Sound the bells, because the king is dead.
North Dakota State's bid for nine titles in a decade died in Huntsville, Texas, on Sunday afternoon, and the FCS will have a new champion for the first time since 2016 -- and perhaps much longer.
Though the subdivision's biggest brand is gone, the four best teams remain. The final four of South Dakota State, Sam Houston, James Madison and Delaware represent the first, second, third and fifth seeds in the 16-team field, and the four semifinalists enter with a combined record of 29-1. Cinderella does not have a ticket to this ball.
Within the two semifinals, consider the possibilities for these championship games:
-- James Madison vs. Delaware would pit the CAA South Division champion against the CAA North Division champion
-- Sam Houston vs. Delaware would give us KC Keeler against his old team. Keeler was UD's head coach from 2002-12 and led the Blue Hens to the 2003 national title. Keeler could become the first coach to win FCS national titles at two different schools and so against his former school.
-- South Dakota State vs. Sam Houston would give us a first-time national champion, which the FCS hasn't had since 2011. SDSU has never played in the FCS title game before; SHSU lost to North Dakota State in 2011 and '12.
-- South Dakota State vs. James Madison pits the committee's No. 1 team (SDSU) against the polls' No. 1 team (JMU).
Delaware (+9) at South Dakota State -- noon ET, ESPN
They say defense travels, and Delaware's flew first class to Alabama last week. A week after Jacksonville State dropped 40 points and 464 yards on Davidson in the first round, the Blue Hens limited the Gamecocks to 14 points and 200 total yards.
Delaware enters Saturday ranked third in total defense (223 yards per game), second in pass efficiency and pass defense, second in scoring defense and second in turnover margin. The Blue Hens are 7-0 on the field and 7-0 in turnover margin.
If you're South Dakota State, it's not often you enter a game with a 15.5 scoring defense average, which is nearly four points per game worse than your opponent.
Neither offense blows you away with sheer numbers or on an efficiency basis, and both attacks are heavily reliant on the quarterback run game, or at least they were last week. Mark Gronowski threw for 183 yards and two touchdowns while rushing a team-high 13 times for 142 yards and a touchdown in last week's win over Southern Illinois, while Delaware's Nolan Henderson threw for 239 yards and led his team in rushing (albeit with just 30 yards) in the Jacksonville State win.
The last time the No. 1 seed lost in the semifinals: 2017, when James Madison went to the Fargodome and beat the Bison on their way to the national title.
The pick: Delaware 17, South Dakota State 14
James Madison (+1) at Sam Houston -- 2:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Not only a Founding Father, but the Father of the Constitution -- the greatest political document since the Magna Carta -- co-writer of the Federalist Papers; co-founder of the Democratic-Republican Party; the fifth Secretary of State and the fourth U.S. President taking on the only man to be governor of two states; the first and third president of the Republic of Texas; a general in the War of 1812; one of the first Senators from Texas, and the namesake of our nation's fourth-largest city. It's close but I have to go with Madison.
As one would expect in a semifinal pitting the No. 2 and 3 seeds, both of these teams are really, really good on both sides of the ball. James Madison's seven wins have come by an average of 33-13; Sam Houston's eight wins = were by an average of 39-18.
There are two strength-on-strength matchups to watch here. James Madison likes to run the ball (243 yards per game, 4.96 a carry on nearly 50 rushes per game) and Sam Houston is great against the run, limiting opponents to 2.01 yards per carry. The Bearkats limited North Dakota State to 139 yards on 43 carries. In their quarterfinal win over North Dakota, JMU pounded out 53 rushes for a good-not-great 217 yards, but that allowed Cole Johnson ample time to complete 14 of his 17 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns.
On the other side, the matchup to watch is when Sam Houston throws the ball. Sam Houston's Eric Schmid leads all remaining quarterbacks with 2,381 yards, but he has served up seven interceptions thus far (though none against NDSU). However, he displayed flawless ball security in the North Dakota State win, and his 47-yard over-the-shoulder toss to Ife Adeyi on 3rd-and-10 from midfield with the Bearkats trailing late in the fourth was a perfect 10.0 on the clutch scale.
JMU's defense is fourth nationally in passing efficiency, swiping 10 interceptions against five touchdowns while surrendering less than six yards per attempt. The Dukes held North Dakota's Tommy Schuster to 16-of-30 completions for 213 yards with two interceptions. Those picks helped JMU win the battle of possession decisively last week, getting off 72 snaps to UND's 52.
To win in Huntsville, James Madison will have to make history: SHSU head coach KC Keeler is 28-0 lifetime in home playoff games, and the Bearkats are 14-0 in home playoff games.
The pick: James Madison 23, Sam Houston 20