FCS First-Round Playoff
The Matchup – Central Connecticut State (11-1, 7-0 Northeast) at Albany (8-4, 6-2 CAA)
Kickoff – 1 p.m. ET at Bob Ford Field in Albany, New York
Coverage – ESPN3
Series – Albany leads 13-6 (last meeting: Albany won 19-0 at CCSU on Sept. 6, 2014)
Coaches – Central Connecticut State: Ryan McCarthy (11-1, first season); Albany: Greg Gattuso (32-36, six seasons; 129-68 overall)
3 Players to Watch – Central Connecticut State: QB Aaron Winchester (3,183 total yards of offense, 26 total TDs), WR Tyshaun James (1,108 scrimmage yards, 14 total TDs), DB D.J. Exihomme (68 tackles, 4 takeaways); Albany: QB Jeff Undercuffler (2,966 passing yards, 33 TDs), RB Karl Mofor (1,204 rushing yards, 10 total TDs), LB Eli Mencer (22 tackles for loss, 13½ sacks)
The Skinny – Both teams have made one previous playoff appearance as the Northeast Conference representative. Central Connecticut State’s Ryan McCarthy was elevated from interim coach during a season in which this year’s NEC champion has set the school record for wins. The Blue Devils lead the FCS in turnover margin (plus-17) and their rush defense has been one of the best in recent FCS history, allowing 72.1 yards per game and only three touchdowns. Winchester, a Georgia State grad transfer, is a dual-threat who exceeded 50 rushing yards nine times (782 overall). His counterpart, Undercuffler, is tied for the second-most TD passes in the FCS, although his only two games without multiple scores were the last two of the regular season. His key targets are WRs Juwan Green (73 receptions, 14 TDs) and Jerah Reeves (64, 5), but the tight ends have combined for 10 TD catches. Mofor has gone over 100 rushing yards in three straight games. The Great Danes, who finished second in CAA Football, have closed games well, outscoring opponents 104-46 in the fourth quarter.
Up Next – The winner will play at No. 5 seed Montana State (9-3) in the second round Dec. 7.
Prediction – In matchups between the NEC and CAA, the NEC team usually doesn’t have the higher national ranking, but CCSU is No. 17 and Albany No. 25. Establishing the stronger run game will be key to setting up the run. CCSU, 24-23.