FCS National Championship Previw

At the start of the year, James Madison and North Dakota State were the two favorites to win the FCS national championship. The Dukes and Bison both had odds of 2-1 or less to win the title, while every other school was at least 5-1 to win it all back in August. These teams have been on a collision course from that point forward, and they will meet for all the marbles on Saturday at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. This game will be broadcast on ABC with coverage slated to start at 12 p.m. ET.

FCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP BETTING ODDS

NORTH DAKOTA STATE -1.5 VS. JAMES MADISON, O/U 47.5

The betting odds for this game have fluctuated over the last couple weeks. James Madison opened as a short favorite per the original FCS betting odds, but North Dakota State’s history has many backing the Bison in this game. This is expected to be a close, low scoring game though with the two best defenses at this level on display.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

North Dakota State has been the most dominant program in the history of the FCS this decade. The Bison have won seven of the last eight FCS national championships, and it’s become something of a birthright for North Dakota State to end its season celebrating in Frisco. They were the No. 1 team in the country entering the year, and NDSU was only tested a few times on the way to the title game.

UC Davis and South Dakota State were North Dakota State’s biggest tests during the regular season. The Aggies had some success running the ball on this front seven, but three Jake Maier interceptions cost them a chance to pull off the upset in the Fargodome, while the Jackrabbits always play the Bison tough. The Bison turned it on in the playoffs as they usually do and trounced both Nicholls and Montana State, but MVFC rival Illinois State shut down Trey Lance and NDSU only managed to win 9-3.

The Dukes broke up the Bison’s national championship streak in 2016 by knocking off North Dakota State 27-17 in the semifinals, but they lost the rematch in the title game the following season. James Madison fell apart in 2018, but this program has bounced back in 2019.

James Madison fell to West Virginia in its opener, but the Dukes have won every game since that defeat. They have blown out most of their opponents, but Stony Brook forced overtime in New York in early October. Their run through the postseason has been even more impressive than what we have seen from North Dakota State, as each of their three victories have come by at least 16 points and they had no trouble with Northern Iowa or Weber State.

The staying power of both programs has been impressive. North Dakota State has lost two coaches to the FBS during its run, while James Madison roared back this year after Mike Houston took the East Carolina job last offseason. NDSU HC Matt Entz and JMU HC Curt Cignetti are in their first seasons as head coaches of their schools, but they have ensured these programs remain atop the FCS.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Trey Lance was not expected to be the starting quarterback for North Dakota State at the start of the season. Many pegged Iowa State transfer Zeb Noland as the likely starter, but Lance earned the starting job over the summer and has not looked back. As a freshman, he has run for 934 yards and 13 touchdowns in 15 games, and he has completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 2,714 yards and 28 touchdowns without throwing a single interception.

Illinois State was the first defense to really hold Lance in check, and James Madison’s defense is one of the few in the country with more talent than the Redbirds. The Dukes led the nation in total defense, surrendering just 264.7 YPG this season, and they are conceding only 4.5 yards per play.

PREDICTION

The under is the best bet on the board. Both defenses have the talent to stymie the opposition, and we don’t trust either quarterback to move the ball well enough through the air. While Lance has yet to throw an interception, much of that is by design, and James Madison’s Ben DiNucci is the definition of a game manager.

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