Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 12/9/11

It’s hard to believe, but we are now down to just eight teams left in the hunt for college football’s FCS National Championship. Here’s everything you need to know heading into this weekend’s games, which thankfully, will all be on one of ESPN's family of networks.

Let's get to the previews!

 

Sam Houston State v. Montana State

 

Sam Houston Offense

If Sam Houston State is going to win this game they are going to have to find a way to get RB Richard Sincere more involved in the game. Last week he got only 36 total yards, though he did score a TD. On the season however Sincere has 1,162 total yards and has scored 12 TD’s. When you have an offense like Sam Houston’s which relies so heavily on the RB’s both as ball carriers and pass catchers having only one back who is producing will not work long term. It did manage to work last week though as Tim Flanders carried the ball for 102 yards in a score. His ability to pick up tough yards on the ground was the difference in a game that was all about ball control and who could get the ball last.

Montana State Defense

Let’s be clear about one thing when it comes to the Bobcats win last weekend over New Hampshire this defense saved them. Yes they gave up 25 points but when they needed this defense to step up and get them some stops they were up to the task. DL Brad Daly was a beast coming off the edge, he only registered three tackles on the day but 2.5 of those tackles were sacks as he got after Decker and kept him running for his life all game long. Daly was assisted by LB’s Jody Owens and Caleb Schreibeis who combined for 15 tackles, and 5.5 TFL. Owens and Schreibeis have had a heck of a year getting into the backfield and wreaking havoc. On the year they have combined for 159 tackles with 26 of them going for loss. These two will have to be accounted for if Sam Houston State’s offense is going to go anywhere.

Montana State Offense

Speaking of offenses that need to get back on track, look no further than Montana State and QB Denarius McGhee. McGhee threw three INT’s last week to only one TD and did more than his fair share to help keep UNH in the game. Granted McGhee did make up some for those INT’s with 96 rushing yards and two more scores, but it cannot be understated how important it is to play mistake free football in the playoffs. I’d look for the Bobcats to concentrate a little more on feeding Cody Kirk the ball and establish him before asking McGhee to just drop back and toss it around. When they do throw they will continue to target Akpla who went over the 100 yard mark last game and eclipsed 1,000 yards on the season.

Sam Houston State Defense

Sam Houston comes into this game with the #1 ranked Scoring Defense in the nation allowing only 13.83 points per game thus far. They do this by playing great overall team defense led by tackles leader Darnell Taylor. Taylor’s 94 tackles rank him 9th in the Southland conference but only 107th in the nation. He’ll need another player to step up and help him make impact plays if he is to contain this potentially explosive Bobcat offense. I think that player will have to be DL Jarrett Brown, Brown isn’t a guy with eye popping numbers but he was  a force v. Stony Brook and added a big sack. If Brown can continue to cause issues along the OL and keep the offense off kilter then the Bobcats could be in serious trouble.

Pick

I think Montana State is more likely to get its offense on track in this game than Sam Houston may be. I like McGhee to have a bounce back game and I don’t think Sam Houston has the horses outside to stick with Montana State if they get rolling.

Montana v. Northern Iowa

This is the match-up of these quaterfinals as two legendary teams will square off head to head. Montana is a year removed from missing the playoffs entirely and will be looking to make a strong statement while UNI is looking to get over the hump and into National Championship contention.

Montana Offense

Montana’s offense is very much like an ancient Chinese torture technique where they would make tiny cuts all over your body until you bled out. Montana’s offense is similar in how they run the ball with many different backs and in many different ways. They will hit you for 4 or 5 yards and just continue to do that until finally its over and you’re left all cut up and on the ground. Montana does with the multi-faceted attack featuring three RB’s in Peter Nguyen, Jordan Canada, and Dan Moore. Last week v. Central Arkansas they combined for 174 rushing yards and three TD’s and were a big part of when Montana dominated the time of possession battle 38:43 to 21:17.Montana has a QB who has shown the ability to manage the game very well and has a TE who could very easily become an X-Factor in this game. TE Kavarrio Middleton had four catches last week for 65 yards and proved to be an almost impossible cover for the UCA LB’s and DB’s.

