Saturday FCS College Football Playoffs Odds, Picks & Best Bets for the First Round (April 24)
Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images. Pictured: Harry O’Kelly.
- The FCS Playoffs begin on Saturday afternoon as college football teams from across the country enbark on a journey to find glory.
- With eight games taking place, Darin Gardner broke each one down with stats and shared his favorite picks for the slate.
- Check out each individual breakdown complete with odds and picks below.
The FCS Playoffs begin this weekend, kicking off with eight games on Saturday’s card.
FCS has been overshadowed by the avalanche of other sports we’ve been paying attention to this spring, so this will give you a quick overview of each team and how they stack up against one another.
Make sure to check out our individual game previews to get a more in-depth look at each matchup.
No. 2 Sam Houston State vs. Monmouth, Noon ET
Spread: Sam Houston State -9.5
This one could turn into a shootout.
Sam Houston State and Monmouth have been two of the top FCS offenses this season in nearly every metric. Each offense ranks in the top five in points per game, yards per play, touchdown rate, points per play and yards per pass.
Sam Houston’s Eric Schmid and Monmouth’s Tony Muskett have been two of the top quarterbacks of the spring season.
Monmouth has been hurt in the FCS rankings because of its lack of games played (only three games in the spring), but has looked like one of the most dominant teams in the games it has played.
In terms of watchability, this matchup looks to be one of the best of the opening round.
No. 4 Jacksonville State vs. Davidson, 2 p.m. ET
Spread: Jacksonville State -21
If you’re a fan of Running The Damn Ball™, you will probably enjoy this game.
Jacksonville State runs the ball on 64 percent of its plays, while Davidson carries it 83% of the time. There are only two teams that run the ball more often than Davidson. Both teams are relatively efficient at running the ball as well, as they each rank in the top 25 in yards per rush.
When Jacksonville State does throw the ball, it’s efficient in that department as well. Quarterback Zion Webb ranks 17th in the nation in yards per attempt.
On defense, Jacksonville State looks to have a significant advantage.
Rush defense will be important in this matchup, and the Gamecocks rank 10th in yards per rush allowed. Meanwhile, Davidson ranks 78th out of 97 teams in that same category.
Davidson’s defense also ranks 92nd in touchdown rate and 81st in yards per play.
Jacksonville State is very solid on both sides of the ball, but Davidson has significant weaknesses on defense combined with a one-dimensional offense.
However, if Davidson can get anything going on the ground, it could be challenging for Jacksonville State to cover the three-touchdown spread in a game with a total in the low 40s.
No. 3 James Madison vs. Virginia Military Institute, 2 p.m. ET
Spread: James Madison -14
James Madison has been dominant in the FCS for a while, and this year is no different.
The Dukes have an average point differential of 24, which ranks fourth in the nation. The defense is probably the most dominant unit on the team, ranking second in the nation in yards per play allowed (3.22).
It also ranks second in both touchdown rate and first down rate allowed. They should be able to stifle VMI on the ground, as the Keydets rank only 71st in yards per carry.
It will be tough for VMI to find success through the air as well, though, since the James Madison secondary is limiting its opponents to only 5.1 yards per attempt, which ranks fourth in the country. Points could be hard to come by for VMI.
On the other side of the ball, JMU can get it done in both phases.
It ranks eighth in yards per pass and eleventh in yards per rush. The offense, as a whole, ranks in the top 10 in points per play.
Unfortunately for VMI, its defense has a definite weakness that James Madison should be able to take advantage of. Although it has done a decent job against the run (28th in yards per carry allowed), it ranks 69th in yards per pass allowed.
JMU’s top-10 passing attack should have no trouble with this VMI secondary, and the defense should continue its dominance when VMI has the ball.
No. 1 South Dakota State vs. Holy Cross, 3 p.m. ET
Spread: South Dakota State -24
South Dakota State comes into the tournament ranked No. 1, but I’m not sure its metrics justify that spot. However, the coaching staff literally broke a window in the press box last week from celebrating so hard, so I guess you have to give them a little bump for that.
The Jackrabbits are beating their opponents by an average of 13.5 points per game, which is good, but it only ranks 11th in the nation.
SDSU won’t blow you away on offense, but it’s methodical and mostly leans on the ground game to get the job done. It runs the ball on 65% of plays, and its 5.68 yards per carry ranks fourth in the country. Overall, the offense ranks 11th in yards per play.
However, it could run into some trouble with the Holy Cross defense. Although the sample size is small with only three games played, its defense ranks second in points per play and third in touchdown rate. It also matches up well with SDSU’s style of play, as it ranks second in yards per carry allowed.
The Holy Cross offense is similar to SDSU stylistically in the fact that it loves to run the ball. It’s also a snail in terms of pace, down at 89th in plays per game. The Crusaders run the ball at the sixth-highest rate, and its 4.82 yards per carry ranks 18th.
