James Madison, NDSU are 1-2 in FCS playoff field

(STATS) – The Road to Frisco just may be a collision course.

From the moment James Madison ended North Dakota State’s run of five straight FCS championships in the semifinals last year, it’s was easy to start looking toward another meeting in this year’s playoffs.

It just may happen. Defending champion James Madison was seeded first and NDSU second when the NCAA announced its 24-team field Sunday. The playoffs will begin with the first round on Saturday and conclude on Jan. 6 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

That’s where NDSU celebrated the 2011-15 championships and James Madison followed last season, beating Youngstown State in the final after toppling the Bison.

James Madison (11-0) and NDSU (10-1) will have home-field advantage through the semifinals as long as they keep winning. Yet while the new rivals will keep an eye on the other from afar, they first have to deal with a field rich in title contenders.

Not only did the selection committee have to wade through the biggest number of at-large candidates in recent memory, but the eight seeded teams that gained first-round byes have impressive resumes, including a mere six combined losses to fellow FCS teams.

One was North Dakota State’s loss to rival South Dakota State in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. James Madison swept through CAA Football for the second straight year, and those two power conferences led the way with playoff selections – the MVFC with five and the CAA with four.

“I think the big thing is our guys have been there before,” JMU coach Mike Houston said on the ESPNU selection show. “We’ve played on the big stage. It’s not going to be a deal where they can’t handle the pressure or they can’t handle the environment because they’ve been through the experiences before. That gives you a little bit of an edge going into what we’re about to face.”

“I know a lot of conferences are good, but our conference we feel is the best in the country. Every week’s a battle,” NDSU coach Chris Klieman said.

“Our biggest goal is to win the Missouri Valley Conference championship. And if you’re able to do that, it sets you up for postseason play. This is a new group, it’s a new team, it’s the 2017 Bison. We have 20 seniors and I think 24 juniors that are excited about the opportunity to start the playoff run.”

Third-seeded Jacksonville State (10-1), No. 6 Sam Houston State (10-1) and No. 7 Wofford (9-2) were placed on NDSU’s side of the bracket, while James Madison’s side also had No. 4 Central Arkansas (10-1), No. 5 South Dakota State (9-2) and No. 8 Southern Utah (9-2).

CAA member New Hampshire (7-4) extended its string of consecutive playoff appearances to 14. Big South champ Kennesaw State (10-1) and runner-up Monmouth (9-2), Northeast Conference champ Central Connecticut State (8-3) and Missouri Valley member South Dakota (7-4) earned their first playoff bids.

Also of note, selection committee chair Richard Johnson said the last two teams in the field were South Dakota and Nicholls (8-3), which will meet in the first round, while Austin Peay (8-4) and Delaware (7-4) were the last two left out. Of those four teams, only Austin Peay won on Saturday.

“If I’m going to ask these kids to respond in the correct way, I’ve got to do it myself,” Austin Peay coach Will Healy said. “It is a very tough day; I know there are some very tough decisions.”

And some very tough games along the way before a James Madison-North Dakota State rematch could even come to fruition.

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2017 NCAA DIVISION I FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP=

(Campus sites until the championship game)

(All times ET)

FIRST ROUND

Saturday, Nov. 25

Furman (7-4) at Elon (8-3), 1 p.m. (ESPN3)

Central Connecticut State (8-3) at New Hampshire (7-4), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

Lehigh (5-6) at Stony Brook (9-2), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

Samford (8-3) at Kennesaw State (10-1), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

Western Illinois (8-3) at Weber State (9-2), 4 p.m. (ESPN3)

South Dakota (7-4) at Nicholls State (8-3), 4 p.m. (ESPN3)

Monmouth (9-2) at Northern Iowa (7-4), 5 p.m. (ESPN3)

San Diego (9-2) at Northern Arizona (7-4), 8 p.m. (ESPN3)

SECOND ROUND

Saturday, Dec. 2

Lehigh-Stony Brook winner at No. 1 seed James Madison (11-0), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

Furman-Elon winner at No. 7 seed Wofford (9-2), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

Samford-Kennesaw State winner at No. 3 seed Jacksonville State (10-1), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

Monmouth-Northern Iowa winner at No. 5 seed South Dakota State (9-2), 3 p.m. (ESPN3)

Central Connecticut State-New Hampshire winner at No. 4 seed Central Arkansas (10-1), 3 p.m. (ESPN3)

South Dakota-Nicholls State winner at No. 6 seed Sam Houston State (10-1), 3 p.m. (ESPN3)

San Diego-Northern Arizona winner at No. 2 seed North Dakota State (10-1), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

Western Illinois-Weber State winner at No. 8 seed Southern Utah (9-2), 8 p.m. (ESPN3)

QUARTERFINALS

Friday, Dec. 8 and Saturday, Dec. 9

Second-round winners, TBA (ESPN2 or ESPN3)

SEMIFINALS

Friday, Dec. 15

Quarterfinal winners, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)

Saturday, Dec. 16

Quarterfinal winners, 4:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

CHAMPIONSHIP

Saturday, Jan. 6

Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas

Semifinal winners, noon (ESPN2)