Currently, the FCS (Division I Football Championship Subdivision) consists of 13 conferences comprised of 125 teams. A playoff field of 24 is split into two different qualifiers: 10 automatic and 14 at-large.
The tournament progresses in a single-elimination bracket. Of the 24 teams in the tournament, the top eight receive a first-round bye. The other 16 play in a first-round game. Then, the remaining 16 teams play in four rounds that culminate with a championship in Frisco, TX.
North Dakota State has won the national championship seven out of the last eight years – creating a FCS Dynasty, if you will. The only other team to win a championship in that time was James Madison in 2016.
So, it’s only fitting this year’s game features James Madison vs North Dakota State. Let’s take a look at some of the key players.
Coach: Curt Cignetti
James Madison Players to watch:
Senior DE Ron’Dell Carter (6-3/269)
Carter was voted Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year and is a top-three finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award. He has tallied 25.0 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks, which ranks second and tied for 10th nationally, respectively. Carter has produced 57 total tackles, to go with a forced fumble and 13 quarterback hurries. He has at least 2.0 TFL in seven games and has at least 1.0 sack in nine games, including seven of the past eight outings.
Senior QB Ben DiNucci (6-3/210)
DiNucci was voted CAA Offensive Player of the Year after being one of the nation’s most efficient passers in 2019. He leads the FCS in completion percentage (71.2%) and is second in pass efficiency rating (172.4). He is 227-of-319 for 2,982 yards and 25 touchdowns with only five interceptions. DiNucci has also rushed for 498 yards and six scores. He’s thrown at least two touchdowns in nine games and has over 200 passing yards nine times this season.
*Junior RT Liam Fornadel (6-4/308)
Fornadel is part of JMU’s offensive line that has helped JMU lead the country in completion percentage (71%) while also ranking second nationally in scoring (42.1%) and third-down conversions (55.5%), third in pass efficiency (172.64), sixth in red-zone scoring (91.8%), seventh in total offense (472.9) and 10th in rushing (250.9).
*Junior S/RS D’Angelo Amos (6-1/180)
Amos, who earned AFCA status at the all-purpose position, was once again one of the nation’s best punt returners, as he ranks fifth nationally with a 13.7 punt-return average. He has 28 returns for 384 yards and a touchdown and has also blocked three kicks this year, which is good for second nationally. Also a starter at safety, Amos has 47 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, two interceptions and three breakups.
Senior DL John Daka (6-2/227)
Daka started in all 15 games at defensive end. He has been named a STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award finalist; and a STATS FCS first team All-American. Daka Has 59 total tackles (31 solo), to go with 26.5 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, three pass breakups, 12 quarterback hurries and one block. Daka leads country in total sacks and tackles-for-loss.
Senior S Adam Smith (6-0/190)
Smith started in all 15 games at safety. He has been named an A. P. third team All-American and first team CAA All-Conference. Smith has 63 total tackles (42 solo), to go with 1.0 tackle for loss, one fumble recovery, a team-high six interceptions and 10 pass breakups.
Coach: Mike Entz
North Dakota Players to Watch:
*Junior OL Dillon Radunz (6-6/298)
Radunz, from Becker, Minn., was voted first team AFCA FCS All-American team. He made all 15 starts at left tackle for the Bison, who are ranked fourth in the FCS in rushing yards per game (288); and first in yards per carry (6.41); and second in rushing touchdown (46).
He’s also done an outstanding job of protected the blindside of freshman quarterback Trey Lance.
Senior OG Zach Johnson (6-6/315)
Johnson is a two-time All-American, helping the Bison to a 31-0 record in the process. He is an athletic road grader, clearing lanes for NDSU running backs. He started 30 straight games at right tackle heading into this season. By making the switch to right guard, Johnson is hoping to improve his draft stock.
“I think getting more knowledge on anything will help down the road,” Johnson said. “But as of right now, it comes down to rules and principles and how well I can do my job.”
Senior DE Derrek Tuszka (6-5/246)
Tuszka and his 12.5 sacks leads the Bison defense. He also earned All-American honors. Along with his 12.5 sacks, Tuszka piled up 17.5 tackles-for-loss on the season. Needless to say, the Bison can easily live in any opponent’s backfield. The only team better at defense, in terms of total defense, is the team they are playing in Frisco.
***Freshman QB Trey Lance (6-3/221)
Leading the FCS in passing efficiency (182.80), the redshirt freshman from Marshall, Minn., has thrown 28 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. He has really good arm strength, and really good accuracy. He is also the team’s leading rusher.
Lance has been named the MVFC Offensive Player of the Year, MVFC Freshman of the Year, and MVFC Newcomer of the Year. He is one of four finalist for the coveted STATS FCS Walter Payton Award, which is presented annually to the top offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Senior TE Ben Ellefson (6-3/250)
North Dakota State tight end Ben Ellefson has accepted invitations to participate in the East-West Shrine Bowl on Saturday, Jan. 18, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Ellefson, from Hawley, Minn., has caught 14 passes for 184 yards and five touchdowns this season for the Bison. Ellefson set the NDSU career record for touchdown catches for a tight end earlier this season. He has 16 career TD catches entering Saturday’s NCAA Division I FCS National Championship against James Madison.
*Junior LB Jabril Cox (6-3/231)
Cox entered his junior season at NDSU as one of the most highly touted players in the Football Championship Subdivision. Cox has earned two major awards in his first two years playing for the Bison, he was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference newcomer of the year in 2017 and followed it up with the defensive player of the year last fall.
In 2019, Cox was named second team STATS All-American.
2019 FCS National Championship
#2 James Madison vs #1 North Dakota State
Jan 11, 2020 | 11:00 p.m. CT | ABC
Semifinals | December 21, 2019
- No. 1 North Dakota State 42, No. 5 Montana State 14
- No. 2 James Madison 30, No. 3 Weber State 14
Quarterfinals | December 13 and 14, 2019
- No. 1 North Dakota State 9, Illinois State 3
- No. 2 James Madison 17, UNI 0
- No. 5 Montana State 24, Austin Peay 10
- No. 3 Weber State 17, No. 6 Montana 10
Second Round | December 7, 2019
- No. 2 James Madison 66, Monmouth 21
- UNI 13, No. 7 South Dakota State 10
- Illinois State 24, No. 8 Central Arkansas 14
- No. 6 Montana 73, Southeastern Louisiana 28
- No. 5 Montana State 47, Albany 21
- No. 3 Weber State 26, Kennesaw State 20
- No. 1 North Dakota State 37, Nicholls 13
- Austin Peay 42, No. 4 Sacramento State 28
First Round | November 30, 2019
- Monmouth 44, Holy Cross 27
- Albany (NY) 42, Central Connecticut State 14
- Austin Peay 42, Furman 6
- Illinois State 24, Southeast Missouri State 6
- UNI 17, San Diego 3
- Nicholls 24, North Dakota 6
- Southeastern Louisiana 45, Villanova 44
- Kennesaw State 28, Wofford 21