FCS Playoffs ‘Til I Die: Five Days Out, Chuck And Jamie Pick Their Brackets

First of all – if you haven’t seen “The Vermillion Miracle” – watch it. Now. It’s one of the most extraordinary things you’ll ever see this college football season, or any other.

As awesome as that was – sure, we’ll wait while you watch it again several times to bask in it, because I did the same – it also was a Hail Mary that shook up the FCS Playoff picture.

The Coyotes’ win firmly took South Dakota from “bubble” to “playing after Thanksgiving” after the win vaulted them to 7-3 (5-2 in the Missouri Valley) and delivered them the Top 10 victory they needed on their resume.

It also opens up a conundrum for the FCS Playoff committee – how many Missouri Valley schools will they select?

It’s hard to imagine the committee denying North Dakota State, Missouri State, South Dakota, Southern Illinois, or South Dakota State, even if they lose their final games. None of these teams can finish worse than 7-4 and all of them have wins over FBS teams, Top 25 teams, or both.

Where it gets complicated is whether Northern Iowa (5-5, 3-4) or North Dakota (5-5, 3-4) can nab one of the final at-large spots.

The FCS Community is truly split on the issue, and that includes us here at CSJ. Chuck wants to include, potentially, a 6-5 Northern Iowa team or a 6-5 North Dakota team, and Jamie thinks that’s a bridge too far.

Chuck Burton: “I realize more than most that strength of schedule isn’t perfect, but even the most cursory glance at UNI’s schedule puts it as the toughest in the country. Sagarin puts their schedule strength at 110th in all of Division I, and by a very wide margin UNI’s strength of schedule is the toughest of any team currently ranked in the Top 25. The eye test clearly bears this out, too: FBS Iowa State, whom they took to the limit when they were ranked 7th in the AP poll, and Sacramento State, North Dakota State, South Dakota, South Dakota State, Sourthern Illinois, and Missouri State, all of them probable FCS playoff teams. The Panthers got three wins against this gauntlet. No other at-large candidate in the country can boast two signature wins against a group like this, much less three. How can you leave them out, provided they take care of 2-8 Western Illinois this weekend?

“North Dakota’s case is a bit weaker, as they would have gone 0-4 against North Dakota State, Missouri State, Southern Illinois and South Dakota, but a win over South Dakota State this weekend would provide the Fighting Hawks with a quality win over a very tough opponent on the road. The Jackrabbits, keep in mind, not only beat North Dakota State a few weeks ago but also started out the year beating FBS Colorado State, so a win over a 7-4 Jackrabbits team is very impressive. That win alone should vault them over any number of bubble teams that don’t have a quality win that matches up.”

Jamie: “While I acknowledge the schedule that UNI has played, a five loss team cannot make the field when there are many teams with seven plus wins. The loss to Illinois State is an albatross. IN a down year, they should be considered. But they would be the sixth valley team on the list.  I cant see a quarter of this year’s playoff field coming from the Valley. The wins they have look good, but there arent enough of them. At the end of the day, its a results based bracket, not a strength of schedule based bracket. I cant include them.” 

CSJ Staff Composite Picks For Autobids

Projected Autobids:

ASUN-WAC: Sam Houston ✔️
Big Sky: Montana State
Big South: Kennesaw State (Chuck), Monmouth (Jamie) (see below)
CAA: Villanova
Missouri Valley: North Dakota State
NEC: Sacred Heart
OVC: UT Martin ✔️
Patriot League: Holy Cross ✔️
Pioneer: Davidson
SoCon: East Tennessee State
Southland: Incarnate Word

