James Madison Dukes vs. Youngstown State Penguins
Date and Time: Saturday, January 7, 2017, 12 p.m. ET
Location: Toyota Stadium, Frisco, TX
College Football Odds at BookMaker.eu: James Madison -6
James Madison vs. Youngstown State TV Coverage: ESPN2
James Madison was never a joke. This team ran the table against FCS teams this season, and for the most part, none came even remotely close to challenging it. Most looked at its schedule though, and cringed. The only really tough game on the docket was against North Carolina, and that game was lost 56-28. Two wins over New Hampshire were at least against a Top 25 foe, and even the win against the only undefeated team left in the division at the time, Sam Houston State, wasn't considered to be a huge accomplishment because of the fact that the Bearkats hadn't played much of anyone to get to that point either.
As a result, the Dukes weren't being given any respect going into Fargo against mighty North Dakota State. The Bison are indeed the five-time defending champions, but it was the Dukes who really controlled the game from the start, racing out to a 17-0 lead before ultimately blowing it and needing two scores in the fourth to win 27-17.
Youngstown State has taken an even harder route. The Penguins weren't nationally ranked, but they did get into the playoff and earned the right to host Samford in their first round matchup. They won 38-24 that day and followed that up with a 40-24 victory on the road against Jacksonville State. The double overtime victory over Wofford was fantastic, but nothing was quite like the 40-38 victory at Eastern Washington that came courtesy of one of the best catches you'll ever see by Kevin Rader in the middle of the end zone.
The Penguins do have three losses on the road this year against West Virginia, South Dakota State and North Dakota State, but part of the reason why they got into the playoff was because they weren't afraid to schedule those really tough games against the hardest teams in the FCS.
Matchup To Watch
The biggest problem that we see out of Youngstown State right now is on the defensive side of the ball. The Penguins have already surrendered eight passing TDs in four games in the playoffs, and that includes going against one team that hardly ever throws the ball ( Jacksonville State ) and one team that only threw the ball three times the entire game ( Wofford ) and is pure triple option.
The Dukes don't throw the ball often, but when they do, they do so with purpose. Bryan Schor only went 11-of-18 against North Dakota State in the semis, but he threw for 242 yards and three TDs and constantly worked the ball down the field when he had his chances.
Just that threat is what really opened up holes for Khalid Abdullah to come up with a career game with 180 yards on the ground and 51 more with a TD as a receiver. If the Penguins can squash that aerial passing threat and make Abdullah try to run against more crowded boxes, this could be the ticket to winning the national championship.
James Madison vs. Youngstown State Free Picks
It's been a fantastic run for the Penguins, but at some point, Cinderella's slipper feels like it's going to fall off for a team that has been living dangerously every step of the way. The Dukes have been on a magical run of their own, but they've definitely always had the look and the degree of dominance of champions. They'll win the title on Saturday and put to rest and concerns over their relatively weak schedule this season.
College Football ATS Pick: James Madison -6 at BookMaker.eu
College Football Score Prediction: James Madison 30, Youngstown State 17