The playoffs have ratcheted up in emotion, intensity and talent as the final eight teams will now duke it out for a shot to advance to the FCS Semifinals. Here is a primer of the four games on the docket.

No. 7 Richmond Spiders (9-3) at No. 2 Illinois State Redbirds (10-2)

Day / Time / Watch

Friday / 6:30 p.m. / ESPN3

Players to Watch

Last week was a battle of the running backs between Western Illinois’ Nikko Watson and Illinois State’s Marshaun Coprich. This week will be no different as Coprich will be looking for his fourth straight 200-yard game (FYI: three straight such performances is already absurd). Richmond’s Jacobi Green is a stud who is coming off a 141-yard game against William & Mary. Green has rushed for 1,426 yards and 18 touchdowns, both top five in the FCS.


Although the game will feature a ton of work in the running game, this matchup could come down to two things: quarterback play and which defense can survive.

If the Redbirds play like they did for the first 35 minutes against the Leathernecks, they will be in for big trouble. They ground out a win in round two but desperately need more production and better accuracy through the air from QB Tre Roberson to advance. On the flip side, the Spiders have a talented signal caller of their own in sophomore Kyle Lauletta, who operates in a completely opposite fashion to Roberson. While Roberson gets it done on the ground and has struggled in the passing attack, Lauletta sports a much better arm, currently ranked 10th in the country with 3,058 yards passing while tossing 17 touchdowns (albeit with 12 picks added in).

As for each defensive unit, Richmond has a serviceable unit that ranks 46th in the FCS in scoring defense and rushing defense, which could be problematic against ISU's elite rushing attack. And although the Redbirds have sported an inherently inconsistent pass defense, they do have one of the nation's best scoring defenses at a mere 19.8 points allowed per game. Overall, ISU has an edge on defense over Richmond but not by much. That could be the difference as both offenses are neck-and-neck with ISU ranking 16th in scoring offense (35.3 points per game) and Richmond ranking 18th (34.7 ppg).


Illinois State 31, Richmond 17

Roberson is adamant that his broken thumb has completely healed and he has been throwing without a thumb brace for the past couple games. He says the thumb feels fine, but consistent play has yet to show up on the field. Gut feeling here says he pulls himself out of the funk he is in and pours it on. The ISU defense will do enough to shut down a one-two offensive punch (Lauletta-Green) that rivals the Redbirds' own (Roberson-Coprich).

No. 8 Charleston Southern Buccaneers (10-2) at No. 1 Jacksonville State Gamecocks (11-1)

Day / Time / Watch

Friday / 7 p.m. / ESPN2

Players to Watch

The Gamecocks’ Eli Jenkins showed why he was one of the top 10 finalists for FCS Offensive Player of the Year, throwing for 208 yards and rushing for 204 with three scores, including the game-winning touchdown in an overtime thriller against Chattanooga last week. Charleston Southern sports a fantastic defense that came up with five fumbles against The Citadel. The unit is led by Solomon Brown and Aaron Brown and they will have their hands full against one of the best offensive players in the nation.


It will be a battle between one of the best defenses in the nation in Charleston Southern’s unit and an elite JSU offense. CSU is coming off a defensive slugfest against The Citadel while JSU wrapped up an offensive explosion over Chattanooga.

The Bucs did not advance because of their offense. Against The Citadel they tallied an atrocious 199 yards of total offense, but they were able to get 120 yards and two scores on the ground from RB Mike Holloway. That production was just enough for the Bucs, as they held The Citadel -- which was coming off a ridiculous 524-yard rushing performance in the first round -- to just 199 yards on 55 attempts. They will need that same type of performance to pull off an upset against Jenkins and the Gamecocks, although they will be hard-pressed to do so.


Jacksonville State 42, Charleston Southern 21

I said last week the winner of the Chattanooga-Jacksonville State game would be going to Frisco. No change this week as JSU will handle the CSU defense and breeze through to the Semifinals. It's always been my general rule to put money on good great offense beating good great defense. The Bucs simply do not have enough on offense to get past the hurdle of playing the No. 1 team in the country. Expect a touchdown or two late from CSU as the Gamecocks pull back at the end on their way to the final four.

