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December 14, 2016

(STATS) - A case can be made that North Dakota State and James Madison, who square off Friday night in an FCS national semifinal, have the most complete teams in the subdivision.

Offense, defense, special teams, they have all been wrapped up into superb seasons.

The two are champions from the strongest conferences in the FCS, JMU out of CAA Football and NDSU from the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

NDSU has won a record five straight FCS national titles and this season has weathered the toughest schedule in the FCS. But while the Bison (12-1) have been invincible inside the Fargodome during the FCS playoffs this decade, JMU feels strong enough to halt what may be the greatest dynasty in college football history. During the regular season, the Dukes (12-1) beat the CAA's second-through fifth-place teams on the road.

Fargodome, here they come.

"We'll use a combination of different noise during practice, doing some things inside for communication-wise, try to replicate what we're gonna see," JMU coach Mike Houston said. "Fortunately, we have staff members that have played there before, so their knowledge is valuable to us. It should be an exciting environment on Friday night. Certainly they have enthusiastic fan support there and it makes a great home field for them. We look forward to having the opportunity to go up there and compete."


FCS Playoffs Semifinal

The Matchup - No. 4 seed James Madison (12-1) at No. 1 seed North Dakota State (12-1)

Kickoff - 7 p.m. ET Friday at the Fargodome (18,700) in Fargo, North Dakota

Coverage - ESPN2

Series - North Dakota State leads 1-0 (NDSU won 26-14 in 2011 FCS first round)

Coaches - James Madison: Mike Houston (12-1, first season; 55-20 overall); North Dakota State: Chris Klieman (40-4, three seasons; 43-11 overall)

Players to Watch - James Madison: QB Bryan Schor (199 of 267, 2,648 yards, 24 TDs, 5 INTs; 103 carries, 534 yards, 10 TDs), RB Khalid Abdullah (249 carries, 1,528 yards, 20 TDs; 2 receiving TDs), WR/KR Brandon Ravenel (44 receptions, 708 yards, 5 TDs), LB Brandon Hereford (96 TT, 7.5 TFL, 4 PBU), LB Gage Steele (87 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU); North Dakota State: QB Easton Stick (150 of 250, 2,115 yards, 19 TDs, 9 INTs; 104 carries, 664 yards, 7 TDs), RB King Frazier (171 carries, 835 yards, 10 TDs), DE Greg Menard (57 TT, 15 TFL, 10.5 sacks, 2 FR, 2 FF), LB MJ Stumpf (79 TT, 12 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 INTs), FS Tre Dempsey (48 TT, 4.5 TFL, 6 INTs, 6 PBU)

What to Know - The first of North Dakota State's five consecutive FCS titles began with a win over James Madison in the 2011 second round. This year, NDSU earned a share of its sixth straight Missouri Valley title and JMU won its first outright CAA title since 2008. The visiting Dukes average an FCS-leading 49.6 points per game and surrender an average of 22.1. They rolled up 607 yards - the program's playoff record - in their 65-7 rout of Sam Houston State in the quarterfinals, which was the second-largest margin in FCS playoff history. Schor, the CAA offensive player of the year, runs the offense with a balanced mix of the run and pass. The Dukes keep drives alive on third and fourth downs as they've converted a combined 53.2 percent. Their offense has lost RB Cardon Johnson to an Achilles injury, but Trai Sharpe has performed well in the No. 2 role behind Abdullah. Against Sam Houston, Abdullah and Sharpe combined for 285 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. The offensive line is physical, and two players, Mitch Kirsch and Aaron Stinnie, were All-CAA first-team selections and another, Matt Frank, made the second team. The defense has intercepted 20 passes, which has led to a plus-16 turnover margin and 125 points off the takeaways. The secondary's shutdown ways helped key the win over Sam Houston State and features CB Taylor Reynolds and FS Raven Greene. The Dukes' return game has been the most dangerous in the FCS, combining for seven touchdowns, including Rashard Davis' four on punts. North Dakota State is on a 22-game winning streak in the FCS playoffs, with 17 of the wins coming inside the loud Fargodome. Since 2010, the Bison are 55-5 at home. They have faced the nation's toughest schedule, with JMU being their 10th ranked opponent. Controlling the game clock is a staple with the FCS dynasty and the Bison had nearly 41 minutes of time of possession during their 36-10 victory over South Dakota State in the quarterfinals. They have scored 30.1 points on average and allowed 15.8, which is third-best in the FCS. The heady Stick, 20-1 as a starter, is the offensive leader. He's part of a deep running game with Frazier and Lance Dunn (940 yards, 6 TDs). They have followed a great offensive line, anchored by LG Zack Johnson, to an average of 249.2 rushing yards per game, but 278.3 over the last six games. The defense is fierce, having totaled 34 sacks and 25 takeaways. It has lost several key players to injuries, but the Bison never dwell on who's not in the lineup. They hope to get back LB Pierre Gee-Tucker from an MCL sprain. Opponents are just under 100 rushing yards per game, and Menard comes from the edge on passing downs. Stumpf has likely been their defensive MVP, while Dempsey has a Missouri Valley-best six interceptions. Cam Pederson is 14 of 20 on field goals, making seven of his last eight attempts.

Up Next - The winner will play either Youngstown State (11-3) or No. 2 seed Eastern Washington (12-1) in the FCS championship game Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas.

Prediction - If North Dakota State gets back to Frisco for the championship game, it probably isn't losing following three weeks of preparation. So if the Bison's championship run is going to end, this would be the night. It's a great matchup. North Dakota State, 27-26.

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