FCS Playoffs ‘Til I Die: CSJ Picks The FCS Playoff Field, 11/14/2023

Remember when I picked Elon to win the CAA?

Richmond’s 38-24 win over the Phoenix, and a multitude of different outcomes last Saturday made almost every person trying to pick the field of this years’ FCS playoffs have to delete their worksheets. (Though maybe not as extensively as mine.)

The final weekend is poised to have a lot of drama – more than most years. Only three out of the ten possible autobids have been positively determined and how those play out will determine how many spare at-large spots will be available.

It means a lot of FCS Nation will be scoreboard watching to see where the final chips fall.

Here’s where I think they will fall.

Before we dive in, here are the three autobid qualifiers we know will be playing past Thanksgiving.

10-0 South Dakota State has dominated their schedule this season. They haven’t played any FBS teams but they have navigated their always-brutal Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule perfectly and beaten certain Playoff qualifier Montana State early in the year.

9-1 Furman hasn’t had the same strength of schedule as the Jackrabbits, as they’ve played in the relatively easier Southern Conference, but like South Dakota State they’ve been perfect in their league and their only loss was to FBS South Carolina.

The huge surprise was 5-4 Nicholls winning the Southland Conference by upsetting Incarnate Word, who had been nationally ranked all year, and so far notching a perfect 5-0 in conference play. Even if they lose to Southeastern Louisiana for the River Bell trophy, every other Southland team has two conference losses, meaning the Colonels would win a co-championship with IWU but would win the tiebreaker for the autobid.

Who Wins the Remaining Autobids?

Based on the current records and the upcoming schedule, here’s the projected autobids according to CSJ.

Projected Autobids:
Big Sky: The winner of the “Brawl of the Wild” between 9-1 Montana and 8-2 Montana State comes away with not only Treasure State bragging rights but the Big Sky’s autobid and likely a Top 4 seed. My fearless prediction is that Montana will win.

Big South-OVC Association: If 6-4 Gardner-Webb can manage to beat 4-6 Charleston Southern, the Runnin’ Bulldogs will nab the BSCOVCA autobid. 8-2 UT Martin will be rooting hard for the Buccaneers, though, because if Chuck South pulls off the autobid, UT Martin will get it.

The BSCOVCA really demonstrates why the autobids are so important. If UT Martin beats Samford in a non-Association game this weekend, they would finish at 9-2 and would be in the at-large pool if Gardner-Webb gets it. If the Runnin’ Bulldogs slip up and lose, however, the Skyhawks leave the at-large pool and open it up for another team.

CAA: The 15 team CAA is an absolute mess, with as many as three possible teams finishing with a 7-1 conference record without having played one another. “Point differential in conference games” is a common theme in the tiebreaker scenarios that demonstrates how broken it all is.

The critical game here is 8-2 Delaware vs. 8-2 Villanova in their big Rivalry. The winner will have an ever-so-slight edge in the autobid race and probably a seed in the four to eight range. The loser will still probably be in the field, though.

The other two teams that could be in the tiebreaker are 8-3 Albany (who play 4-6 Monmouth this weekend) and 7-3 Richmond (who plays their big rival William and Mary, who is 6-4). For the purposes of this playoff prediction, I’m predicting Delaware over Villanova, Albany over Monmouth, and William and Mary over Richmond. This scenario has Delaware and Albany as co-champions and Delaware getting the autobid.

NEC: Unlike the messy CAA, in the NEC the final game of the year between 6-4 Duquesne and 5-5 Merrimack determines the autobid. I have the Dukes winning.

Patriot League:

If 8-2 Lafayette loses to 2-8 Lehigh and 6-4 Holy Cross beats 5-5 Georgetown, the Crusaders will win the Patriot League title and autobid outright, but the more likely scenario is Lafayette gets the autobid.

Pioneer: If 7-3 Drake beats 7-3 Butler this weekend, Drake will win the Pioneer autobid. If Drake loses and 7-3 Davidson beats 3-7 Dayton, the Wildcats would win the autobid, but I have Drake taking care of business.

UAC: Finally, the UAC provides a very clear scenario now as well The winner between 8-2 Austin Peay and 7-3 Central Arkansas will win the Association’s autobid, which I think will be Austin Peay.

If Central Arkansas wins the autobid, it will be fascinating to see what the playoff committee ends up doing with 8-3 Austin Peay, who looks and smells like a FCS Playoff team to me, even if they lose.

10 “Safe” At-large: Albany, Idaho, Montana State, North Dakota State, Sacramento State, South Dakota, Southern Illinois, UT Martin, Villanova, Youngstown State.

Chuck Last Four In: North Dakota, Incarnate Word, NC Central, Central Arkansas

Chuck’s Four Just Outside: Chattanooga, Holy Cross, Western Carolina, Northern Iowa

CSJ Projected FCS Playoff Seeds

  1. South Dakota State
  2. Montana
  3. Idaho
  4. Montana State
  5. South Dakota
  6. Furman
  7. Southern Illinois
  8. Delaware

CSJ Projected Bracket

Lafayette/Villanova winner at No. 1 South Dakota State
Drake/North Dakota State winner at No. 2 Montana
Central Arkansas/Incarnate Word winner at No. 3 Idaho
Nicholls/Sacramento State winner at No. 4 Montana State
Albany/North Dakota winner at No. 5 South Dakota
UT Martin/Austin Peay winner at No. 6 Furman
Duquesne/Youngstown State winner at No. 7 Southern Illinois
Gardner-Webb/North Carolina Central winner at No. 8 Delaware