5 players to watch in the FCS national championship game – NCAA.com

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A thrilling FCS season has just two teams remaining as No. 2 North Dakota State and No. 8 Montana State will battle for the national championship on Saturday, Jan. 8. It’s been an exciting playoff run for both teams, led by impactful performances on the field from players. Now, Montana State and North Dakota State players get one last opportunity to put on a show in the FCS title game.
2021 PLAYOFFS: Here’s everything that has happened in the earlier FCS championship rounds
Here are the players to watch in this year’s FCS national championship game.
Before the FCS playoffs, quarterback Tommy Mellott had zero starts. Yet in his first three starts, Mellott has led Montana State to its first national championship game appearance since 1984. The freshman signal caller has been sensational since taking over as a starter, scoring 11 total touchdowns over a three-game span.
Mellott has been dynamic as a dual-threat quarterback, rushing for two touchdowns in each FCS playoff game. While he struggled as a passer in game one, Mellott’s completion percentage has risen as he gained experience; he completed 66.7 percent of his passes in the semifinals.
With Mellott’s growth as a passer plus his rushing abilities, he has the potential to put on a show in the national championship game. Watch out for the freshman under center in the biggest game of his newly started career.
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Troy Andersen is the best defensive player on Montana State and by the time the national championship kicks off, he might be the best player in all of FCS football. Andersen, the Buck Buchanan Award finalist, is everywhere on the Bobcat defense. He flies around the football, making big-time plays. 
Last week, Andersen and the Montana State defense held South Dakota State’s potent rushing attack to just 124 yards. The next challenge is North Dakota State’s run-heavy attack; the Bison led all non-triple-option teams in rushing offense this season. However, if Andersen can make his presence known on the field in Frisco, Montana State could shut down North Dakota State’s biggest strength on the ground.
No player on North Dakota State had a bigger game in the FCS semifinals than All-American fullback Hunter Luepke. Against James Madison, he ran for 110 yards on 19 attempts while adding three catches for 89 yards and two scores. However, when it comes to Luepke, it’s what doesn’t pop up on the stat sheet that matters most.
Luepke often serves as a lead blocker for a North Dakota State team that has run the ball 154 times to just 50 pass attempts this postseason. When Luepke clears the way, it often leads to positive yardage for the Bison. In the national championship, follow Luepke and you’ll likely find the football in his hands or right behind him.
BRACKET: See the 2021 FCS Championship bracket
All-American wide receiver Christian Watson has yet to play in this year’s FCS playoffs, but he could make his return in the FCS championship game. Before the semifinals, Watson warmed up in full uniform before sitting out the game. That’s a positive sign for North Dakota State fans, especially with a three-week break between games for Watson to get healthy.
On the field, Watson is an X-factor for the North Dakota State offense. Standing at 6-foot-5, he’s a big-play threat with eight total touchdowns this season. In a run-heavy Bison offense, Watson forces defenses to respect the pass, opening things up for everything else. If Watson makes his return in the title game, expect him to make an impact, even if it’s as a decoy.
North Dakota State’s defense allows just 11.2 points per game and 259.7 yards per game. A big reason why is the performance of defensive end Brayden Thomas. Gifted a fifth year of eligibility, Thomas has earned All-American status this season. He has 14.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks, setting the edge for the Bison defense. In the national championship against Montana State, Thomas could have a big day stopping the run against the seventh-best rushing offense this season.
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Stan Becton has been with NCAA.com since 2021 and has covered numerous NCAA championship events, including the Men’s Frozen Four. He is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University where he played football and earned a degree in Professional Writing. You can follow him on Twitter @stan_becton.
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