Projecting the FCS Playoff Field, Week 12

By Chuck Burton

Publisher/Managing Editor

College Sports Journal


PHILADELPHIA, PA. — Three more teams won autobids to the FCS playoffs this weekend – the Lehigh Mountain Hawks out of the Patriot League, and the Norfolk State Spartans of the MEAC and Georgia Southern from the Southern Conference.


These wins gave a whole host of 7-4 teams more hope for their chances for the final precious at-large bids.


Sixteen teams are still alive in terms of qualifying for postseason consideration for that magical seven Division I win threshold.  And not counting the four teams that have already won auto bids, 15 more teams have already reached that threshold and will be at in consideration come selection time.


After a crazy Week 11 , who are now the odds-on favorites for the playoffs — and seeds — as of this week? And what should fans of “bubble teams” be looking for? Look below to find out!


Ten Conferences, Ten Auto bids

In the FCS, there are 10 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, it 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 7-3 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 the Flames 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 8-2 Towson‘s wild win over New Hampshire this weekend, all that stands between the Tigers is 3-7 Rhode Island.  Should Towson fall, and should 8-2 Maine beat 7-3 New Hampshire in their rivlary game, the “Battle for the Brice-Cowell Musket”, the Black Bears would be champs.


Should both lose, it would set up a four way tie with the Wildcats, Tigers, Bears, and 9-2 Old Dominion, which has already finished its regular season.  Towson would win this tiebreaker.


Of these four, only New Hampshire could be seen this weekend as possibly playing for their playoff lives. At 7-4 with a win over Lehigh (which is already a tournament team) and James Madison (which is fighting to qualify as an at-large team) will certainly help the Wildcats’ cause, but they will have lost their last two games.


Should Towson win, the Tigers would be setting themselves up for the possibility of being seeded.


Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference: With 9-2 Norfolk State beating Morgan State this weekend, the Spartans clinched the MEAC autobid and dashed the hopes of Bethune Cookman, Florida A&M, South Carolina State and Morgan State for stealing the auto bid away.


Though the Spartans could get a first-round bye, an opening weekend matchup at 9-2 Old Dominion seems almost too perfect to pass up.


Missouri Valley Football Conference: With its loss to Youngstown State this weekend, 10-1 North Dakota State actually needs to beat 2-8 Western Illinois in order to win the auto bid. If they lose and 9-2 Northern Iowa beats 7-3 Illinois State, the Panthers will get the auto bid. (If both NDSU and UNI lose, the Bison win the auto bid thanks to their win over the Panthers.)


With their loss this weekend, the Bison may have played themselves out of the No. 1 overall seed, and might even become unseeded should they lose to Western Illinois.  Northern Iowa has an outside shot as a seed — unless the Bison lose, in which case the Panthers could see themselves in consideration.


Northeast Conference: Albany made things easier for everybody by beating Monmouth last weekend.  Now, as long as the Great Danes beat Sacred Heart on Saturday (or Duquesne loses to Robert Morris), they will be at least the NEC co-champions and will win the auto bid.


If Albany and Duquesne both lose on Saturday and Bryant beats 3-7 Central Connecticut State, it would create a complicated three-way tie for the title and Duquesne would hold most of the tiebreakers for the auto bid.


Whomever the winner of the NEC auto bid happens to be, they seem like they’ll be playing in a first-round game, almost certainly on the road.  A road date at New Hampshire or Maine could be a tempting proposition.


Ohio Valley Conference: The rules regarding the OVC auto bid seem to be: if a thermonuclear scenario can happen, it will.  Last weekend, we saw an incredible series of events that included Tennessee Tech upsetting Eastern Kentucky and thus putting TTU in the driver’s seat for at least a share of the title and auto bid.  All TTU needs to do is beat 3-9 Austin Peay, and the Golden Eagles have landed in the playoffs for the first time.


If the Golden Eagles lose, well, then a whole series of possibilities emerge with Eastern Kentucky, Jacksonville State, Tennessee-Martin, Tennessee State, and Murray State.  The upshot for all these teams is this, however: the only way you have a chance is to win, and hope for an upset, or two, or three.


League officials spelled out various scenarios on Monday, including one to deal with a potential six-way tie for first in which Tennessee State would emerge with the playoff bid.


Whomever emerges with the autobid, it seems likely that they will be playing in round one, with a fair chance that the game will be on the road.


Patriot League: Lehigh‘s 34-12 win over Georgetown caused a host of at-large teams to exhale this weekend, as it clinched the autobid for the Mountain Hawks and thus meant that Lehigh wouldn’t be an at-large team.


