Projecting the FCS Playoff Field, Week 11

By Chuck Burton

Publisher/Managing Editor

College Sports Journal


PHILADELPHIA, PA. — This past weekend, we saw two teams clinch their conference autobids – and a significant number of teams in other conferences setting up winner-take all showdowns for their conferences’ precious autobids in the weeks to come.


An amazing 25 teams are still alive in terms of qualifying for postseason consideration – joining the 15 teams that have already qualified for consideration.


Who are the odds-on favorites for the playoffs – and seeds – as of this week?  And what should fans of “bubble teams” be looking for in the outcomes of the next two weeks?  Look below to find out!


Ten Conferences, Ten Autobids

In the FCS, there are ten conferences that have autobids to the playoffs – in other words, the conference champion has one team that qualifies for the postseason tournament.


Big Sky Conference: The final weekend of the year will pit 8-2 Montana – against 9-1 Montana State for the winner of the Big Sky championship and the autobid.  I’ve said all along that I think the winner will be Montana, and I still believe that to be the case.


No matter who wins, the loser of the game will be a lock for an at-large sport in the playoffs, and the winner will be in line for a seed.  If Montana State wins, they will have a good shot at being the No. 1 or No. 2 overall seed.


Big South Conference: The final weekend of the year will pit 7-3 Liberty against 6-3 Stony Brook for the Big South title.  I still feel the Flames will come out with the victory.


The loser of this game will not be at-large eligible, so the final game of the year will be, in essence, a play-in game for the postseason.


If Liberty wins, it seems like they will be willing to make a sizeable bid for a home game in the playoffs, as would Stony Brook, so either team looks good for hosting a first-round game.


Colonial Athletic Association: With two weeks left, four teams remain alive for the CAA autobid, with three of the teams involved playing each other in critical games.


Based on their 40-30 road win over one of the contenders last week, Maine, I think 7-2 Towson has the best chance of beating another of the contenders, 7-2 New Hampshire, this weekend, and then travelling to 3-6 Rhode Island to beat the Rams and clinch the CAA Autobid.


If Towson beats New Hampshire and the Wildcats beat their rival Maine the following weekend, it sets up the possibility that Old Dominion, as long as they beat 4-5 William & Mary this weekend, could also win the autobid.


Should Towson, New Hampshire or Maine win their remaining two games, you have to believe that any one of these three teams have a great chance at a seed.  But if the CAA champion has an 8-3 record, it would be hard to justify a seed for any of these teams, even with an FBS loss in many cases.


Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference: If Norfolk State beats Morgan State this weekend – which I think will happen – then the Spartans will be the MEAC champions and will clinch the autobid.


But should they lose, it opens up a host of other possibilities where either Morgan State, South Carolina State, Bethune-Cookman, or Florida A&M could be the champs instead.


The Spartans, should they win and end the year at 9-2, would be a possibility to get a first-round bye with their only losses coming to FBS West Virginia and Bethune-Cookman.


Missouri Valley Football Conference: North Dakota State virtually clinched the autobid with their win over Indiana State this weekend, and need to simply take care of business against either 5-4 Youngstown State or 2-7 Western Illinois in order to make it official.


If they win both games, they will be a lock for no worse than the No. 2 overall seed.


Northeast Conference: Though 6-3 Bryant is ineligible for the postseason since they are transitioning to Division I, they did a huge favor to the rest of the league by saddling Albany with a 31-17 conference loss last weekend.  That opened up a slew of 2 (and even 3 loss possibilities) for the NEC championship and autobid.


Oddly enough, a portion of the riddle to the puzzle of the NEC autobid involves Sacred Heart, who faces one contender, Duquesne, this weekend and the Great Danes, another, next weekend.


If Albany dispatches Monmouth, the fourth contender, this weekend, the Great Danes will be one step closer to being playoff-bound.  If they lose, though, Albany, Duquesne, Monmouth, and even three-loss Sacred Heart have a chance to take the NEC’s autobid.


Whomever the winner of the NEC autobid happens to be, they seem like they’ll be playing in a first-round game, almost certainly on the road.


Ohio Valley Conference: Last weekend in the 4th quarter, Eastern Kentucky‘s shot at anything looked cooked, but four touchdowns later they defeated Jacksonville State 52-48 and, coupled with Tennessee Tech’s 38-37 loss to Murray State on a missed extra point, are suddenly in control of their own destiny.


