Although a lot of attention has been given to Kennesaw State, it’s just as improbable that New Hampshire has made it to the FCS quarterfinals. The Wildcats used a stalwart defensive effort to blank Central Connecticut State in the first round and got another huge performance last week to knock off Central Arkansas. The Wildcats forced four turnovers to pull off the biggest stunner of the playoffs so far.
It will be tough for them to repeat this feat three weeks in a row, though. South Dakota State is one of the top teams left in the playoffs and has a very balanced offense. The Jackrabbits have been one of the hottest teams in the country. They knocked off five straight good opponents to get to this point, including North Dakota State. The Jackrabbits are hungry for a postseason rematch with the Bison but need to take care of business against the Wildcats first.
FCS Quarterfinals Betting Odds
New Hampshire +17
South Dakota State -17
Keep an Eye On…
Maybe it’s a little bit unfair that I’m always highlighting a quarterback in this spot, but the reality is that it’s rare for a team to get to this point without at least a competent passer.
Taryn Christion has been the bellwether of success for his team this season. He has shown the ability to be superb. He shined in wins over Western Illinois, North Dakota State, South Dakota and Northern Iowa, tossing multiple touchdowns in leading his team to at least 31 points in all four. However, he has also shown he can put up some stinkers. He completed under 50 percent of his passes in losses to Youngstown State and Northern Iowa in the regular season, and his aerial performance against Illinois State almost led to a loss in that one, too.
Christion has improved a lot from year to year, and where he got better the most was as a runner this season. He doubled his rushing average from his 2016 season and that mobility helped avert disaster against Illinois State.
New Hampshire’s defense has come up big these last two weeks and has gotten much better as the season has progressed. The Wildcats run a 4-2-5, and while you think that makes them soft against the run, they have been good at hemming in teams in recent weeks. This is still a unit that can be beat, though, and Central Arkansas totaled over 400 yards of offense. The big thing Christion must do is avoid turnovers.
Matchup to Watch
Unlike most teams in the Missouri Valley, South Dakota State doesn’t have a great defense. The Jackrabbits allowed 5.7 yards per play and were not the type of team to completely stonewall its opponent. SDSU has allowed at least 21 points in each of its last seven games, relying on the offense to get the job done.
That’s good news for New Hampshire because the Wildcats have really struggled to put points on the board. New Hampshire is averaging just 22.7 points per game and has needed some fantastic defensive efforts in order to get to this point. The Wildcats have been held to 21 points in five of their last six games and have not been able to effectively move the ball against most defenses.
The offense will go as far as quarterback Trevor Knight takes it. New Hampshire doesn’t have much of a run game to speak of and the team relies on Knight to pick up yards through the air. He has done a good job of that for most of this season, but he only passed for 47 yards against Central Arkansas and was held under 140 yards against both Albany and James Madison, too.
New Hampshire has been a fun team to follow, but the Wildcats’ story ends here. South Dakota State has one of the best home-field advantages in the FCS, and the Jackrabbits are going to be able to have a lot of success against the Wildcats defense. I look for South Dakota State to win this one big.
Pick: South Dakota State -17