San Diego is back in the FCS playoffs and looking to make some noise.
The Toreros dominated the relatively weak Pioneer League but struggled against teams from the other FCS conferences. This season the Toreros went 8-0 in league play, but they were smashed 35-7 by a decent UC Davis team and lost by double digits to a Princeton squad that went 5-5. It’s no wonder why the committee keeps making them go on the road in the postseason with such non-conference performances.
If you’re a fan of Northern Arizona, Christmas came early for you this year. The Lumberjacks should not have made the postseason. They lost to Western Illinois at home by 18 points and didn’t have a win against a team that made the playoffs. Their best victory came against a 6-5 Illinois State team, but they lost on the road to Montana (which didn’t make the cut despite finishing with the same record) and got hammered by Southern Utah in their season finale.
Now the Lumberjacks get to host a playoff game just because both San Diego and Northern Arizona are on the West Coast. Having a postseason contest at home with that resume is truly something to be thankful for.
FCS First Round Betting Odds
San Diego +14.5
Northern Arizona -14.5
Keep an Eye On…
Northern Arizona’s offense revolves around Case Cookus. He set the Big Sky ablaze as a freshman, but he suffered a shoulder injury as a sophomore last year and received a medical redshirt.
This season, Cookus has performed well and his numbers are something that most quarterbacks would love to have. He has thrown for over 3,200 yards and has a 21-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
However, those numbers pale in comparison to what we saw from him in his first year and a half at Northern Arizona. He averaged 9.7 and 9.9 yards per attempt in 2015 and 2016, respectively, but is averaging just 7.5 yards per pass this season. He no longer has superstar Emmanuel Butler to throw the ball to, but that’s only part of the problem.
With a dip like that, you would think that his accuracy numbers may have gone up and he is just hitting short routes more, but that’s not the case. He is completing 10 percent less passes than he did over his first two seasons.
Cookus looked like his former self against Illinois State, but he wasn’t sharp against most of the quality teams on Northern Arizona’s schedule. Keep that in mind.
Matchup to Watch
San Diego’s numbers look amazing because of its weak competition. Anthony Lawrence has been very solid in his third season as the Toreros quarterback, but his numbers were noticeably different between conference and non-conference play. He looked mediocre in the losses to UC Davis and Princeton, but he was phenomenal against Pioneer opponents. He threw for 27 touchdowns and two interceptions in conference play and led the Toreros to rout after rout.
He will face his stiffest test yet when he takes on this Lumberjacks secondary. Northern Arizona has been very good at stopping the pass and its defense did a great job of limiting teams like Montana. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging just 6.3 yards per attempt, so I don’t think Lawrence will find a lot of open passing lanes.
These teams haven’t been very impressive to me, and I think the winner is going to get annihilated by North Dakota State next week.
The odds makers were off by a few of their first-round numbers, but I think they got this one right. The Lumberjacks should be a big favorite, but not an overwhelming one. The offense hasn’t been as good as we were expecting this season and that has kept the team from being competitive against good squads.
At the end of the day, I think that San Diego is the right side just because it is going to have a massive chip on its shoulder. The Toreros must be tired of hearing about how bad their conference is and know that they can’t get embarrassed. Northern Arizona will win, but San Diego will stay within the number.
Pick: San Diego +14.5