The Missouri State Bearcats (5-4) match up against the North Dakota Fighting Hawks (4-1) in the opening round of the FCS playoffs. Both schools are members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference and were scheduled to play during the regular season, but that game was canceled due to COVID-19 protocols.
Saturday’s kickoff is at 4 p.m. ET inside Alerus Center in Grand Forks, ND. The contest, like all FCS first-round matchups, can be viewed live on ESPN3.
What to Know – Missouri State Bearcats
Missouri State lost all three games it played in the fall but bounced back this spring to post a 5-1 record in conference play. That record was good enough to earn the Bearcats their first conference title since 1990.
MSU has appeared in the FCS playoffs twice before — in 1989 and 1990 — losing both times in the first round.
The Bearcats average 18.3 points and generate 290.7 yards of offense per game. MSU’s defense surrenders 24.9 points and 352.1 yards of offense per game.
Missouri State utilizes a pair of quarterbacks to run its offense. Both freshman Jaden Johnson (92-of-165, 1,002 yards, three touchdowns) and senior Matt Struck (41-of-64, 477 yards, two touchdowns) see playing time under center for the Bearcats.
On the ground, the Bearcats have three running backs with 200 or more rushing yards. Sophomore Jeremiah Wilson has carried the ball 57 times for 278 yards and four touchdowns, while freshman Celdon Manning adds 64 carries, 240 yards, and four touchdowns. Manning churned out 99 yards on 22 carries in the season finale against Youngstown State.
Missouri State averages 176.4 yards per game through the air and spreads the ball around to different pass catchers. Junior wide receiver Damoria Vick is the primary target, hauling in 40 passes for 544 yards and two touchdowns.
What to Know – North Dakota Fighting Hawks
For the third time in school history, the Fighting Hawks are set to play in the FCS playoffs. North Dakota first appeared in the FCS playoffs in 2016 and last appeared in 2019. The Fighting Hawks haven’t played a competitive contest since March 20.
North Dakota scores 28.8 points and surrenders 20.6 points per game on defense. The Fighting Hawks average 413.6 yards of offense and hold opponents to 374.8 yards per game.
The Fighting Hawks count on redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Schuester to run the offense. Schuester has thrown for 992 yards and eight touchdowns in five starts. Schuester erupted for 328 yards and three touchdowns against Western Illinois back on March 13.
North Dakota’s ground game averages 206.4 yards per game, with sophomore running back Otis Weah (76 carries, 570 yards, seven touchdowns) leading the way. Reserve running back Luke Skokna (58 carries, 317 yards, three touchdowns) will come in a spell Weah in certain situations.
UND gets the ball out to a handful of receivers, with six players hauling in double-digit receptions. Leading the group is junior wide receiver Garett Maag with 373 yards. Redshirt freshman tight end Adam Zavalney paces the Fighting Hawks with three receiving scores.
The Pick Is In
This is a playoff battle between MVFC teams, but they aren’t familiar with each other, since UND just joined the conference in 2020. North Dakota hasn’t played competitive football in over a month, while the Bearcats are riding a three-game winning streak into the postseason.
North Dakota’s offense will cause issues for the Bearcats defense, extending drives and keeping the ball away from MSU. The Bearcats don’t have the firepower power offensively to keep up with UND.
When making your college football odds, go with North Dakota to win and cover.
Pick: North Dakota Fighting Hawks -5½