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Stan Becton | | November 20, 2023

2023 FCS playoff bracket: Predictions, picks for every FCS playoff game and round

Every game predicted in the 2023 FCS football championship

The 2023 FCS playoffs are here! The full 24-team field was revealed on Sunday, Nov. 19. South Dakota State took the top seed, followed by Montana and South Dakota, respectively, at No. 2 and No. 3.

With the complete field released and the first round starting on Saturday, Nov. 25, there's no better time to predict every round and game for the 2023 tournament.


Here are my 2023 FCS championship predictions.

2023 FCS Playoff predictions

Stan Becton's FCS bracket prediction

First round | Nov. 25

Gardner-Webb at Mercer | 3 p.m. ET | ESPN+

Winner: Mercer

When Mercer and Gardner-Webb met last year in the regular season, the Bears defeated the Runnin' Bulldogs 45-14. While these are two different teams about to play in a different year, I see a similar result from Mercer's offense. Ty James has been a top-three wide receiver in the FCS and I don't see Gardner-Webb stopping him or the rest of the offense from having a big day. 

BRACKET: See the official 2023 FCS playoff bracket

Duquesne at Youngstown State | 5 p.m. ET | ESPN+

Winner: Youngstown State

Youngstown State was one of the last teams to make the FCS playoffs, but the Penguins get a favorable matchup against Duquesne on the edge of the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. Beyond No. 1 South Dakota State and FBS team Ohio State, Youngstown State has only lost games by an average of three points. Meanwhile, Duquesne lost to Stonehill team that's only a few years removed from Division II. I don't trust the Dukes under the bright lights of the playoffs.

North Carolina Central at Richmond | 2 p.m. ET | ESPN+

Winner: North Carolina Central

North Carolina Central is 3-0 against CAA teams this year and will go to 4-0 with a win over Richmond. While Richmond enters the playoffs as the co-CAA champions on a six-game win streak, the Spiders did lose to HBCUs Morgan State and Hampton. North Carolina Central beat Morgan State and Hampton is far from the Eagles in the latest HBCU football power rankings. North Carolina Central has been a better team than Richmond all season and it'll show in the first round.

Nicholls at Southern Illinois | 3 p.m. ET | ESPN+

Winner: Southern Illinois

The Southland conference was bad enough to the point that a UIW team with one FCS loss wasn't even in the first four teams left out of the playoffs. Nicholls has only beaten Southland opponents and now it has to go on the road to Southern Illinois. The Salukis win this one, even if they don't play their best game.

AQ: Every automatic qualifying bid for the 2023 FCS playoffs

Sacramento State at North Dakota | 1 p.m. ET | ESPN+

Winner: North Dakota

This game is the hardest first-round game to predict. Sacramento State is coming off a loss to close the season, but fought hard against three Big Sky teams all seeded in the playoffs. North Dakota made No. 3 seed South Dakota battle to the wire in their regular season game, and the Fighting Hawks blew out perennial FCS power North Dakota State.

I expect this game to be close, which is why I think North Dakota wins. The Fighting Hawks are at home and I've seen quarterback Tommy Schuster come up big in clutch moments this year. 

Drake at North Dakota State | 3:30 p.m. ET | ESPN+

Winner: North Dakota State

North Dakota State should win this one, and I don't think it'll be close. The Bison will be motivated after playing in the first round for the first time in ages. Against two MVFC opponents this year, Drake lost by a combined score of 125-14. That margin will grow in the playoffs.

Chattanooga at Austin Peay | 3 p.m. ET | ESPN+

Winner: Austin Peay

Austin Peay beat North Alabama by 10 points this year. Chattanooga lost to North Alabama by 14 points this year. The common opponent is a sign of why Austin Peay will win this game. Another sign is Mike DiLello and Jevon Jackson, top-10 passers and rushers in the FCS this season.

Lafayette at Delaware | 2 p.m. ET | ESPN+

Winner: Delaware

Running back Jamar Curtis is the heart and soul of the Lafayette team. Delaware only allows 131.7 rushing yards per game to FCS opponents, only allowing two 100-yard FCS rushers all season. The Blue Hens will slow down Curtis and get the win.

SEEDS: The importance of a top seed in the FCS playoffs, explained

Second round | Dec. 2 | ESPN+

Mercer at No. 1 South Dakota State | 2 p.m. ET | ESPN+

Winner: South Dakota State

Mercer allows 330.5 yards per game. I think Mark Gronowski, Isaiah Davis, the Janke twins and crew will move the ball at will against the Bears, opening South Dakota State's title defense with a big win.

Youngstown State at No. 8 Villanova | 12 p.m. ET | ESPN+

Winner: Villanova

This game is a toss up for me, but I think Villanova's Connor Watkins and Rayjuon Pringle will be too much for Youngstown State to handle.

North Carolina Central at No. 5 UAlbany | 12 p.m. ET | ESPN+

Winner: North Carolina Central

North Carolina Central matches up well with UAlbany and that's why I think the Eagles will win. North Carolina Central has an offensive line that's talented enough to limit one of the FCS's leading edge tandems in UAlbany's Anton Juncaj and AJ Simon. NCCU quarterback Davius Richard also rarely makes mistakes, so I don't see the Great Danes getting too many opportunities to capitalize off turnovers.