The Mountain Hawks seem destined for a first-round bye — as long as they get by their arch-rival 4-6 Lafayette, Saturday — but may need help to be seeded. Whether they get a home date at Murray Goodman Stadium might depend on the other seven unseeded teams that will also be getting a bye.


Southland Conference: Sam Houston State has already clinched the Southland title and auto bid this past weekend, and with its resounding 43-17 win against Northwestern State, the Bearkats seem like a good bet to be seeded.


With a win over 6-5 Texas State this weekend, the Bearkats even have a fighting chance to be the No. 1 overall seed. A loss, however, and they could fall out of a seed.


Southern Conference: An impressive win by Georgia Southern over Wofford means that the Eagles won the SoCon auto bid and will be going to the playoffs, no matter how the Eagles do against the No. 3 team in FBS, Alabama.


It’s probably a safe assumption if the Eagles pull off the greatest FCS vs. FBS upset of all-time, they’ll be the No. 1 overall seed.  But even if, as expected, they lose, they seem like a lock for some sort of seed.


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


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


You’ll note that I only included seven at-large teams.  The reason for that is I feel like the three remaining invitations are up for grabs, and depend on outcomes this weekend to determine.


So, in what order would the contenders be considered?  In my opinion, here’s how I would consider them.


Youngstown State (Missouri Valley).  The Penguins’ win over the No. 1 team in the country last week, North Dakota State, means that all that stands between them is a win over 1-9 Missouri State. But if YSU loses to the Bears, the Penguins would be out with only six Division I wins.


Indiana State (Missouri Valley).  The Sycamores need to win over 3-7 Southern Illinois, and they’re a good chance to make the field, based in large part on their 44-17 drubbing of FBS (and former Missouri Valley Football Conference member) Western Kentucky earlier in the year. Their fate also might be tied to Youngstown — should the Penguins win, they’d also have a win over a “playoff team” to show to the committee. But, like Youngstown State, Indiana State needs to win to make it in.


Bethune-Cookman (MEAC). Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Though a 22-3 loss to North Carolina A&T will be held against B-CU, a win over playoff-bound Norfolk State works in the Wildcats’ favor (televised on ESPNU), as well as a potential six-game winning streak to end the regular season. Their playoff history (hosting a game last year) and their location (Florida) will also not hurt either. But like so many teams, B-CU needs to beat arch-rival, Florida A&M, to have a chance.


Wofford (SoCon). The Terriers have beaten Appalachian State, a team that is basically playoff-bound, and Wofford plays in the tough SoCon, which gives it a good resume by default. Wofford also has a narrow loss to probable ACC champion Clemson. But the Terriers need to beat 5-5 Chattanooga in order to reach the seven D-I-win threshold.  If it beats UTC, I think Wofford is in the playoffs — but I think the Mocs are going to beat Wofford, giving hope to a lot of at-large teams.


James Madison (CAA).  It seems like the Dukes’ playoff aspirations are tied to the fate of Liberty, whom the Dukes beat 27-24 earlier in the year.  Should the Flames make their first-ever playoff appearance, they could boast a win over a playoff team. If not, the Dukes haven’t beaten a single team currently in the Top 25.  Being in the CAA helps, but it would be hard to take them if a team like, say, Youngstown State is standing in their way.


Illinois State (Missouri Valley). Working in the Redbirds’ favor is that they are already playoff-eligible, with seven D-I wins.  Not working in their favor is the fact that it’s unclear whether the playoff committee will take five teams from the Missouri Valley, and a team with only one quality win (Indiana State) and a very bad loss (2-9 Eastern Illinois). It seems like Illinois will be in if either Indiana State or Youngstown State lose — and the Redbirds beat 8-2 Northern Iowa. To me, it’s a must-win game for the Redbirds’ playoff hopes.


South Carolina State (MEAC). If South Carolina State, as expected, beats 2-8 Savannah State to finish their regular season, they could sneak into the playoffs, but an awful lot would have to break the Bulldogs way, it seems, for that to happen.


After the Bulldogs, there are a host of teams that would seem to be behind them, like Duquesne (Northeast), Georgetown (Patriot), and either Drake, San Diego or Jacksonville from the Pioneer Football League, all of whom are playoff-eligible.  But it seems like a real longshot. Duquesne, of course, can still win the NEC auto bid, as well. San Diego and Jacksonville play for a share of the PFL title on Saturday, with Drake having already clinched a piece of that crown.


Here’s my revamped sample bracket this week:


Seeds: Georgia Southern, Sam Houston State, Montana, North Dakota State,  Montana State

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