South Dakota State is one of the final four FCS teams standing entering the semifinal round. Here's what sets the Jackrabbits apart and why they can lift the FCS championship trophy when it's all said and done.
3 reasons why South Dakota State can win the FCS national championship
South Dakota State has the balance needed to win its first FCS title. The Jackrabbits can run the ball effectively, thanks to the 1-2 running-back punch of Isaiah Davis and Amar Johnson. If a team stops the run, quarterback Mark Gronowski can spread out the defense, airing it out to a trio of NFL prospects in wide receivers Jadon and Jaxon Janke and tight end Tucker Kraft. The South Dakota State offense is not limited in how it can attack opposing defenses.
South Dakota State also has balance between its offense and defense. For all the star power on the Jackrabbit offense, the defense still has stars of its own. Caleb Sanders and Adam Bock are two of the best at their position when healthy and lead a front seven that is the No. 1 run defense in the FCS.
South Dakota State's defense has great synergy with its offense, creating stops when the offense may be struggling. The offense also doesn't put the defense in bad positions, indicated by the sixth-best turnover margin in the FCS. Together, the South Dakota State offense and defense give the Jackrabbits the most balanced team remaining in the FCS playoffs.
Fresh off winning the Eddie Robinson Award (FCS Coach of the Year), John Stiegelmeier is making his third straight FCS semifinal appearance. Stiegelmeier is the winningest coach in South Dakota State football history, with almost 200 wins to his name.
Stielgelmeier's experience as a coach is an advantage entering the final two rounds of the FCS playoffs. He's continued to get better with age, leading his team to more FCS postseason appearances (12) than the remaining postseason head coaches have years combined as a head coach (7).
A great coach can be the difference between winning and losing, whether it's playcalling, time management or more. Stielgelmeier is the veteran of the remaining coaches, which could help lead his South Dakota State team to a title.
South Dakota State's opponent in the semifinals is Montana State. The Jackrabbits played the Bobcats last season in the playoff semifinals, losing that game. South Dakota State won't be as unfamiliar with Montana State this go-around, as Bobcat quarterback Tommy Mellott and coach Brent Vigen are in year two of their tenure.
If playoff familiarity helps South Dakota State win in the semifinals, familiarity could help the Jackrabbits again in the FCS Championship game. South Dakota State could face rival North Dakota State in the championship game, an opponent the Jackrabbits have beaten in three straight meetings.
No one has North Dakota State's number like South Dakota State, and that familiarity could lead the Jackrabbits to their first FCS title in program history.