The final autobids have been determined, and the final games have been played. At 12:30PM on ESPNU, FCS Nation will learn the official bracket for the 2023 FCS Playoffs, and about the only thing that can be said for sure is that there are going to be a lot of teams with uneasy sleeps tonight.
Before we begin, probably the biggest question mark might be the nuclear bomb that went through the SoCon – VMI upsetting Western Carolina, and Wofford upsetting Furman. How might it affect the seeding, and the number of bids from the SoCon?
Personally, I think Furman’s loss to 2-9 Wofford might have made it lose their chance at a seed. Had they taken care of business I think they were a slam dunk for a top 4 seed, but the loss either will push them to a 5-8 seed or (my thought) push them out of the seeding entirely. As you’ll see below, I have Austin Peay taking the spot that Furman had.
These are the teams that officially qualified for the playoffs through their conference/alliance autobid.
Big Sky – Montana
BSCOVCA – Gardner-Webb
CAA – Villanova
Missouri Valley – South Dakota State
NEC – Duquesne
Patriot League – Lafayette
Pioneer – Drake
SoCon – Furman
Southland – Nicholls
UAC – Austin Peay
The GPI is the tool CSJ has been creating to aid in ranking teams since mid-October. Last week’s GPI, which does not reflect the final weekend of games, can be found here.
Here’s my thought on the seeds
1. South Dakota State
4. South Dakota
5. North Dakota State
6. Montana State
8. Austin Peay
Using the GPI and the STATS FCS Top 25 as a guide, you could probably seed South Dakota at 3 and Idaho at 4, but I feel like the committee will take the catnip and set up possible juicy Missouri Valley rematches of South Dakota/North Dakota State in the quarters, and a semifinal matchup of South Dakota State/South Dakota or South Dakota State/North Dakota State.
There’s an added bonus of a possible Montana State/Idaho, too – if you only flip the 3 and 4.
I think Furman’s loss is Austin Peay’s ultimate gain. In considering Furman, Austin Peay and Albany for the last seed, Austin Peay has been on a nine game winning streak, and losing to an FBS team and a FCS Playoff team gives them the strongest resume (which, to be fair, is how the GPI views it too). Furman (Wofford) and Albany (New Hampshire) have losses too, but not to Top 25 teams.
The Safe At-Large Teams
Albany, Delaware, Idaho, Montana State, North Dakota, North Dakota State, Sacramento State, South Dakota, Southern Illinois, Youngstown State.
I feel like folks are making it seem like North Dakota’s and Youngstown State’s 7-4 record somehow have them in jeopardy, forgetting that both are ranked very highly in both the STATS FCS Top 25 and the GPI, and conference play in the Missouri Valley is a very big deal. I have them as very safely in over “non-power conference” schools at 8-3.
Chuck’s Last Four In
Mercer, Incarnate Word, NC Central, UC Davis
Mercer, 23 in the GPI, might have been the biggest beneficiary of the implosion of the SoCon, especially Western Carolina’s loss to VMI, slotting in nicely where the Catamounts would have been sitting.
Incarnate Word (26 in the GPI) is on the fence with a very weak schedule, but I think their 9-2 record and their high STATS FCS poll ranking will help them a lot in that room to get into the field.
North Carolina Central (29 in the GPI) of the MEAC was slotted to play in the Celebration Bowl before Howard (68 in the GPI) upset them. Their 3-0 record against CAA teams (North Carolina A&T, Campbell, and Elon) will play extremely well in the committee and at 9-2 are stronger to me than a lot of the 7-4 non-power teams.
Finally, UC Davis (28 in the GPI prior to upsetting Sacramento State) won their way in with their win over the Hornets, probably stealing a bid from someone in my estimation.
Chuck’s Four Just Outside
Holy Cross, UT Martin, Richmond, Chattanooga
Holy Cross (27 in the GPI) played a brutal schedule, losing to two FBS schools (Boston College and Army, by one score each), and two conference champions (Lafayette, 25 in the GPI, and Harvard, 18 in the GPI before losing to Yale today). But their 7-4 record doesn’t really have any signature wins, and I’m not sure reputation and close losses will be enough.
UT Martin (14 in the GPI) I feel lost their bid with their loss to 6-5 Samford (55 in the GPI). Like Holy Cross they don’t really have a signature win aside their 28-27 OT win over Eastern Illinois, and I don’t think it’s going to be enough to push them past a team like UC Davis.
Richmond (32 in the GPI) has 8 Division I wins but really don’t have any wins, CAA-based or otherwise, of note and have some very hard-to-justify losses to Morgan State (77 in the GPI) and Hampton (74 in the GPI) and don’t have a single victory over a team over a Top 40 GPI team, missing Delaware, Villanova, and Albany in their conference schedule. They could get in on CAA reputation alone (despite not playing a single title contender), but I think the committee knows better.
Chattanooga (21 in the GPI prior to their loss to Alabama) had a chance to sneak in but was likely collateral damage with the other losses in the conference making their schedule look weaker. Their early loss to North Alabama (69 in the GPI) also stuck out like a sore thumb all season.
CSJ Final Projected Bracket
Lafayette/Delaware winner at No. 1 South Dakota State
Drake/North Dakota winner at No. 2 Montana
Nicholls/Sacramento State winner at No. 3 Idaho
Albany/Southern Illinois winner at No. 4 South Dakota
Duquesne/Youngstown State at No. 5 North Dakota State
UC Davis/Incarnate Word winner at No. 6 Montana State
North Carolina Central/Mercer winner at No. 7 Villanova
Gardner-Webb/Furman winner at No. 8 Austin Peay