If you think predicting the field for the Big Dance is tough, you should take a look at how hard it is to predict the FCS Playoff teams. Joe Lunardi and other bracketologists consistently miss just one or two teams in a field of 68, while many FCS experts commonly get three or four teams wrong in a field of just 24. Last year, many were puzzled to see New Hampshire, Northern Arizona, and Monmouth make the field ahead of Eastern Washington, Austin Peay, and Delaware, and this year’s field is sure to have similar surprises.
Of course, teams can take the decision out of the committee’s hands by winning their conference and with that in mind, let’s take a look at how the bubble is shaping up ahead of the final week of the regular season.
LOCKED IN (5): Kennesaw State (Big South Champions), North Dakota State (MVFC Champions), Jacksonville State (OVC Champions), Colgate (Patriot League Champions), San Diego (Pioneer League Champions)
VIRTUAL LOCKS (9):
Big Sky (3) – Eastern Washington, UC Davis, Weber State
CAA (3) – James Madison, Maine, Towson
MVFC (1) – South Dakota State
Southern Conference (1) – East Tennessee State
Southland (1) – Nicholls State
You can say with a pretty high degree of certainty that 14 teams have already punched their tickets to the FCS Playoffs. In addition to the five teams that have already won bids through clinching their conference championship, there are nine others that are in. Fast and furious style:
-Eastern Washington, UC Davis, and Weber State are all locks and all three teams have a good chance to pick up a first-round bye. All three teams are 8-2 and have multiple quality wins.
-The CAA is a bit of a mess this year, but Maine, James Madison, and Towson have good enough resumes to be in. All three teams are 7-3, and Maine will win the conference if they beat Elon on Saturday.
-South Dakota State is in, and the Jackrabbits are going to be seeded. End of discussion.
-East Tennessee State has eight wins, and the Buccaneers won’t finish any worse than 6-2.
-Nicholls State punched its ticket with a dominant 44-0 win over Southeastern Louisiana on Thursday night.
Big Sky (3) – Idaho State, Montana, Montana State
Big South (1) – Monmouth
CAA (3) – Delaware, Stony Brook, Elon
Independent (1) – North Dakota
MEAC (1) – North Carolina A&T
MVFC (3) – Indiana State, Northern Iowa, Western Illinois
NEC (3) – Central Connecticut State, Duquesne, Sacred Heart
OVC (2) – Eastern Kentucky, Southeast Missouri State
Southern Conference (3) – UT Chattanooga, Furman, Wofford
Southland (3) – Incarnate Word, Lamar, McNeese State
This is where things start to get very interesting. Let’s break this down conference by conference.
The Big Sky will probably get one more team in the FCS playoffs. If Idaho State beats Weber State on Saturday, that will be enough to push the Bengals over the line, and they are playing at home. However, they are a 3.5-point underdog in that game.
Montana State is likely in with a win too. Even though the Bobcats are 6-4, three of the four losses came against South Dakota State, Eastern Washington, and Weber State, and those three teams are all in line for seeds. However, the Bobcats must beat in-state rival Montana in the Brawl of the Wild to grab the spot, and they are eight-point underdogs. A Montana win is the only way the Grizzlies could get in, but they need a lot of help.
Like Montana, Monmouth needs a lot of help to get in. The Hawks are 7-3, but this is a weak conference and they were stomped by Kennesaw State last week. They have no quality wins on their resume, and it’s unlikely the Selection Committee gives them the benefit of the doubt again after getting stomped 46-7 by Northern Iowa last year in the playoffs.
Delaware is in a “win and you’re in” spot. As long as the Blue Hens beat a bad Villanova team this week, they will get into the playoffs at 8-3.
It’s win and you’re in for Stony Brook too. The Seawolves got the win they desperately needed when they beat Delaware last week, and now they need to just avoid being upset by the worst team in the conference in the season finale.
The same is true for Elon. The Phoenix play CAA leaders Maine on the road this weekend, and a win would punch their ticket to the playoffs at 8-3. However, unlike Delaware, they have a better chance of getting into the postseason if they happened to lose. The Phoenix have wins over Furman and James Madison on their resume, and they have a good chance of getting in with a loss.
Some people are optimistic about North Dakota’s chances, but I’m not one of them. The only good win the Fighting Hawks have is against Montana, and I’ve already discussed the Grizzlies chances. A win over Sam Houston State looked great at the start of the year, but that win has not looked as good as the year has gone on. Even with a win over Northern Arizona this week, I don’t see North Dakota getting into the playoffs.
This is one of a couple interesting scenarios. North Carolina A&T are the frontrunners to win the MEAC, and winning the conference would lock them into a Celebration Bowl bid against the SWAC. However, a loss, coupled with some other wins, would have the Aggies finish in second or third place in the conference and open them up for playoff consideration.
If North Carolina A&T does finish second, they deserve a spot in the playoffs. The Aggies beat OVC champions Jacksonville State and FBS East Carolina before starting quarterback Lamar Raynard was hurt. Raynard is one of the best quarterbacks in the FCS, and he makes the Aggies a very good team.
The MVFC has been a total mess this year. The conference cannibalized itself throughout the year, and every team but NDSU and SDSU has at least three conference losses.
Western Illinois hosts Indiana State this weekend, and whichever team wins should make it. A win would give the Sycamores seven wins and that should be good enough to get in, while the Leathernecks would have a strong case at 6-5 given their schedule. Western Illinois is a seven-point favorite on the FCS betting line for this one.
It’s hard to see Northern Iowa getting in at 6-5, but a win would make them 5-3 in conference and the committee has rewarded the Panthers for that before. They have a nice win over South Dakota State, but losing to Montana at the start of the year really hurts their chances.
I’m not going to spend too much time here. The Northeast winner is likely to be one and done in the postseason, and only the conference winner will get a spot. Duquesne controls its destiny with a win over Sacred Heart last week, and the Dukes will win the conference if they beat Central Connecticut State this week.
Southeast Missouri State’s stunning win over Jacksonville State earlier this year probably punched their ticket to the FCS Playoffs. The Redhawks are 7-3 and 5-2 in conference, and a win over Eastern Illinois in their finale gets them into the postseason.
Eastern Kentucky needs Southeast Missouri State to lose, and then the Colonels need to beat Tennessee Tech to get in. The OVC is a two-bid conference at most barring some stunning results, so it’s likely a zero-sum battle between the schools.
Wofford is essentially a lock. The Terriers are a five-touchdown favorite per the FCS odds against Presbyterian College this Saturday, and a win cements a spot. However, they are not listed as a virtual lock as a loss would give the committee reason to leave them out.
Furman has a decent chance of getting into the postseason, but the Paladins must beat Mercer in their finale, and even then they need a little bit of help. The committee might have a hard time leaving out a Furman team that went 6-2 in conference play though.
UT Chattanooga is likely out. The Mocs are 6-4, and they play South Carolina on Saturday. If they were to upset the Gamecocks, they would be in. That would be a monumental upset though.
The Southland is even more of a mess than the MVFC. The Southland has a whopping seven teams with five or six wins on the year, so the final week will be fascinating.
Incarnate Word really hurt its chances by deciding to reschedule its game with North Alabama in favor of a payday from Iowa State. The Cardinals would have likely defeated North Alabama and moved to 7-4, but they won’t play Iowa State (if they do) until December 1, so the committee wouldn’t have time to evaluate a win no matter how unlikely that scenario is.
Lamar and McNeese State play in a loser leaves town game on Saturday. The loser has no shot of making it to the playoffs, and even the winner will need a little help to make it in.