FCS Playoff Quarterfinal
The Matchup - Illinois State (10-4, 5-3 Missouri Valley) at No. 1 North Dakota State (13-0, 8-0 Missouri Valley)
Kickoff - Noon ET Saturday at the Fargodome in Fargo, North Dakota
Coverage - ESPN
Series - North Dakota State leads 10-2 (last meeting: NDSU won 37-3 on Oct. 5 in Normal, Illinois)
Coaches - Illinois State: Brock Spack (74-49, 11 seasons); North Dakota State: Matt Entz (13-0, first season)
3 Players to Watch - Illinois State: RB James Robinson (340 carries, 1,823 yards, 18 TDs), DE Romeo McKnight (60 tackles, 16½ tackles for loss, 12 sacks), FS Luther Kirk (85 tackles, 3 sacks, 46 pass breakups); North Dakota State: QB Trey Lance (2,356 passing yards, 25 TDs, 0 INTs; 829 rushing yards, 11 TDs), DE Derrek Tuszka (39 tackles, 16½ tackles for loss, 11½ sacks); LB Jabril Cox (70 tackles, 7½ tackles for loss, 4½ sacks)
The Skinny - Illinois State has forced an all-MVFC quarterfinal by posting road wins in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but it has lost eight straight matchups with North Dakota State. Even with defenses knowing Robinson is the Redbirds' offensive game plan, his two-game playoff run is an incredible 78 carries for 507 rushing yards and three touchdowns. In the last three of four career games against the Bison, the NFL prospect has averaged 112 rushing yards while scoring twice. Freshman QB Bryce Jefferson has only 18 pass attempts in the two playoff wins - his first two starts - but it helps to have WR Andrew Edgar (four TDs) back after he was sidelined for two months. The defense has forced 33 turnovers and set a school record with 50 sacks and needs to force NDSU into offensive miscues. The two-time defending national champion Bison are an FCS-record 34-game winning streak and have won 26 in row at the Fargodome. They were tested for three quarters by Nicholls in the second round, but also know Illinois State is basically one-dimensional on offense. In the eight straight wins over the Redbirds, the Bison have allowed 126 rushing yards per game. MLB Jackson Hankey (91 tackles, 9 tackles for loss) should be in a lot of action and FS James Hendricks has been a big-game player. The offense revolves around the composed Lance, the 2019 STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award winner, who hasn't thrown an interception and has lost only one fumble. The Bison are the only FCS team with more than two players over 600 rushing yards, and they have four: Lance plus RBs Ty Brook (853), Adam Cofield (695) and Kobe Johnson (602).
Up Next - The winner will play either No. 5 seed Montana State (10-3) or Austin Peay (11-3) in a national semifinal Dec. 21.
Prediction - Illinois State has the size to match NDSU and Robinson isn't wearing down despite the workload, but what the Redbirds have on offense can't match the Bison's firepower. North Dakota State, 35-14.