Saturday marked the first day of the FCS playoffs, with eight games across the country setting things up for a second round next weekend that will bring the top eight teams in the rankings into the fold.
Defending champion Sam Houston State is the No. 1 overall seed in this year's tournament. The Bearkats finished the regular season 10-0 and have won 21 straight games overall dating back to November 2019.
No. 2 North Dakota State (10-1) will be seeking its ninth national title since 2011. The Bison lost to Sam Houston State in the quarterfinals of last year's playoffs, ending their quest for a fourth consecutive title.
Looking ahead to the second round of the playoffs, here's a recap of Saturday's first-round results and the upcoming schedule.
2021 FCS Playoffs Results - Saturday, Nov. 27
Incarnate Word (10-2) def. Stephen F. Austin (8-4): 35-28
Tennessee-Martin (10-2) def. Missouri State (8-4): 32-31
Southern Illinois (8-4) def. South Dakota (7-5): 22-10
Kennesaw State (11-1) def. Davidson (8-3): 48-21
Holy Cross (10-2) def. Sacred Heart (8-4): 13-10
South Dakota State (9-3) def. UC Davis (8-4): 56-24
Eastern Washington (10-2) def. Northern Iowa (6-6): 19-9
Southeastern Louisiana (9-3) def. Florida A&M (9-3): 38-14
2021 FCS Playoff Second-Round Schedule
Holy Cross (10-2) vs. No. 5 Villanova (9-2), Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. ET
Eastern Washington (10-2) vs. No. 6 Montana (9-2), Dec. 3 at 9 p.m. ET
Kennesaw State (11-1) vs. No. 7 East Tennessee State (10-1), Dec. 4 at 2 p.m. ET
Southeastern Louisiana (9-3) vs. No. 3 James Madison (10-1), Dec. 4 at 2 p.m. ET
Incarnate Word (10-2) vs. No. 1 Sam Houston State (10-0), Dec. 4 at 3 p.m. ET
Southern Illinois (8-4) vs. No. 2 North Dakota State (10-1), Dec. 4 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Tennessee-Martin (10-2) vs. No. 8 Montana State (9-2), Dec. 4 at 4 p.m. ET
South Dakota State (9-3) vs. No. 4 Sacramento State (9-2), Dec. 4 at 9 p.m. ET
Sam Houston State and North Dakota State could be on a collision course to the title game, but the path to that point is going include several major obstacles.
ESPN's Bill Connelly has No. 3 James Madison with the second favorite to reach the championship game thanks in part to ranking in the top 20 in both offense and defense:
"The Dukes fell by a single point to Villanova in October and responded by winning their last six games by an average of 38-13. Before they head off to the Sun Belt, can they win their second national title in six years? In terms of high-level offense and defense, they might be the most balanced team in the country."
The Bison are a favorite to reach the title game, according to Connelly, but they haven't been a juggernaut all year. They only beat North Dakota by six points and Missouri State by seven points. Their lone defeat was against South Dakota State on Nov. 6.
It's certainly hard to bet against North Dakota State given its success this season and its reputation. The program has won eight of the past 10 national titles.
Since Cam Miller took over as the Bison's starting quarterback on Oct. 30 against Indiana State, the offense has scored at least 44 points in three of four games. Opponents have scored a total of 70 points during that span.
Sam Houston State has really only been tested twice this season. in back-to-back games against Central Arkansas (45-35) and Stephen F. Austin (21-20).
In six games since that close call against Stephen F. Austin in Week 2, the Bearkats have beaten their opponents by an average of 29.3 points per contest.
Saturday's game against Incarnate Word is the first time Sam Houston State has played an opponent ranked in the FCS Top 25 since the opener against Central Arkansas.
If there's a potential spoiler in the field, No. 5 Villanova has a ceiling on offense that can cause a lot of problems for opposing defenses. Rayjoun Pringle averaged 20.2 yards per reception and caught seven touchdown passes during the regular season.
Jaaron Hayek led the Wildcats with 37 receptions and eight touchdowns in 11 games. Quarterback Daniel Smith and running backs Jalen Jackson and Justin Covington combined for 1,484 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns.
Villanova has two losses this season, with one coming against Penn State, 38-17, at Beaver Stadium on Sept. 25. Its other defeat came against William & Mary, 31-18, on Oct. 30.