FCS Playoffs ‘Til I Die: Where Everything Is Made Up And the Picks Don’t Matter

Courtesy The State Hornet

Austin Peay.  Furman.  Montana.  Nicholls.  All teams I seriously considered to pick as seeds in last week’s playoff bracket.  All teams who lost.

Though the teams on the top of the FCS keep winning – looking at you, North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota State and Weber State – after those playoff teams, the rest of the possible playoff field suffered a major shakeup.

As of right now, the FCS Playoff field feels like the show “Who’s Line Is It Anyway”, where the picks are just random improvisations of things that end up not making any sense.  Nonetheless, we’ll keep pressing on, trying to figure out some version of truth.

Below, find answers to your burning FCS playoff questions.  Like, can a three-loss Southland team win the autobid?  San Diego, or Dayton?  Is this the week that we have to start talking about the MEAC?  Is there a new sheriff in town in the Patriot League?  And most important of all, who the heck do you pick to win the OVC?

Fortunately, we live and die with the FCS Playoffs.  We’ll do our best to help.

Once again, 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 before 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 FCS playoff irrelevance instead of participation in the greatest Division I playoff system ever created.

Projected Conference Champions/Autobid Winners

Big Sky

About the only thing you can say for sure is that there is going to be a whole lot of terrific football coming up in the Big Sky in the title race.  Surprising Sacramento State (5-2, 3-0) and steady Weber State (5-2, 3-0) currently lead the pack – and face off against each other in two weeks.  But they can’t look too far ahead – the Hornets play rival Cal Poly (2-5, 1-2) this week and the Wildcats make a tricky trip to UC Davis (4-4, 2-1) who still hold out hope of getting back into the title hunt.  For now – and I don’t exactly feel too confident about this – let’s keep Weber State in this spot because they have a modestly easier schedule than the Hornets.

Big South

Is it time to talk about a seed for 6-1 (2-0) Kennesaw State?  The Owls keep doing what they’re supposed to do, which in last week’s case was crush Presbyterian 55-10, and the teams above Kennesaw State keep knocking themselves around.  It would be foolhardy to crown them yet – arguably their toughest games remain against 5-2 (2-0) Monmouth and 5-1 (2-0) Campbell – but for now, they win the Big South and get a look for a seed.

Colonial Athletic Association

7-1 (4-0) James Madison did not let down in Williamsburg, winning 38-10 over William and Mary and waking up on Sunday in sole possession of first place in the CAA, thanks to New Hampshire (4-3, 3-1) losing to Delaware (4-3, 2-1) 16-10.  With three of their final four games at home, and a one-loss cushion, I feel pretty good about picking the Dukes.

Missouri Valley

If anyone is going to dethrone 7-0 (3-0) North Dakota State, it’s probably going to be 6-1 (3-0) South Dakota State this week in the “Dakota Marker” game that is going to be hyped up on ESPN College Gameday this weekend.  For now, let’s keep the Bison here.

Northeast

6-1 (2-0) Central Connecticut State keeps winning, and seem likely to until November, where 4-2 (2-0) Duquesne and surprising 3-4 (2-0) Robert Morris loom as possible teams to trip them up and poach the autobid.

Ohio Valley 

If you look at the current numbers, UT Martin (5-2, 4-0) sits on top of the OVC at the moment.  However, they have a brutal stretch of games ahead against two definite OVC title contenders in Austin Peay (4-3, 2-1) and Southeast Missouri State (4-3, 2-1), a team that has spent time in the Top 25 this year in Jacksonville State (5-3, 2-2) and an FBS team to close out the season (Kentucky).  I’m going to go out on a limb and say Southeast Missouri State is the team that is going to emerge from this group since their schedule is a bit easier than that of the Skyhawks.

The OVC is already setting up to be an at-large headache for the playoff committee.  If, say, UT Martin loses to Kentucky and SEMO and wins the rest of their games, they’d be 8-4 without a great win, two FBS losses, and a bad loss to Southern Illinois.  In this scenario, are they in, or out?

Patriot League

For now, we will keep 3-4 (1-0) Holy Cross as the winner of the autobid, though 3-3 (2-0) Lehigh has forced themselves into the conversation by winning in overtime at Fordham 30-27.  If Holy Cross and Lehigh win this week, they will face off in Bethlehem in two weeks.

