FCS Second-Round Playoff
The Matchup – Nicholls (9-4, 7-2 Southland) at No. 1 North Dakota State (12-0, 8-0 Missouri Valley)
Kickoff – 3:30 p.m. ET at the Fargodome in Fargo, North Dakota
Coverage – ESPN3
Series – North Dakota State leads 2-0 (last meeting: NDSU won 26-13 in Fargo on Oct. 1, 2005)
Coaches – Nicholls: Tim Rebowe (34-26, five seasons); North Dakota State: Matt Entz (12-0, first season)
3 Players to Watch – Nicholls: QB Chase Fourcade (3,492 yards of total offense, 28 total TDs), RB Julien Gums (199 carries, 1,155 yards, 16 TDs), DE Sully Laiche (57 tackles, 21½ tackles for loss, 11 sacks); North Dakota State: QB Trey Lance (2,928 yards of total offense, 33 total TDs, 0 INTs), DE Derrek Tuszka (37 tackles, 15½ tackles for loss, 10½ sacks), S James Hendricks (48 tackles, 3 INTs, 9 PBUs)
The Skinny – Nicholls controlled the line of scrimmage against North Dakota – rushing for 316 yards and allowing just 44 – in a first-round win. This week, the Colonels will need more excellence up front against that state’s true FCS power, the two-time defending national champion Bison, who this decade are 32-2 in the FCS playoffs, including 24-1 at home. Gums is Nicholls’ first option with running the ball, but RB Dontrell Taylor and the mobile Fourcade also do damage on the ground. In an injury-plagued season, WR Dai’Jean has over 100 receiving yards in five of his eight games. Laiche, the first defensive player to earn the Southland’s overall player of the year award since 2007, has 61 tackles for 316 yards in losses and 36½ sacks in his outstanding career. He will try to power through the standard for FCS offensive lines. The Bison rank No. 2 in the FCS in total offense and total defense and have their own conference players of the year in Lance (MVFC offensive) and Tuszka (MVFC defensive). Their offensive line has sprung holes for five ball carriers over 600 yards: Ty Brooks (813, 5 TDs), Lance (741, 10), Adam Cofield (664, 11) and Kobe Johnson (602, 4). LB Jackson Hankey leads the team with 78 tackles and the nine-time reigning MVFC champ has 18 takeaways in a plus-13 turnover margin.
Up Next – The winner will play either Illinois State (9-4) or No. 8 seed Central Arkansas (9-3) in the quarterfinals Dec. 13 or 14.
Prediction – Sure, the Bison want a third straight and an eighth FCS title in nine years, but first things first: Another win break their FCS record-tying 33-game winning streak. North Dakota State, 35-14.