“… And it only took twelve weeks to know about half the FCS playoff field!” – Me
I’ve been doing this FCS Playoff field predictions a very long time now, and it’s been a very strange year. It’s not customary for so many autobids to be in doubt this late in the season. But this week, a lot of results came in that clarified five of the autobids. (The one that surprised me the most was Wofford, who needed to beat Furman and have The Citadel be upset by Chattanooga – and it happened.)
With that, the floodgates open about the rest of the bracket. It’s amazing how much more clear things are after this weekend.
I’m here to dispel confusion. You’ve come to the right place to try to make some sense of the playoff field.
Once again, a quick recap of the rules for the ability to qualify for the FCS Playoffs:
The field for the FCS Playoffs is determined at the conclusion of the FCS regular season, which is the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
There are 10 conferences that get autobids to the playoffs, the Big Sky, Big South, CAA, Northeast, Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley, Patriot League, Pioneer Football League, Southern, and Southland Conferences.
Two conferences, the SWAC and MEAC, choose to send their champions to the Celebration Bowl, a postseason event that’s separate from the FCS playoffs. (Additionally, the SWAC also plays a championship game, and also have scheduled some games on Thanksgiving or beyond.) What this means is that their conference champions play in the Heritage Bowl and not the playoffs, though second-placed teams that don’t have Thanksgiving or later games could be considered instead.
A third, the Ivy League, chooses FCS playoff irrelevance instead of participation in the greatest Division I playoff system ever created.
Projected Conference Champions/Autobid Winners
All 8-3 (6-1) Weber State had to do was beat 9-2 (6-1) Montana, and we’d have known who the autobid winter of the Big Sky would be. Instead, we have a potential mess. There is a potential situation where Weber State, Montana, Sacramento State, Montana State and Eastern Washington finish with 6-2 conference records, and determining the autobid winner becomes a complete mess of looking at head-to-head records against teams in the tie, then the next-best teams, etc.
If Sacramento State beats rival UC Davis this weekend, they will win the Big Sky autobid (because they beat the only team that could tie them in conference record, Montana). If the Hornets lose and the Grizzles beat Montana State, Montana wins the auotbid. The issue arises if both Sac State and Montana lose, and at least a three-way tie would exist at 5-2 (because Montana State would join Montana in the 5-2 club in that case).
We at CSJ are projecting that Sacramento State will make this process easy, and win the Big Sky. But Montana, Montana State, Weber State and Eastern Washington all have tons to play for this weekend. Possibly all of these teams might end up in the FCS Playoffs.
Monmouth did it. They officially won the Big South with a 9-2 (5-0) record and if they go 10-2 and beat Hampton this weekend, CSJ projects they will be the 8th seed.
Colonial Athletic Association
10-1 (7-0) James Madison won the CAA and is a mortal lock for a seed. As long as they don’t completely mess up against 2-9 Rhode Island, they should be the No. 2 seed.
11-0 (7-0) North Dakota State won the Missouri Valley and is a mortal lock for a seed. If they defeat Southern Illinois this weekend, they should be the No. 1 seed. The Salukis, however, have a lot to play for. If they pull off the huge upset, they will no-doubt-about-it be in the playoffs with an 8-4 record.
10-1 (6-0) Central Connecticut State beat Robert Morris this weekend to remain undefeated against FCS competition and win the NEC’s autobid. Their schedule is too weak to seriously consider them for a seed, and they also face a tricky season-ending game against Duquesne to close out the regular season.
8-3 (6-1) Austin Peay currently holds the tiebreaker against 8-3 (6-1) Southeast Missouri State. If the Governors beat 1-10 (1-6) Eastern Illinois to close out the season, Austin Peay wins the autobid. If they lose once, and SEMO beats Murray State, SEMO wins the autobid. If both lose, Austin Peay would win the autobid because they beat both SEMO and UT Martin, the only teams present in the tie.
7-4 (6-2) UT Martin cannot win the autobid, and could possibly be in the mix for an at-large bid. If they beat FBS Kentucky (5-5) to finish the year, the FCS subcommittee would almost literally have no choice but to include them in the field – and it’s hardly an insurmountable task.
6-5 (4-1) Holy Cross only has to beat Georgetown to win the autobid. For this gift, they have 3-8 (3-2) Lafayette to thank, because they were shut out by Colgate last week to lose control of their own destiny.
If Holy Cross loses, and Lafayette beats their long-time rivals Lehigh this weekend, Lafayette would make it to the FCS playoffs with a 4-8 record. If both lose, Holy Cross would go through, thanks to their head-to-head win over Lehigh (both would have 4-2 conference records).
8-2 (7-0) San Diego, as expected, pounded Morehead State to win the Pioneer League title and autobid. A road trip to Jacksonville awaits before figuring out their first-round opponent.
The autobid, suprisingly, was won this weekend by 7-3 (6-1) Wofford, who had to beat Furman and hope Chattanooga beat The Citadel to make the playoffs – and that’s exactly what happened.
