In years past, I would wait to try to figure out who might be in the FCS Playoffs in any given year. I would try to look at analytics, Top 25s, Sagarin ratings, the Massey ratings composite, and a ton of other things to try to project a sensible, common-sense FCS playoff projection that tried to take into account a variety of different factors.
This year? I’m throwing out the old playbook, ignoring all the old analytics and just going with the old-fashioned gut. The Sagarin ratings, at least for me, are out; the old eyeball test is in. Is research and knowledge overrated? Well, Virigina, we’re going to find out as I tackle a FCS Playoff Projection a full month and two weeks before knowing anything substantial.
As mentioned, my methodology is one of pure guts and eyeball tests. No math will be involved, I promise.
A quick recap of the rules for the ability to qualify for the FCS Playoffs:
The field for the FCS Playoffs is determined at the conclusion of the FCS regular season, which is the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
There are 10 conferences that get autobids to the playoffs, the Big Sky, Big South, CAA, Northeast, Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley, Patriot League, Pioneer Football League, Southern, and Southland Conferences.
Two conferences, the SWAC and MEAC, choose to send their champions to the Celebration Bowl, a postseason event that’s separate from the FCS playoffs. (Additionally, the SWAC also plays a championship game, and also have scheduled some games on Thanksgiving or beyond.) What this means is that their conference champions play in the Heritage Bowl and not the playoffs, though second-placed teams that don’t have Thanksgiving or later games could be considered instead,
A third, the Ivy League, chooses to not send its members to the FCS playoffs.
Projected Conference Champions/Autobid Winners:
- Big Sky: Weber State has the early edge because 1) they get to face Eastern Washington at home and 2) they have that Look of the overlooked solid Big Sky team that takes down the bigger names of the conference, quietly, and then one day you wake up and they’re Big Sky champions.
- Big South: Kennesaw State looks like a powerhouse. Honestly, that’s all we need here.
- Colonial Athletic Association: Just chalk in James Madison. Is any analysis really necessary?
- Missouri Valley: North Dakota State. You gonna argue?
- Northeast: Admit it; you, like me, have no idea who is going to win the NEC. There’s little in the early going to give any indication who is great, or terrible, with 55-0 wins over Lincoln (PA) on the one hand and 63-14 losses to UMass on the other. I’m going to go out on a limb and call Wagner the early guess as to who emerges from this conference. Guessing that we’ll get our first indication of their possible run through the NEC as well as they face undefeated Sacred Heart this week at home.
- Ohio Valley: Jacksonville State. Sharpie. Moving on.
- Patriot League: Thanks to their Week 1 win over Holy Cross, Colgate is already in the drivers’ seat for the league title.
- Pioneer: San Diego and Dayton are the favorites in the non-scholarship PFL, and though I’ll keep monitoring the situation, San Diego looks like a team that can beat Dayton at home.
- Southern: With Samford’s upset this week by Mercer, Wofford, who came within about a minute of upsetting FBS Wyoming this weekend, is the team that has the look of one that will win the SoCon.
- Southland: They lost this weekend to North Dakota. They’ll probably drop to 10th in the polls. But in a couple of weeks, Sam Houston State will probably beat Central Arkansas and then bulldoze their way through the rest of the Southland, and get seeded. It seems to happen every single year.
- James Madison
- North Dakota State
- Jacksonville State
- Sam Houston State
- Kennesaw State
- South Dakota State
- Weber State
Rest of the field:
Austin Peay, Chattanooga, Colgate, Central Arkansas, Eastern Washington, Elon, Maine, Montana, Montana State, Northern Iowa, Illinois State, San Diego, Stony Brook, Villanova, Wagner, Western Illinois
Last Four In:
Villanova, Chattanooga, Western Illinois, Austin Peay
First Four Out:
McNeese State, North Dakota, Delaware, Mercer