Photo: Tim Sanger (North Dakota State Athletics)

2023 FCS National Championship Preview & Prediction

2022 Predictions Record: 114-35 

The 2022-23 FCS football season has come down to a rematch of the Dakota Marker as the Jackrabbits and Bison meet in Frisco, TX. We make our prediction for the 2023 FCS National Championship right here.

Kickoff: 1pm/CT Sunday (ABC)

Line: South Dakota State (-5.0); O/U: 47.5

Previous Matchup: South Dakota State 23-21 (October 15)

National Championship Records: North Dakota State (9-0); South Dakota State (0-1)

Key Players: South Dakota State

QB Mark Gronowski (65.1% Comp, 2744 Passing Yards, 23 Passing TDs, 351 Rushing Yards, 11 Rushing TDs)

RB Isaiah Davis (227 Attempts, 1348 Rushing Yards, 5.9 YPC, 14 Rushing TDs)

TE Tucker Kraft (25 Receptions, 318 Receiving Yards, 12.7 YPC, 3 Receiving TDs)

DL Caleb Sanders (36 Total Tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 6.5 Sacks, 2 PBUs)

DL Reece Winkelman (31 Total Tackles, 14.5 TFLs, 7 Sacks, 2 FFs, 3 PBUs)

Key Players: North Dakota State

QB Cam Miller (66.4% Comp, 1715 Passing Yards, 11 Passing TDs, 497 Rushing Yards, 15 Rushing TDs)

RB Kobe Johnson (118 Carries, 898 Rushing Yards, 7.6 YPC, 8 Rushing TDs)

DB Michael Tutsie (73 Total Tackles, 2 TFLs, 6 PBUs, 1 INT, 1 FR)

DB Dawson Weber (49 Total Tackles, 2 TFLs, 5 INTs, 6 PBUs, 3 FFs, 2 FRs)

DL Spencer Waege (48 Total Tackles, 17.5 TFLs, 9 Sacks, 8 QBHs, 2 FFs)

Analysis: South Dakota State scored 16 unanswered points in the second half to capture the #1 ranking from North Dakota State in their Week 7 matchup this season. The Jackrabbits will be aiming for their 4th consecutive win over the Bison and their first FCS National Championship in school history. The Bison are undefeated in FCS National Championship appearances and will look to extend their dominance with their 10th FCS National Championship in the last 12 seasons.

RELATED: Matt Entz Press Conference

Injuries are going to be a major storyline entering this game as the Bison are missing key pieces at multiple different positions. All-American Hunter Luepke and TaMerik Williams will both be missing at the running back spot, while All-American defensive tackle Eli Mostaert is also doubtful for Sunday as he recovers from a broken fibula. South Dakota State is experiencing the opposite as All-American tight end Tucker Kraft has returned from injury since the first matchup against the Bison and linebacker Adam Bock has also returned from a midseason injury. 

The Bison offense has leaned on Kobe Johnson throughout the postseason as Johnson as rushed for 390 yards and five touchdowns in the past three games. Cam Miller may have struggled through the air against Incarnate Word, but rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown as the Bison advanced to the National Championship. Miller had an efficient game against the Jackrabbits in October (227 Passing Yards; 3 Total TDs) and will need to replicate that performance if the Bison are going to pull off the upset on Sunday in Frisco. Miller’s ability to be dynamic could the x-factor as Holy Cross QB Matthew Sluka was able to produce 213 rushing yards in the Quarterfinals matchup against the Jackrabbits, which Miller acknowledged in his pregame press conference

The Jackrabbits defense held North Dakota State to 127 rushing yards in their first matchup, while also holding the Bison scoreless for the final 41 minutes of the game. South Dakota State enters this game ranked first in the country in rushing defense (83.0 Yards Per Game Allowed) and have only allowed three teams to surpass the 100-yard mark this season. The Jacks had one of their best performances of the season against Montana State as South Dakota State held the #1 rushing offense to less than 60 yards and under 2.0 yards per carry. Caleb Sanders and Reece Winkelman may be the most dominant defensive line duo in the country, but I expect LB Adam Bock (70 Total Tackles; 7 TFLs; 3 Sacks) to be a key contributor after he played a massive role against the Bobcats two weeks ago. 

RELATED: John Stiegelmeir Press Conference

Isaiah Davis has been the catalyst for the South Dakota State rushing attack that has averaged 239.7 rushing yards and nine touchdowns throughout the playoff run for the Jacks. RB Amar Johnson (618 Rushing Yards; 6 TDs) and QB Mark Gronowski (11 Rushing TDs) are also major threats on the ground, which should be something to watch this Sunday. The Bison defense has struggled against the run throughout the playoffs as the Bison have allowed 159 yards per game on the ground, including allowing over 250 rushing yards to Incarnate Word in the semifinals.

Spencer Waege was able to create havoc throughout the first half of the October matchup, which will be a major storyline to monitor when these teams take the field again on Sunday. The offensive line vs defensive line battle will play a massive factor in determining who emerges as the FCS National Champion this weekend. If the Bison defensive line is able to play in the South Dakota State backfield, then it will force South Dakota State to face the strength of the Bison defense which is their secondary. Michael Tutsie, Dawson Weber, and Courtney Eubanks all have the ability to change the course of a game; but the Bison will have to force the Jacks to put the football in the air. 

North Dakota State may have history on their side entering this game, but college football is all about matchups. South Dakota State’s roster is constructed to give the Bison problems in multiple areas. South Dakota State will utilize an explosive rushing attack to exploit the North Dakota State defensive line that is struggling with injuries and the stout defense for the Jacks will be able to make a key stop late in this game to win the program’s first FCS National Championship this Sunday in Frisco, TX. 

Prediction: South Dakota State (26-24)



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