The 2021 FCS Playoffs aren’t just here — they’re already one week underway.
Now that the first round of the 2021 FCS playoffs is over, it’s time to get serious about heading to the ol’ online sportsbook and hitting those college football championship odds. Let’s pick a winner in the FCS Playoffs.
What the FCS Championship History Tells Us About the Odds
While the 2000s was a fun decade with plenty of parity, the last ten years have been mostly dominated by chalk. Dating back to the 2010 season, only two unseeded teams have even reached the championship game. None have won it.
The championship game has been dominated by seeded teams. Dating back to 2010, 17 of the 22 title game participants have been top-4 seeds. This is even more true when you shorten the data to the last five seasons; the only champions have been top-4 seeds. In four of those five seasons, the title game has featured two of the top four seeds.
Much like its FBS counterpart, the FCS Playoffs have been dominated by a handful of elite programs. So even though it might be tempting to Southeastern Louisiana’s high-powered offense at +20000, the history of these playoffs clearly tells us that longshot tickets are a waste of money. I would not bet on an unseeded team.
North Dakota State in the FCS Playoffs
Even if you don’t pay much attention to the FCS Playoffs, you are probably familiar with North Dakota State. The Bison have won eight national championships in the last decade and put three prominent quarterbacks into the NFL Draft along the way.
North Dakota State remains a power-based team that wins with salty defense and dominant ball control. But from a handicapping perspective, it’s difficult to make a value-based case for them as a compelling futures position. For one thing, their brand is more powerful than their actual team, at least this season. A quick peek at the FCS Championship odds will tell you that No. 1 NDSU is the odds-on favorite to win another title at +180 — even ahead of No. 1 Sam Houston, at +300.
Smart handicapping considers the effect of the marketplace, and that’s exactly what you should do here. If you feel very strongly that North Dakota State will recapture its mantle as the top team in FCS, then of course, you should buy a ticket. But even two years removed from its last championship win, the market remains very high on NDSU. The value on the board is outside of Fargo.
Other Betting Favorites in the FCS Championship
There is a surprising and simple argument that the FCS Playoffs’ top seed, Sam Houston, is a valuable ticket to hold at +300. The problem is that Sam Houston had a somewhat miraculous run to the 2021 spring championship, including an epic semifinal collapse from James Madison and an early injury to South Dakota State’s quarterback in a rainy, choppy championship game. After a noticeably pedestrian regular-season schedule this year, it may be wise to expect mild regression for the Bearkats.
No. 3 James Madison has historically been a strong buy, in part because it is the only team in the last decade that has ever won a playoff game in Fargo. It’s played for three of the last five titles, winning one. But JMU has arguably the hardest path to a championship in front of it of any seeded team; a trophy in Frisco would require prerequisite wins over offensive juggernaut SELA, the winner of Montana/EWU, and the Bison in Fargo. And then the championship game. I’m not sure the +500 odds reflect the degree of difficulty here.
That leads me to the most intriguing title bets on the board: Villanova +1600 and Montana State +2000. Both teams are on the left side of the bracket, which looks much more open. Villanova, in particular, should cruise to a second-round win over Holy Cross. The Wildcats could then catch an extra host game if SDSU knocks off No. 4 Sacramento State, which the odds imply as a strong possibility.
Montana State has looked like a top-5 team all season before its late loss to archrival Montana. Its style of play could present the sort of challenge that has often plagued Sam Houston in the winter postseason.
I like one of these teams to find a way into a semifinal game, if not both of them. If I’m correct, I’ll have a really strong hedge position entering the FCS Championship game. Whether it’s JMU, North Dakota State, or any other team, I’ll be able to come in late on the favorite, ensuring myself a profitable position at the end of the tournament.
Play: Villanova +1600, Montana State +2000