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FCS Playoffs Odds & Pick for North Dakota State vs. Sam Houston State: Fade the Bison as Favorites (May 2)

FCS Playoffs Odds & Pick for North Dakota State vs. Sam Houston State: Fade the Bison as Favorites (May 2) article feature image

Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Davion Davis (left) and Nathan Stewart (right).

  • The No. 2 Sam Houston State Bearkats will take on the North Dakota State Bison in the FCS Playoffs quarterfinals on Sunday afternoon.
  • The Bison are one of the most powerful programs in FCS, but the Bearkats may have the pieces to stop the NDSU dynasty.
  • Check out Mike Ianniello's betting guide complete with betting odds and a pick based on his analysis below.

North Dakota State vs. Sam Houston State Odds

North Dakota State Odds -2.5
Sam Houston State Odds +2.5
Moneyline -148 / +118
Over/Under 48
Time Sunday, 3 p.m. ET
Odds as of Saturday evening and via DraftKings.

North Dakota State will travel to Sam Houston State on Sunday afternoon, and the defending national champion Bison are a -2.5 point favorite in the FCS quarterfinals.

Sam Houston State won the Southland Conference Championship for the seventh time with a dominant 6-0 season. In the first round of the playoffs, the Bearkats held off a late comeback attempt for a 21-15 win over Monmouth.

Sam Houston is in the FCS playoffs for the 12th time and fifth appearance for head coach K.C. Keeler. It’s the Bearkats’ first appearance since 2017 when they were knocked out of the semifinals by North Dakota State.

FCS powerhouse North Dakota State is making its 11th straight FCS Playoffs appearance. The Bison have won eight National Championships in the last 10 seasons, including the last three years in a row. NDSU has not lost a playoff game since 2016.

The Bison were selected as an at-large bid after a somewhat down 5-2 season in conference play. The Bison were upset by Southern Illinois and then fell to No. 1 seed South Dakota State.

In the first round of the playoffs, North Dakota fell behind early but came back and handled Eastern Washington, 42-20, behind a dominant rushing attack.

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Sam Houston State Bearkats

The Sam Houston State offense is one of the most efficient in the country, ranking third in FCS, averaging 6.98 yards per play. Averaging 486.4 yards per game, the Bearkats are fairly balanced on offense, ranking in the top 25 in both passing and rushing offense. They sit 22nd in the country with 177.7 rushing yards per game and 12th with 4.88 yards per rush.

Through the air, Sam Houston is third in the country with 15.66 yards per completion and sit ninth with 308.7 yards passing per game.

Dual-threat quarterback Eric Schmid is in his second season as the Bearkats’ signal-caller and has been terrific this year. He ranks sixth in the country with 15 touchdowns and fifth with 2,154 yards. Schmid’s 15.84 yards per completion are the second-most in the country, and he has more than twice the number of completions as the only player ahead of him.

In addition to his arm, Schmid adds over 41 yards per game with his legs and is tied for the team lead with five rushing touchdowns. Running back Ramon Jefferson has five scores as well and averages 81.43 yards per game. He is averaging 7.0 yards per carry, fifth in the country.

The Bearkats have a deep and talented receiving corps, with six players averaging at least 20 yards per game and three averaging over 50 per game. The WR room is led by grad transfer Jequez Ezzard, who is second in the country with 29.24 yards per catch and ranks fifth with seven touchdowns.

“Bend, don’t break” is certainly the best way to describe this Sam Houston defense. It ranks just 52nd in the country and allows 364.1 yards per game. Yet, it gives up only 17.1 points per game, good for 11th in FCS. That was even the story in its first-round matchup against Monmouth as it was outgained, 412-267, yet allowed just 15 points.

The Bearkats have been torched through the air this season. Their secondary allows 305.3 passing yards per game, 91st in the country out of 97 teams. They have been saved this season by their ability to force turnovers, sitting sixth in the country with 17 turnovers forced in seven games.

There is no doubt the strength of the Sam Houston defense is its front seven. The Bearkats have been dominant up front and against the run.

Despite its struggles against the pass, Sam Houston ranks second in the country against the run, allowing just 58.9 yards per game and an FCS-best 1.78 yards per carry.

