James Madison is no stranger to success in the FCS playoffs. The Dukes have reached the postseason in seven consecutive seasons and the national championship game three times during that stretch, including their 2016 win.
Now, James Madison has the opportunity to get there again this season. The 2020 FCS football campaign was postponed to the spring due to the coronavirus pandemic, so the playoff semifinals are taking place Saturday. The Dukes will go on the road to face Sam Houston State and look to continue another strong postseason run.
The winner of the Sam Houston State-James Madison matchup will advance to the championship game on May 16 to face the winner of Saturday's other semifinal between South Dakota State and Delaware.
Here's everything else you need to know heading into the Sam Houston State-James Madison matchup.
Date: Saturday, May 8
Start Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
Spread: James Madison (-1.5)
Over/Under: 47.5 total points
Moneyline: James Madison -122 (bet $122 to win $100); Sam Houston State +100 (bet $100 to win $100)
This won't be the first time that Sam Houston State and James Madison have met in the FCS playoffs. In 2016, the Dukes routed the Bearkats 65-7 in the quarterfinals on their way to winning the second (and most recent) national championship in program history.
Sam Houston State will be seeking better results this year. And it has plenty of momentum entering the matchup, as it defeated three-time defending national champions North Dakota Stat, 24-20 in the second round. The Bearkats are now 8-0, as they also earned a 21-15 win over Monmouth in the first round.
During the regular season, Sam Houston State went 6-0 to earn the automatic bid from the Southland Conference and the No. 2 overall seed in the playoffs.
The Bearkats are averaging 39.3 points per game, which ranks sixth in the FCS this season (minimum four games played). Their offense is led by redshirt junior quarterback Eric Schmid, who has passed for 2,381 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushed for 327 yards and six touchdowns.
Sam Houston State's defense is also playing well and is coming off an impressive performance against North Dakota State in which it held the Bison to 229 total yards and forced three turnovers. The Bearkats will now look to keep that going against James Madison.
"The confidence is booming," Sam Houston State senior defensive back Tristin McCollum said, per Josh Criswell of The Huntsville Item. "We're playing good defense and we want to keep our foot on the gas pedal."
However, James Madison has been playing well on offense. The Dukes have scored 65 points over their first two playoff wins (a 31-24 victory against VMI and a 34-21 win over North Dakota), and they also enter this matchup with an undefeated record, having won their first seven games.
After going 5-0 to win the automatic bid from the Colonial Athletic Association, James Madison earned the No. 3 overall seed in the playoffs and has shown no signs of slowing down. Its offense is led by the two-headed rushing attack of senior Percy Agyei-Obese (619 yards and eight touchdowns) and redshirt senior Jawon Hamilton (481 yards and five touchdowns).
Another key to James Madison's offensive success? Unpredictability.
"Well, we've got a lot of guys who we think are capable of making plays, and we're just trying to get 'em on the field," Dukes coach Curt Cignetti said, per Greg Madia of the Daily News-Record. "And then week-to-week, if you can present something that's a little bit different than what the opponent has been preparing for or what you think they're preparing for, that gives you some sort of schematic edge."
Although James Madison is the betting favorite, it will be on the road looking to extend its strong year in a matchup that could go either way. And one of these teams will end up suffering its first (and only) loss of this unorthodox season, while the other will have an opportunity to play for the national title.
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