FCS Playoffs ‘Til I Die: The Drama Before The Drama

Courtesy Anniston Star

Though the field for the 2018 FCS Playoffs was clarified a little bit a week before the selection of the field, a chaotic upset-filled week not only thrust an unlikely team to a conference championship at autobid, it sets up a final weekend of the FCS regular season filled with meaningful games.

About the only outcome that didn’t surprise was Kennesaw State’s 51-13 victory over Monmouth to punch their ticket as the Big South Champion.  Yet their final game could have meaning in another way – as you’ll see below.

Last week, we were lamenting that the CAA, Southland and SoCon conference champions were unclear.  This upcoming weekend, all three conference championships and autobids are up in the air.  Who ends up winning?

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.

Oddly enough, this means that the outcome two HBCU Rivalry games, North Carolina A&T vs. North Carolina Central and the “Florida Classic” between Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman, might have FCS playoff implications.  North Carolina A&T, who is 8-2 and actually beat Jacksonville State to begin the season, could either be MEAC champions and be contractually obligated to play in the Celebration Bowl.  However if they are not the champion when the dust settles, they would be eligible to compete in the FCS Playoffs as strong at-large candidate.

A third, the Ivy League, chooses to not send its members to the FCS playoffs, which is a crying shame this season because 9-0 Princeton or 8-1 Dartmouth are two of the strongest teams in all of FCS and thanks to their conference’s University Presidents, are barred from playing in the postseason.

Projected Conference Champions/Autobid Winners:

    • Big Sky: 8-2 (6-1) UC Davis could have wrapped up the Big Sky autobid had they beaten 8-2 (6-1) Eastern Washington.  Instead the Aggies fell to the Eagles 59-20 and set up an exciting final weekend for the Big Sky.  The baton is currently in the hands of 8-2 (6-1) Weber State.  The formula is simple: if they win, they are Big Sky champions, they’ll own the autobid, and you have to believe they will be one of the eight seeds.
    • Big South: 9-1 (5-0) Kennesaw State wrapped things up this weekend.  Sharpie.
    • Colonial Athletic Association: Four different teams are still in the hunt to win the league title and autobid.  Basically, 7-3 (6-1) Maine has clinched at least a share of the CAA title.  But 6-3 (4-2) Elon stands in their way of the title and autobid.  If the Phoenix beat the Black Bears – and they may need to, in order to really feel comfortable with making the FCS Playoff field, it opens the way for a ton of scenarios detailed below (including some scenarios where Maine loses and still gets the autobid).

      Courtesy GoHens.Net
    • Missouri Valley: 10-0 (7-0) * North Dakota State clinched the Missouri Valley Conference football title two weekends.  Sharpie.
    • Northeast: 6-4 (4-1) Sacred Heart had their chance to wrap things up, but 7-3 (4-1) Duquesne foiled the Pioneers’ plans with a thrilling 28-24 win this weekend.  Now, the Dukes are in control.  If they beat 6-4 (4-1) Central Connecticut State this weekend, they will be the NEC champs and autobid winners.  If CCSU wins and Sacred Heart beats St. Francis (PA) this weekend, Sacred Heart would win the autobid (based on their head-to-head win over CCSU).  If CCSU wins and Sacred Heart loses, the Blue Devils would be back-to-back NEC champs and would go back to the playoffs for the second straight year.
    • Ohio Valley: If you haven’t seen the one play that handed 8-2 (7-1) Jacksonville State the OVC title, you can see it here.  Basically, 7-3 (5-2) Southeast Missouri State had the lead and had to kick off the ball, but Murray State’s Malik Honeycutt wouldn’t be denied the end zone after the ball ended up in his hands after a squib kick.  That one play might have changed quite a bit in regards to the at-large selections.
    • Patriot League: 9-0 (6-0) * Colgate clinched the Patriot League football title last weekend, and clinched an outright championship with a dominaing win over Lehigh.  Sharpie.
    • Pioneer: Because nothing can be easy, 8-2 (7-0) San Diego only clinched the Pioneer League title and autobid thanks to a 3 play, 70 yard drive in the final minute that allowed the Toreros a comeback victory against Davidson. Sharpie.
    • Southern: 8-2 (6-1) East Tennessee State would win the SoCon title and autobid if they beat Samford this weekend.  If they lose, that opens the door for 7-3 (6-2) Wofford or 5-4 (5-2) Furman to snatch the title and autobid.

  • Southland: 7-3 (5-2) Nicholls helped prognosticators everywhere this week by winning against Stephen F. Austin, as did Incarnate Word by winning their final regular season game against Central Arkanasas.  It means that the title and all-important autobid will come down to the final game.  If Nicholls beats their Rival Southeastern Louisiana this weekend, they will be the Southland champions and autobid recipient.  If they lose, Incarnate Word will make their first-ever trip to the FCS Playoffs.

Seeds:

Here’s where things get very, very interesting.  I see three possible games affecting who the seeds might end up being:

James Madison at Towson
Elon at Maine
Kennesaw State vs. Jacksonville State (Atlanta, GA)

I see these three games as play-in games to the seed pool.  Based on the outcomes of those games, I see the seeds as follows:

  1. North Dakota State
  2. Weber State
  3. James Madison
  4. Kennesaw State
  5. Eastern Washington
  6. South Dakota State
  7. Maine
  8. Colgate

Next Teams Up: Elon, Towson, Jacksonville State, UC Davis

Rest of the field:

Delaware, Duquesne, Elon, East Tennessee State, Indiana State, Jacksonville State, Montana, Northern Iowa, North Carolina A&T, Nicholls, San Diego, Southeast Missouri State, Stony Brook, Towson, Wofford, UC Davis

Last Four In:

North Carolina A&T, Elon, Southeast Missouri State, Northern Iowa

First Four Out:

Monmouth, Incarnate Word, North Dakota, Western Illinois

Potential 1st Round Matchups:

Duquesne at Towson
Southeast Missouri State at Nicholls
San Diego at UC Davis
North Carolina A&T at Indiana State
Northern Iowa at Montana
Wofford at Delaware
Elon at Stony Brook
East Tennessee State at Jacksonville State

Potential 2nd Round Matchups:

NCAT/Indiana State winner at No. 1 NDSU
San Diego/UC Davis winner at No. 2 Weber State
ETSU/Jacksonville State winner at No. 3 James Madison
Duquesne/Towson winner at No. 4 Kennesaw State
Northern Iowa/Montana winner at No. 5 Eastern Washington
SEMO/Nicholls winner at No. 6 South Dakota State
Wofford/Delaware winner at No. 7 Maine
Elon/Stony Brook winner at No. 8 Colgate

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