By Chuck Burton
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — What a weekend of football, and what a season.
Six conference autobids waited until the final day to be determined — and it seems fair to say that some of the teams that fell short in their quest for the autobid on Saturday also missed in their quest for the playoffs.
Now, a long, sleepless night beckons for a lot of very worthy teams awaiting to see if they're in, or out.
Let's go over what we know — and what might happen.
Ten Conferences, Ten Auto Bids
Big Sky Conference:
Eastern Washington (9-2, 7-1) takes the Big Sky Conference auto bid by beating Portland State and Cal Poly (9-2, 7-1) earned a share of the title beating Northern Arizona. Montana State (10-1, 7-1) is also tri-champs of the Big Sky after a win at Montana, but EWU's head-to-head wins over MSU and Cal Poly give the Eagles the sure berth.
Big South Conference:
Coastal Carolina (7-4, 5-1) will be sending Liberty head coach Turner Gill a really nice Christmas card this year. Thanks to his Flames' (6-5, 5-1) win over Stony Brook (9-2, 5-1), a three-way co-championship tie for the auto bid is broken through conference road victories, and the Chanticleers win it.
Colonial Athletic Association:
Though Towson's (7-4, 6-2) win over New Hampshire (8-3, 6-2) gives the Tigers a quad-championship for the CAA, and Richmond's (8-3, 6-2) win over William & Mary gave the Spiders a share of the title, it was Villanova (8-3, 6-2) who ultimately won the autobid.
Thankfully, the Sagarin's ELO_Chess rankings didn't decide things, but VU's win over Old Dominion proved to be the difference. ODU is 10-1 overall and 7-1 in the CAA, but ineligible for the auto bid as an outgoing member of the conference.
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference:
Bethune-Cookman (9-2, 8-0) clinched the MEAC championship last week and beat Florida A&M in the Florida Classic on Saturday.
Missouri Valley Football Conference:
North Dakota State (10-1, 7-1) finally clinched the Missouri Valley Conference outright with a convincing win over Illinois State (8-3, 5-3).
With a win over Duquesne, Wagner (8-3, 7-1) will represent the NEC and the Seahawks will go to their first-ever FCS playoffs.
Ohio Valley Conference:
Last weekend, Eastern Illinois' (7-4, 6-1) win against Southeast Missouri State made the Panthers the OVC champions, despite their setback at Central Arkansas this weekend.
Last weekend, Colgate (8-3, 5-0) beat Lehigh to take the Patriot League title outright and the auto bid.
It was so confusing, but the SoCon office made it clear to me: "If Citadel beats Furman, the AQ goes to Georgia Southern," they said. "If Furman beats The Citadel, the AQ goes to Appalachian State."
The tri-champions are still Appalachian State (8-3, 6-2), Wofford (8-3, 6-2), and Georgia Southern (8-3, 6-2). Since The Citadel beat Furman, though, the auto bid goes to Georgia Southern on fewest points allowed in conference.
Two weeks ago Central Arkansas (9-2, 6-1) clinched the Southland title and auto bid, thanks to the head-to-head win over Sam Houston State (8-3, 6-1).
At-Large Berths: So who gets in?
Here are the 18 teams — yes, 18 — who I think are in the mix for an at-large bid, along with a reason to keep them, and a reason to exclude them.
Albany (9-2, 7-1)
Put them In: Nine Division I wins, a win over Patriot League autobid winner Colgate, and a very good record with a tough schedule.
Keep Them Out: Even with a nice out-of-conference schedule, that blowout loss to Wagner hurts, and it's simply not a good year to be a non-power conference.
Appalachian State (8-3, 6-1)
Put them In: Hey, the Mountaineers are the SoCon tri-champs, they beat Georgia Southern in Statesboro, and as an added bonus we throttled Coastal Carolina, the Big South autobid winner.
Keep Them Out: In a weak year for the SoCon, aside from the Chanticleers, whom did you beat impressively. And is this correct: The Citadel 52, Appalachian State 28?
Cal Poly (9-2, 7-1)
Put them In: The Mustangs have 9 Division I wins, including 7 in the toughest conference in the land, the Big Sky! Plus, they are co-champs with Eastern Washington and Montana State. The Mustangs also beat FBS Wyoming. Top that.
Keep Them Out: I wouldn't be saying "Eastern Washington" too loudly — a 34-17 loss. And where's Montana and Montana State on your schedule? All I see an awful lot of under-.500 teams.
Eastern Kentucky (8-3, 6-2)
Put them In: 8 Division I wins with an all-Division I opponent schedule. Also, take special note of that 35-17 win over Coastal Carolina and the 28-16 win over Tennessee-Martin.
Keep Them Out: Have you seen some of the schedules of these other 8-3 teams? Many years 8-3 is good enough, but this isn't an ordinary year.
Illinois State (8-3, 5-3)
Put them In: Check out that win over FBS Eastern Michigan. And check out that win over Eastern Illinois, the OVC champs, and Indiana State!
Keep Them Out: Check out those three conference losses, including going 3-3 in the last six games! And was that a shutout at home to Southern Illinois?
James Madison (7-4, 5-3)
Put them In: We beat Towson! That's a really good win. I thought that should be said.
