By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — You have to feel for NCAA Division I football committee chairman Charlie Cobb and his fellow committee members as they burn the midnight oil in Indianapolis, IN. to give us a 20-team, Football Championship Subdivision playoff bracket by early Sunday afternoon.
Sure, there are a lot of televisions around NCAA headquarters to watch any game you want and I've heard the food is pretty good, too.
But this committee of 10 automatic-bid conference athletic directors has the task of putting together the toughest-to-pick tournament field in FCS history.
My suggestion is a simple one:
Have Cobb ask the NCAA to expand the playoff field to 24 teams immediately, instead of waiting until 2013.
There are always going to be teams disappointed when they don't make the postseason field, but there never has been as much heartache as there will be on Sunday afternoon.
And it might never be quite this bad ever again, with the tournament expanding next season with the addition of the Pioneer Football League to the 10 other automatic-bid conferences and three at-large berths being handed out.
Those additions will come a year too late for several deserving teams.
On the positive side, these tough decisions should make for one of the most wide-open and competitive tournaments ever.
What we know on Sunday morning is that 10 teams have won their way into the field as automatic qualifiers. They are:
Big Sky Conference: Eastern Washington (9-2)
Big South Conference: Coastal Carolina (7-4)
Colonial Athletic Associaion: Villanova (8-3)
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference: Bethune-Cookman (9-2)
Missouri Valley Football Conference: North Dakota State (10-1)
Northeast Conference: Wagner (8-3)
Ohio Valley Conference: Eastern Illinois (8-3)
Patriot League: Colgate (8-3)
Southern Conference: Georgia Southern (8-3)
Southland Conference: Central Arkansas (9-2)
That leaves the committee with 10 spots to fill and just as many other teams to be disappointed.
I counted about 32 teams that were at least going to be considered with wins on Saturday.
For some of them, games on Saturday proved to be elimination contests, with losses crushing some hopes and fortifying others.
And losing on Saturday didn't make for a compelling argument for inclusion when so many teams were fighting to make a final impression.
Let's break it down, conference-by-conference:
Big Sky Conference: The Cal Poly-Northern Arizona showdown was almost certainly for a playoff berth and the Mustangs won a playoff-caliber battle, 42-34, by shredding the Lumberjack defense for 503 yards of offense in a surgically-balanced performance.
Montana State's 16-7 Brawl of the Wild win at Montana showed how well the Bobcat defense has been playing down the stretch and should have secured a seed for MSU.
Eastern Washington nearly gave its fan a heart attack on the road, but Kyle Padron came off the bench to lead the Eagles to a surprisingly tight 41-34 victory over plucky Portland State and should be seeded ahead of Montana State.
Remember EWU won the auto bid and beat Cal Poly and Montana State, head-to-head.
Big South Conference: Coastal Carolina and Liberty had hopes of winning the auto bid by tying Stony Brook for the league title, heading into play on Saturday.
Liberty struggled against a scrappy VMI squad before prevailing 33-14 with two fourth-quarter scores. But the Flames needed a loss by CCU against Charleston Southern and didn't get it.
The Chanticleers built a 21-0 lead late in the first half behind the play of quarterback Aramis Hillary (217 yards of total offense and one TD run) and kept the Buccaneers at a distance in the 41-21 victory at home.
Stony Brook could only watch as a three-way tie for the title was forged, with CCU winning the tiebreaker for road wins in conference. Now the Seawolves can only hope and wait that their 9-2 record and FBS victory over Army is good enough.
Colonial Athletic Associaion: I had been telling people for weeks that Towson represented a matchup nightmare for New Hampshire at lovable Cowell Stadium and Saturday's performance proved to be everything needed to throw the CAA race into a mess.
With Old Dominion ineligible for the league crown, due the Monarchs' short-sighted decision to move to FBS and Conference USA in 2013, the only thing ODU's 10-1 and 7-1 record did was decided the auto bid on Saturday night.
The Monarchs came back from a 21-10 halftime hole to end James Madison's season with a 38-28 victory at one of the toughest road venues in FCS, Bridgeforth Stadium.
Towson demolished New Hampshire, 64-35, to take the auto bid — and probably a playoff berth — from the Wildcats (8-3).
The Tigers piled up 660 yards of total offense as Terrance West rushed for 236 yards and two TDs and Grant Enders was 20-of-28 for 245 yards and two more scores.
Towson (7-4) has now scored 120 points against New Hampshire in the past two seasons.
How can the committee say no to that kind of dominance, one of the toughest schedules in FCS with losses to LSU and Kent State, and a four-game winning streak to close the season?
Villanova was just as impressive against Delaware, with a 24-point fourth quarter breaking open the game for a 41-10 win, sparked by a pair of Ronnie Akins interceptions, two pick-sixes in the final period, 146 yards on the ground by Kevin Monangai and 327 yards of total offense from redshirt-freshman QB John Robertson.
