The NCAA announced the 24-team FCS playoff field Sunday, and Eastern Illinois senior quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and North Dakota State senior offensive tackle Billy Turner are the top pro prospects who will be participating in the playoffs.
Garoppolo (6-feet-3, 222 pounds) has thrown for 4,489 yards and 48 touchdowns this season. Both figures lead all of NCAA football and are single-season Ohio Valley Conference records. The TD record had been 34, held by former EIU star Tony Romo. Garoppolo has 113 career TD passes, 28 more than Romo's previous school record. In addition, Garoppolo passed New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton to become the school's career leader in completions this season.
The 48 touchdowns are third in FCS single-season history (eight away from the record), while the 4,489 yards are fifth in FCS history (587 yards away from the record). Garoppolo also is eighth on the FCS career list for TD passes and ninth on the career passing yards list (12,595).
Garoppolo is No. 40 on NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt's list of the top 100 seniors. Garoppolo was lightly recruited out of high school in the Chicago suburbs and signed with EIU over offers from Illinois State and Montana State; no FBS school offered a scholarship.
Eastern Illinois is ranked second in this week's FCS polls. That's the school's highest ranking since 2002 -- Romo's senior season.
Turner (6-6, 314) has started all but one game in his career. While he was recruited by Minnesota, Wyoming and Northern Illinois, all his offers were from FCS schools, and he chose North Dakota State over Illinois State, North Dakota and Northern Iowa. Turner is an aggressive, physical run blocker who could move inside to guard at the next level.
North Dakota State, which is aiming for its third consecutive national title, is the top seed in the playoffs, which begin on Saturday. Eastern Illinois is seeded second. The top eight seeds have a first-round bye. This is the first season with a 24-team field; it had been 20 for the past three seasons. The final is Jan. 4 in Frisco, Texas.
Among the other top prospects to watch in the playoffs, listed alphabetically: Furman offensive tackle Dakota Dozier (6-5, 303), Sam Houston State tailback Timothy Flanders (5-9, 210), Coastal Carolina wide receiver Matt Hazel (6-3, 190), Montana offensive tackle Danny Kistler Jr. (6-8, 315), Towson cornerback Jordan Love (6-1, 180) and Montana outside linebacker Jordan Tripp (6-3, 237).