(22) Southern Utah (8-4) at (14) Sam Houston State (8-4)
The Sports Network
By Brandon Lawrence, FCS Assistant
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 30, 3 p.m. (ET).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Elliott T. Bowers Stadium (12,976) -- Huntsville, Texas. Surface: RealGrass Pro. Television: ESPN3.com. Announcers: Trey Bender, Jay Taylor and Brooke Williamson. Home Record: Southern Utah 3-2; Sam Houston State 7-0. Away Record: Southern Utah 5-2; Sam Houston State 0-4. Neutral Record: Southern Utah 0-0; Sam Houston State 1-0. Series Record: First meeting. Conference: Southern Utah - Big Sky; Sam Houston State - Southland. Nicknames: Southern Utah Thunderbirds; Sam Houston State Bearkats. Sports Network FCS Ranking: Southern Utah (22); Sam Houston State (14). NCAA Playoff Seedings: Southern Utah (NS); Sam Houston State (NS). Head Coaches: Southern Utah - Ed Lamb, sixth season, 34-33 at Southern Utah and overall); Sam Houston State - Willie Fritz, 3rd season, 39-14 at Sam Houston State; 19th season, 174-66-1 overall). Playoff Records: Southern Utah (0-0); Sam Houston State (9-6). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Southern Utah 0; Sam Houston State 6 (1986, 1991, 2001, 2004, 2011-12). Current Playoff Streak: Southern Utah is making its first playoff appearance; Sam Houston State has won six of its last eight.
GAME NOTES: After having been to back-to-back national championships, Sam Houston State finds itself almost backing into the 2013 postseason.
The Bearkats suffered two straight losses to end the regular season against Southland Conference foes, and now must play their way out of the first round to take a shot at fellow Southland competitor Southeastern Louisiana, a team that just defeated Sam Houston State on Nov. 16.
The Bearkats have a nucleus of senior leaders who played integral roles in making it to back-to-back national championships. So there's no questioning whether or not they're ready for the postseason. The question is: are the Bearkats talented enough to make it back to Frisco?
With players like running back Timothy Flanders, quarterback Brian Bell and receiver/utility man Richard Sincere, Sam Houston's offense will show its quickness. The Bearkats have averaged 255.7 rushing yards per game this season. It's the defensive woes that could cause some concern, having surrendered 34 and 49 points in consecutive games to SELU and Central Arkansas, respectively.
The Thunderbirds don't necessarily have an offense that threatens to explode for 50 points week after week, and playoff inexperience can certainly provide a fair amount of nerves.
But this is a very young team, led by defensive standouts, junior quarterback Aaron Cantu and a trio of freshman running backs in Toa Afatasi, Levi Te'o and Raysean Martin who will be around as a Big Sky contender for years to come.
Against extremely tough Big Sky competition this season, the Thunderbirds went 5-3 with key wins over Montana State, Portland State and Sacramento State. Southern Utah nearly took care of Northern Arizona in the final week before Cantu threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown in the closing minute of play.
Southern Utah certainly has a shot to win, but playoff experience and maturity counts more than some may think. Expect Sam Houston to be gunning for another shot at the Lions in Hammond on Dec. 7.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Sam Houston State 36, Southern Utah 24.
11/26 14:30:45 ET