Feel the force of the FCS championship matchup
(STATS) - You may have noticed a certain blockbuster out this weekend.
It just may not be what you thought.
Feel the force of the matchup composing the NCAA FCS championship game - North Dakota State versus Jacksonville State.
Yes, the FCS stars will go to war in a terrific matchup of national powers on Jan. 9 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas (was the Millennium Falcon a Toyota?).
North Dakota State (12-2), ranked No. 2 in the STATS FCS Top 25 to end the regular season, will try to build on its record four straight FCS national titles. But Jacksonville State (13-1) is standing in the way, and the Gamecocks - not the Bison - were No. 1-ranked for most of the regular season before gaining the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.
Both teams were ultra impressive in the national semifinals, North Dakota State steamrolling Richmond 33-7 and Jacksonville State routing Sam Houston 62-10.
It will be the third all-time meeting. Jacksonville State won 31-7 in the 1977 Grantland Rice Bowl and 21-17 in the 1989 NCAA Division II quarterfinals. But the third-seeded Bison are favored here considering all of their championship game experience coming out of the elite Missouri Valley Football Conference and the Gamecocks being the first Ohio Valley Conference qualifier since Eastern Kentucky won the 1982 national title game.
Here's why the force could be with each team in the championship game, which has a noon ET kickoff on ESPN2:
Why North Dakota State Will Win=
Coach Chris Klieman's Bison have been rolling in the playoffs with their familiar script - getting over 68 percent of their offense from a power running attack (228.3 rushing yards per game) while they've held all three of their opponents to their season low in offensive yards. A potential return of quarterback Carson Wentz from his wrist injury on Oct. 17 remains possible considering the original timetable for recovery was 6-8 weeks, but the Bison have won eight straight games since redshirt freshman Easton Stick has taken control of the offense. The best offensive line in the FCS, anchored by tackles Joe Haeg and Zack Johnson, continually paves the way for the King Frazier-led run attack and has helped the Bison to the No. 1 time of possession (36:21) nationally. But they can score quickly as well as they have five touchdowns on returns in the playoffs (Bruce Anderson on two kickoffs, Eric Perkins on a punt and C.J. Smith and Jalen Allison on interceptions). With the secondary gluing itself to wide receivers, the front seven can go to work with the likes of linebacker Nick DeLuca and defensive end Greg Menard. The Bison aren't just confident about a win, they are determined to impart their will on Jacksonville State.
Why Jacksonville State Will Win=
It's been easy to have reservations about Jacksonville State being the best team because OVC teams have had a poor history in the FCS playoffs. But coach John Grass' Gamecocks have played with consistency all season and are unbeaten against FCS opponents, losing only in overtime to Auburn. And they're talented, quite talented. They had 12 players (seven offense, five defense) receive first-team all-conference honors, including four offensive linemen who help fuel an offense that is averaging 606.3 yards and 53.3 points per game in the postseason. Their team speed will spread out North Dakota State, with first-team All-America quarterback Eli Jenkins and Troymaine Pope both big-play runners who have combined for 2,830 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns on 7.3 yards per carry. Josh Barge, the clutch No. 1 receiver, has over 200 career receptions and gets open when Jenkins rolls out. JSU's defense isn't far behind the pace set by the offense, ranking 11th in total defense nationally entering the semifinals. With three All-OVC first-teamers in the secondary (Brandon Bender, Jermaine Hough and Folo Johnson), the 5-2 front has had time to get into backfields. The Gamecocks have 40 sacks (Chris Landrum leads with 8.5) and 130 tackles for loss (five in double figures) this season.