Title matchup again shows CAA, Missouri Valley supremacy

By CRAIG HALEY

STATS FCS Senior Editor

(STATS) - The FCS championship game usually starts in one of two places. This year, it's both.

Either CAA Football or the Missouri Valley Football Conference has had a finalist every year since the 2002 season, and for the third time and the second straight year in that period, the two best FCS conferences are squaring off in the title game.

James Madison, the CAA champ, is back to defend its 2016 national title against MVFC champ North Dakota State, which is seeking to claim its sixth championship in the last seven years. In last season's semifinals, JMU beat the Bison 27-17 to end their title reign at a record five in a row.

Both teams are focused on finishing No. 1, not making their conference No. 1 in the subdivision, but their highly anticipated matchup will count toward the latter.

"Oh, I don't know, it certainly goes a long way," JMU coach Mike Houston said. "But I think that both conferences probably have a right to declare that. I think there's certainly plenty of evidence that both conferences have to say those things. But certainly the winner of this game, just like last year, will have a little more bragging rights going into the offseason."

The Dukes defeated MVFC member Youngstown State 28-14 in last year's championship game. NDSU topped Towson 35-7 to end the 2013 season.

The two conferences didn't meet in the 2017 regular season, but have split two games in the FCS playoffs - MVFC member South Dakota State beat New Hampshire 56-14 in the quarterfinals before falling to James Madison 51-16 in the semifinals. The MVFC had the most playoff teams with five followed by the CAA with four.

Said NDSU coach Chris Klieman: "Playing the teams we've played in the Valley and JMU is a really dominant force in the CAA, and they play football I think the way it's supposed to be played, like a number of teams in the Valley do, with physical running styles, physical defense, extremely well-coached, disciplined group, great special teams.

"So we hope that the gauntlet of the Missouri Valley has prepared us for a game like this. So we'll find out. But I don't think there's any question that the schedule that we play in the Valley, probably similar to what JMU would say, will prepare them for the playoff run. It's obviously prepared both of us for the playoff run because we've been able to work ourselves all the way to Frisco."

Saturday's matchup means the champion will come out of the MVFC or CAA for the 12th time in 16 years. In that time, Western Kentucky (2002) and North Dakota State (2011-15) have combined for six titles out of the Missouri Valley, while Delaware (2003), James Madison (2004 and 2016), Richmond (2008) and Villanova (2009) have combined for five by the CAA.

Updated January 1, 2018

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