Autobid clinching scenarios this weekend

  • In Week 12, if Montana State wins and Sacramento State loses, it is guaranteed the automatic bid. If Montana State and Sacramento State each win, it will come down to the Big Sky’s tiebreaker procedures.
  • If Sacramento State wins and Montana State loses, it is guaranteed the automatic bid. If Montana State and Sacramento State each win, it will come down to the Big Sky’s tiebreaker procedures.
  • The winner of the Monmouth/Kennesaw State game this weekend will win the Big South Conference’s autobid.
  • If Villanova wins in Week 12, it earns the CAA’s automatic bid. If Villanova loses, it needs a James Madison loss to be named the CAA’s FCS playoff representative.
  • In Week 12, James Madison can take the CAA’s automatic bid if the Dukes win and Villanova loses.
  • If North Dakota State wins, it clinches the Missouri Valley’s automatic bid. If North Dakota State loses, it still earns the Missouri Valley’s automatic playoff berth with a win from Missouri State or Southern Illinois.
  • South Dakota must defeat North Dakota State in Week 12 for a chance at the Missouri Valley’s automatic bid. The Coyotes will also need a Missouri State loss and a Southern Illinois loss to win the automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.
  • With just one conference loss, Sacred Heart wins the NEC autobid with a Week 12 win. If Sacred Heart loses, it can win the NEC with a Bryant loss. If Sacred Heart loses and Bryant wins, Sacred Heart needs a Saint Francis loss and Duquesne victory to secure the NEC’s automatic bid.
  • In Week 12, Bryant can earn the NEC automatic qualifier with a win, a Sacred Heart loss and a Saint Francis win. Bryant also can advance to the FCS Playoffs with a win, a Sacred Heart loss, a Saint Francis loss and a Duquesne loss.
  • If Davidson wins in Week 12, it clinches the Pioneer Football League’s autobid to the FCS Playoffs. If Davidson loses in Week 12, it still has a chance at an automatic bid if San Diego loses.
  • San Diego clinches the Pioneer Football League’s automatic bid by winning its final game and Davidson losing in Week 12.
  • The winner of the Mercer/East Tennessee State game will win the SoCon’s automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs.
  • UIW can win the Southland title with a win in Week 12. If UIW loses in Week 12, the Cardinals will need Southeastern Louisiana to lose to Nicholls in Week 12. 
  • Southeastern Louisiana can clinch the Southland title if it wins in Week 12 and UIW loses in Week 12.

Chuck’s Bracket

Chuck At-Large Picks (13): Eastern Washington, James Madison, Missouri State, Montana, Northern Iowa, Rhode Island, Sacramento State, South Dakota, South Dakota State, Southern Illinois, Southeastern Louisiana, UC Davis, William and Mary

Compared to Jamie’s Bracket: Kennesaw State as Big South Champion; +Rhode Island, +Northern Iowa, -Mercer, -Monmouth.

Chuck’s FCS Playoff Seeds

  1. Sam Houston
  2. Montana State
  3. North Dakota State
  4. Villanova
  5. James Madison
  6. East Tennessee State
  7. Sacramento State
  8. Missouri State

Jamie’s Bracket

Jamie At-Large Picks (13): Eastern Washington, James Madison, Kennesaw State, Mercer, Missouri State, Montana, Sacramento State, South Dakota, South Dakota State, Southern Illinois, Southeastern Louisiana, UC Davis, William and Mary

Compared to Chuck’s Bracket: Monmouth as Big South Champion; +Kennesaw State, +Mercer, -Rhode Island, -Northern Iowa.

Jamie’s FCS Playoff Seeds

  1. Sam Houston
  2. Montana State
  3. North Dakota State
  4. James Madison
  5. Villanova
  6. Eastern Washington
  7. East Tennessee State
  8. Sacramento State
Courtesy Chattanooga Times Free Press

THE BUBBLE ZONE

According to the CSJ Staff, there are ten teams on the bubble. Here are their cases, in alphabetical order.

Chattanooga (6-4, 5-2)

Sagarin: 129, Sagarin Schedule Strength: 49.30 (160)
Path to FCS Playoffs: Beat The Citadel, And Get Some Help
Their Case: Assuming a win this weekend, they would have won five of their last six, beaten likely Playoff participant East Tennessee State, and played a tough SEC team close (Kentucky).