Keep Them Out: Did you beat any other team with a winning record? And, praytell, what 8-3 team should we leave out to put you in?
Lehigh (10-1, 4-1)
Put them In: There are only four teams in FCS that ended the year 10-1, and the Mountain Hawks are one of them. Lehigh beat Liberty, the Big South co-champs, and was in the game with Colgate until midway through the second half. Plus, remember the last two years in the playoffs, when the Hawks beat the CAA and Missouri Valley Champs?
Keep Them Out: We're not judging you on the record of last two years, we're judging you on this year's record, and frankly, you don't have a signature win against any team in the playoffs this go-round.
Montana State (10-1, 7-1)
Put them In: You're really going to keep out a team whose only loss is to Eastern Washington?
Keep Them Out: No, we're not. The Bobcats are in.
New Hampshire (8-3, 6-2)
Put them In: The Wildcats are an 8-3 team in the powerful CAA. And they beat Richmond.
Keep Them Out: You're the fifth-best team in the not-nearly-as-powerful-as-in-prior-years-CAA. And you gave up 128 points to two teams — Old Dominion and Towson.
Northern Arizona (8-3, 6-2)
Put them In: The Lumberjacks beat coach Bobby Hauck and UNLV of the FBS. Also, Montana in Montana.
Keep Them Out: You lost your last two games, a major no-no for making the playoffs. You also only have seven Division I wins, thanks to your 69-0 win over Fort Lewis. That won't hack it.
Old Dominion (10-1, 7-1)
Put them In: Really? Is there any doubt, other than the fact the Monarchs are leaving FCS next year?
Keep Them Out: Well, there's that loss to… Villanova. We're kidding. You're in. And you might be a seed.
Richmond (8-3, 6-2)
Put them In: Eight Division I wins, and check out those wins over James Madison and Villanova the Spiders are sporting.
Keep Them Out: Take a closer look at the rest of your schedule. Gardner-Webb and VMI as your out-of-conference games to go with Virginia? A lot of FCS teams would have gone 2-1 in those games.
Sam Houston State (8-3, 6-1)
Put them In: The Bearkats went 8-3. And also went to the championship game last year. Also, two of the three losses were to powerhouse FBS Teams. Finally, Bearkats 70, Southeastern Louisiana Lions 0.
Keep Them Out: Everyone is looking at your seven Division I wins, and trying to find one that impresses at all. Also, with two powerhouse FBS teams and a sub-D-I on the schedule, how serious were you about making the playoffs, anyway?
South Dakota State (8-3, 6-2)
Put them In: Second place in the Missouri Valley. Eight Division I Wins. A win over North Dakota State vanquisher Indiana State and Youngstown State.
Keep Them Out: That loss to 5-6 Northern Iowa hurts, and it's not like those out-of-conference wins against Southeastern Louisiana and UC Davis were anything to write home about.
Stony Brook (9-2, 5-1)
Put them In: Army! Army! Army! The Seahawks beat the Black Knights 23-3. And beat Colgate, too.
Keep Them Out: Pace? Really? Also, I realize your losses were to Syracuse and Liberty, but be honest. How tough do you think the rest of your schedule is?
Tennessee-Martin (8-3, 6-2)
Put them In: Remember "Walkin' in Memphis"? The Skyhawks walked OVER Memphis. And also beat Eastern Illinois.
Keep Them Out: We are having a very hard time overlooking that loss to 3-8 Tennessee Tech.
Tennessee State (8-3, 4-3)
Put them In: Eight Division I wins. Also, a win over Bethune-Cookman.
Keep Them Out: A 4-3 conference record. Also, you've dropped three of your last four.
Towson (7-4, 6-2)
Put them In: The Tigers trounced New Hampshire and Villanova. And took LSU deep into the game, scoring a season-high 22 points against that LSU defense, the most it has allowed since playing Oregon to start the 2011 season.
Keep Them Out: You only have seven Division I wins. And nobody asked you to schedule both LSU and Kent State of the FBS in the same year. You do that, and play in a tough conference, and the playoffs aren't guaranteed.
Wofford (8-3, 6-2)
Put them In: Woof! SoCon Tri-Champs. Win at Appalachian State. Close game to close the year at FBS South Carolina.
Keep Them Out: Not a year for a seven D-I win team, Fido — that game against Lincoln might cost you.
So who's in? My final picks for the at-larges and bracket are:
In: Appalachian State, Cal Poly, Lehigh, Montana State, Old Dominion, Richmond, Sam Houston State, Stony Brook, South Dakota State, Wofford.
Seeds: North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Montana State, Old Dominion, Georgia Southern.
North Dakota State Bracket
Eastern Illinois @ Lehigh winner at No. 1 North Dakota State
Cal Poly @ Central Arkansas
Old Dominion Bracket
Wagner @ Stony Brook winner at No. 4 Old Dominion
Villanova @ No. 5 Georgia Southern
Montana State Bracket
Colgate @ Richmond winner at No. 3 Montana State
Wofford @ Sam Houston State
Eastern Washington Bracket
Coastal Carolina @ Bethune-Cookman winner at No. 2 Eastern Washington
South Dakota State @ Appalachian State