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In the FCS Huddle: FCS playoffs from A to Z

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - With QBs, TDs, maybe some game-changing INTs, there is plenty to devour in the alphabet soup world of FCS.

It's the highest level in which the NCAA conducts a football playoff, and with the field having grown to its biggest ever, it's fun to know the 24 teams from A to Z.

Here goes:

A is for attendance. Despite the larger field, attendance might be down this year. Only five of the top 25 teams in average attendance are hosting games in the first two rounds.

B is for Bison. The No. 1-seeded North Dakota State Bison are trying to become the second FCS program to win three straight national titles (joining the 2005-07 Appalachian State teams).

C is for the coaches who make winning decisions. Eight coaches who already have earned their conference's year-end award are in the field: Eastern Illinois' Dino Babers, Eastern Washington's Beau Baldwin, Fordham's Joe Moorhead, Furman's Bruce Fowler (one of two coaching award winners in the Southern Conference), Maine's Jack Cosgrove, North Dakota State's Craig Bohl, Sacred Heart's Mark Nofri and Southeastern Louisiana's Ron Roberts.

D is for defense - isn't it always? The two Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference qualifiers, South Carolina State and Bethune-Cookman, rank 1 and 2, respectively, in total defense in the FCS, but North Dakota State clearly has the best unit.

E is for eight. There are eight teams back in the playoffs from a year ago: Bethune-Cookman, Coastal Carolina, Eastern Illinois, Eastern Washington, New Hampshire, North Dakota State, Sam Houston State and South Dakota State. New Hampshire is making its 10th straight appearance under coach Sean McDonnell; North Dakota State is next with four.

F is for first-time qualifiers. This year, there are four: Butler, Sacred Heart, Southeastern Louisiana and Southern Utah.

G is for Garoppolo. Eastern Illinois senior quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could surpass two significant FCS single-season records because he begins the playoffs with 4,489 passing yards and 48 touchdown passes. The records are held by Old Dominion's Taylor Heinicke (5,076 yards, 2012), and Mississippi Valley State's Willie Totten (56 TDs, 1984) and Grambling State's Bruce Eugene (56 TDs, 2005).

H is for home-field advantage, which always goes to the higher-seeded team in matchups with at least one. In home games, No. 1 North Dakota State (6-0), No. 2 Eastern Illinois (5-0), No. 3 Eastern Washington (5-0), No. 4 Southeastern Louisiana (6-0), No. 5 Maine (5-0), No. 6 McNeese State (5-1), No. 7 Towson (3-2) and No. 8 Montana (5-1) went a combined 40-4 during the regular season.

I is for intrastate matchups. In the Palmetto State, Furman will travel to South Carolina State for a first-round matchup. Down in the "Heart of Dixie" - Alabama - Samford will make the short trip to Jacksonville State.

J is for Jensen. North Dakota State senior quarterback Brock Jensen has led 44 career victories - an FCS record.

K is for keeping the championship game in Frisco, Texas. The game-day atmospheres and crowds have been terrific during the first three seasons there. The city, along with the host Southland Conference, deserved a second three- year contract.

L is for losing streaks - and ending them. Qualifiers from the Ohio Valley Conference (Eastern Illinois, Jacksonville State and Tennessee State) and MEAC (Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State) believe they are ready to break their conference's postseason drought of 19 and 17 games, respectively.

M is for Montana. No team has as many FCS championship game appearances since 1995, when Montana made its first one. In this 18-year period, the Grizzlies have won two titles and been the runner-up five times.

N is for nicknames. Some of the unique ones in the field are the Chanticleers (Coastal Carolina), Jackrabbits (South Dakota State), Lumberjacks (Northern Arizona), Paladins (Furman) and Thunderbirds (Southern Utah).

O is for being opportunistic. The Northern Arizona defense has scored eight defensive touchdowns, six times off interceptions and twice off fumble recoveries. Sophomore Marcus Alford has even added a kickoff return for a score to his interception return and fumble return for touchdowns.

