2011 FCS Football Playoffs: Championship Preview and Prediction
And then there were only two.
The FCS college football season will conclude on January 7th when the Sam Houston State Bearkats will face the North Dakota State Bison in Frisco, Texas at Pizza Hut Park. The game will air at 1:00 pm ET on ESPN2.
An interesting fact is that both teams have beaten FBS opponents this season. Sam Houston State defeated New Mexico of the Mountain West, 48-45, in overtime when Tim Flanders rushed for 194 yards and five touchdowns. Even more impressively, North Dakota State beat Big Ten opponent Minnesota convincingly, 37-24, after exploding in the second quarter, scoring 28 points. Bison quarterback Brock Jensen completed 16-of-21 passes and tossed for 197 yards against the Gophers.
No. 1 Sam Houston State Bearkats (14-0)
Going back to the 2010 season, the Bearkats have won a whopping 16 straight games. At 14-0, they remain as the only undefeated team in the FCS with one of the most explosive offenses in the FCS.
To get to the national championship, Sam Houston State beat the No. 4-ranked Montana Grizzlies. After a hot start, scoring 21 points in the first quarter, the Grizzlies looked to make a comeback by outscoring the Bearkats, 28-10, in the final three quarters. However, the Bearkats held on for the 31-28 victory.
In the win, the Bearkats forced three turnovers by Montana, and through a solid run game won the time of possession battle.
Additionally, quarterback Brian Bell kept the passing game in check for the Bearkats. Bell was 10-of-14 through the air for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
However, the real reason Sam Houston State prevailed in the semifinal matchup was due to the ground game. As a whole, the Bearkats rushed for 383 yards against the Grizzlies. Star running back Tim Flanders rushed for a school record 287 yards from 26 carries along with a 69-yard long and one touchdown.
FCS All-America selection and Southland Conference Player of the Year Tim Flanders has been the driving force behind Sam Houston State's championship run. The sophomore has rushed for 1,560 yards and 22 yards during the 2011 season.
The Bearkats also have a noteworthy defense. Behind defensive tackle J.T. Cleveland and linebacker Will Henry up front, Sam Houston State has only given up an average of 69.9 yards per game on the ground this season. Additionally, All-Southland Teamers Kenneth Jenkins and Darnell Taylor hold down the secondary for the Bearkats.
No. 2 North Dakota State Bison (13-1)
The Bison are rumbling. They have won four straight, with their last two playoff victories by 24 points or more. Along with strong regular victories over FBS Minnesota, Northern Iowa and Illinois State, the only hiccup for the Bison is a 27-24 loss at home to Youngstown State.
North Dakota State will enter the FCS National Championship off the heels of an outstanding performance against Georgia Southern, winning 35-7.
Running backs Sam Ojuri and D.J. McNorton led the way for the Bison victory, rushing for a combined 194 yards and one touchdown each.
Additionally, sophomore quarterback Brock Jensen had a nice game, going 10-of-15 for 137 yards. Wide receiver Warren Holloway had five of those catches for 68 yards.
The Bison offense hasn't put up top-tier statistics, but they are still getting the job done. North Dakota State is second in the Missouri Valley Conference in total rushing yards with 2,484, second in the conference in points per game with 32.4 and third in the conference in total receiving yards with 2,946 yards on the season.
The Bison defense will most likely be the toughest Sam Houston State has faced all season. North Dakota State leads the FCS in defensive points per game by giving up only 13.2. The Bison defense has also only given up an average of 126 yards per game on the ground.
Defensive end Colter Boyer and linebacker Chad Willson lead North Dakota State up front, while safety Colten Heagle and cornerback Marcus Williams hold down the secondary for the Bison.
This will be a very close game. Both teams have the offensive firepower to make the game a shootout. Additionally, North Dakota State has one of the best defenses in the FCS, and it will be interesting to see how they slow down the Bearkats. However, Sam Houston State has just a little bit more talent on offense with running back Tim Flanders, quarterback Brian Bell and wide receiver Richard Sincere.
Look for the Bearkats to run past the Bison for Sam Houston State's first FCS National Championship in school history.
Sam Houston State 35
North Dakota State 31