Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 11/22/11

This is the second year since the FCS Playoffs were expanded from 16 teams to 20. When that move was made a hybrid bracket was created that would pit the eight lowest teams against each other and give the top 12 a bye. Some of next weekend’s 2nd Round matchups are already set but four of the eight teams from this first round will be moving forward and be given the opportunity to pull big first round upsets.

Albany v. Stony Brook

It’s a NEC v. Big South match-up as Albany travels to Stony Brook. Albany comes in after splitting the NEC Conference title but winning the tie breaker over Duquesne. They have won eight of their last nine after starting out 0-2. Stony Brook has a similar story as they started out 0-3 and went on to win eight straight games and capture the Big South title. Two teams that are red hot will meet in the first round for what could be an offensive explosion.

Albany Offense

Albany is a well balanced offensive attack which likes to establish their ground game to set up the pass. They rank ninth nationally in passing efficiency which speaks to their offensive potency. They will rely mostly on RB Andrew Smith to establish their rushing attack. Smith managed to go over the 1,000 yard mark this past weekend as he went over 100 yards for the sixth time in 11 games.

When Smith is able to get rolling it’s QB Dan Di Lella who orchestrates the passing attack with over 60% completion percentage, and a 3:1 TD:INT ratio (24 TD’s, 8 INT’s). Di Lella likes to target WR’s Cole King and Ryan Kirchner. Kirchner is the veteran WR of a group that features no seniors. As a junior Kirchner led the team in receptions (44) and touchdowns (nine) but was not quite the big play threat that freshman Cole King was. King averaged 17.9 yards per reception this year and could be a major factor in this game and these playoffs.

Albany Defense

Albany may have one of the most incredible stories of these playoffs in DE Eddie Delaney. Delaney who was born without a left hand or forearm has overcome that to become one of the most fearsome pass rushers at the FCS level. He has accumulated 8.5 sacks on the season to go along with 54 tackles, and 11.5 for loss. Albany is ranked 60th in the nation in run defense, giving up an average of only 151.45 yard per game. LB’s Jon Morgan and Kyle Jordan combine to make up the core of the run stuffing with 159 tackles, and 15.5 TFL.

Stony Brook Offense

Stony Brook’s offense is going to center around their ability to pound the rock. They currently average 387.36 yards per game on the ground and feature two 1,000 yard rushers in Miguel Maysonet and Brock Jackolski. Maysonet and Jackolski split the carries pretty evenly over the course of a game and have combined to run for 2,687 yards and 28 TD’s on the year. QB Kyle Essington may not always play a big role in the offensive game plan, but he has been one of the most efficient QB’s in the nation when called upon. On the season Essington has completed 90 of his 150 passing attempts for 1,438 yards, 16 TD’s, and only two INT’s.

Stony Brook Defense

Not only does Stony Brook love to establish they run they also love to stop the run. Sporting the ninth ranked rushing defense in the country they allow only 95.36 yards per game. A big part of that run defense is in DL where Junior Solice and Roosevelt Kirk play. Solice is a young playmaking end who has excelled at getting into the opponent backfield this season, his 9.5 TFL lead the team. Meanwhile Roosevelt Kirk has been the immovable object in the middle. If Albany can’t figure out a way to clear Kirk out it will be tough sledding for them in trying to establish Smith.

The Pick:

I’m going to take Stony Brook here, I think their offense is more efficient and I think they have more playmakers on defense. This game will get overlooked by many on the schedule but should be a fun game to watch.

Central Arkansas v. Tennessee Tech

Winners of seven straight, the Central Arkansas Bears come into this game as one of this bracket’s at-large bids. Central Arkansas lost only one FCS game this year when it got beat by No. 1 overall Sam Houston State in Week 3. It also lost to two FBS opponents but took Louisiana Tech into OT and nearly pulled the upset. Tennessee Tech on the other hand has had some bumps in the road losing two of their last five. They did manage to beat fellow playoff team Eastern Kentucky two weeks ago and seemed to really get on track v. Austin Peay this past weekend. They are going to need that to continue if they hope to stay with Central Arkansas.

