Our (admittedly-spotty) coverage of the FCS spring playoffs in 2021 has been bolstered by scores of interested readers, who have helped the experiment work by clicking on every link.
Thanks are owed to quiet masses of FCS fans for convincing WagerBop’s “front office” to welcome the Football Championship Subdivision, or at least the division’s unique and groundbreaking playoff bracket each year.
Maybe the FCS has overcome the disadvantages of spring pigskin to further its popularity. It’s certainly more intriguing than usual to handicap the FCS Championship Game in 2021, just as it has been more fun to predict the FCS playoffs in general, and that’s absolutely nothing personal against North Dakota State. Just as it was nothing personal vs Team USA softball when another country finally won a gold medal, and just as nobody (or at least, nobody sane) had a hardened heart toward UConn women’s basketball when the Lady Huskies finally lost a game and made the NCAAW division come alive with hope and speculation again.
Division-killers are like that. Dynasties are great for professional sports leagues, since there’s always someone around who can give the defending champs a good game. Even the dynasties of the FBS don’t turn the whole postseason into a snoozer. But steadfast supporters of all FCS playoff teams but 1 can attest to the past several years of frustration, like following a prep football conference in which a single private school knocks-off every team 48-6. North Dakota State would simply roar through entire playoff brackets worth of teams, again and again. NDSU won lots of games and that was fine, but things got carried away when even Sun Belt-level opponents couldn’t come within 28 points of the Bison in FCS Championship Game kickoffs.
And then, suddenly, the streak was over…thanks to Sunday’s (+5.5) underdog in 2021’s fresh version of the FCS Championship Game, the Sam Houston State Bearkats.
Sam Houston State 24, North Dakota State 20
Things had already appeared to be on the fritz for NDSU by the time the Bison – no longer undefeated in 63,267 straight games – appeared in Huntsville, Texas for the FCS quarterfinals on May 2nd. North Dakota State’s QB woes returned in the 1st half, and Cam Miller would finish the game with 0 TDs and 2 INTs.
But you had to know NDSU would make a final, brave stand for the FCS championship rosters that had come before the ’21 squad, teams that had beaten Power-5 FBS opponents like the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Bison rallied behind 2 special-teams touchdowns in the 3rd quarter, making Las Vegas wonder if it had somehow underestimated 1 of the winningest brands in sports. Sam Houston State’s defense has been scrappy and effective in 2021, but offense is the Bearkats’ bread-and-butter, and QB Eric Schmid steered an historic comeback victory for SHSU, sealed with his own legs in the 4th quarter.
Sam Houston defeats North Dakota State 24-20 in the FCS quarterfinals!!
— NCAA FCS Football (@NCAA_FCS) May 2, 2021
Drama continued for Sam Houston State the following weekend against James Madison, another FCS program known for defeating FBS teams on occasion. In one of the strangest turns leading up to the FCS Championship Game, not just in 2021 but in recent memory, the Bearkats folded in the 2nd quarter and fell behind 24-3 before putting on an incredible rally in the 3rd quarter, highlighted by SHSU’s own big-play kick returner Jaquez Ezzard.
Meanwhile, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits have had a relatively stress-free path through the spring FCS playoffs, despite falling to University of North Dakota early in the season when SDSU was still figuring things out. South Dakota State joins Sam Houston as teams to have conquered the formerly invincible NDSU Bison this year, having beaten North Dakota State on April 17th. Playoff foes Holy Cross and Delaware – which had been making a Cinderella run in the FCS tournament – were dispatched without an issue.
But the SDSU defense also let down against Southern Illinois, another Cinderella bid, in the quarterfinals, losing 20-10 at halftime and having to claw-out a 31-26 victory. QB Mark Gronkowski proved once again that he can lead the Jackrabbits in the clutch, but are the 3 other outcomes the main impetus behind SDSU’s (-5.5) spread for Sunday?
2021 FCS Championship Game: Weighing the Line vs Predictions
What if the notion that Sam Houston is a war-weary team is the correct angle, only interpreted the wrong way?
Pundits believe that the SDSU offensive line is going to win the day, and that the Jackrabbits’ nice stable of running backs will prove more efficient through 4 quarters than Schmid’s balanced attack. That’s a rather new slant coming from a mainstream press that loves its pocket passing QB, and what’s more, the angle that Delaware was a giant that SDSU managed to slay by 30 points belies what oddsmakers thought about Delaware all along. The Blue Hens are a credit to NCAA pigskin, but…they are who (Las Vegas) thought they were.
So was Holy Cross. So was SIU, for that matter, but the Salukis looked like champions in defeat thanks to South Dakota State nearly slipping-up against a 6-3 squad.
Sam Houston’s pass pressure generated by a stud defensive line can create turnovers on behalf of otherwise fine-tuned offenses, and that factor more than makes up for the 5 points the Bearkats are giving the Jackrabbits in scoring defense.
Not that a strong running game isn’t the best antidote to an edge rush, but SHSU has been solid against the run too, arguably against tougher competition in the final FCS playoff rounds. The Bearkat roster has taken its lumps but is nowhere near a casualty ward. Sam Houston has been beating slightly better opponents in more-intense games with a faster tempo. That’s a recipe for catching an opponent off-guard.
There’s a battle-tested team in the FCS Championship Game this year, and it’s not the school that just passed several years’ worth of tests in the same contest. It’s the side Las Vegas thinks is worn down…but they’re not beaten by a single opponent yet, including the defending champs.
Sam Houston can win by scoring TDs and pressuring the Jackrabbits just enough on passing downs to earn extra possessions, forcing SDSU to battle back from a deficit without the luxury of a pass-first style of attack.
Best Wager in the FCS Championship Game
By now it should be obvious which side WagerBop is taking on the Football Bowl Subdivision title scrum. But which is the best line to wager, Sam Houston and (+5.5) or the SHSU moneyline, currently (+160) at FanDuel Sportsbook?
When there’s a phantom favorite and a likely toss-up outcome, the ML is almost always the correct gamble. However, keep an eye on the widening FCS Championship point spread that opened at just (-4.5) points on the favored SDSU Jackrabbits. If the line moves any more, (+6) or (+6.5) wagers could open up “safety net” possibilities for backdoor covers and/or pushes, even if the Jackrabbits steamroll the Bearkats in the 4th quarter as so many distracted Sin City ‘cappers seem to expect.
Thanks again to all for supporting our FCS playoff coverage in 2021! Look to WagerBop again for predictions and recommended betting lines when the FCS postseason rolls back around in January, 2022…assuming the league’s schedule gets back to normal by then.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.