By Kent Schmidt
CSN West Columnist
College Sporting News
As you can guess, three of the four remaining schools are just that from West of the Mississippi and we throw in six time national titlist Georgia Southern.
Another three of four are the semi-finalists as well as North Dakota State, Georgia Southern and Sam Houston State all made it to this round in 2011. And then we throw in 2010 national titlist Eastern Washington and we have what are proven to be the best four teams in the nation.
HOW DID THESE FOUR GET TO THE FINAL FOUR?
Top seeded and defending national champion North Dakota State has used its defense to get here in giving up just three points in its two playoff games so far. These Bison wins included a 28-3 win over rival South Dakota State and a 14-7 win over Wofford last week where Wofford scored on an interception return.
Second seeded Eastern Washington has used its powerful offense in its two playoff wins so far in scoring 80 points combined so far. The Eagles have defeated Wagner 29-19 in the second round and 51-35 over Illinois State.
Fifth seeded Georgia Southern has used its powerful triple option offense to rack up victories. These Eagles have defeated Central Arkansas 24-16 in the second round at home and last week dispatched fourth seeded Old Dominion 49-35 on the road.
The lone unseeded team left is Sam Houston State by using its power spread option attack. The Bearkats, who lost to NDSU in the national title game last year, defeated Cal Poly 18-16 in the second round at home and then defeated third seeded Montana State last week 34-16 on the road.
WHAT ARE OUR MATCH-UPS FOR THE SEMI-FINALS?
NDSU hosts Georgia Southern on a rare non-Saturday game for both teams. The game will be this Friday night in what should be a raucous crowd inside the Fargodome.
EWU hosts SHSU this Saturday in another likely sellout crowd on the red turf of Roos Field in Cheney.
The NDSU-Georgia Southern game is a rematch of the same round from a year ago where the Bison won 35-7.
The EWU-SHSU game is a rematch of one of my most memorable playoff games of my history of following FCS football. In 2004, the Bearkats rallied from 34-14 after three quarters to win 35-34.
Both of these games have the makings of more memorable performances from what I see.
Now don’t be sad, ‘Cause the best two teams this weekend will be the winners and advance to the national championship game in Frisco on January 5.
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CSN WEST SEMI-FINAL GAME PREVIEWS
#5 Georgia Southern (10-3) @ #1 North Dakota State (12-1), Friday, 8pm EST
This year’s match-up will likely be decided between the Eagles’ offense versus the Bison defense. NDSU will be trying to slow down the triple option offense, like it did against fellow Southern Conference member Wofford last week.
Wofford employs a similar triple option attack and NDSU did allow 362 yards of offense and 262 rushing yards - unheard of for a defense which gives up 78 rushing yards per game. NDSU did, however, stiffen when Wofford got into the scoring range.
The Eagles bring in an even stronger offense that features quarterback Jerick McKinnon, who has rushed for 1,649 yards and 19 touchdowns in 13 games. The junior scored four rushing touchdowns last Saturday in an impressive come-from-behind quarterfinal-round win over Old Dominion. He helped lead the Eagles to an FCS best in rushing with 409 yards per game.
The Bison offense will likely need to use a little more passing from its quarterback Brock Jensen, who has looked a little gun shy last week after throwing the pick-six to lead to the only points Wofford would get. But he will have two capable running backs to spread the offensive attack in Sam Ojuri and John Crocket.
The Eagle defense does not seem as stout as the one Wofford brought into Fargo last week and I think NDSU will be able to score more than the 14 points it got in that game.
I also think the Eagles offense will be able to score more than Wofford, however. I think this game will be much closer than the 35-7 game the Bison won last year but the home field and the stout defense will help NDSU back into the national championship game.
I will take the Bison by a touchdown. North Dakota State 28 Georgia Southern 21.
Sam Houston State (10-3) @ #2 Eastern Washington (11-2), Saturday, 4pm EST
Sam Houston State will try to knock off their third straight Big Sky foe this week in their trip to Cheney.
The Eagles are looking for revenge from the 2004 playoff loss that was also in Cheney.
This game will feature two of the most potent offenses in the FCS.
For Sam Houston State, running back Timothy Flanders (1,358 yards, 17 touchdowns) will be the key. He averages 104 rushing yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry in 13 games this season. Richard Sincere is utilized as a dangerous pass catcher and in the team's "Wild Bearkat" formation. He averages 5.9 yards per carry and rushed for 505 yards this season.
SHSU quarterback Brian Bell has thrown for 23 touchdowns and only seven interceptions and his favorite targets are Trey Diller and Chance Nelson, who have accounted for a combined 14 receiving touchdowns on the season.
For Eastern Washington, quarterback Kyle Padron will be the key for an Eagle victory. He set a school record last Saturday with six touchdown passes - three went to stud receiver Brandon Kaufman. Padron's been very accurate in the last two games, completing 65 percent of his throws for 658 yards and seven touchdowns.
Kaufman has 19 receptions for 385 yards in the last two games and has totaled 1,635 receiving yards which is a new Big Sky and school single-season record.
This game might come down to which defense can stop the opposing offense first as both teams seem to put up video game-like numbers. It also might be which team can get the most turnovers.
I think the home field will help out the Eagles, and SHSU having to travel twice to the northwest might likely feel some fatigue.
I will take the Eagles by a field goal late in a high scoring affair. Eastern Washington 48 Sam Houston State 45.