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PUTTING IT ON THE LINE: Seeking first-ever NCAA national title, Sam Houston State enters the FCS 16-team playoffs as the No. 2 seed to host undefeated Monmouth in Huntsville

Hoping to make history in the unprecedented NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) spring playoffs, the second-seeded Sam Houston State Bearkats returns to the postseason for the first time since 2017.

Leaving no doubt they earned their lofty seeding and playoff berth, the Bearkats (6-0) completed a perfect regular season with an impressive 42-14 victory over 22nd-ranked Incarnate Word Saturday at Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium to wrap up the outright Southland Conference title. With the win, Sam Houston State advances to host Monmouth (3-0) at noon Saturday in Huntsville’s Bowers Stadium.

Interestingly, Bowers Stadium — one of the NCAA’s pre-determined sites for the postseason due to the health and safety protocols surrounding the pandemic — will be one of 12 sites in contention to host the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of the playoffs. The NCAA has determined the maximum capacity for all stadiums during the postseason will be capped at 25 percent.

“We are excited for the upcoming championship and thankful to the hosts of this year’s sites,” said Kyle Moats, chair of the committee and Director of Athletics at Missouri State University. “Given the unique circumstances of this football season, the committee believes the predetermined sites and hosts chosen will provide both a safe and enjoyable environment for all our participants.

“An exceptional student-athlete experience is one of our top priorities and we are confident that our hosts will make this year’s championship memorable for all involved.”

Meeting Sam Houston State for the first time, Monmouth earned a trip to the FCS playoffs after an abbreviated spring 2021 season. The Hawks handed nationally-ranked Kennesaw State a 42-17 loss to finish a perfect spring slate, winning by 24 points per game. The winner of the Sam Houston State-Monmouth matchup will face the winner of North Dakota State vs. Eastern Washington for a spot in the national semifinals.

Hoping to win a national title for the first time in the NCAA, the Bearkats bring the postseason back to Huntsville for the first time since 2017. With wins over nationally-ranked Southeastern Louisiana, Nicholls State and Incarnate Word, Sam Houston State enter the 16-team playoffs as one of the favorites to win the national championship after a dominant spring slate, winning games by a combined 27.3 points per game to capture the Southland Conference and earn an auto-bid.

Now, the Bearkats will try and win their first national championship since earning one as a NIAA program in 1964. Sam Houston State has advanced to the FCS national championship game twice, losing to North Dakota State in both 2011 and 2012. The Bearkats stand undefeated in the postseason at Bowers Stadium, posting an all-time record of 13-0 in the playoffs, winning a 34-27 thriller against Kennesaw State in 2017.

The 2021 FCS Championship Game will take place at 1 p.m. on May 16 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco and broadcasted on ABC. All rounds of the FCS playoffs will be aired on ESPN’s family of networks beginning with first-round games taking place Saturday.

Elsewhere in the Southland Conference, Southern Illinois (5-3) knocked off 23rd-ranked Southeastern Louisiana Lions (4-3) to earn one of the six at-large bids, hitting the road to take on Weber St. (5-0) at Ogden, Utah Saturday at 4 p.m. in a first round playoff game. For the unprecedented spring season, the FCS playoff committee reduced the postseason field from 24 to 16 teams, leaving only six at-large bids up for grabs.

Other FCS playoff matchups, Davidson (4-2) visits No. 4 Jacksonville St. (9-2) at Jacksonville, Alabama Saturday at 2 p.m.; VMI (6-1) takes on No. 3 James Madison (5-0) at Harrisonburg, Virginia at 2 p.m.; Holy Cross (3-0) faces No. 1 South Dakota St. (5-1) at Brookings, South Dakota at 3 p.m.; Eastern Wash. (5-1) travels to North Dakota St. (6-2) at Fargo, North Dakota, at 3:30 p.m.; Missouri St. (5-4) visits North Dakota (4-1) at Grand Fork, North Dakota at 5 p.m.; and Sacred Heart (3-1) takes on Delaware (5-0) at Newark, Delaware at 8 p.m.

Throughout the unprecedented spring football season, THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus prognosticators will select NCAA FCS and Division III college football games featuring Texas teams.

This season, THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus pick’ems panel consists of newcomer Don Nicholas, Field Representative for U.S. Congressman Roger Williams (TX-25), while Meridian Yellowjacket football head coach Wade Morton, The Sports Buzz photographer David Harding and The Sports Buzz’ Brett Voss return from last year.

For the record, Gridiron Gurus’ friendly battle for bragging right during the “real” fall football season came down to the final game of the season, the Super Bowl. With both Wade and Brett amazingly tied after picking 245 games going into Super Bowl LV, Wade correctly picked Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to upset Brett’s choice and favorites, the Kansas City Chiefs. Congrats, Wade.

Join us every Thursday throughout the 2021 spring football season as THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus pick their winners for the unprecedented spring football games. Be sure to make your picks as well!

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