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FCS Playoffs 2019-20: Date, Schedule for James Madison vs. NDSU Championship

Nate Loop@Nate_LoopFeatured ColumnistDecember 22, 2019

North Dakota State wide receiver Jimmy Kepouros (19) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown during the FCS playoff NCAA college football game against Montana State, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, in Fargo, N.D. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy)
BRUCE CRUMMYY/Associated Press

Another year, another FCS Championship Game featuring North Dakota State. The Bison have won seven of the last eight FCS titles and can add another to their trophy cabinet when they face James Madison on Saturday, Jan. 11, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

The undefeated Bison (15-0) made it look all too easy in the semifinal Saturday, cruising past Montana State 42-14 at the Fargodome. Quarterback Trey Lance was unstoppable, throwing for 223 yards and three touchdowns while adding 64 yards and two more touchdowns as a runner. After grinding out a tough 9-3 win over Illinois State in the quarterfinal, the top-seeded Bison looked like the clear-cut favorites Saturday.

Second-seeded James Madison (14-1) also won by a comfortable margin Saturday, defeating Weber State 30-14 behind a strong performance by quarterback Ben DiNucci. The senior signal-caller threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 62 yards and another score.

The 2020 FCS Championship Game will be a rematch of the January 2018 title contest, which North Dakota State won by a score of 17-13. The Dukes will be looking to avenge that loss and capture the third FCS championship in team history. Here's how to watch.

     

2020 FCS Championship: James Madison vs. North Dakota State Game Info

When: Saturday, Jan. 11, at noon ET

Where: Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas

TV: ABC

     

The Dukes may be underdogs going up against the dynastic Bison, but make no mistake, they too are FCS royalty. This will be their third FCS championship appearance in the last four years. They beat Youngstown State to win the title in 2017, the only championship that hasn't gone to the Bison since 2011. In three FCS playoff games this year, the Dukes have outscored their opponents 113-35. Head coach Curt Cignetti felt that his team could have done more on offense in the semifinal, per FCS Football:

FCS Football @NCAA_FCS

Coach Curt Cignetti shares his end game thoughts and hopes for @JMUFootball in the #FCSChampionship 🗣 #FCSPlayoffs https://t.co/StrvKzkktk

James Madison has had the more explosive offense this year, averaging 42.1 points per game, second in the FCS. North Dakota State isn't far behind, putting up 37.6 points per game. Both teams will be hard-pressed to put up their regular numbers. On defense, the Bison crush most teams to dust, giving up an FCS-best 11.6 points per game. The Dukes are right there with them, allowing 14.9 points per contest.

This has all the makings of a close, back-and-forth contest between two teams accustomed to success. The turnover battle might be where the Bison are able to gain some separation.

The Dukes have lost 10 fumbles this year, and DiNucci has thrown five picks. It comes out to about one turnover a game, and most teams would love to be that careful with the football.

The Bison, however, are operating on another plane of existence. Lance is only a redshirt freshman, but he protects the pigskin like its a Faberge egg. As a dual-threat quarterback, Lance has yet to turn the ball over this season. No interceptions, no fumbles. He's managed to be perfect while pulling off plays like this, per FCS Football:

FCS Football @NCAA_FCS

Trey Lance making it look too easy 🤷‍♂️ 73 yard TD off the broken play 😳 @NDSUfootball #FCS #FCSPlayoffs Q3 | (5) MONTANA ST. 14 | (1) NORTH DAKOTA ST. 36 https://t.co/IfdLgkOasJ

Because of Lance's brilliance, the Bison have only turned the ball over five times this season. James Madison has done an excellent job of forcing turnovers (17 interceptions, nine fumble recoveries), and one would think Lance will make a mistake at some point, especially if he has extra nerves playing for the title.

But if the Dukes defense can't change the narrative and the offense makes a costly mistake or two in Texas, it could very well be the difference-maker.