By Kent Schmidt
CSN West Columnist
College Sporting News
NCAA Division I Football Championship Game
#1 North Dakota State (13-1) vs. unseeded Sam Houston State (8-3), January 5, 2013, 12:05 p.m. Central, FC Dallas Stadium, Frisco, Texas
This repeat championship game is surprisingly not that unusual. This game will be the fourth such matchup since the playoffs began in 1978, in which the same foes have faced off in the title game in back-to-back years. Marshall and Youngstown State played three times for the title (1991-93) plus Marshall and Montana met in the 1995 and 1996 national championships.
The other three times that we had a rematch, the team that lost the first game went ahead to win the second contest.
From afar, this year’s rematch looks like the same two teams meeting again this January as was the case 12 months ago. "Ho-Hum."
But digging into the two teams, you will see many of the same players as last year but both sides have differences as well.
Top seeded North Dakota State, from the Missouri Valley Football Conference, brings a 13-1 record into the game. Sam Houston State, from the Southland Conference, is 11-3.
NDSU got to the championship game in similar fashion as last year when the Bison were the number 2 seed—by playing all playoff contests at the friendly confines of the Fargodome.
SHSU, however, had a much different path to Frisco—having to play two seeded teams on the road to get back to this game. The Bearkats were the top seed last year but were unseeded for this year’s tournament.
One thing that both received before meeting in the title game were repeat games within the playoffs.
SHSU in the quarterfinal round played Montana State just as it did in 2011. NDSU played Georgia Southern in the semi-final round just as it did in 2011.
Of course, the results of both rematches were in favor of the two repeat finalists. SHSU, however, won in a similarly easy fashion as last year over MSU but NDSU had to struggle to narrowly edge against GSU.
This year’s teams have also won a little differently, especially in the playoffs.
Sam Houston has thrown the ball more with quarterback Brian Bell and has scored at a high rate using not only Bell’s arm but the continued ground game of Tim Flanders and "wildkat" quarterback Richard Sincere. With the offense, SHSU has had to rely a little less on their defense as witnessed in their quarterfinal where the Bearkats gave up 42 points, all in the second half.
But the Bearkats defense has come up big when they needed to. Case in point was the narrow 18-16 second round home victory over Cal Poly.
NDSU seemingly has relied on its defense very much as it dominated its opponents in the playoff run. The Bison seem to have a lesser offense but has mustered up just enough to win their playoff games aside from the blowout second round defeat of rival South Dakota State.
This offense's best example was where they willed their way to a win over GSU in a late scoring drive. NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen just put the team on his back and he displayed his running ability to get the eventual game winning touchdown.
I think this year’s game may result in more scoring from the SHSU side considering they only scored six points last year.
NDSU had a hard time with the SHSU defense last year other than a fake punt that seemed to rattle the Bearkat defense and set up a score.
SHSU gambled a couple of times on fourth down a year ago and came up empty.
I think this year’s game will be a similar type of game.
There will be situations in the game where each team will have to gamble such as a fourth down, or a special teams play like a fake punt or an on-side kick that will mean the difference in this game.
Also, scoring in the red zone with touchdowns rather than field goals will be another key area to the winner this year.
Both NDSU and SHSU had to settle for field goals when in the red zone last year but NDSU was able to score two touchdowns in the second half.
So far, NDSU has allowed more points than last year and SHSU is also scoring more. Judging from this it indicates we should have a tighter game than the 11 point difference we saw a season ago.
NDSU will need to use the running game of Sam Ojuri and John Crockett but may need to depend a little more on the arm of Jensen. Based on the results in the playoffs, the Bearkats are more susceptible to the passing game. SHSU has proved they can shut down a ground attack as seen with the triple option attack of Cal Poly and suffered against the nearly always throwing Eastern Washington approach.
Like last year, I think this game will be close and slightly higher scoring, as well as a narrower margin of victory for the winner.
With history of the past three repeat championship games, I like the Bearkats to pull out the win this year by a late score.
Sam Houston State 26 North Dakota State 23