Florida A&M (8-2, 6-1)

Sagarin: 175, Sagarin Schedule Strength: 35.58 (237)
Path To FCS Playoffs: Beat Bethune-Cookman in the Florida Classic, And Get A Lot of Help
Their Case: If they beat their historic Rivals this weekend, there will be no hotter team in FCS with eight straight wins. However, only one of those wins came against a team with a winning record (Alabama A&M). How important is 9-2?

Mercer (7-2, 6-1)

Sagarin: 145, Sagarin Schedule Strength: 47.98 (171)
Path To FCS Playoffs: Beat East Tennessee State (and win SoCon autobid), Or Get Lots of Help
Their Case: Their best case is to beat ETSU, get to 8-2, and win the SoCon autobid. If they lose, their case for an at-large will come down to the committee considering a team with 6 Division I wins (one win came against Point University, an NAIA school), albeit one with Chattanooga.

Monmouth (7-3, 6-0)

Sagarin: 142, Sagarin Schedule Strength: 44.59 (194)
Path To FCS Playoffs: Beat Kennesaw State (and win Big South autobid), Or Get Lots of Help
Their Case: Like Mercer, they have a chance to punch their ticket with a win. If they lose, they’ll have a case that they lost to three conference champions (Kennesaw State, Holy Cross, and Princeton) and FBS Middle Tennessee State. However, their best win came against the second-placed team in the Patriot League, Fordham. Is that enough?

North Dakota (5-5, 3-4)

Sagarin: 119, Sagarin Schedule Strength: 55.69 (141)
Path To FCS Playoffs: Win, And Get An Enormous Amount of Help
Their Case: Their path to the playoffs not only requires the FCS Playoff committee to take six teams from the Missouri Valley, it also probably requires Northern Iowa to lose in front of them, as they are the more likely six-win team taken (followed, possibly, by Mercer). What they would have is a .500 record in the toughest conference in the nation, and a win over South Dakota State.

Northern Iowa (5-5, 3-4)

Sagarin: 101, Sagarin Schedule Strength: 62.02 (110)
Path To FCS Playoffs: Win, And Get Some Help
Their Case: No other bubble team has a resume that includes wins against 3 Top 10 teams (Sacramento State, South Dakota State, Southern Illinois). However, it’s not clear if the Missouri Valley will get 6 teams in the playoffs – that’s an awful lot.

Rhode Island (7-3, 4-3)

Sagarin: 178, Sagarin Schedule Strength: 45.21 (207)
Path To FCS Playoffs: Win, And Get Some Help
Their Case: Winning at Elon – which won’t be easy – would put the Rams at 8-3 with a win against an FBS school (UMass). But UMass, objectively, would be no better than a mid-range team in the CAA – is that win, and their conference wins, enough?

Stephen F. Austin (7-3, 3-2)

Sagarin: 132, Sagarin Schedule Strength: 47.66 (172)
Path To FCS Playoffs: Win, And Get Lots Of Help
Their Case: They came the closest of anyone in FCS to beating Sam Houston, and they’ll be the best second-placed team in the ASun-WAC Alliance. But they’ll have 7 D-I wins, and only one of those wins currently come against a team with a winning record (Eastern Kentucky).

VMI (6-4, 4-2)

Sagarin: 161, Sagarin Schedule Strength: 47.39 (174)
Path To FCS Playoffs: Win, And Get Lots Of Help
Their Case: Wins against Chattanooga and Mercer were darned impressive. However, you need to ignore their awful loss to their Rivals The Citadel. Working to their advantage is their performance in the playoffs in the spring and the fact they will have seven D-I wins.

William and Mary (6-4. 4-3)

Sagarin: 169, Sagarin Schedule Strength: 48.17 (160)
Path to FCS Playoffs: Win
Their Case: Of all ten bubble teams, their win over likely seed Villanova could be the single most impressive one on any resume. However, you have to glide over the fact that they’ve lost to Maine, Delaware and James Madison down the stretch.

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