Northern Iowa Defense

LB L.J. Fort and his 167 tackles are going to need to come bigger than ever before if UNI is to win this game. He has to constantly be in the right place at the right time. He is a force on run defense and he is helped out by two other stellar LB’s in James Conley and Jordan Smith. These two combined for 22 tackles last week and will be a huge part of trying to stop this Grizzly attack. While the three LB’s for UNI are key we cannot overlook the efforts of all conference caliber efforts of Ben Boothby whose 16 TFL on the year lead the team. He will have to be blocked up front first and foremost if the Grizzlies are to have any hope of establishing their ground game.

Northern Iowa Offense

Everything runs through Tirrell Rennie in regards to this offense, he is the man that must be stopped if you are going to have any hope at winning. The issue is that Rennie can beat you in multiple ways even though he prefers running with the ball. Last week v. Wofford, Rennie only threw for 67 yards but he has two TD’s and added another 95 on the ground. The total yardage and amount of scores may not be that impressive but the effectiveness overall is. On the year Rennie is 134 of 225 for 1,709 yards, 13 TD’s, and 2 INT’s all while rushing 157 times for 834 yards and nine more TD’s. To stop this offense the formula is simple. Stop Rennie and stop the Panthers.

Montana Defense

The man to watch when trying to stop Rennie will be in the box DB Caleb McSurdy. McSurdy leads the Grizz in tackles with 117 on the year, he’s also 2nd in TFL with seven. McSurdy has the athleticism to stick with Rennie as he tried to get outside the pocket and the instincts to predict where Rennie will try and go. Helping out McSurdy on the outside will be the second best small school prospect in the country in DB Trumaine Johnson at the corner spot. Johnson has the size and speed to help contain Rennie’s outside runs and if Rennie attempts to throw on Johnson he could be asking for an increase in his INT numbers.

Pick

I’m taking Montana here, I think UNI is a good team but they are too one dimensional on offense and if Montana can even slow down Rennie than they have a great shot to win this game.

Georgia Southern v. Maine

I love it when two teams from power conference play each other like in this CAA v. SOCON matchup. However I’d be lying if I told you that I ever thought Maine would be the final CAA team standing in these playoffs.

Georgia Southern Offense

The triple option offense was in full effect last Saturday as Georgia Southern outpaced Old Dominion in a high scoring affair. The triple option is predominantly controlled by QB Jaybo Shaw and RB Andrew Brown who have combined for 1,277 yards this year. However it was another back on Saturday who stole the show as Dominique Swope went off to the tune of 255 yards and two scores. That kind of added dimension has been inconsistent all year long and to finally have it in Stateboro is a huge advantage for the eagles. It’s also interesting to note that Jaybo Shaw went 7 of 11 for 130 yards and a TD last weekend which adds yet another potential dimension to this offense.

Maine Defense

The strength of this Maine team lies in their defense who they depend on hold offenses back and to put their offense into good position to get easy points. The issue is Maine hasn’t seen a triple option attack all season and even if they have nobody runs the triple option like Georgia Southern does. The biggest key to beating the triple option is to play gap sound football which will mean that DL Michael Cole has to come up huge when it comes to him controlling his gap and making sure to force the QB pitch every time. Cole has 15 TFL and 11 sacks on the year but all of that means very little against this kind of an attack. In addition to that I’d expect to see DB Jerron McMillian to be in the box an awful lot on Saturday. He has good range and athleticism and his attacking line of scrimmage style should help them to force early pitches and get stops.

