James Madison v Youngstown State
(BT/ESPN 5pm/Noon U.S)
— Carter Baum (@CarterBaum) January 3, 2017
If you’ve never experienced the sheer entertainment of the FCS Championship game you are going to be in for a treat this Saturday evening. While all the attention this week will be upon Monday’s gargantuan battle between Clemson and Alabama, the Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas will be the setting for what is always a high quality game of football to savour.
Your initial reaction would understandably be to ask, ‘where are North Dakota State’ ? Indeed, having put together a stupendous 22-game playoff winning streak and having lifted the title for the previous five years, the Bison were upset in impressive fashion by the favourites heading into this contest. James Madison have impressed all season long, enjoying an outstanding 13-1 campaign, that saw their only loss came at the hands of ACC powerhouse North Carolina on the road in Chapel Hill. The Dukes, who themselves lifted the trophy back in 2004, come into this on the back of lifting yet another Colonial Division title (9 successive) and 11 consecutive victories that included impressive overcoming fellow contenders Richmond, and Sam Houston State, highlighted by that oh-so rare 27-17 road victory in Fargo last time out, who were widely expected to win it all once again.
The Dukes have enjoyed much success in recent times, even attracting the College Gameday crew to Harrisonburg, Virginia last season. The ‘Purple and Gold’ are powered behind the 4th best rushing attack in division I-AA, fronted by the outstanding senior and NFL draft entrant for 2017, Khalid Abdullah who you need to keep an eye on in this clash as well as talented quarterback Bryan Schor, named an All-American this season.
— Joe (@JoeyPaolillo) January 6, 2017
Sitting atop the rushing charts in all of America each week of the 2016 season, FCS standout and four-time FCS All-American, Khalid Abdullah’s excellence has seen him become the Duke’s second all-time leader in career rushing yards (3,577) behind Hall of Famer Warren Marshall (4,168).
The seniors’ standout career has seen him break and hold the school record for rushing touchdowns (39), total scores (43) and points scored (258) during his impressive 3-year career, his outstanding performances this season seeing him sit as the #2 in all of the FCS behind only Fordham’s Chase Edmonds. If there were any doubts as to his next level ability, he answered them against the finest defence in all of the FCS, North Dakota State, torching the Bison for 180 yards on the ground while catching for 51 yards and a touchdown in the air, on the way to becoming just the first team in 22 attempts to defeat NDSU in the playoffs.
However, standing in their way are Youngstown State (21-1) for a first meeting between these two schools since 2006. The Penguins themselves boast the second best defense against the run, who despite heading into the FCS playoffs unranked, have impressively exceeded all expectations to get here. Led by former Nebraska head coach Bo Pellini, now in his second year (17-9 overall), the Ohio school are themselves riding on the wave of yet another Missouri Valley Conference title that they have dominated since 1997 and a 6-game winning streak that has seen them overcome the likes of extremely talented Jacksonville State and last time out, Eastern Washington. If anything, the Penguins will have the greater momentum, spilling over from shocking the Eagles in dramatic fashion during the final play of the game, with wide receiver Ketner Kupp stunning, theatrical, one handed catch in the end zone that has gone viral ever since.
The Penguins will be waving farewell to NFL-level talent themselves following this contest. Keep an eye on the outstanding and destructive pair of defensive ends who will be zeroing in on Dukes quarterback Bryan Schor on Saturday. #11 DE Derek Rivers is adept at getting to the passer and during his career has stood out as the finest at the art in the history of the football championship subdivision.
Blessed with great athleticism, prototypical size and eye catching length, Rivers set the school record with 40 career sacks, surpassing Jermaine Hopkin’s school record of 22, with another 14 achieved this campaign, which enabled him to become the leader in Mountain Valley Conference history and firmly cement his name in the top 10 in the history of the FCS. Opposite, James Madison will also have to pay attention to #9 DE Avery Moss, who has been every bit as terrorising to opposing quarterbacks as Rivers since making the move to Pellini’s program. In fact, Youngstown State themselves boast the 7th best rushing attack in the FBS, averaging 258 yards this season, powered by exciting, dimunutive senior #20 RB Jody Webb, who is a big-play threat whenever he touches the ball and has been outstanding during the Penguins’ playoff run, rushing for over 100 yards in each of his 3 appearances. Webb’s impressive 1,301 yards this year place him as the 9th best in all of the FCS.
We Say: James Madison: While we should expect Youngstown State to dominate the time of possession as they have all season (#3 in the FCS) and their #7 ranked ground attack have the edge over the Duke’s #38 rush defence, we feel JMU will edge this in a close, exciting encounter given their outstanding 13-1 campaign and having knocked off national champion favourites North Dakota State and Sam Houston State. However Youngstown State will have a great chance themselves to lift their first national title since 1994 (28-14 vs Boise State). The two hottest teams face off in a game that could easily go either way, an absorbing contest for all fans of the game.
Khalid Abdullah: Youngstown State University
Derrick Rivers: Ron Stevens