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December 12, 2016

(STATS) - They're surrounded by reminders all year long, whether it's in a trophy case or in the talk that goes with their program's historical level of success.

The four teams in this year's FCS semifinals, James Madison will play at North Dakota State Friday night and Youngstown State goes to Eastern Washington on Saturday, have all won an FCS national title previously.

The only other year that has happened since the playoff system began in 1978 was in 2006, with Massachusetts, Montana, Youngstown State and eventual champion Appalachian State.

The coaches and players from the semifinalists understand they are in special programs, and share a need to maintain the high standards.

"Number one, it's not anything that we had hid from or backed down from since the first day I got here," James Madison's first-year coach Mike Houston said Monday. "The first day that I was introduced as the head football coach at James Madison, I made the statement that our goal was to perennially contend for the CAA championship and to be a presence at the national level and to compete for a national championship. Certainly that's the expectation that I had coming in here, I think it's the expectation of all of our players within our program."

North Dakota State has won the last five FCS titles, one shy of Georgia Southern's record six. Youngstown State won four FCS titles in the 1990s (1991, '93, '94 and '97). James Madison captured the 2004 national title and Eastern Washington did the same in 2010.

James Madison is appearing in the playoffs for the 13th time, while Eastern Washington and Youngstown State are both making their 12th appearances. North Dakota State, which moved to Division I in 2004 and became playoff-eligible in '09, is in the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.

"I think if you look at it for this year," NDSU coach Chris Klieman said, "I believe the best four teams are left."

North Dakota State, Eastern Washington and James Madison are seeded 1, 2 and 4, respectively, and each is 12-1. Youngstown State is unseeded and 11-3.

The semifinal-round winners will meet in the national championship game Jan. 7 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

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