FCS National Championship Odds: South Dakota State Vs. Montana Preview, Expert Picks, Predictions
The South Dakota State Jackrabbits (14-0) look to become back-to-back champions Sunday against the Montana Grizzlies (13-1) in the FCS National Championship Game. Jeff Sagarin’s power ratings mark this year’s South Dakota State team the third-best of all time, but can they close the deal? Sportsbooks expect so, lining the Jackrabbits as favorites. Montana – looking for their first title since 1995 – has its FCS Championship odds listed at to pull off the upset.
The 2024 FCS National Championship kicks off Sunday, Jan. 7, at 2:00 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on ABC from Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
FCS National Championship Odds: Montana Vs. South Dakota State
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South Dakota State Vs. Montana Quick Look
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Table key: Power (TheLines aggregate power rating), PPG (points per game scored), PPG/A (points per game allowed), YPG (yards per game), YPG/A (yards per game allowed), TO (turnover margin)
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South Dakota State Jackrabbits Preview
It took a top-10 defense, hurricane-force winds, and temperatures dipping well below freezing for South Dakota State to look remotely vulnerable. Villanova put up a heck of a fight in Brookings, but the Jackrabbits out-lasted and out-talented the Wildcats in the FCS Quarterfinals. The next week, SDSU made an example out of UAlbany (the nation’s No. 1 rushing defense). It rushed for 220 rushing yards and delivered a 59-0 blowout.
And that’s been the story of the 2024 South Dakota State Jackrabbits.
Workhorse running back Isaiah Davis rushed for over 1,300 yards – his second-straight 1,000-yard season – and 15 touchdowns. Quarterback Mark Gronowski led the FCS in passer rating behind an ultra-efficient offense. Davis provides a lot of power on the ground, and the team loves using multi-tight end sets. But the exterior appearance of a ground-and-pound team delves into one chock-full of clever RPOs that makes the game easy for Gronowski.
Defensively, though, is where SDSU overwhelms opponents. Opponents scored touchdowns on just 31.3% of red zone trips, and just four times did an opponent rush in a touchdown (32 RZ attempts). The Jackrabbits are the only D-I team this year to allow fewer than 10 points per game (FBS or FCS).
After nudging out a thrilling 20-16 win over Montana State early in the year, SDSU played in just one one-score game.
Montana Grizzlies Preview
Montana had to fight and claw while its opponent walked blindfolded into Frisco. Their last two playoff games not only went to overtime but featured outrageous plays to get the Grizzlies there. Receiver and returnman Junior Bergen is playing the single-most dynamic football in D-I football. The home-grown Montanan had two return touchdowns in a win over Furman.
Freshman back Eli Gillman is a promising young player, but teams have successfully stifled him in the postseason. Montana responded by being more multiple in their offense, involving Nick Ostmo and quarterback Clifton McDowell more in the run game. McDowell is a fine dual threat, but has found himself in trouble trying to extend plays. Against SDSU’s defense, that’s trouble the Griz cannot afford.
The combination of linebacker Braxton Hill and All-American defensive tackle Alex Gubner will have their hands full against the country’s second-ranked offensive line. Gubner was a game-wrecker against North Dakota State and its a top-five run blocking line.
FCS Championship: South Dakota State Vs. Montana Preview
This season, South Dakota State overwhelmed its competition. Its dangerous combination of a top defense and ultra-efficient offense led to decimations of excellent teams like UAlbany, Mercer, and North Dakota State; early in the year, they even dismantled Drake, a playoff team, 70-7. The 2023 season has been historic for the Jackrabbits.
The discrepancy in the red zone, however, is what turns SDSU from a dangerous team into a juggernaut. It comes away with scores on 96.3% of red zone trips (82.7% of trips result in touchdowns). The No. 1 red zone offense mixed with the No. 1 red zone defense – and over a 50% gap in RZ touchdown rate – makes a Montana win difficult to project.
Should Bergen produce more magic, Montana can make this game competitive. However, Kelley Ford’s self-declared “FCS-lite” model makes the Jackrabbits a 17-point favorite. TheLines’ FCS aggregate ratings line South Dakota State -15.
As much as I’d like to see an instant classic in Frisco, I’m laying -12.5 with South Dakota State.
- Best available number: South Dakota State
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