FCS playoffs: UC Davis visits South Dakota State. Can the Aggies get an upset?

·3 min read
Hector Amezcua/hamezcua@sacbee.com

The Aggies and the NCAA football playoffs have been a thing for decades.

The tradition continues.UC Davis is in the postseason for the 21st time, all since Jimmy Carter was in the White House. The last two trips have been at the FCS level — in 2018 and now — after 18 Division II entries from 1977-2002.

The FCS, formerly known as Division I-AA, is a 24-team scramble, and UCD is one of five Big Sky Conference clubs in the mix. UCD plays at South Dakota State in an opener Saturday in Brookings, where the weather will be a not-so-frightening 42 degrees for the noon Pacific kickoff.

It’ll be a meeting of 8-3 teams that opened the campaign with big wins over FBS programs. UCD downed Tulsa in Oklahoma 19-17 and the Jackrabbits beat Colorado State 42-23. South Dakota State of the Missouri Valley Conference also owns a late-season 27-19 victory over FCS No. 2-ranked North Dakota State, the lone loss for the national powerhouse Bison who have won eight FCS championships since 2011 and 16 overall. The UCD-SDS winner plays at No. 4-seeded Sacramento State on Dec. 4. Sac State won the Big Sky Conference at 8-0, capped by a 28-7 win at UCD on Nov. 20.

South Dakota State is in the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season, led by coach John Stiegelmeier, who earned his first head coaching victory for the program with a win at UCD in 1997. The Jackrabbits played in the spring and reached the FCS championship game as the top seed. UCD went 3-2 in the spring and returned all 22 starters. There was no 2020 season due to the pandemic.

The first season UCD and South Dakota State competed as Division I members was in 2004 as members of the Great West Football Conference. UCD rolled the Jackrabbits in that 2004 meeting 52-0, and the programs will play early in the 2022 season in Brookings. South Dakota State made its first D-I postseason in 2009 and have 11 such visits total since 2004.

The debate for years has been which FCS conference is the best in the country. The Big Sky or the Missouri Valley, which has six teams in this season’s FCS postseason? UCD coach Dan Hawkins said earlier this week, “Every football player in America wants to be playing on Thanksgiving weekend.”

In UCD’s last FCS playoff showing in 2018, the Aggies opened with a 23-16 victory over Northern Iowa before a 34-29 setback at Big Sky rival Eastern Washington.

UC Davis (8-3) at South Dakota State (8-3)

When: Saturday, noon

On air: ESPN+, Sports 1140 KHTK

Of note: Elite FCS running backs lead the way with Pierre Strong having rushed for 1,317 yards and 15 touchdowns, and he’s tossed three touchdown passes on option plays. ... Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. leads UCD in rushing with 872 yards and five touchdowns. He’s the second leading rusher in program history with 3,406 yards. ... Chris Oladokun has passed for 2,450 yards and 20 touchdowns for the Jackrabbits. ... UCD may play three quarterbacks as it has in some games this season, with Miles Hastings, Hunter Rodrigues and Trent Tompkins.

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