P is for perseverance. Patriot League champion Lafayette fought through a 1-5 start to become the first sub-.500 qualifier (at 5-6) to qualify for the playoffs, while Furman didn't let a 2-4 start slow its 7-5 finish and automatic bid as a Southern Conference co-champion.

Q is for Quincy, as in Quincy Forte, who scored nine touchdowns for Eastern Washington in the final four weeks of the regular season (whew, it's tough to find a Q).

R is for rematch. There's one from last year's playoffs taking place in the first round. Coastal Carolina will host Bethune-Cookman this time after the Chanticleers won 24-14 in Daytona Beach, Fla., last year. But there are potential conference rematches looming in the second round. That could spice up the action even more.

S is for sacks. Maine senior defensive end Michael Cole, whose hair froze during his recruiting visit to Orono back in 2009, has 29 sacks and 206 sack yards in his career - the most for any player in the field.

T is for takeways. No team in the FCS has been better than Northeast Conference champion Sacred Heart, which has forced 38 takeaways on 16 fumble recoveries and 22 interceptions.

U is for upsets. They're always brewing in the FCS.

V is for Vernon, as in "Big Play VA" Vernon Adams, the Eastern Washington quarterback, FCS leader in total offense and the nation's most electrifying player this season.

W is for West, as in go West if that's the direction to the end zone. Towson tailback Terrance West leads the FCS with 31 touchdowns as well as 1,875 rushing yards.

X is for the X-factors on special teams, like Xavier Robertson of Southeastern Louisiana. He averaged an FCS-high 37.9 yards on kickoff returns, returning three for touchdowns.

Y is for the young blood who have helped spark playoff seasons. Freshmen in the field who are Jerry Rice Award finalists: Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp, Maine linebacker Christophe Mulumba, Sacred Heart quarterback RJ Noel and Lafayette quarterback Drew Reed.

Z is for Zach. Which running back do you want, Zach Zenner at South Dakota State or Zach Bauman at Northern Arizona, who square off in the first round? Zenner was the 2012 FCS leader in rushing yards and is second this season. Bauman is one of nine players in FCS history to have four 1,000-yard seasons.

THE PICKS

Week 13 Record: 37-17 (.685)

Season Record: 615-217 (.739)

X - Predicted Winner

All Times ET

Thursday, Nov. 28

Turkey Day Classic

Stillman (6-4) at X-Alabama State (7-4), 4 p.m. (ESPNU) - Gobble, gobble up the rushing yards.

Saturday, Nov. 30

First Playoff First Round

Lafayette (5-6) at X-New Hampshire (7-4), noon (ESPN3) - Hey, the Leopards can finish their season with a winning record ... by reaching the national semifinals.

Furman (7-5) at X-South Carolina State (9-3), 1 p.m., (ESPN3) - Intrastate battle basically too close to call.

Bethune-Cookman (10-2) at X-Coastal Carolina (10-2), 1 p.m., (ESPN3) - It's a rematch of last year's 24-14 win by Coastal in the first round.

Sacred Heart (10-2) at X-Fordham, 1 p.m., (ESPN3) - Michael Nebrich looked pretty healthy last weekend.

X-Tennessee State (9-3) at Butler (9-3), 1 p.m., (ESPN3) - Bulldogs still dazed over the fact they are hosting a playoff game.

Southern Utah (8-4) at X-Sam Houston State (8-4), 3 p.m., (ESPN3) - You can spell "Sam Houston State" without a "D." The Bearkats need to notice soon.

X-South Dakota State (8-4) at Northern Arizona (9-2), 8 p.m., (ESPN3) - Eleven inches of snow in Flagstaff last weekend? Let's play this one outdoors.

X-Samford (8-4) at Jacksonville State (9-3), 8 p.m., (ESPN3) - Host Gamecocks hold a 22-21-2 series edge, but they haven't met since 2007.

Bayou Classic

X-Southern (7-4) vs. Grambling State (1-10) at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, 2:30 p.m., (ESPN3) - Jackson State is not rooting for either team.

11/27 14:34:03 ET