The Bearkats excel at creating Havoc in the backfield. They lead the country with 77 tackles for loss (11.0 per game) and with 31 sacks (4.43 per game). Linebacker Markel Perry ranks fourth in the country with 11.0 tackles for loss and sits fifth with 6.5 sacks on the season.

If Sam Houston has any chance in this game, it’s going to need its defensive front to dominate and get into the North Dakota State backfield consistently.

North Dakota State Bison

The Sam Houston rush defense will be put to the test against a North Dakota State team that rushed for 422 yards against Eastern Washington last week.

The Bison have the third-most rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in FCS this season and average 5.33 yards per carry on the ground. Dominic Gonnella, Hunter Luepke and Jalen Bussey all average over 50 yards rushing per game and have each tallied 100-yard games this season.

In the first round matchup with Eastern Washington, Gonnella rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, while the speedster Bussey went for 143 yards on 13 carries. Luepke had just nine carries but racked up 46 yards and a touchdown.

Where North Dakota State has been vulnerable this season is at the quarterback position. With No. 3 overall draft pick Trey Lance opting out of the spring season, the Bison have rotated both senior Zeb Noland and true freshman Cam Miller, with neither being very effective.

They have each appeared in seven games this season and have combined for seven touchdowns and seven interceptions and just 124.25 passing yards per game. The Bison rank just 84th in passing offense.

This not been the dominant North Dakota State defense we are used to seeing in the FCS. The defense is very young, especially in the secondary. Don’t get me wrong, they are still very good — just not the elite status that has come to be expected. North Dakota State ranks 24th in total defense, allowing 305 yards per game,and sit 27th in rushing defense and 28th against the pass.

The Bison defense is led by defensive end Spencer Waege and linebacker James Kaczor, but Kaczor missed last week’s game with an injury and was replaced with a true freshman. Their defense took a big hit when first-time all-conference cornerback Josh Hayes entered the transfer portal after six games and transferred to Virginia.

North Dakota State has been forced to play 15 true freshmen, 16 redshirt
freshmen and 11 sophomores during this spring season. Those 42 underclassmen have accounted for 39% of all team snaps played this season.

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Betting Analysis & Pick

This game is going to come down to who wins in the trenches — specifically, one key matchup: the North Dakota State run game against the Sam Houston State rushing defense.

The Bearkats have the second-best run defense in FCS this season. They allow just 58.9 rushing yards per game and lead the country, allowing just 1.78 yards per carry. North Dakota State is third in FCS in rushing yards and has 10th-highest rushing rate in the country, keeping the ball on the ground over 67% of the time. In their playoff game, the Bison ran the ball 57 times and threw it just 11.

We will get to see strength-on-strength as the Sam Houston front seven leads the country in tackles for loss and sacks on the season. The North Dakota State offensive line has allowed the second-fewest tackles for loss per game and the fifth-fewest sacks per game.

Sam Houston State and North Dakota State has turned into a nice little FCS rivalry over the years, as the two teams will meet in the playoffs for the fifth time. The Bearkats are 0-4 against the Bison in the postseason. Sam Houston lost to NDSU in back-to-back National Championship games in 2011 and 2012 and then lost to it in the semifinals in 2014 and 2017.

While North Dakota State is an FCS juggernaut and has dominated the level for a decade, it might be getting overvalued in this spot because of its reputation.

Sam Houston has one of the best offenses in the country, and a quarterback and wide receiver corps capable of picking apart this young Bison secondary.

The North Dakota State passing attack has been terrible this season, and when it’s forced to rely on it, it has lost. In their two losses this season, the Bison totaled just 97 yards rushing yards against South Dakota State and 109 against Southern Illinois.

The Bearkats have a terrific front seven, capable of slowing down the backfield of the Bison enough and force long third downs. Despite Sam Houston’s struggling pass defense, North Dakota State no longer has a quarterback capable of taking advantage of that.

This game will give Sam Houston State the benefit of home-field advantage at Bowers Stadium in Huntsville, Texas. North Dakota State has not played a road playoff game since the 2010 quarterfinals, when it lost to Eastern Washington.

I like Sam Houston to finally slay Goliath and pick up a postseason win over North Dakota State, but I always prefer to take the points when given to me.

Pick: Sam Houston State +2.5 (+100).

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