When South Dakota State (8-1) and Sam Houston State (9-0) clash this Sunday, it will be the first-ever meeting the two schools and each school will be playing for its first-ever FCS National Championship.
Some 9 months after it was originally scheduled to begin, the 2020 FCS season will finally come to a close. And in a little more than 3 months, the 2021 season will begin.
The preseason forecast at CollegeFootballPoll.com, based on the Congrove Computer Rankings, had projected this game to a matchup of 3 -time defending champion North Dakota State and perennial powerhouse James Madison. Both of those schools made the 16-team playoff field, but the Bison and the Dukes were both ousted by the Bearkats.
The same preseason forecast correctly predicted that Sam Houston State would win the Southland Conference and advance to the playoff with an unblemished record. South Dakota State was projected to finish a close third in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Sam Houston State wound up entering the playoffs as the No. 2 seed while South Dakota State captured the top seed.
Both teams were on the cusp of falling in the playoffs and needed rallies to sustain their drive to the final. In the quarterfinal, South Dakota State had to overcome a 20-10 deficit to defeat Southern Illinois 31-26. In the semifinals, Sam Houston State trailed Jame Madison 24-3, but rallied for a 38-35 victory.
Now, the oddsmakers have tapped the Jacks have a 4-point favorite while the computer inflates that margin to 10.55 points.
Sam Houston State enters this week's game on a nation's longest 10-game winning streak. South Dakota State has won 7 straight since falling to North Dakota in the second game of the season back on February 27.
The Jackrabbits have one of the top red zone offenses in the nation with 29 trips resulting in 18 touchdowns and 10 field goals. The defense has allowed just 14.1 points per game while the offense has produced 30.1 ppg.
The Bearkats, meanwhile, have averaged 39.1 points on offense and allowed 19.4.
SDSU's freshman QB Sensation, Mark Gronowski, has thrown 15 TD passes against just 3 INT's. He hasn't thrown a pick since the Youngstown State on March 13. He has also rushed for 567 yards (net) and 7 TD's. Just for fun, he added a TD reception to his resume in this past weekend's 33-3 demolition of Delaware.
Sam Houston State's junior QB Eric Schmid has tossed 17 TD passes but has also been intercepted 9 times. Schmid can also get it done with his feet, rushing for 382 yards (net) and 8 scores.
At running back, Isaiah Davis leads the Jacks with 641 yards and only a single rush that lost yardage. Davis has found pay-dirt 7 times and posted three 100-yard games.
Davis' counterpart on Sam Houston State is Ramon Jefferson who has mirror-image stats with 656 yards, 7 scores and a pair of 100-yard games.
Among the top performers on defense are Logan Backhaus for the Jacks and Trevor Williams for the Bearkats. Backhaus has 45 solo tackles while Williams has bagged 79 total tackles.