Central Arkansas Offense

Led by former Arkansas QB Nathan Dick the Bears come in with the No. 16 passing attack in the nation that averages 278 yards through the air and scores an average of 33.73 points per game. Dick has been able to be so effective thanks to being able to stay upright; his offensive line allows just 1.27 sacks per game. With all that time it’s no wonder why Dick has been able to find WR’s Jesse Gandy and Dominique Croom a total of 78 times for 1,184 yards and 14 TD’s. The ability for Dick to work down the field is going to be key to Central Arkansas’s chances at advancing.

Central Arkansas Defense

Much like how Nathan Dick is the leader of the Central Arkansas offense, there is no question that LB Seth Allison is the leader of the Central Arkansas defense. Allison leads the Bears in both tackles (94) and tackles for loss (14.5). Allison’s play as a LB this year has only been lifted by the surging Jermayne Lett who has blown up as a senior DL to tie Allison for the top spot on the team in TFL and lead the team in sacks with five. The pressure Lett has been able to bring not only helps out Allison but is also a big part of why DB Jestin Love leads the team in INT’s this season(5). Tennessee Tech will have to be sure to account for Lett on almost every play.

Tennessee Tech Offense

Tennessee Tech comes into this game with leading RB Dontey Gay having just eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark on the season. Unfortunately for Tennessee Tech, it was also the first time in six games that Gay had eclipsed the 100 yard mark. Getting him going against this tough Central Arkansas defense will be essential if Tennessee Tech is to have any chance. The reason getting Gay going is so important is because you need somebody to draw attention away from All-OVC WR Tim Benford. Benford has been the go to guy for the Golden Eagles this year, leading the team in receptions (58), yards (826) and TD’s (five).

Tennessee Tech Defense

Tennessee Tech brings a stout defense into this game that is led by LB Marcus Edwards and his 12.5 TFL and five sacks. Edwards is the big play LB that the Golden Eagles rely on when they need a big stop. DB’s Richmond Tooley and Austin Tallant along with LB Howard Griffin lead the way in terms of tackling; each defender has eclipsed the 70 tackle mark on the season and provided a pretty stout run defense. The question will be can Tennessee Tech’s DB’s match-up with Central Arkansas’s WR’s?

The Pick:

To answer my own question, I don’t believe that they do and in the end it will be their undoing. Nathan Dick should have plenty of time to throw the ball and hit his WR’s. I expect the Bears to roll in this one and it could be the widest margin of victory of the four games.

Norfolk State v. Old Dominion

The Battle for Norfolk is my game of the weekend as these two universities are separated by only five miles. Norfolk State rolls in representing the MEAC conference and features six all-star selections to the 2011 HBCU Bowl. Old Dominion comes from CAA where this is their first year in the conference. ODU features a backup QB and an offense that is always on the go.

Norfolk State Offense

QB Chris Walley is the leader of this Spartan offense and one of the six HBCU Bowl representatives for the team later in December. The reason Walley got that honor and also got his team to this point was because of his play. On the year he is 211 of 305 for 2,309 yards, 17 TD’s, and four INT’s. Walley has also added another 276 yards on the ground and five TD’s.

Walley has two WR’s he looks for in the passing game as Xavier Brown and, fellow HBCU Bowl participant, Victor Hariston  who’ve combined for 109 catches for 1,208 yards, and nine TD’s. Norfolk State is one of the best teams in the country at protecting its QB, allowing only 1.18 sacks per game. That effort is led by OL Kendall Noble. Norfolk State will get tested though by ODU DL Ronnie Cameron.

Norfolk State Defense

This Spartan defense is all about the front seven and their ability to make plays. That starts up front with their massive NG Josh Turner. Turner sets the tone for this Norfolk defense by doing the dirty work. Turner is a hard worker in the trenches who does a great job eating up blockers and keeping his LB’s clean. That’s where a trio of LB’s come in. LB’s Jamal Giddens, Corwin Hammond, and Onyemechi Anyaugo are there to clean up whatever comes through the hole. With Turner taking up blocks these three are free to roam around and make plays. Hammond and Anyaugo are more adapt at flowing to the football and reading play, while Giddens is an attacking LB who is effective coming off the blitz and actually leads the team in sacks with six. As a whole unit Norfolk State actually ranks 10th in sacks with 3.09 per game, and seventh in tackles for loss with 8.27 per game.