Maine Offense

1,000 yard RB Pushaun Brown is the main attraction for a Black Bears attack that averages just over 29 points per game. Brown went for 111 yards last weekend but is not the kind of back who is going to be able to put the team on his back and push them through. Instead QB Warren Smith will have to continue to make more plays. His 17 of 26 for 250 yards, three TD’s and an INT performance last week was a good start. Maine will need a similar effort this week as they face a defense that is far more skilled, experienced, and aggressive than the Appalachian State defense they beat up on last week.

Georgia Southern Defense

Not only does Southern have a dominant ball control offense that would like nothing better than to wear down their opponent but they also love to grind you down on defense. Their star is DL Brent Russell who was his usual self last weekend as he had seven tackles, 1.5 TFL, and a sack. Russell’s ability to get into the backfield and cause issues makes the job of LB’s Josh Rowe and Darius Eubanks so much easier. They two have combined for 126 tackles this season and all they have to do is finish off whatever Russell couldn’t bring down himself. This defense is insanely tough to pick up yards against and with Maine not having a game breaking player on offense it s only going to be that much tougher.

Pick

Georgia Southern fans will enjoy being the ones to put the death nail into the CAA coffin this year. Give me the Eagles and give me them by a good size margin.

Lehigh v. North Dakota State

In a game that is now surrounded by controversy, Lehigh leading WR Ryan Spadola was suspended one game by the NCAA for posting a racial slur on his Twitter account in reference to last week’s opponent, Towson.

Lehigh Offense

The Spadola suspension is a huge blow to this high powered offense that counts on his every week to step up and pick up huge chunks of yards. Lehigh is losing 96 receptions and 1,614 yards on the season not to mention 11 TD’s. In his place will step Jake Drwal who has been good this year but he’s still not Spadola. The issue is that after Drwal there is a huge fall off between he and the next WR who is Jimmy Jefferson. Jefferson has 32 catches for 270 yards and a TD on the year. He needs to step his game up and quickly. On the bright side for Lehigh they still have one of the best QB’s in the country in Chris Lum and if anybody can get his players to raise their games to that next level its Lum.

North Dakota State Defense

The Bisons caught a huge break here with Spadola being suspended. This is a passing defense that ranks 45th and gives up over 200 yards a game through the air. They can now use sophomore CB Marcus Williams on Drwal and not have to worry as much about who is going to cover Lehigh’s second WR. I would also expect to see the Bison send plenty of blitzes at Lum in an effort to rattle him and further shake his confidence after losing his most reliable WR. DL Coulter Boyer will be bringing plenty of heat coming off a two sack performance last week and he should draw plenty of attention himself which could make the blitz that much more effective.

North Dakota State Offense

The two headed RB monster for NDSU continued to dominate teams as Sam Ojuri and DJ McNorton combined for 215 yards and three TD’s on the ground in their 2nd round win over James Madison. Ojuri and McNorton accounted for 21 of NDSU’s 26 points in the game and helped to wear down a JMU defense that had been considered one of the top run defenses in the country coming into that game. QB Brock Jensen didn’t have to do much in the Bisons victory last week but things could be different this week v. Lehigh and if the time calls for Jensen to put the ball in his hands and make a play you better believe he can do it.

Lehigh Defense

Lehigh comes into this game with the 7th ranked rush defense allowing just over 92 yards per game on the ground. They will look to shut down the Bison ground attack upfront with DL Ben Flizack. Flizack has 13 TFL on the year and has been a big part of the effort to stop opponents rushing attack. The second big component to stopping the Bisons will be LB Mike Groome. Groome had 11 tackles last week v. Towson and was all over the field as he tried to contain Terrance West to the best of his abilities. Groome has good range from his LB position and is a really strong tackler who has good fundamentals and knows how to break down in the open field.

Pick

I think the loss of Spadola is too much for Lehigh to overcome at this point. I think the Bisons continue to run the ball well and they win a game that is close until the end when the Bisons put them away.

For all his continued small-school coverage, follow Matt Elder on Twitter @MatthewCElder.

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