Pioneer

5-2 (2-1) Dayton’s stunning loss to 5-2 (2-1) Stetson  takes a bit of the shine off of the huge Pioneer League game pitting the Flyers and 4-2 (3-0) San Diego.  If the Flyers do beat the Toreros this weekend, the big beneficiary might be 3-3 (3-0) Drake, who might be in first place if they can get by 4-3 (2-1) Morehead State.  For now, we are still picking the Toreros, but a Dayton win might require us at FCSP’TID to break out the slide rule for tiebreaker scenarios.

Southern

Gone are the days where we can just plug in Furman into the autobid and a potential seed, thanks to The Citadel’s 27-10 win over them this weekend.  Right now there is only one undefeated team in conference play, 4-3 (3-0) Chattanooga.  However, they have two huge games coming up against the one-loss teams: chastened Furman (4-3, 3-1) and Wofford (4-2, 3-1), and it seems foolish to count out any of the two-loss teams that loom if they all beat each other up, most notably The Citadel (4-4. 2-2).

This situation is messy, and it’s hard to see who emerges.  Could it be Wofford?   They have both Chattanooga and Furman at home, however sandwiched in between is, oh, CLEMSON, and to close the year a dangerous team in The Citadel.  My confidence level isn’t great, but for now: Ankle-Biters to Play in Postseason.

Southland

If you thought the OVC and SoCon scenarios were messy, the Southland would like to hold your beer.  Nicholls’ shutout loss to Sam Houston State gives the Southland four one-loss conference teams (Sam Houston State, Central Arkansas, Nicholls, and Incarnate Word) and a two-loss conference team that has to be considered (Southeastern Louisiana State).    Only a thread, or a bad conference loss, separates them all.

Many of these teams play one another, but who will emerge?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Looking ahead, one team plays a modestly easier schedule than the others: 5-3 (4-1) Sam Houston State.  But the tough game they have left is a doozy: a trip to Conway, Arkansas to play 5-2 (3-1) Central Arkansas.  I don’t love the pick, but that’s where we’re at.

Seeding

  1. North Dakota State (↔️)
  2. James Madison (↔️)
  3. South Dakota State (↔️)
  4. Weber State (↔️)
  5. Sacramento State (2 ⬆️)
  6. Villanova (2 ⬆️)
  7. Illinois State
  8. Kennesaw State

Next Teams Up: Northern Iowa, Furman, Sam Houston State, Wofford

Rest of the field:

Albany, Chattanooga, Central Arkansas, Central Connecticut State, Delaware, Furman, Holy Cross, Montana, Montana State, Northern Iowa, Nicholls, Sam Houston State, San Diego, South Carolina State Southeast Missouri State, Wofford

Last Four In:

Central Arkansas, Chattanooga, Albany, South Carolina State

First Four Out:

Incarnate Word, Austin Peay, UC Davis, Stony Brook

A word here on the MEAC.  As mentioned earlier, the MEAC sends its champion to the Celebration Bowl to face off against the SWAC champions.  But there is an opportunity for a second-placed team to qualify for the FCS Playoffs if they are not invited to the Celebration Bowl.

Currently, the situation around the MEAC is complicated.  Florida A&M is competing in the MEAC, but they are under a self-imposed championship and postseason ban.  So their games “count”, but they cannot play in either the FCS playoffs or the Celebration Bowl, though they are undefeated in MEAC play.

Currently there are three teams with some excellent resumes: North Carolina A&T (4-2, 2-1), Bethune-Cookman (6-1, 4-1), and South Carolina State (4-2, 2-1).  The Aggies have beaten a potential FCS Playoff team (Elon) while the Bulldogs have upset a potential FCS Playoff team as well (Wofford).

In our projections, we have North Carolina A&T doing what needs to be done to make the Celebration Bowl, with South Carolina State a close second.  That’s why the Bulldogs have our last at-large spot.

Potential 1st Round Matchups

Holy Cross at Delaware
Central Connecticut State at Albany
Chattanooga at Montana
South Carolina State at Wofford
Central Arkansas at Northern Iowa
Southeast Missouri State at Sam Houston State
Nicholls at Furman
San Diego at Montana State

Potential 2nd Round Matchups

Central Arkanasa/Northern Iowa winner at No. 1 North Dakota State
Central Connecticut State/Albany winner at No. 2 James Madison
Southeast Missouri State/Sam Houston State winner at No. 3 South Dakota State
San Diego/Montana State winner at No. 4 Weber State
Nicholls/Furman winner at No. 5 Sacramento State
Holy Cross/Delaware winner at No. 6 Villanova
Chattanooga/Montana winner at No. 7 Illinois State
South Carolina State/Wofford winner at No. 8 Kennesaw State

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