That victory earned the Wildcats the auto bid.
Richmond (8-3) won over arch-rival William & Mary, 21-14, to join UNH, Villanova and Towson in a four-way co-championship — the first time that had happened since the Atlantic 10 days of 2001.
But while the Spiders forced three turnovers, they didn't seal the game against the two-win Tribe until the final seconds — a performance that will likely leave Richmond sitting at home for the playoffs and feeling the sting like Villanova did when it was snubbed by that playoff rejection in 2001.
Ivy League: Penn wrapped up an outright league title by holding off Cornell, 35-18, on the road when fullback Spencer Kulcser blasted into the end zone from the three to conclude a drive.
The Quakers (6-4) then stopped QB Jeff Mathews (31-of-45 for 445 yards) and company when his final pass to Kurt Ondash brought the Big Red to the Penn eight as time expired.
The Ivy League still enforces its archaic postseason ban, denying Penn the chance to extend its season.
A talented and playoff-worthy Harvard club (8-2) came up short of the Ancient Eight crown with its 30-21 loss last week to the Quakers, but the Crimson overcame Yale in "The Game" 34-24.
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference: Bethune-Cookman had already clinched the auto bid, but the Wildcats tuned up for a probable first-round game by holding off rival Florida A&M 21-16 in the Florida Classic.
No other MEAC teams were in contention for an at-large berth.
Missouri Valley Football Conference: Defending national champion and No. -ranked North Dakota State made sure that chaos was avoided in the MVFC by winning the auto bid with a strong fourth-quarter at Illinois State.
The 10-1 Bison, who struggled in almost every game down the stretch, were trailing 20-17 after three periods, but used the ground game outscore the Redbirds 21-0 in the final 15 minutes.
NDSU also was sparked by a 98-yard kickoff return from Marcus Williams when the Bison trailed 10-0 early.
The loss was devastating for an 8-3 Illinois State team, which might have seen a playoff berth slip through its fingers with the loss.
South Dakota State (8-3) pretty much sealed an at-large berth by beating its cross-state rival South Dakota, 31-8 as Zach Zenner rushed for 146 yards on 28 carries and Austin Sumner was 20-of-30 for 272 yards.
Youngstown State (7-4) came up with a big win too late, likely knocking Indiana State (7-4) out of the playoff chase with a 27-6 victory at home.
The Sycamores hold the only victory this season against North Dakota State, but played inconsistently down the stretch.
Northeast Conference: Wagner completed a remarkable story to earn its first NEC auto bid by besting Duquesne, 23-17.
Surviving Hurricane Sandy, the Seahawks won their final eight games after an 0-3 start and beat Albany 30-0 just six days after the campus was closed.
Dominique Williams sparked the comeback over Duquesne at home with a one-yard touchdown plunge to cap a clutch 11-play, 81-yard drive to make it 21-17 in the fourth period.
Albany (9-2) torched Central Connecticut State 63-34 behind three Drew Smith touchdowns, but the Great Danes will likely miss the playoffs.
Ohio Valley Conference: Eastern Illinois (7-4) had already wrapped up the OVC auto bid, but the Panthers had a chance to tune up for the playoffs against postseason-bound Central Arkansas,
The Panthers' Eric Lora had nine receptions to break the FCS all-time record with 124 catches, but the EIU defense couldn't slow down Wynrick Smothers (35-of-49 for 335 yards and four TDs) and the Bear offense in a 48-30 loss.
Tennessee-Martin (8-3) pretty much eliminated Tennessee State (8-3) with a 35-26 victory at home as Derek Carr passed for 276 yards and three touchdowns to offset a 355-yard, three-TD performance from TSU QB Michael German.
But not enough happened around the rest of the country to likely secure a bid for the Skyhawks, or the Tigers.
Eastern Kentucky (8-3) didn't play and couldn't improve on a resume that will likely kept it out of the playoffs.
Patriot League: Lehigh (10-1) dug out of a 21-10 first-quarter deficit to win the 148th edition of the most-playd rivalry in college football against Lafayette, 38-21.
Michael Colvin threw for 362 yards and four TDs and ran for another score to spark Lehigh to a win on the road.
Now the Mountain Hawks will wait and find out if their 10-win season will be enough for the playoffs.
The only time a 10-win team from an auto-bid conference has been snubbed was Bucknell in 1997, but that was the first year of an automatic playoff spot for the PL.
Colgate, which beat Lehigh 35-24 a week earlier for the auto bid in the PL, tuned up for the playoffs by beating Fordham, 41-39, when a late two-point conversion failed.
