FCS First-Round Playoff
The Matchup – San Diego (9-2, 8-0 Pioneer) at Northern Iowa (8-4, 6-2 Missouri Valley)
Kickoff – 2 p.m. ET at UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa
Coverage – ESPN3
Series – First meeting
Coaches – San Diego: Dale Lindsey (64-18, seven seasons); Northern Iowa: Mark Farley (157-82, 19 seasons)
3 Players to Watch – San Diego: QB Reid Sinnett (3,341 passing yards, 38 total TDs), WR Michael Bandy (1,140 receiving yards, 12 TDs), DE Nick Friedel (45 tackles, 7 tackles for loss); Northern Iowa: QB Will McElvain (2,694 yards of total offense, 20 passing TDs), DE Elerson Smith (54 tackles, 13 sacks), MLB Bryce Flater (103 tackles, 6 tackles for loss)
The Skinny – San Diego is the only Pioneer Football League program to post a win in the FCS playoffs, capturing road victories in the 2016 and 2017 first round before getting eliminated by North Dakota State, UNI’s rival. In dominating their league opponents, the Toreros did not trail in the final 272 minutes, 15 seconds of the regular season. Their high-powered attack – led by Sinnett, an Iowa native – ranks second in the FCS in offensive yards per game (498.8) and third in points per game (41.7). RB Jojo Binda Jr. has averaged 144.3 rushing yards per game with 10 TDs in USD’s last four games. UNI, which finished second in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, likely just missed out on receiving a first-round bye in their 21st playoff apearance, but November is embraced as Farley time – his teams are 59-11 in the month. The Panthers rank 11th in the FCS in total defense, allowing 307.3 yards per game. CB Xavior Williams will likely draw the tough assignment on Bandy, whose 15 100-yard receiving games the last two seasons are three more than any other FCS player. WR Isaiah Weston leads the FCS in yards per catch (25.2) and has 10 TD receptions, but he sat out the last two games with a lower-body injury.
Up Next – The winner will play at No. 7 seed South Dakota State (8-4) in the second round Dec. 7.
Prediction – The Central time zone isn’t too bad of a trip for San Diego considering its last four road games were in the Eastern time zone. Rush defense hasn’t been a Toreros’ strength in recent seasons, so Northern Iowa should be able to attack it. UNI, 31-21.