(5) Towson (13-2) vs. (1) North Dakota State (14-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, January 4, 2 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Toyota Stadium (20,086) -- Frisco, Texas. Surface: Bermuda Grass (Tifway 419). Television: ESPN2. Announcers: Anish Shroff, Kelly Stouffer. Home Record: Towson 4-2; North Dakota State 9-0. Away Record: Towson 9-0; North Dakota State 5-0. Series Record: North Dakota State (1-0). Last Meeting: November 26, 1983 (North Dakota State, 24-17 at North Dakota State - Division II Quarterfinals). Conference: Towson - Colonial Athletic Association; North Dakota State - Missouri Valley. Nicknames: Towson Tigers; North Dakota State Bison. Sports Network FCS Ranking: Towson (5); North Dakota State (1). NCAA Playoff Seedings: Towson (7); North Dakota State (1). All-Time School Record: Towson (252-223-4); North Dakota State (655-365-34). Head Coaches: Towson - Rob Ambrose (fifth season, 32-28 at Towson; sixth season, 35-35 overall); North Dakota State - Craig Bohl (11th season, 103-32 at North Dakota State and overall). Playoff Records: Towson (3-1); North Dakota State (13-1). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Towson 1 (2011); North Dakota State 3 (2010-12 - FCS Champions in 2011 and 2012). Current Playoff Streak: Towson has won three straight playoff games; North Dakota State has won its last 11 playoff games. Current Win Streak: Towson 5W; North Dakota State 23W. Record vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: Towson (4-0); North Dakota State (4-0).
GAME NOTES: It seems almost unfair, doesn't it?
Not just the fact North Dakota State has won 23 consecutive games dating back to the 2012 season, but the way in which the Bison have been simply dismantling opponents in the playoffs this season just screams outrageous.
That's the legacy coach Craig Bohl has built, and the one he will depart when he takes over as the Wyoming coach at the culmination of the 2013 title game. This Bison team has all the tools to win a third consecutive national championship, and they've shown it in three consecutive playoff contests by outscoring the opposition 138-35 in that three-game span.
North Dakota State easily handled New Hampshire in the national semifinals in Fargo by downing the Wildcats, 52-14, despite the fact New Hampshire jumped out ahead on an interception return for a touchdown that quieted the raucous Fargodome crowd. The Bison scored 52 unanswered points and didn't allow New Hampshire to see the end zone again until late in the fourth quarter.
And that defense. Oh, that spectacular defense allowing just 11.6 points per game, which has risen over the last two matchups by surrendering 14 points to both Coastal Carolina and New Hampshire. Even without starting linebacker Grant Olson (ACL tear), the Bison have managed to lead the nation in scoring defense, rushing defense (90.2 yards per game) and third-down percentage defense (.253), and are second in total defense (238 yards per game). And, get this, Olson is preparing to play in the national championship game.
But that won't stop Towson from staying competitive.
As we've seen throughout the season and have come to expect from the immensely talented junior, Terrance West doesn't back down to any team. In fact, the Walter Payton Award finalist relishes the opportunity to prove himself against worthy opponents.
Just look at his FCS record-setting game against second-seeded Eastern Illinois in the national quarterfinals. The attention was on Jimmy Garoppolo and the high-flying Panthers offense in Charleston, Ill. But West stole the show with 354 rushing yards and five touchdowns in the road win. It's in his nature to play up to the skill level of the opposition. If that's true, get ready for a one-in-a-million day on Jan. 4.
That's the matchup to watch in the championship game: West (who leads the FCS with 2,410 rushing yards and 41 touchdowns) versus the best run defense in the country.
But perhaps the underrated story in this championship game is the fact North Dakota State's offense has been playing just as well, if not better than the team's defense. Quarterback Brock Jensen has thrown for 582 yards and seven touchdowns this postseason, not to mention his ability to make plays with his legs in the ground game. And both Sam Ojuri and John Crockett have exploded out of the backfield for the Bison, each rushing for over 250 yards in three playoff wins.
Or perhaps the story is the play of Towson's other offensive commodities. Sure, West had a solid day on paper against Eastern Washington in the national semifinals with 115 rushing yards and two touchdowns. But for those who really paid attention, the Eagles effectively limited West on quite a few of his 27 carries, especially when starting quarterback Peter Athens went down near the end of the first half with a shoulder injury. The Tigers turned to wide receiver Connor Frazier, who served as the team's backup signal caller, to lead the way in the second half. It made the play calling for West much more predictable.
However, Towson pulled out the victory with some last-minute heroics from Frazier in the passing game. With players like receiver Brian Dowling, tight end James Oboh and freshman running back Darius Victor, the Tigers become much more than an obvious rushing team looking to get West his 30 carries a game.
Towson is a strong team defensively, ranking third in the FCS with 18 fumbles recovered and fourth with 34 turnovers gained. Having won seven of its last eight games and outplaying strong offensive squads like Fordham, Eastern Illinois and Eastern Washington to make it to the national finals, it's clear Towson deserves to be on this stage with North Dakota State.
The right teams are vying for the title of the best in the FCS in 2013 at Frisco's Toyota Stadium. North Dakota State has the history, going for a third consecutive championship, and the more complete team. Towson has the best overall playmaker and the playoff pedigree to get the job done. In the end, both teams have the tools to be our national champions.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Dakota State 35, Towson 30.
12/31 12:46:45 ET