Old Dominion Offense

Coming into this season spirits could not have been higher at ODU. They had a senior QB who was the unquestioned leader and they were celebrating their first year in the Colonial Athletic Association after spending two years as an independent. What makes it even more incredible is when you consider that ODU’s senior QB Thomas DiMarco went down in Week 5 and many feared the season may be in jeopardy. However into his place stepped freshman Taylor Heinicke and he has been unstoppable since then. Heinicke has only gotten better with more playing time as coming into this game he is 165 of 233 for 1,770 yards, has thrown  15 TD’s, and one INT. In addition to that he has 263 yards and three more TD’s.

Old Dominion Defense

While the story isn’t quite as dramatic for the defense as it is for the offense it starts off in a similar fashion with a senior leader. DL Ronnie Cameron has had quite an impressive last two years, totaling 141 tackles, 34.5 TFL, 12 sacks, and 16 QBH. He is the most dominant player on this defense and will single handedly alter the way plays are run if he is not effectively blocker. If they are able to block Cameron they will still need to account for LB Craig Wilkins who leads the team in tackles and is second to Cameron in TFL.

The Pick

This is actually a very tough call, I’m quite torn on this and I want to pick the upset and take Norfolk State but QB Taylor Heinicke has been too good recently and this team has a special kind of feel to them. I’ll take the Monarchs to be Kings of Norfolk!

James Madison v. Eastern Kentucky

In what was arguably the surprise of the selection process EKU was selected as an at-large team despite losing four games including a game just two weeks ago to Tennessee Tech. Regardless of the controversy they are in now and will look to pull an upset over a James Madison team that also comes on a bit of a rocky road. Before winning their last two games JMU had lost three of four. This could be redemption for one of these teams if they can get it all together.

James Madison Offense

With all the issues that JMU has had at QB this season it’s been interesting to see how dominant they have been running the football. They come into this game with the 10th ranked rushing attack nationally averaging over 230 yards per game on the ground. This ground assault is led by sophomore back Dae’Quan Scott who has rushed for 1,166 yards and 12 TD’s on the year. Fellow sophomore back Jordan Anderson has added 763 yards and seven TD’s of his own, making the pair a potent 1-2 punch.

James Madison Defense

Defensively it all starts up front with the DL for the Dukes. Madison features two DL in DJ Bryant and Lamar Middleton who are nearly unblockable in the middle. Bryant brings speed and power off the edge to get pressure on the QB while Middleton stuffs the middle and tries to bring the pocket down around the play. Cleaning up whatever has gotten through or thrown over the Dukes DL has been freshman DB Dean Marlowe. Marlowe leads the team in INT’s with four and is third on the team in tackles with 61. This Dukes defense loves to stay active and get after it, EKU will need to try and take advantage of their aggressive nature.

Eastern Kentucky Offense

Not to be shown up by JMU’s vaunted rushing attack, EKU will bring their own dominant back to this game in the form of junior Matt Denham. Denham’s 1,445 yard and nine TD’s rank him third nationally in rushing and will make him a focal point of the JMU defense. If JMU can shut Denham down then it will be up to QB T.J. Pryor to make plays with his arm down the field to WR Tyrone Goard. 11 of the 18 TD throws Pryor has made this year have gone to Goard and that speaks to how much in rhythm the two can be when the time calls for it.

Eastern Kentucky Defense

DL Anthony Brown may not have the stats that show he’s a dominant pass rushing force but do not be fooled, Brown can get after the QB. He only has been able to register three and a half sacks this year but the sophomore DE has 13 QBH, and 10 total sacks for his career. He is quietly developing into a top notch pass rusher. DB Patrick McClellan leads the EKU defense in tackles with 77, the typically in the box safety roams the field well and does a good job of making the open field tackle. At 6’3, 216 lbs. he may be a bit too stiff to play DB in the NFL but could bulk up and possibly play some LB.

The Pick:

I think James Madison will roll in this game rather easily. I think that Eastern Kentucky will put up a good fight and show us all why they did deserve to be in these playoffs but in the end was succumb to the JMU rushing attack.

Matthew Elder will be covering the FCS, Division II and Division III playoffs all November and December long for Crystal Ball Run.

Be sure to follow him on Twitter @MatthewCElder

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