Pioneer Football League: Drake (8-3, 7-1)) held off Jacksonville (7-4, 5-3), 32-29, as Mike Piatkowski threw for 277 yards and two scores, but the Bulldogs' share of the PFL crown won't result in an auto bid this year.
San Diego (7-3, 6-1) is still alive for a share of the PFL title after a 17-10 victory at Davidson, but the Toreros have another game to make up against Marist in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and are not eligible for the playoffs because of it.
Butler (7-1, 8-3) owns the other share of the PFL title, but it was idle on Saturday and won't get a playoff invite.
Southern Conference: The foolish SoCon tiebreaker was finally decided when The Citadel (7-4) beat Furman 42-20 in an ancient rivalry to give the Bulldogs a tie for fourth place with Samford (7-4) and Tennessee-Chattanooga (6-5).
That forced the SoCon to go to points allowed in conference to determine Georgia Southern (8-3) had won the auto bid in a three-way championship tie with Appalachian State and Wofford.
On the field, Georgia Southern played well for a half against Georgia, trailing just 17-7 before losing 45-14 in a meaningless game for the playoff picture.
Appalachian State (8-3) had a bye, but its win over then-No. 1-ranked Georgia Southern, 31-28, earlier in the month not only helped secure a share of the SoCon title, it gave the Mountaineers a good night's sleep on Saturday as they awaited their playoff fate
Wofford (8-3) had the most to prove on Saturday and did so by extending South Carolina with a 7-7 tie into the fourth quarter before wearing down in a 24-7 loss.
While a Division II win over Lincoln gives the Terriers nothing, that performance against the Gamecocks will fall into the quality loss department and should earn Wofford a playoff bid.
Southland Conference: While UCA was safe and secure on Saturday night after its win over Eastern Illinois and with the auto bid tucked in its pockier, Sam Houston State (8-3) did nothing to help itself in a 47-28 loss to Alabama-killer Texas A&M.
The Bearkats trailed 47-0 late in the third quarter before piling on four garbage-time touchdowns against the Aggies' backups.
Sam Houston State has lived off of last year's run to the championship game all year and has a spotty resume to show to the committee in what was a down year for the rest of the Southland.
The Bearkats won a Division II game and also scheduled SWAC weakling Texas Southern, leaving them with no wins outside of conference play.
A 24-20 loss to Central Arkansas cost SHSU the auto bid, but rebounded to share the Southland title, but outside of McNeese State at 7-4, the Bearkats failed to beat a D-I team with a winning record.
It probably won't happen, but Sam Houston State could easily be left at the alter on Sunday afternoon.
Southwestern Athletic Conference: The SWAC worried about the league championship game on Saturday, with Arkansas-Pine Bluff edging Prairie View, 42-41, and Jackson State toppling Alcorn State, 37-11 to set up the title participants next month.
As usual, no SWAC teams will get a sniff at an at-large playoff berth.
No one from Indianapolis called me to ask my opinion on who I would pick this year, but if they had, these are the 10 teams I would have selected:
Big Sky Conference: Montana State (10-1), Cal Poly (9-2)
Big South Conference: Stony Brook (9-2)
Colonial Athletic Associaion: Old Dominion (10-1), Towson (7-4)
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference: None
Missouri Valley Football Conference: South Dakota State (8-3)
Northeast Conference: None
Ohio Valley Conference: None
Patriot League: Lehigh (10-1)
Southern Conference: Appalachian State (8-3), Wofford (8-3)
Southland Conference: Sam Houston State (8-3)
The four teams that could have benefitted from those extra four berths in a suggested 24-team field would have been Butler with the PFL auto bid, along with Illinois State, New Hampshire and Northern Arizona.
If you didn't want to add the PFL this time around, Richmond would get that last spot.
Just off the edge, I would have had Tennessee-Martin and Eastern Kentucky, along with Indiana State and Youngstown State.
The Five Seeds
That might sound like a name of a 1970s progressive rock concept album, but the seeds I'd hand out would go in this order:
1. North Dakota State
2. Eastern Washington
3. Montana State
4. Georgia Southern
5. Old Dominion
The next seven teams to receive first-round byes in no particular order would be:
Appalachian State, Cal Poly, Central Arkansas, South Dakota State, Stony Brook, Towson and Villanova.
The Proposed Bracket
My proposed bracket would look like this:
1. North Dakota State, bye
First-round game — Wagner at Lehigh
Second-round game — Towson at Appalachian State
4. Georgia Southern, bye
Wofford at Bethune-Cookman
Second-round game — Stony Brook at No. 5 Old Dominion
3. Montana State, bye
First-round game — Colgate at Eastern Illinois
Second-round game — Villanova at Cal Poly
2. Eastern Washington, bye
First-round game — Coastal Carolina at Sam Houston State
Second-round game — South Dakota State at Central Arkansas