Iowa finished the season with an 8-5 record playing in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).

As alluded to above, the Jackrabbits defeated the Bison 23-21 in October. During that game, North Dakota State took a 21-7 lead, but South Dakota State completed a late comeback thanks to a defense that allowed just 59 yards in the second half.

North Dakota State comes into the title game as the No.3 seed with a 12-2 record. Its only losses came against South Dakota State and the University of Arizona of the FBS. So far, its playoff run has included wins over Montana, Samford, and the University of the Incarnate Word.

These teams play similar, old-school styles with strengths in the running game and on defense.

North Dakota State scores 35.8 points per game with the third-best rushing offense in the FCS and the 120th passing offense out of 123 FCS teams. Its defense ranks eighth overall, including fifth in scoring at just 18.43 points allowed per game and fifth in passing defense with 168.9 yards per game. However, its weakest aspect is its run defense (45th, 147.9 yards per game).

Linebacker James Kaczor and safety Michael Tutsie have combined for 140 tackles this year, while defensive end Spencer Waege has 11 sacks.

The offense will have to be creative on Sunday as fullback Hunter Luepke and running back TaMerik Williams are in line to miss this game.

Leading rusher Kobe Johnson is also coming off an injury, which means there is a possibility the Bison will be playing this game without 2,200 yards of offense and 25 touchdowns.

South Dakota State’s strength is its defense, led by linebacker Adam Bock. The Jackrabbits are near the top of the FCS in every category, allowing the least rushing yards (83.0 yards per game), second-least total yards (263.6 per game), and third-least points (15.43 per game).

The Jackrabbits’ offense scores 33.4 points per game and ranks 34th in rushing offense and 77th in passing offense.

Quarterback Mark Gronowski, tight end Tucker Kraft, and receivers Jaxon and Jadon Janke give South Dakota State a slightly better passing game than NDSU. However, the Jackrabbits’ offense still goes through running backs Isaiah Davis and Amar Johnson, who have combined for 20 touchdowns this season, with Davis ninth in the FCS with 1,348 rushing yards.

South Dakota State has wins over Delaware, Holy Cross, and Montana State this postseason.

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