Behind The ScenesNCAAFStarting 5

“Juiced environment” has Kessenich pumped for FCS Title game

While the FBS will crown its champion on Monday (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET), the 2018 NCAA FCS Football Championship presented by Northwestern Mutual airs Saturday (ESPN2, noon) live from Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. Reigning National Champion James Madison (14-0) will take on North Dakota State (13-1), which searches for vindication after its five-year FCS title streak was snapped by the Dukes last year.

Front Row caught up with ESPN’s Quint Kessenich — who will serve as the sideline reporter alongside play-by-play commentator Dave Neal and analyst Matt Stinchcomb — to get his thoughts going into Saturday’s game.

This is your third FCS Championship telecast, what did you learn from the previous two?
My first year, North Dakota State and quarterback Carson Wentz [now with the Philadelphia Eagles] won the title and last year James Madison took home the gold. The experience is similar to a bowl game with the added tension and emotion of championship implications. I couldn’t be more excited for this matchup. The game is sold out and the gameday environment will be juiced. The Dukes travel well and Bison Nation migrates to Frisco every year in January. Bison fans take a backseat to nobody!

What can fans expect to see from these two teams?
These two programs have a track record of success based on strong leadership, a proven winning culture and outstanding players. North Dakota State currently has eight players in the NFL.

They have been dominant in the post season behind a rugged running game and a defense that ranks No. 1 in total defense. James Madison is on a major roll behind a balanced offense but their defensive ability to generate pressure on the quarterback has led to 31 interceptions, a new record. They have forced 43 turnovers.

What can make the difference? Both rosters are familiar with Frisco. JMU beat NDSU in last year’s semifinals in the FargoDome, so they won’t lack confidence.

I have enormous respect for JMU Coach Mike Houston (28-1 at JMU) and his staff. NDSU coach Chris Klieman (53-6) continues to steer the herd towards the title.

Who can get the run game going? Which team can convert in the red zone? Whose special teams win the hidden yardage stats? Who handles the hype and can execute off a three-week layoff? Who’s ready to make a play in the 59th minute and hoist gold?