2021 FCS Championship Preview

We've got a national championship in college football next Saturday.

As odd as it is to have a championship in May, it's even more odd to see a FCS championship without North Dakota State roaming the sidelines in Frisco. But alas, it'll be the South Dakota State Jackrabbits and the Sam Houston State Bearkats fighting for the title next weekend. And the title game will eventually come down to these factors.

1) South Dakota State ground attack versus the rushing defense of Sam Houston. Sam Houston's defense gave up slightly over 50 yards a game on the ground in the regular season, which led to a lot of easy Bearkat wins. During the playoffs, they've given up over 100 yards on the ground, and the Bearkats have won three very close games.

However, they're about to face their biggest test of the season in Pierre Strong, Isaiah Davis, and the Jackrabbit offensive line. SDSU has a balanced attack, but success on the ground allows them to control the clock and slow down Eric Schmid and the Sam Houston passing attack. The Jacks need to hold on to the ball though; Sam Houston has forced 16 fumbles this season and recovered 12. Win the trench war and hold onto the ball, and SDSU is in good shape.

2) Eric Schmid vs. the Jackrabbit defense. Schmid and his bevy of wide receivers (keep an eye on Jequez Eddard), can pull Sam Houston out of a hole in very short time, as demonstrated in their semifinal win over James Madison. Schmid has been the catalyst of an attack that has been unstoppable all season. But Schmid has thrown 8 picks this year, and South Dakota State's defense is +7 for the year in turnovers (+9 if you only count the passing game). If Schmid is off, the Jacks could capitalize and make life rough for the Kats. If Schmid can carve the Jackrabbit defense though, the trophy could be on a quick trip back to Huntsville, Texas.

3) Turnover war. South Dakota State, as mentioned before, is +7. Sam Houston is +2. But what makes this interesting is how they recover turnovers. The Jacks have 12 interceptions this year. The Bearkats have recovered 12 fumbles. The Jacks have a strong ground game. The Kats have a strong passing attack. Strength vs. strength will be all over the field for this game.

4) The second quarter push. Oddly enough, both teams have dominated their opponents in the second quarter this season. Winning the quarter and gaining the halftime advantage might be the deciding factor of this game. Then again, South Dakota State rallied to beat Southern Illinois in the second half, and we all saw what Sam Houston did to James Madison in a second half blitzkrieg that left the Dukes helpless.

5) Red Zone conversions. South Dakota State scores 97% of the time they reach the end zone. Sam Houston's defense has to find a way to shut them down in the red zone. The Bearkats score 85% of the time, which should be a great challenge for South Dakota State, whose defense has held their opponents to more field goals and goose eggs than touchdowns in the red zone.

6) Special Teams surprise? South Dakota State hasn't scored a touchdown via a punt or kick return all season. Sam Houston scored their first touchdown on an 80-yard punt return in their last game against James Madison. In a game where strengths battle strengths, a special teams touchdown could very much prove to be the difference.

Both teams are fighting for their first national title. And, on that note, you have to give kudos to both teams and appreciate what they've done. Nothing that these schools have done has been easy; from handling pandemic issues and a spring season, to building championship foundations in Brookings, South Dakota and Huntsville, Texas.

For Sam Houston, they've been to the title game twice and lost both times. They faded a bit and then rose again, showing that they're not going away anytime soon. For the Jackrabbits, the ability to build a program and succeed in a rural town, in a rural state, just a short drive down Interstate 29 from the juggernaut that North Dakota State built, is something pretty amazing. A title for the Jacks would not only cement an incredible story for their program, but also make the Dakota Marker game the premier FCS event for years to come.

It should be a great one in Frisco. And, despite the weirdness of football in May, it'll be nice to watch these two schools slug it out.

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