FCS national championship: Predictions from the Forum staff

Jan. 5—FRISCO — Jackrabbits or Grizzlies? Who ya got?

South Dakota State — the No. 1 team in the nation, defending FCS champions, 14-0 and winners of 28 in a row?

Or Montana — the No. 2 team in the nation, 13-1, winners of 10 in a row and appearing in their 8th national championship game.

Here are some predictions and analysis from observers across the Forum Communications area staff.

Luke Hagen, Mitchell Republic editor

SDSU 31, Montana 14

The Jackrabbits take one quarter to really get rolling and then pull away in the second half. The Jackrabbits' experience a year ago helps them play cool and collected to march to their second straight national championship. Montana can't keep up.

Jeff Kolpack, Fargo Forum NDSU reporter

SDSU 42, Montana 13

This Jackrabbit team reminds me of those unbeaten Bison teams in that they're so talented and veteran that I just don't see anything derailing this train. Griz have been impressive in finding ways to win this season, but that comes to an end against this team.

Hunter Dunteman, Sioux Falls Live Digital Reporter

SDSU 41, Montana 30

There's no question that Montana will be the Jackrabbits' biggest challenge yet this year, but SDSU dominates the FCS in almost every aspect of the game. If the Jacks can take care of the football — as they've done all year — and avoid silly penalties, I don't foresee them having any problem topping the Grizzlies by two scores.

Landon Dierks, Mitchell Republic sports reporter

SDSU 41, Montana 17

South Dakota State has been the best team in the FCS all season, and despite winning 28 games in a row, the Jackrabbits still appear as motivated as ever. I think having three weeks to prepare for a coaching staff that has impressed with its game plans numerous times throughout the current run also favors SDSU. Despite it being No. 1 versus No. 2, it feels like Montana is going to have to play near-perfect to pull off what would be a sizable upset.

Jacob Nielson, Mitchell Republic sports reporter

SDSU 31, Montana 10

Nobody seems to prepare — then execute — better than the Jacks. Allotted three weeks to gear up for the matchup, I expect a well-oiled machine to roll into Frisco. Additionally, the Griz don't have nearly enough offensive firepower to keep up with SDSU pound for pound.

Patrick Lalley, Sioux Falls Live editor

SDSU 29, Montana 28

I'm a Coyote and normally I'd let my emotions take over. At the same time, it's hard to pick the Griz given the reality of the season. So I'm combining the two to predict a game for the ages that is decided in the final seconds when SDSU coach Jimmy Rogers tempts fate, calls for the fake extra point, goes for two and the win. I don't know who the holder is but I'm hoping it's somebody who has never carried the ball making a hero out of an everyday dude. Hollywood ending all the way. It has the added bonus of knowing the Griz covered.

Mike McFeely, Fargo Forum columnist

NDSU 35, SDSU/Montana 7

Let's be honest, everybody wanted to see the Bison in Frisco again. Jackrabbits fans, Grizzlies fans — they all would prefer if NDSU made the championship game every year. Everybody in FCS knows it's a birthright and everybody loves the Bison. NDSU big over whoever! (Really, though, Jackrabbits 42-10 over the Griz. Montana won the game fair and square, but Bison would've been a tougher matchup for SDSU.)

Marcus Traxler, Mitchell Republic Sports Editor

SDSU 34, Montana 17

The Jacks' workmanlike defense has another banner day and SDSU's offense continues to close out drives with touchdowns. A dominant and consistent Jackrabbit squad makes it two national titles in a row in Texas.

Andy Rennecke, St. Cloud Live sports reporter

SDSU 35, Montana 10

Since I lived in Mitchell for all of four years, I always lean South Dakota State in predictions. However, when looking at both teams statistically, it's hard to see how the Grizzlies will stop South Dakota State's 28-game winning streak. The Jackrabbits have outscored teams by 681 points during that winning streak, including a plus-111 margin in their three playoff wins this season. Montana barely survived North Dakota State at home in the semifinals. The Grizzlies are the heavy underdog for a reason in this one. The Jacks have the No. 1 defense in the FCS (giving up less than 10 points per game). Look for another dominating defensive effort again in the championship game. Jacks roll to their second straight championship in Frisco.

Jenn Kenyon, Sioux Falls Live freelance photographer

SDSU 61, Montana 48

I know what you're thinking, there's no way these two teams combine for 109 points. But wouldn't it be awesome if the Jacks got revenge on the Griz by the exact same score of Montana's win over them back in 2009, SDSU coach Jimmy Rogers' last game as a player? OK, defensive coordinator Jesse Bobbit might not love it but a win's a win, right?

Tom Miller, Grand Forks Herald UND reporter

SDSU 31, Montana 17

The Jacks seemingly have no weaknesses, and if there's a challenge with the long layoff, the SDSU experience knows how to handle it.

Trent Singer, Sioux Falls Live Sports Reporter

SDSU 30, Montana 17

Montana's three-headed rushing attack of Eli Gillman, Clifton McDowell and Nick Ostmo can certainly keep the Grizzlies in it, but for how long? South Dakota State's defense, which leads the country in scoring defense and total defense, will settle into this one, while the Jackrabbits' offensive line wears down Montana's defense in the second half to set up some big runs for Isaiah Davis.

Dom Izzo, WDAY-TV, NDSU play-by-play announcer

SDSU 45, Montana 24

South Dakota State has been on a collision course with Frisco since leaving Toyota Stadium last January.

The Jackrabbits handled their business all season long, with only a couple of instances where they broke a sweat.

They should be heavily favored against a Montana team that needed two overtime home wins to make Frisco. The Griz have some dynamic players on defense and special teams, but they can't match up with what SDSU brings to the table.

This will be a coronation in Frisco to start 2024.

Matt Zimmer, Sioux Falls Live reporter/columnist

SDSU 34, Montana 14

You'll notice all the predictions above favor the Jackrabbits. It's not easy to find someone outside of Montana who gives the Grizzlies much of a chance to win.

That makes objective sense. South Dakota State is a machine, winners of 28 games in a row in which they've barely been tested. Their 59-0 semifinal win over Albany was awe-inspiring.

That said, I tend to get a little nervous anytime one team is favored so overwhelmingly. There's no such thing as a sure thing.

Montana is a good team, and given that the Griz are 0-3 in national championships under coach Bobby Hauck, it's tempting to think they're due.

But let's not overthink this. The Jacks are the better team on paper, and all the intangibles side with them as well. An unprecedented senior class is driven to finish on top, and rookie coach Jimmy Rogers couldn't be more determined to back up last year's title with another under his watch.

The Jacks are also due; 0-8 all-time against Montana. That streak is the one that ends on Sunday.