FCS predictions: Let the fun begin

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(STATS) - This time last year, nobody correctly predicted who would be in and who would be out of the 2016 championship game in Frisco, Texas.

The smart guess was five-time defending national champion North Dakota State keeping the streak going and not James Madison, which had flopped in the two previous playoffs. And nobody was expecting the Dukes' opponent would be a Youngstown State team that hadn't made the postseason in 10 years.

But James Madison winning the national championship has changed everything in FCS college football, basically opening up the possibility for others.

Of course, many people will be content if there isn't a new winner and JMU and NDSU again meet come Jan. 6.

Here's how the 2017 FCS season may go (or not):

Conference Champions - Big Sky: North Dakota; Big South: Charleston Southern; CAA Football: James Madison; Ivy: Penn; MEAC: North Carolina A&T; Missouri Valley: North Dakota State; Northeast: Duquesne; Ohio Valley: Jacksonville State; Patriot: Lehigh; Pioneer: San Diego; Southern: Wofford; Southland: Sam Houston State; and SWAC: Grambling State

Playoff Field - Automatic Qualifiers: Charleston Southern (Big South), Duquesne (Northeast), Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley), James Madison (CAA), Lehigh (Patriot), North Dakota (Big Sky), North Dakota State (Missouri Valley), Sam Houston State (Southland), San Diego (Pioneer) and Wofford (Southern); At-Large Bids: Chattanooga (Southern), Central Arkansas (Southland), Eastern Washington (Big Sky), Fordham (Patriot), Illinois State (Missouri Valley), Montana (Big Sky), New Hampshire (CAA), Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley), Richmond (CAA), Samford (Southern), South Dakota State (Missouri Valley), The Citadel (Southern), Villanova (CAA) and Youngstown State (Missouri Valley)

National Semifinals: North Dakota State over South Dakota State and James Madison over Sam Houston State

National Championship Game: North Dakota State over James Madison

STATS FCS Awards - Walter Payton (offensive player): With all due respect to Sam Houston State quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe, the pick is Fordham running back Chase Edmonds; Buck Buchanan (defensive player): Sam Houston State defensive end P.J. Hall; Eddie Robinson (coach): James Madison's Mike Houston


All Times ET

X - Predicted Winner

Thursday, Aug. 31

Maine at X-No. 13 New Hampshire, 7 p.m. - The "Battle for the Brice-Cowell Musket" is being contested in a season opener for the first time since 1992.

Kennesaw State at X-No. 19 Samford, 7 p.m. - Beware Samford, the third-year Owls have a strong enough team to beat a ranked opponent for the first time.

X-No. 25 Western Illinois at Tennessee Tech, 7 p.m. - The Leathernecks seek a sixth straight season-opening win, but they start a three-game opening road stretch for the first time since 1935.

No. 8 North Dakota at X-Utah, 7:30 p.m. - Junior John Santiago has surpassed 100 rushing yards in his two games against FBS opponents, including UND's 2015 win at Wyoming.

Duquesne at X-No. 4 South Dakota State, 8 p.m. - The 12 former FBS players on Duquesne's roster haven't seen a triumvirate like the Jackrabbits' Taryn Christion, Dallas Goedert and Jake Wieneke.

Friday, Sept. 1

No. 22 Fordham at X-Army West Point, 6 p.m. - The visiting Rams seek a repeat of their 37-35 win at Army in 2015.

No. 7 Richmond at X-No. 3 Sam Houston State in Waco, Texas, 7 p.m. - The FCS Game of the Week has one of the season's best quarterback matchups: Richmond's Kyle Lauletta versus Sam Houston's Jeremiah Briscoe.

Saturday, Sept. 2

X-No. 10 Villanova at No. 17 Lehigh, 12:30 p.m. - In comparing new 'Nova coach Mark Ferrante with the retired Andy Talley, All-America safety Rob Rolle says, "He's hip."

No. 9 Youngstown State at X-Pittsburgh, 1 p.m. - In coach Bo Pelini's YSU debut against the Panthers in 2015, quarterback Hunter Wells passed for 274 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown.

Mississippi Valley State at X-No. 2 North Dakota State, 3:30 p.m. - The Bison will roll to a rout while they get settled on the offensive line (three new starters) and at defensive end (two new starters).

No. 14 Charleston Southern at X-Mississippi State, 4 p.m. - New Bucs coach Mark Tucker can make a statement: His program is 0-18 all-time against the FBS.

No. 5 Eastern Washington at X-Texas Tech, 4 p.m. - First team to 500 passing yards wins.

Newberry at X-No. 16 The Citadel, 6 p.m. - Quarterback Dominique Allen and A-back Cam Jackson are back to spark The Citadel's rushing offense, which ranked No. 1 in the FCS last season.

X-No. 1 James Madison at East Carolina, 6 p.m. - The defending FCS champion Dukes are favored as they seek a sixth all-time win versus the FCS.

No. 24 Albany at X-Old Dominion, 6 p.m. - If running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks can't go, neither will Albany's upset bid.

Furman at X-No. 11 Wofford, 6 p.m. - Not only is Wofford opening with a Southern Conference game for the first time since 1999, it's the Terriers' first season-opening home game since 2008.

No. 15 Central Arkansas at X-Kansas State, 7:10 p.m. - Tough loss for UCA that All-America offensive lineman Stockton Mallet will miss the season following shoulder surgery.

Butler at X-No. 20 Illinois State, 7:30 p.m. - Leave the razor at home, Illinois State fans can channel their inner Brock Spack at the second annual Spack Stache Bash during a special pregame tailgate party.

No. 23 Cal Poly (0-1) at X-San Jose State (0-1), 7:30 p.m. - It's a matchup to avoid being 0-2 already.

No. 18 Northern Iowa at X-Iowa State, 8 p.m. - UNI coach Mark Farley owns three wins over Iowa State (2007, 2013 and last year).

No. 21 Grambling State at X-Tulane, 8 p.m. - Like national champ James Madison, Grambling State only lost to an FBS opponent (Arizona) last season.