The No. 1 seeded South Dakota State Jackrabbits will host the No. 4 seeded Holy Cross Crusaders in the first round of the FCS playoffs on Saturday. South Dakota State is 5-1, playing all of their games within the Missouri Valley Football Conference. According to the FCS Coaches Poll, the Jackrabbits are also the No. 2 ranked team in the nation.
Holy Cross only played three games this season but went undefeated with each game within the Patriot League. Holy Cross is amongst the others receiving votes and 28th in the Coaches Poll.
Holy Cross in playoffs despite only playing three gamesHoly Cross will be appearing in the playoffs for the second straight season. Last year they lost in the first round to Monmouth 44-27.
According to the College Sports Journal, Holy Cross entered the season as the favorite to win the Patriot League. The Crusaders won their opener on the road 20-3 over Lehigh on March 13, followed by a 34-24 home win against Fordham on March 27. Holy Cross did not play again until last Saturday and won 33-10 over the Bucknell Bison. Holy Cross outgained Bucknell 292 to 227 in total yardage, but Bucknell held a 20 to 14 first down advantage. The major disparity in the game came on Bucknell turning the ball over five times, compared to only one turnover for Holy Cross. The Crusaders were led by Matthew Sluka, a freshman quarter, and the Patriot League Football Rookie of the Year. Sluka completed 8 of 11 passes for 78 yards with a touchdown and interception and rushed 18 times for 61 yards and two touchdowns in the win against Bucknell.
In three games, Holy Cross has averaged 200.7 yards on the ground and 86 passing yards per contest. Sluka led the team with 70.7 rushing yards per game and four touchdowns on the season. He was second on the team with 37 passing yards per game while tossing two touchdowns and one interception, completing 10 of 14 passing attempts for the year. Senior quarterback Connor Degenhardt led the team with 64 passing yards per game over the first two games but did not play against Bucknell. Defensively, the Crusaders have allowed 249.3 passing yards but have help opponents to just 44 yards per game on the ground.
SD State in playoffs for 5th straight seasonSouth Dakota State will be making its fifth consecutive playoff appearance on Saturday. Last season the Jackrabbits lost to Northern Iowa 13-10 in the first round. This year, South Dakota State opened up with a revenge 24-20 road win over Northern Iowa on February 19. The following week, South Dakota State lost its only game of the season, falling 28-17 to North Dakota on the road.
Gronowski selected as Rice Award finalist https://t.co/Da0fhl3GBe— SDSU Football (@GoJacksFB) April 19, 2021
The Jackrabbits enter the playoffs on a four-game winning streak, defeating Western Illinois 45-10 on March 6, Youngstown State 19-17 on March 13, Southern Illinois 44-3 on March 20, and North Dakota State 27-17 last Saturday, after three consecutive weeks of canceled and postponed games. Freshman quarterback Mark Gronowski has led the Jackrabbits in passing every game this season, completing 57.5% of his passes for 175.2 yards per game with eight touchdowns and three interceptions on the season. He is also second on the team with 383 rushing yards on 6.5 yards per attempt and a team-best six rushing touchdowns. Gronkowski is one of 16 finalists for the FCS Jerry Rice Award, which is presented to the national freshman player of the year.
For the season, the Jackrabbits are averaging 29.3 ppg and picking up 233 yards per game on the ground. Defensively, opponents are averaging 15.8 ppg against the South Dakota State defense. They have given up 160.5 passing yards per game and 117.7 yards per game on the ground.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
South Dakota State is the much more talented team here and had the opportunity to play twice as many games as Holy Cross. Overall, the Missouri Vally Football Conference, which the Jackrabbits won, is the best in the FCS and much more talented than the Patriot League.
Holy Cross is pretty one-dimensional offensively, led by its rushing game, with a passing game that poses little threat to the Jackrabbit's secondary. Holy Cross's freshman quarterback Matthew Sluka has only attempted 14 passes this season. South Dakota State also has a freshmen quarterback, but Mark Gronowski has attempted 133 passes this season and will be better equipped for this playoff moment at home.
The line here is big, but South Dakota State should cover unless it takes its feet off the gas, and that's not something I would bet on them doing. Take South Dakota State to overwhelm Holy Cross and its inexperienced quarterback, and go on to a big win.
Full-Game Total Pick
I expect South Dakota State to get off to a lead early and for Holy Cross to throw more than usual in an attempt to stay in this game. Holy Cross being forced to play with more urgency should either lead to more points for them or turnovers that set up South Dakota State for some easy scores. I think we have a good recipe for the over on Saturday.