Colgate Raiders (9-4) at Sam Houston State Bearkats (9-4)

Day / Time / Watch

Saturday / 7 p.m. / ESPN3

Players to Watch

Sam Houston State’s QB Jared Johnson has thrown for 2,206 yards and 18 scores against just two interceptions (two!!). But sophomore QB Jeremiah Briscoe came off the bench to lead the Bearkats to victory in back-to-back games to start these playoffs. Briscoe has shown he is more than just a serviceable replacement, throwing for 1,395 yards and 10 scores himself in 12 games played and if he gets thrown into the fire again, he should do just fine. Colgate is led by the pair of QB Jake Melville and RB James Holland, who each racked up over 160 yards rushing in last week’s upset over James Madison. But Melville struggled in the passing game, finishing 8-for-23 for 120 yards, though he did toss a pair of scores in a shootout.


With each team coming off an upset, it should be another tight battle to see who moves on to the final four. Expect to see a lot of work from the ground game on both sides, as the Bearkats have allowed 187.2 yards rushing per game while Colgate has given up 140.2 yards on the ground. SHSU is also ranked 64th in scoring defense to Colgate's No. 70 ranking.

The Raiders are arguably the hottest team in America (see below for Northern Iowa), winning seven in a row going into Saturday. They have proven they can pull out nailbiters, too, as each of those wins came by nine points or less. Average marging of victory in those seven contests: 5.6 points -- thinner than a Victoria's Secret model.


Sam Houston State 35, Colgate 24

Just like Colgate saw last week against James Madison, it will be a battle of a pair of defenses that have struggled this year. Colgate has been pretty good at bottling up the run to this point in the year, and their overall defense is slightly better than that of the Bearkats. But see the Jacksonville State-Charleston Southern prediction above -- good offense > good defense. SHSU has the No. 3 scoring offense in the country at 42.9 points per game. They won't quite hit that mark on Saturday, but close enough will do just fine as they roll to the Semifinals while the clock strikes midnight on the Cinderella run of Colgate (hate to use the overused, washed up Cinderella reference but it does fit here).

Northern Iowa Panthers (9-4) at No. 3 North Dakota State Bison (10-2)

Day / Time / Watch

Saturday / 11 a.m. / ESPN

Players to Watch

North Dakota State uses a power run game with a plethora of running backs led by a bulking offensive line. RB King Frazier is the main man out of the backfield, but several others can perform. UNI is led by University of Illinois transfer QB Aaron Bailey, who gets it done mostly with his legs as a dual threat weapon. Bailey was No. 2 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in rushing yards (1,301) and rushing touchdowns (19) and third in rushing attempts (239). When he drops back for passes, he does not wait long at all to pull the ball down and go, but when he does decide to sling it he has been serviceable (1,555 yards passing, 12 TD, six INT). He is very similiar to ISU's Roberson in his skillset, and his play earned him MVFC Newcomer of the Year and a Second Team All-Valley accolade.


In a playoffs chock-full of rematches, this is probably the most exciting one, pitting a pair of conference rivals against each other. UNI let a huge upset slip through their fingers when they let NDSU score a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds to take a pulse-pounding 31-28 thriller back on Oct. 10.

UNI is playing the best football of anyone in the country right now. After starting 2-4 and looking like they were headed for a dismal season, things quickly turned as they have now won seven straight and are looking to keep things rolling to Frisco.

The most intriguing plot line in this one, however, is whether or not Bison QB Carson Wentz will play. According to NDSU beat writer Dom Izzo, Wentz practiced this week and it will basically be a game-time decision on whether or not he will go. Wentz broke his wrist on Oct. 17 and has not played since. His backup Easton Stick has done a phenomenal job as a replacement, though, with an 11:2 TD:INT ratio.

PSA for NDSU: The Panthers have a LOADED defense, strutting out four First Team All-Valley selections (MVFC Defensive Player of the Year DB Deiondre' Hall, DL Karter Schult, LB Brett McMakin and S Tim Kilfoy) while DL Isaac Ales and DB Makinton Dorleant both earned second team honors. Hall recorded six interceptions on the year and returned four of those picks for touchdowns. He will hear his name called in April as a mid-round NFL Draft pick.


North Dakota State 35, Northern Iowa 14

It was an amazing game the first time around, but it is going to be the exact opposite this time. The Bison will shock a lot of people by cruising to an easy win over a scorching hot team to set up a highly anticipated game with Illinois State in a rematch of last year’s fantastic FCS Championship game

Zack Carpenter is a senior journalism major and sports editor at The Vidette. He can be reached by email at and found on Twitter @ZCarp11.

Zack Carpenter is a senior journalism major and sports editor at The Vidette. He can be reached by email at and found on Twitter @ZCarp11.​

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