The first playoff bracket of the season, I had the Eagles in the field as a seed, mostly on the backs of their potential to win the Big Sky. Two losses and a 1-3 record later, I’m left wondering whether they’ll be in the field at all. Can they go 7-1 or better the rest of the way?
There’s a lot more questions to ask as well. Who on Earth is going to win the CAA? San Diego or Dayton in the Pioneer? Can anybody credibly stop North Dakota State in the Missouri Valley? And the Southland… who will emerge from there?
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
Even with their loss this week, UC Davis mightily impressed FCS Nation by hanging tough with North Dakota State in a 27-16 loss that was very much in doubt going into the 4th quarter. Like all Big Sky schools, they’ll have to do very well in conference play, too, without slipups, but they have a huge advantage playing both Montana and Montana State, two of the teams that are looking to unseat them, at home. Things can change on a dime in the tough Big Sky, and the conference seems destined for two at-larges or more, but the Aggies seem like the team at the moment.
3-1 Kennesaw State, who came from behind last week to beat Missouri State 35-24, is still our pick. It’s quite possible that their 16-7 halftime deficit might have acted as a bit of a wakeup call for the Owls, who haven’t really played many FCS-relevant games this year. If so, that’s trouble for the rest of the Big South.
Colonial Athletic Association
3-1 James Madison passed their first real test this week with a 37-14 win at Chattanooga. Their second, very big, revenge test awaits them this week with a road game against Elon, who, for the second year in a row, could upend the CAA title race. But right now, so far, it’s still the Dukes up top, with Villanova, Elon and Delaware still nipping at their heels.
Really, are you picking anyone but 4-0 North Dakota State at this point? I know I’m not.
2-1 Duquesne won a tough game against Dayton this week, showing that they are still the team to beat in the NEC. Central Connecticut State would have occupied this space had they simply gotten off that punt against Eastern Michigan. Instead, the punt was blocked with seconds left to deny the Blue Devils the NEC’s first-ever upset of an FBS opponent.
As expected. 3-1 Jacksonville State beat North Alabama this week, and is still the frontrunner for the OVC autobid. But do we need to add 3-1 Tennessee Tech to the list of possible OVC autobid winners? Quietly, the Golden Eagles beat Western Illinois 38-24 and suddenly have wins over a Missouri Valley team, and a SoCon team (Samford), with their only loss coming to an FBS team (Miami of Ohio). The emergence of Tennessee Tech adds an interesting wrinkle to this year’s race.
1-3 Holy Cross is the best of a league that has had an extremely rough go in out-of-conference play. This week, the team carrying the Patriot League banner lost a tough one to Yale, 23-10.
Dayton or San Diego? You can make a compelling case for either. 2-1 Dayton gave Duquesne everything they could handle last week, but 1-2 San Diego was impressive in their 31-23 win over Harvard at home last week. This week, a delicate balance shifts back to the Toreros.
There are an awful lot of two-loss teams in the SoCon, and Furman‘s two FBS losses puts them, for the moment, on top of the conference. The Paladins, if they can keep it up, seem to have a lot of potential, but they have the whole tough SoCon schedule still ahead.
3-1 Central Arkansas put up a good fight in Hawai’i, for now keeping them in the top spot in the Southland Conference autobid conversation. What is striking, though, is how many Southland teams are impressing in the early going – Abilene Christian, McNeese State, Nicholls, Southeastern Louisiana, even Houston Baptist. The Southland is looking like they will have multiple at-large bids, too, something that wasn’t obvious originally.
- North Dakota State (↔️)
- James Madison (↔️)
- South Dakota State (↔️)
- UC Davis (↔️)
- Weber State (↔️)
- Furman (2 ⬆️)
- Central Arkansas (1 ⬆️)
Next Teams Up: Jacksonville State, Nicholls, Maine, Kennesaw State
Rest of the field:
The Citadel, Delaware, Duquesne, Holy Cross, Illinois State, Kennesaw State, Jacksonville State, Maine, Montana, Montana State, Nicholls, Northern Iowa, San Diego, Southeast Missouri State, Southeastern Louisiana, Towson
Last Four In:
Southeastern Louisiana, Montana, Delaware, Illinois State
First Four Out:
Eastern Washington, Chattanooga, McNeese State, Youngstown State
Potential 1st Round Matchups
Holy Cross at Maine
Delaware at Northern Iowa
Duquesne at Towson
Jacksonville State at Illinois State
Nicholls at The Citadel
Southeastern Louisiana at Montana
Southeast Missouri State at Kennesaw State
San Diego at Montana State
Potential 2nd Round Matchups
SE Louisiana/Montana winner at No. 1 North Dakota State
Holy Cross/Maine winner at No. 2 James Madison
Delaware/Northern Iowa winner at No. 3 South Dakota State
Jax State/Illinois State winner at No. 4 UC Davis
San Diego/Montana State winner at No. 5 Weber State
SEMO/Kennesaw State winner at No. 6 Furman
Nicholls/The Citadel winner at No. 7 Central Arkansas
Duquesne/Towson winner at No. 8 Villanova
Chuck has been writing about Lehigh football since the dawn of the internet, or perhaps it only seems like it. He’s executive editor of the College Sports Journal and has also written a book, The Rivalry: How Two Schools Started the Most Played College Football Series.
Reach him at: this email or click below: