FCS First Round Preview – Central Connecticut State at New Hampshire

For the first time ever, Central Connecticut State is in the FCS playoffs.

The Blue Devils made it to the postseason despite an 0-3 start, winning eight straight to close out the year and earning the Northeast Conference’s automatic bid as a result. They won a thriller on the road against Duquesne two weeks ago to seal their postseason place, but not much is expected from the Blue Devils moving forward. No NEC team has won an FCS postseason game since Wagner did it in 2012.

Their first-round opponent will be New Hampshire. The Wildcats have had an up and down season, scoring wins over FBS foe Georgia Southern and Elon, but suffering losses to teams like Holy Cross and Albany. Last season, the setback to Albany in the finale might have meant the Wildcats would miss out on the postseason, but a spate of teams also losing in the final week made their spot secure.

FCS First Round Betting Odds
Central Connecticut State +11
New Hampshire -11
Total 54.5

Keep an Eye On…

Trevor Knight has gotten a lot better in his junior season. He was serviceable last season, but he was a little too careless with the ball and dumped it off way too much. He averaged just 5.4 yards per pass and threw 10 interceptions on the season.

He has taken some big steps forward this year, though. Knight’s numbers have gone up across the board and that has helped New Hampshire take the next step. He is averaging 7.5 yards per pass and has a 23-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Sean McDonnell has put a lot of trust in him as he is averaging eight more pass attempts per game than he did last year.

When you consider the offensive line’s pass protection problems, his numbers look even more impressive. Knight is a mobile quarterback, but he has still been sacked 41 times. That’s an incredibly high number—by far the highest of any playoff team.

The Blue Devils have a below-average secondary, so Knight will be looking to challenge them early and often. Central Connecticut State hasn’t faced many quarterbacks of his caliber this season and has struggled when it has.

Matchup to Watch

On the other side of the ball, the Blue Devils want to keep it on the ground. Cameron Nash is the star, but Drew Jean-Guillaume and Enyce Walker have had a fair amount of success, too.

Nash capped off his regular season with a 140-yard, three-touchdown performance against Robert Morris. It was his most successful outing since CCSU knocked off Sacred Heart in late September on the strength of his legs.

Jean-Guillaume and Walker help spell Nash and provide a change of pace. The trio has made this one of the more successful ground games in the country and it even had some success against Youngstown State.

Unfortunately for CCSU, New Hampshire is one of the tougher teams to run against. The Wildcats are allowing just 3.7 yards per carry despite facing some good offenses. If the run game can’t loosen things up, Jacob Dolegala may be in for a long afternoon.

Prediction

New Hampshire has the longest active playoff streak in the FCS. The Wildcats have made it to the postseason for 14 straight seasons, and even though they have yet to make it to a final, they typically make it out of the first round.

The Blue Devils are a great story, but they got hammered by the two good teams they played and should have lost to Duquesne. The Dukes blew a 13-point lead with six minutes remaining and then missed a 19-yard field goal that would have given them the win and another NEC title.

CCSU is simply outclassed here. Knight will be able to pick apart this defense and the Blue Devils run game won’t find much traction against the Wildcats front. That will force CCSU into down and distance situations it doesn’t want to be in and lead to mistakes out of Dolegala. I like New Hampshire to win this one big.

Pick: New Hampshire -11

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