There seems to be a reason why Holy Cross wants to run the ball so often, however. Its passing attack ranks 90th out of 97 teams in yards per attempt, and the Crusaders barely average more yards per throw than yards per carry.
South Dakota State’s defense is well-equipped to face this offense, as it allows less than 3.5 yards per carry and ranks 13th in first down rate. If Holy Cross struggles on the ground, it will probably be a long day for the Crusaders.
North Dakota State vs. Eastern Washington, 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: North Dakota State -7
It’s odd to see North Dakota State without a No. 1 in front of its name after winning eight of the last nine FCS Championships, but things have not gone as well for NDSU in this spring season.
Eastern Washington actually enters the game with an average margin of victory that is almost 10 points higher than the Bison.
The Eagles also have the better offense on paper.
EWU is averaging more than 40 points per game, thanks to a top-10 ranking in yards per play, first down rate, yards per pass attempt, and Havoc rate allowed. Receiver Talolo Limu-Jones leads the country in receiving yards per game with over 120. The Eagles also play at the fastest pace in the FCS, averaging 84 plays per game.
NDSU, meanwhile, plays at one of the slowest paces and has not been nearly as efficient. The Bison rank outside the top 30 in almost every offensive metric outside of its running game, which ranks 10th in efficiency.
Eastern Washington’s secondary is arguably the most vulnerable unit on the team, but NDSU hasn’t shown that it can take advantage of that.
The Bison have disappointed on defense as well, and especially in the red zone. NDSU’s opponents have converted on 100% of red-zone trips this season. If there was one game where I would be looking at an upset, it could be this one with Eastern Washington.
Missouri State vs. North Dakota, 4 p.m. ET
Spread: North Dakota -7.5
How many of you knew that Bobby Petrino was coaching at Missouri State?
Looking at the metrics, I have no idea how Missouri State made it into this playoff, but that’s not my decision. Missouri State allows more yards per play on defense than it gains on offense, and it averages only 18.3 points per game.
Its offense also ranks in the bottom-10 in touchdown rate and ranks seventh-worst in Havoc allowed. The team’s biggest strength is probably its run defense, but that only ranks 23rd in yards per carry allowed.
Luckily for Petrino, his opponent isn’t much of a juggernaut, either. Its offense is relatively efficient, ranking in the top 25 in yards per play and first down rate.
The ground game is a big reason why, with its top-five ranking in yards per carry. The passing game is not nearly as successful.
On defense, North Dakota ranks only 67th in yards per play. Missouri State’s biggest strength is run defense, while North Dakota’s is its run game. North Dakota just looks significantly better at running the ball than Missouri State does at stopping it.
Southern Illinois vs. Weber State, 4 p.m. ET
Spread: Weber State -4
On paper, this looks like one of the most evenly-matched games of the weekend.
Both offenses rank in the top 20 in offensive yards per play, and their passing/running efficiencies are very similar.
Weber State does look to have the advantage on defense, however. Where the Wildcats really excel on that side of the ball is with Havoc. They rank second in Havoc rate, second in tackle for loss rate, third in sack rate, and seventh in interception rate. Their 17.6 points allowed per game ranks 13th.
Meanwhile, Southern Illinois really struggles when it comes to Havoc. Out of 97 teams, it ranks 91st in Havoc rate and 90th in sack rate. Its run defense is also a big question mark, as the Salukis rank only 86th in yards per carry allowed.
Weber State’s offensive strength is running the ball, averaging over five yards per carry. The Wildcats’ path to victory is to exploit the mismatch on the ground when they have the ball and to keep flying around and causing disruptions on defense.
Sacred Heart vs. Delaware, 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Delaware -19.5
Delaware enters this game with a top-five ranking in average point differential of over 21 per game, as well as a top-10 ranking in net yards per play.
It looks to be very balanced in terms of offensive and defensive success. The offense ranks inside the top 15 in points per play and touchdown rate, and quarterback Nolan Henderson is currently third in the country with a completion percentage just under 70%.
Defensively, the Hens allow only 11.6 points per game and less than four yards per play. It ranks in the top 10 in touchdown rate, first down rate, and points per play. Don’t even bother to try passing on this secondary because it ranks first in yards per pass allowed at only 4.76 (!) and allows a completion percentage of less than 48%.
Sacred Heart isn’t too fond of throwing, however, so the secondary may not get tested here. The Pioneers throw the ball at the 13th-lowest rate. They run the ball often and do it effectively, owning a top-15 unit when it comes to yards per carry.
However, Sacred Heart has problems with allowing Havoc. It ranks 63rd in overall Havoc allowed, 74th in TFL rate, and 77th in sack rate.
If Delaware gets out to a lead and forces Sacred Heart to throw the ball, it could get ugly.
My FCS Playoffs First Round Betting Card
- Sam Houston State vs. Monmouth Over 60.5
- Eastern Washington +7
- Weber State -4
- South Dakota State vs. Holy Cross Under 45.5
- Sacred Heart vs. Delaware Under 43