UAlbany quarterback Reese Poffenbarger has the ability to take over a game, but I think NCCU  defensive backs like Khalil Baker and Jason Chambers will force tight windows in this matchup. This game will be close, but I think North Carolina Central has what it takes to land the upset.

EVERYTHING HBCU FOOTBALL: Schedule, scores, rankings and updates for the 2023 season

Southern Illinois at No. 4 Idaho | 10 p.m. ET | ESPN+

Winner: Idaho

I think Southern Illinois is capable of playing Idaho close, but when the Salukis need a play in a big-time moment can Nic Baker get the job done? I've seen Gevani McCoy do it against top 10 teams this year, and I know Idaho's deep defense can get stops when needed. I'm picking the Vandals here.

North Dakota at No. 3 South Dakota | 2 p.m. ET | ESPN+

Winner: South Dakota

In Week 11, South Dakota defeated North Dakota 14-11. Beating any team twice is always tough, but I think a bye will really benefit South Dakota here as it'll have two weeks to prepare for a familiar opponent. 

North Dakota State at No. 6 Montana State | 3 p.m. ET | ESPN+

Winner: Montana State

This second-round playoff matchup usually falls in the semifinal round or beyond, but FCS fans are gifted with a treat with this matchup early. Both Montana State and North Dakota State didn't live up to expectations in the regular season, but the playoffs are a new arena. After watching watching both of these teams lose in-person in September, and seeing their development throughout the season, I think Montana State is closer to playing at a championship-winning level than North Dakota State right now so the Bobcats are the pick.

Austin Peay at No. 7 Furman | 1 p.m. ET | ESPN+

Winner: Furman

With a bye week, I'm assuming Furman quarterback Tyler Huff will be back healthy for the playoffs and running back Dominic Roberto will play. If both play, Furman will score enough points to balance its defense's stops of Mike DiLello and Austin Peay. If they don't play, I like Austin Peay for the upset.

Delaware at No. 2 Montana | 9 p.m. ET | ESPN+

Winner: Montana

Delaware only scored seven points against Villanova's 10th-ranked scoring defense. I don't think the Blue Hens will fair any better against Montana's third-best scoring defense.

HISTORY: Schools with the most FCS titles | 9 winningest FCS programs all time | Championship history

Quarterfinals | Dec. 8/9

No. 8 Villanova at No. 1 South Dakota State

Winner: South Dakota State

South Dakota State's path to a repeat will continue against Villanova. Villanova entered the final week of the FCS season ranked No. 15. The Jackrabbits defeated six ranked teams already this year, and two more that were unranked but made the playoffs. South Dakota State will be unphased by Villanova and should win this game by two scores.

North Carolina Central at No. 4 Idaho

Winner: Idaho

North Carolina Central's cinderella run stops in the Kibbie Dome. Idaho has looked like the second-best team in the FCS at times. There's no better quarterback-wide receiver duo than Gevani McCoy and Hayden Hatten. Throw in the rushing attack led by Anthony Woods and you have an offense that North Carolina Central won't be able to stop. 

No. 6 Montana State at No. 3 South Dakota

Winner: South Dakota

I think the winner of this game will play in the FCS championship game. That team will be South Dakota.

South Dakota's defense is legit. That's why the Coyotes will defeat Montana State. Myles Harden is one of the best corners in the country and his defensive backfield mates aren't too shabby themselves. I think South Dakota's secondary can hold its own to allow extra defenders in the box to stop Montana State's elite run game. That's why South Dakota will win.

No. 7 Furman at No. 2 Montana

Winner: Furman

This game will be an intense defensive battle. I don't think either team scores more than four offensive touchdowns in this game. In a game with scoring at a premium, I think Furman's backfield of Tyler Huff and Dominic Roberto will make more plays down the stretch than Montana's offense.

MORE: The best nicknames and mascots in the FCS

Semifinals | Dec. 15/16

No. 4 Idaho at No. 1 South Dakota State

Winner: South Dakota State

South Dakota State has been better than Idaho at almost every position this year. While Idaho can compete with the Jackrabbits thanks to its electric offense, I think South Dakota State's depth of talent will overwhelm the Vandals across four games.

No. 7 Furman at No. 3 South Dakota

Winner: South Dakota

I think this game could be a breakout game for South Dakota quarterback Aidan Bouman. I like the Paladins' defense, but I don't think they'll be able to keep up with Bouman and crew. The Coyotes made it through the MVFC with one blemish and I think the battle-tested team will payoff against Furman.

2023 FCS Championship game | Jan. 7

No. 1 South Dakota State vs. No. 3 South Dakota

Winner: South Dakota State

When South Dakota State played South Dakota in October, the Jackrabbits won 37-3. While I don't think South Dakota State will win this Mount Rushmore battle by a similar margin, I still think the Jackrabbits defeat the Coyotes to become back-to-back FCS championships.

🏆: FCS Championship Game info

With a championship win, South Dakota State will finish undefeated, putting its name in the conversation with some of the greatest teams in FCS history.


The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NCAA or its member institutions.

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