While Jacksonville State, Tennessee Tech, and UT-Martin all could win the autobid with a slip-up by the Colonels, I think Eastern Kentucky wins their next two games, making it a moot point.


At 8-3, Eastern Kentucky is a dark horse for a first-round bye, thanks to their loss to 3-6 Austin Peay.  If any of the other teams win instead, they all seem like prime candidates to make an appearance in the first round.


Patriot League: Lehigh‘s 14-7 win over Holy Cross last weekend has made the league’s championship and autobid scenarios easy: win against Georgetown next weekend at home, and they’re the champs.   Lose, and Georgetown instead becomes the champs and gains the Hoya’s first-ever autobid to the playoffs.


At 8-1, should Lehigh win their last two games, they’d seem to be a lock for a first-round bye, but unless some crazy upsets happen, they’re unlikely to be seeded.  Should they lose to both Georgetown and their arch-rival Lafayette, they’d immediately be a bubble team.


Southland Conference: With Central Arkansas’ win over Northwestern State, Sam Houston State clinched the Southland title and autobid this past weekend.


Should they win their last two games against Northwestern State and Texas State, it would be awfully hard to deny the Bearkats a seed.  But a loss to either might put a seed in jeopardy, and a loss to both might even stick them in the first round.


Southern Conference: The road to the SoCon championship and autobid goes through Wofford. If they beat Georgia Southern at home, they will finish no worse than a tie for the conference championship, and would win it outright with a win over 5-5 Chattanooga the following weekend.


If the Eagles win this weekend, they will be SoCon champs.


If Wofford beats Georgia Southern and loses to Chattanooga, it opens the door for Appalachian State or Furman to be the SoCon champs.  But I think the Terriers win both games, and win the title and autobid outright.


For the at-large bids, and who’s on the outside looking in?  In my opinion, those teams are:


In: Montana State (Big Sky), Southern Utah (Great West), Maine (CAA), New Hampshire (CAA), Old Dominion (CAA), Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley), Appalachian State (SoCon), Furman (SoCon), Georgia Southern (SoCon), Central Arkansas (Southland).


Cal Poly and James Madison drop out of my at-large projections this week, with huge losses to UC Davis and New Hampshire, respectively.  Furman, with their critical 20-10 win over Appalachian State, makes my playoff brackets with a projected 7-4 record this week, and Southern Utah, who can become playoff eligible with wins on the road against Northern Iowa and Northern Arizona.


While it would be unusual for the playoff committee to take a team with three conference losses as the last team in, if the Thunderbirds do win their last two games they’ll have a compelling case for at-large inclusion.  They have a resounding 41-16 win over FBS UNLV (coached by former Montana head coach Bobby Hauck) and would own three impressive wins against Big Sky teams and a Top Ten member of the Missouri Valley.


Out: James Madison (CAA), Duquesne (Northeast), Illinois State (Missouri Valley), Indiana State (Missouri Valley), Youngstown State (Missouri Valley), Georgetown (Patriot), Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley), Northwestern State (Southland), Bethune-Cookman (MEAC), South Carolina State (MEAC), Drake (Pioneer).


With a multitude of teams at 7-4, there’s plenty of hope for teams in my “out” list today to still make the field, but they should also be doing a lot of hoping that Lehigh beats Georgetown this weekend, too – if the Mountain Hawks lose, a precious at-large bid will likely disappear.  (Well, considering Georgetown is on my “out” list, maybe they will wish for a different outcome, but you know what I mean.)


If there’s a “first in” on my list, it’s probably Illinois State.  At 7-3, they’re already eligible to be selected as an at-large, and a win over Northern Iowa would almost certainly seal the deal.  (Ironically, they will be rooting for Northern Iowa to beat Southern Utah this weekend, since a loss would eliminate the Thunderbirds from the discussion.)


If you’re looking for another team that might be surprisingly in contention, it’s 5-4 South Carolina State.  With two losses against FBS opponents, they might only have a potentially good-enough resume if Bethune-Cookman is the representative of the MEAC’s autobid.  Would two FCS losses and a good recent playoff history be enough to put them through?  It’s possible.


Here’s my revamped sample bracket this week:


Seeds: North Dakota State, Wofford, Montana, Sam Houston State, Towson

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