As we are about half way through the season, we are going to take a look at the FCS rankings through a different prism. At the end of the article, youll still get the full College Sports Journal Top 25, so don’t stop reading! We will look at the teams in a tiered setup focusing not only on where teams currently sit, but also where they stand with regards to the playoff field projecting the rest of the way a little bit. It seems that each week brings another layer of complexity that makes us change everything we thought to that point. To see how College Sports Journal sees the playoff field up to this point in the year, keep an eye out for Chuck Burton’s “Playoffs ‘TIl I Die” outlook later in the week.
TIER 1 – The Head of the FCS Class.
There are three teams who have not succumbed to the topsy turvy nature of the 2019 FCS season. From day one, North Dakota State (CSJ #1), James Madison (CSJ #2) and South Dakota State (CSJ #3) have held the top three spots in that order. The Bison have been as Bison like as any other year, led by Trey Lance. James Madison has ridden its power on both lines to their current spot and South Dakota State has stepped up its defensive game and J’Bore Gibbs has led the offense as a freshman. This 1-2-3 alignment is likely to change after this week, but these are the three best teams in the country.
Tier 2 – Potential Seeds
After the top three, there are a quite a few teams who have staked a claim to a potential seed in the FCS playoffs. At the head of this tier are a couple of Big Sky teams without an FCS loss to this point: Weber State (CSJ #4) and Sacramento State (CSJ #6).
But there is another chunk of teams looking for playoff seeds with the potential to get there if the victories fall their way. These teams are: Villanova (CSJ #5), Montana (CSJ #10), Furman (CSJ #12), Illinois State (CSJ #8), Northern Iowa (CSJ #13), Montana State (CSJ #11), Wofford (CSJ #18) and Kennesaw State (CSJ #9). Kennesaw’s strength of schedule has and will continue to be questioned, but if the other teams in front of them keep falling, the Owls are going to be right on the door step of the top 8 waiting to bust through as long as they take care of their own business.
Tier 3 – Seed longshots, but playoff argument
Here we are, the muddy middle of the FCS this season. This tier is littered with teams that have shown themselves to be anywhere from #9 to about #20 at any given point throughout the season. This is the tier where you find the three most discussed Southland teams: Central Arkansas (CSJ #15), Nicholls (CSJ #17) and Sam Houston State (CSJ #21). There is a solid chance at least one of these teams miss the playoffs
The Ohio Valley changes each and every week. UT Martin (CSJ t-#25), Southeast Missouri State (CSJ #19) and Austin Peay can all be found hanging around here. THe way the season is going, only one of these teams will wind up in the field.
Last year, the CAA got six teams in the playoffs. They won’t get that many this year, but they have a chunk of teams in the middle here that will continue to thin as they beat each other in conference play. This is where you find Towson (CSJ #16), Stony Brook, New Hampshire and Delaware. Two of these teams will fall to the bubble and then miss the field.
At 3-0 in the Southern Conference, this is where you find Chattanooga (CSJ t-#25) as well. They are on their way to an automatic bid, but even with one conference loss, there will be an argument that can easily be made for Central Connecticut State (CSJ #23).
Tier 4 – The Usual Powers that are a bit down but get in with a run
There are two teams that sit outside of the teams with a playoff argument and on the bubble, but deserve a little different tier of their own. The committee shouldn’t look at history when filling out the bracket, and 2017 tells you that they don’t, but if Eastern Washington and/or Jacksonville State run the table, they are getting in.
Tier 5 – The Autobid group
Every conference except the Ivy sends a team to the playoffs. There are few teams that generally send one team to the playoffs. In the Big South, Kennesaw State is in our potential seed tier. Even if they drop one game, they will probably still drop no farther than to the third tier and remain a playoff team. But, Monmouth and Campbell are looking to take that next step. The Camels even get Kennesaw at home.
In the Northeast Conference, Central Connecticut State has a great argument for the field even if they suffer a loss. But last year’s champ Duquesne and surprising Robert Morris are both unbeaten in conference play.
The Patriot League is a one bid league with no chance a second team. That bid will come from either Lehigh, Holy Cross or Georgetown.
