The experience of watching an FCS college football season play out in the spring has been a unique one, to say the least. On Sunday, however, it's time to put a cap on the exciting campaign by crowning a new national champion as No. 1 seed South Dakota State and No. 2 seed Sam Houston do battle in Frisco, Texas, for the FCS Division I national championship. Both programs are seeking their first national title victory with a win.
This is not totally uncharted territory for Sam Houston State. The Bearkats made the title game in back-to-back years in 2011 and 2012, falling to North Dakota State both times when the Bison were ramping up their dynasty. South Dakota State has also experienced success in the past decade by making the playoffs every year since 2012, but hasn't made it past the semis until now.
A fun, albeit improbable, FCS season comes to a close this weekend. Which team will hoist the trophy at the end? Here's everything you need to know for Sunday's game.
Date: Sunday, May 16 | Time: 2 p.m. ET
Location: Toyota Stadium -- Frisco, Texas
TV: ABC | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
How South Dakota State got here
The Jackrabbits had a tough road to get to this point. Two games -- against Illinois State and South Dakota -- were canceled, while a third game against North Dakota State had to be postponed. Yet South Dakota State finished with a 5-1 regular-season record with a stellar defense led by senior linebacker Logan Backhaus. In the playoffs, the Jackrabbits handled Holy Cross in the first round before needing a fourth-quarter rally to beat Southern Illinois in the quarterfinals. The top-seeded team then took care of Delaware 33-3 in the semis last weekend.
How Sam Houston State got here
It's not so much how the Bearkats got here, it's that they almost didn't. They had an awful start in the semifinals against No. 3 seed James Madison, falling behind 24-3 at halftime. The second half was a different story, though, as Sam Houston State's top-10 offense took over in the third quarter. With a little help from an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown by receiver and Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year Jequez Ezzard, the Bearkats rattled off four touchdowns in about five minutes of game time spanning the third and fourth quarters as part of a 38-35 come-from-behind win.
Sam Houston State went 6-0 during the regular season and won the Southland conference before advancing past Monmouth and North Dakota State in the first two rounds. In upsetting the Bison 24-20, Sam Houston State put a stop (at least temporarily) to a program that had won the past three national championships.
The one thing you can say about Sam Houston State is that, when they need to move the ball, they can move the ball. Ezzard and quarterback Eric Schmid, the Southland Conference Player of the Year, are a tough combination. And the Bearkats' defense has been better than advertised during their playoff run. Pick: Sam Houston State 27, South Dakota State 23