Even if they get wins this weekend, Chattanooga, The Citadel, and Furman will have a restless Saturday night wondering if they did enough to make the playoffs with 7 Division I wins. The Citadel has a win against FBS Georgia Tech in their back pockets if they beat Wofford, but they might not get into the mix at all if they lose to Wofford and end the season at 6-6. Furman played a couple of FBS teams close, but don’t really have a signature win. Chattanooga has the same problem and also has a bad loss to Jacksonville State early in the year.
What was once the most complicated, weird autobid scenario grid on the planet has become simple and straightforward, thanks to Sam Houston State’s inexplicable loss to 2-8 Northwestern State this weekend. The winner of this weekend’s Southeastern Louisiana/Nicholls game will win the Southland title and autobid. Central Arkansas can tie the winners, but they cannot win the autobid, as they lost to both. Currently, CSJ projects that red-hot Southeastern Louisiana will get the bid.
The burning question is whether the loser of the Southeastern Louisiana/Nicholls game would have a good enough resume to still make the playoffs as a seven-win team, and the same question applies to McNeese State, who, if they beat Lamar this weekend, could make it to 7-5. Sam Houston State can only get to six Division I wins, and seem to have eliminated themselves with their loss this weekend.
- North Dakota State (↔️)
- James Madison (↔️)
- Sacramento State (2 ⬆️)
- Montana (3 ⬆️)
- Illinois State (2 ⬆️)
- South Dakota State
Next Teams Up: Weber State, Montana State, Northern Iowa, Central Arkansas
Monmouth at the 8 seed might seem like a controversial decision, but putting Monmouth at the 8 seed solves an enormous problem for the FCS committee – needing to fly potentially three teams to the west coast. CSJ’s bracket has two west coast teams, and having 10-2 Monmouth as the eighth seed makes travel much easier.
Rest of the field:
Already at 8 or more D-I Wins: Austin Peay, Central Arkansas. Central Connecticut State, Illinois State, James Madison, Monmouth, Montana, Montana State, North Dakota State, San Diego, Villanova, Weber State
Currently at 7 D-I Wins: Albany, Dayton, Furman, Kennesaw State, North Carolina A&T, Nicholls, Northern Iowa, Sacred Heart, Sacramento State, Southern Illinois, Southeastern Louisiana, Towson, UT Martin, Wofford
Currently at 6 D-I Wins: Bethune-Cookman, Eastern Kentucky, Holy Cross, Jacksonville State, Maine, McNeese State, North Dakota, Robert Morris, Sam Houston State, South Carolina State, The Citadel
PLAYOFF PICKS: Albany, Austin Peay, Central Arkansas, Central Connecticut State, Holy Cross, Furman, Kennesaw State, Montana State, Northern Iowa, San Diego, South Carolina State, Southeast Missouri State, Southeastern Louisiana, Villanova, Towson, Weber State
Last Four In:
Kennesaw State, Southeast Missouri State, Towson, South Carolina State
First Four Out:
Furman, UT Martin, Nicholls, North Dakota
A word here on the MEAC. As mentioned earlier, the MEAC sends its champion to the Celebration Bowl to face off against the SWAC champions. But there is an opportunity for a second-placed team to qualify for the FCS Playoffs if they are not invited to the Celebration Bowl.
Currently, the situation around the MEAC is complicated. Florida A&M is competing in the MEAC, but they are under a self-imposed championship and postseason ban. So their games “count”, but they cannot play in either the FCS playoffs or the Celebration Bowl, though they are undefeated in MEAC play.
Currently there are two teams with some excellent resumes: North Carolina A&T (7-3, 4-2), and South Carolina State (7-3, 4-2). Of the two, the Bulldogs have an intriguing win over a team we already know is in the FCS Playoffs in Wofford.
In our projections, we have North Carolina A&T doing what needs to be done to make the Celebration Bowl, with South Carolina State in the field. In order for the Bulldogs to qualify as a bubble team, they need to win their final game against Norfolk State. That is what we are predicting, and just making it inside the bubble.
Potential 1st Round Matchups
Holy Cross at Villanova
Central Connecticut State at Albany
San Diego at Towson
Austin Peay at Central Arkansas
Southeastern Louisiana at Southeast Missouri State
Northern Iowa at Furman
Weber State at Montana State
South Carolina State at Kennesaw State
Potential 2nd Round Matchups
Austin Peay/Central Arkansas winner at No. 1 North Dakota State
Central Connecticut State/Albany winner at No. 2 James Madison
Weber State/Montana State winner at No. 3 Sacramento State
San Diego/Towson winner at No. 4 Montana
Southeastern Louisiana/Southeast Missouri State winner at No. 5 Illinois State
South Carolina State/Kennesaw State winner at No. 6 Wofford
Northern Iowa/Furman winner at No. 7 South Dakota State
Holy Cross/Villanova winner at No. 8 Monmouth