North Dakota State vs. Montana State Odds & Picks: How to Bet FCS Championship
Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images. Pictured: The FCS Championship trophy.
- The FCS Championship line has been on the move, as updated odds make North Dakota State a -7.5 favorite over Montana State.
- Both teams boast solid ground attacks on offense and dominant run defenses.
- Darin Gardner cuts through the noise to offer up his best bet for Saturday's FCS Championship.
North Dakota State vs. Montana State Odds
|North Dakota State Odds|
-110o / -110u
|Montana State Odds|
-110o / -110u
In this year’s edition of the FCS Championship, a juggernaut program in North Dakota State faces up-and-coming Montana State in Saturday’s showdown.
Appearing in a title game is just business as usual for the Bison, considering they have won eight of the last 10 FCS titles. In contrast, this will be a brand-new experience for Montana State, as the last time the Bobcats appeared in this contest was back in 1984.
Montana State enters the finale with a 12-2 record, which included a nine-game winning streak after dropping a tight one to a Mountain West opponent in Wyoming to open its season. The Bobcats entered the FCS Playoff bracket as the eighth seed, then won three consecutive games to reach this point.
The highlight, though, was their 42-19 win over Sam Houston — the reigning FCS champion that entered the playoffs as the top seed — in a game in which the Bobcats were 9.5-point underdogs.
Then, they beat South Dakota State, 34-17, in the next contest. The Jackrabbits were also coming off a championship appearance after losing to Sam Houston last season.
After knocking off both of last season’s finale participants in back-to-back games, it’s safe to say Montana State is riding high going into its final test.
The machine that is North Dakota State just kept on rolling, as the second-seeded Bison are currently sitting on a 13-1 record after cruising past Southern Illinois, East Tennessee State and James Madison in the playoff bracket.
Outside of dropping a road game to rival South Dakota State in the regular season, there haven’t been many blemishes on NDSU’s résumé.
Does chalk hold and result in the Bison taking home yet another FCS title, or do the Bobcats keep up the magical run they’ve been on in the postseason?
North Dakota State Offense
No matter the year, it’s usually a pretty safe bet that North Dakota State will have an elite ground game, and this season is no different. The team’s 6.13 yards per carry average leads the nation, and its 92.4 Pro Football Focus rushing grade ranks first as well.
The Bison get it done as a committee on the ground, with six different players totaling more than 350 rushing yards to date. Running back TaMerik Williams has led the way with 114 carries for 713 yards, and his 89.6 PFF rushing grade ranks fourth among all FCS backs with at least 100 carries.
The quarterback situation has undergone some changes this year. Virginia Tech transfer Quincy Patterson started the season as the signal-caller for the Bison but suffered a shoulder injury midway through the season. That put Cam Miller into the starter’s role.
As it would turn out, Miller never relinquished the job even after Patterson returned, but Patterson found his way back into the lineup in a very run-heavy role.
He hasn’t thrown a pass since returning from injury but has totaled 23 carries. He came up big in the first round of the playoffs against Southern Illinois, rushing the ball seven times for 84 yards and a touchdown.
The passing game really isn’t featured too much in this offense, but Miller has been efficient when asked to drop back. Among FCS quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks, his 9.5 yards per attempt ranks third, and his adjusted completion percentage of 74.6% ranks 15th, per PFF.
North Dakota State Defense
As you could probably guess, the defense has been elite as well. It’s leading the FCS with only 11.2 points allowed per game.
It’s also been the driving force behind the Bison’s success through the playoffs, as North Dakota State has allowed a grand total of 24 points in its three games played up to this point.
North Dakota State’s front seven is one of the best in FCS, as it ranks second in total sacks on the year while allowing a measly 2.72 yards per carry. Edge defender Eli Mostaert and defensive tackle Brayden Thomas have led the way in the trenches, combining for 16.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss.
In coverage, cornerback Destin Talbert has been incredibly efficient as part of a back end that ranks eighth in PFF coverage grade. Across 421 snaps this season, he’s been targeted 32 times for 5.3 yards per target, three interceptions and a passer rating allowed of 34.6.
Overall, the Bison rank 12th in yards allowed per pass attempt.
Montana State Offense
While North Dakota State underwent a change at quarterback, the same was true at Montana State. North Carolina State transfer Matthew McKay started most of the season but abruptly entered the transfer portal just two days before the Bobcats’ playoff opener.
He had struggled at the end of the campaign, and it was reported Montana State decided to make a switch. Apparently, he wasn’t a fan of the decision and decided to pack his bags.
Now starting at quarterback is Tommy Mellott, who struggled in the Bobcats’ first-round matchup despite the win. He completed only eight passes for 51 yards and an interception on 22 attempts. He wasn’t asked to do much in the next two contests but was extremely effective on those 27 combined attempts, completing 16 passes for 398 yards (a whopping 14.7 yards per attempt).
Since Mellott has had such a light workload through the air, you can probably guess the ground game is the focal point of the offense. The Bobcats run it a little more than 65% of the time — and for good reason — as they rank 10th in yards per carry on the year.
The team’s most productive ball-carrier is running back Isaiah Ifanse, whose 1,569 rushing yards rank second in the FCS while sitting sixth in PFF rushing grade and second in missed tackles forced.
Mellott has also been a big part of the ground game since taking over as well, totaling 721 yards on 6.6 yards per carry with 10 touchdowns. His rushing ability has been one of the driving forces behind the team’s success, as he’s totaled 423 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns in the three playoff games alone.
Montana State Defense
The Montana State defense has also been very solid. The most points it has allowed the entire season was 20, and the unit comes into this game ranked second behind North Dakota State with 13.4 points allowed per contest.
You won’t find many FCS cornerbacks better than Montana State’s Ty Okada, as his 90.2 PFF grade ranks second at the position while allowing 4.9 yards per target in his role from the slot. He’s also excelled around the line of scrimmage, adding six tackles for loss in addition to his seven pass breakups.
Okada isn’t the only elite member of this group, though, as edge defender Daniel Hardy ranks second in the FCS with 16.5 sacks and third in tackles for loss with 23.5. He’s been a game-wrecker in the Bobcats’ three playoff games as well, racking up 5.5 sacks and 25 pressures.
Overall, the Montana State defense has top-15 PFF grades in run defense, coverage and pass rushing.
North Dakota State vs. Montana State Betting Pick
Montana State opened as high as a 10-point underdog in some places when these lines came out a few days before Christmas, but that quickly moved to eight by the next day and currently sits right around seven at most spots.
The total has also seen some movement since the opener of 43.5, with it now at 41.5 or 42 depending on where you look.
Both offenses can move the ball well on the ground, but each defense has been near the top of the nation in run defense as well.
Additionally, while neither team relies on the passing game too much, I have serious doubts about Montana State’s ability to move the ball through the air with an inexperienced quarterback against what is arguably the best FCS defense.
It would be fun to see Montana State continue its run and come home with a title, but North Dakota State is just a much more complete team when looking at the entire season’s sample size.
That said, give me the Bison to cover this seven-point spread and add one more to their stack of FCS Championship trophies.