The Pioneer League has been owned by San Diego in recent memory. But Drake and Stetson could pull a surprise upset and take the bid.
Tier 6 – The MEAC
With all of the FCS beating on each other, another playoff possibility has emerged – a second place MEAC team will have a great shot at a playoff berth. One of North Carolina A&T(CSJ #20) and Bethune-Cookman will head to the Celebration Bowl. The other could very well find itself among the 24 named when the playoff bracket comes out.
Tier 7 – The Bubble
Through seven weeks of play, there is still a large bubble forming at the back end of the potential playoff bracket. Only 24 teams get in. As you read above, we have named well over 24 teams. Many of those teams will drop into the bubble and some of this bubble will rise to the other tiers. But for now, this is where a large number of teams across all conferences reside.
The Big Sky is very top heavy. We have discussed their better teams. But UC Davis is still a curious case. A few short weeks ago, this team gave NDSU all they could handle and were headed for a seed. Now we sit with them on the bubble where they cant afford another loss. A gauntlet remains, but Portland State isn’t out of contention yet.
The CAA is thick with solid but not spectacular teams outside of James Madison and Villanova. Albany and Elon could both have impressive runs to end the season and find themselves in the bracket. But they’ll both need to almost be unbeaten.
The Missouri Valley is another top heavy conference with four teams that could potentially earn seeds. But there are a few teams in the middle that could pick up a few wins and force their way in. Southern Illinois has an FBS win and a blowout win over another falling bubble team Youngstown State. South Dakota and Indiana State have to catch all the breaks, but an unbeaten run could get them there.
Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee Tech in the OVC probably feel like they still have a flicker of hope left if they win out, but it would still be a shock to see either of these teams make it.
Playoff teams from the Southern Conference will probably come from teams already discussed. Its going to be a two to three bid league. But a run at the right time could propel VMI, Samford or The Citadel into the field.
Much like the Southern, the Southland will probably be a three bid league. While we have discussed your usual top teams above, there are still a few Southland teams lurking on the bubble, including current conference co-leader Incarnate Word. Some of the shine is off of Southeastern Louisiana’s star, but they still cling to hopes along with Abilene Christian, Lamar and maybe even McNeese State.
As you can see, the race is still wide open, and there are six weeks left for teams to improve their position. If you don’t see your team listed, unfortunately, this isn’t your year. So pick a horse from above to root for come playoff time.
Here is this week’s College Sports Journal Top 25.
- North Dakota State Bison (7-0)
- James Madison Dukes (6-1)
- South Dakota State Jackrabbits (6-1)
- Weber State Wildcats (5-2)
- Villanova Wildcats (6-1)
- Sacramento State Hornets (5-2)
- Princeton Tigers (5-0)
- Illinois State Redbirds (5-2)
- Kennesaw State Owls (6-1)
- Montana Grizzlies (5-2)
- Montana State Bobcats (5-2)
- Furman Paladins (4-3)
- Northern Iowa Panthers (4-3)
- Dartmouth Big Green (5-0)
- Central Arkansas Bears (5-2)
- Towson Tigers (4-3)
- Nicholls Colonels (4-3)
- Wofford Terriers (4-2)
- Southeast Missouri State Redhawks (4-3)
- North Carolina A&T Aggies (4-2)
- Sam Houston State Bearkats (5-3)
- Florida A&M Rattlers (6-1)
- Central Connecticut State Blue Devils (6-1)
- Yale Bulldogs (4-1)
- (tie) Chattanooga Mocs (4-3)/(tie) UT Martin Skyhawks (5-2)
Others Receiving Votes: Elon, Stony Brook, Delaware, The Citadel, Portland State, Bethune-Cookman, Harvard, North Dakota, Monmouth, San Diego
Voter Panel: Charles Burton, Kent Schmidt, Jamie Williams, Preston Adams, Ben Schleiger, Ray Maloney
Jamie is a proud 2002 graduate of James Madison University. He’s witnessed the growth of the program from no one in the stands in 1998, to the hiring of Mickey Matthews, to the 2004 National Championship, to the 2008 team, to the struggles in the early 2010s, and finally the rebuild under Mike Houston. He also allegedly really enjoys Washington, DC-based Stanley Cup winners.
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