Breaking Down the FCS Football Playoff Picture
Trying to dig through the FCS football playoff picture is basically an exercise in futility this season. There are very few games being played, almost none between teams from different leagues, and a handful of teams played fall games that may or may not be considered by the committee. For folks trying to piece it together, all we have to go off is our gut (and the Committee’s top ten ranking from two weeks ago). Ten leagues will get automatic bids and just six at-large bids will be handed out. Here is where we stand right now.
Big Sky Conference
Weber State (4-0) was one of two Big Sky programs to be ranked in last week’s committee top ten, coming in tied for 5th with North Dakota. Sitting at 4-0 with a win over a good UC Davis team, the Wildcats are the most likely Big Sky team to make the field. With a win over Idaho State they would presumably lock up the automatic bid (although in this weird year it is never safe to assume you know how these things work). The Big Sky is a candidate to be a multiple bid league. UC Davis (3-2) was ranked ninth in the committee’s initial rankings but ended its spring season with a loss to Eastern Washington (4-1). The Eagles lost to Idaho in week one, but can atone for that loss this week. If EWU and Weber win their final games, I think it is pretty clear cut those are your two Big Sky Playoff teams. Idaho (2-2) is also in the conversation despite losses to UC Davis and Idaho State. If they win their final two against EWU and NAU and get to 4-2 they would have an outside shot. In the end, I think EWU and Weber take care of business and the Big Sky gets those two in the field. My Prediction: Weber State and Eastern Washington take care of business and get in, and that is it for the Big Sky.
Big South Conference
There were no Big South teams in the initial top ten rankings by the committee, which leads me to believe this is likely to be a one-bid league. If that is true, the bid will go to one of Kennesaw State (4-0) and Monmouth (2-0) who play each other this week. I would imagine the winner of this week’s game will claim the Big South title while the loser will be done for the year. The KSU Owls have a bigger pedigree, but Monmouth had an easier time with their common opponent Charleston Southern. If KSU wins it is probably a done deal. If Monmouth wins, they still have to play at Robert Morris next week where it would get pretty messy if they lost. I actually think the Hawks will get it done.
My Prediction: Monmouth finishes with two wins to get into the field and Kennesaw stays home. Kennesaw would get a hard look at 4-1, though, based on the committee's history.
Colonial Athletic Association
With several opt outs in the Big Sky and now the MVFC, the CAA has the highest participation rate among the biggest FCS leagues this year. This is a league that should get multiple bids. James Madison (4-0) is probably a lock since they were #1 in the committee’s ratings and are also #1 in the STATS poll. The remainder of their schedule has been cancelled due to COVID in their opponents’ camps and they have only played one game since March 6th, so they are trying to find one more game to play. I think they will get in regardless. Richmond (3-0) is also undefeated with two wins over Elon and a win over William and Mary. Their final game is against William and Mary as their game with James Madison has been cancelled. The Spiders are on the bubble despite being undefeated as both their games against JMU didn’t happen. Delaware (3-0) is also undefeated with two cancelled games. They’ve beaten Maine, Stony Brook and Rhode Island with games against Villanova and Delaware State still left. They were ranked #7 in the committee’s poll and are very likely to get in as either an automatic or at-large if they win out. Villanova (2-1) has a shot to beat Delaware and get in the discussion too.
My Prediction: This conference is a mess. With the extra bid, I now have the CAA squeezing out three teams. James Madison and Delaware have the clearest route, so I am going with them. Also Richmond, come on down! With the MEAC no longer claiming an autobid, I put the undefeated Spiders in the field with one more win against William and Mary this week. Hard to leave an undefeated CAA team out. The committee might, though, if it judges other teams' schedules to be more robust. It is really impossible to tell what they are thinking. If Delaware loses to Villanova and Richmond/JMU both win out there will be a big mess for the committee to deal with here.
Missouri Valley Football Conference:
With three teams in the committee’s top five, this is the league with the best odds at getting three teams in the field. North Dakota State (4-1, 5-1) was #2 in the poll with a 4-1 league record that includes a win over #5 North Dakota (as well as a spring win over Central Arkansas). The Bison are probably in the field with a win at UNI this weekend OR a win against SDSU on the final week. North Dakota (4-1) was #5 in the poll and can feel pretty good about getting into the field with a win at Youngstown State on the final week of the season since their loss was to NDSU and they have a win over SDSU. They’ll get the autobid with a win and an NDSU loss. South Dakota State (4-1) is #3 in the poll. They’re in a weird spot as a highly rated team without a hugely impressive resume on paper. If they lose to NDSU in their final game they will be 4-2 with losses to UND and NDSU. Neither loss is anything to be ashamed of, but with only five at-large bids up for grabs, would that be enough to snag one of them? Missouri State (4-1, 4-4) is also 4-1 in the spring but lost 25-0 to NDSU and did not get the opportunity to play SDSU or UND. They also lost three fall games, giving them an overall record of 4-4 if those contests are considered. Southern Illinois (3-3, 4-3) could slide into consideration if a lot of chips fall the right way, but that ship has likely sailed.
My Prediction: More than half of the teams in this league could probably do damage in the playoffs, and I think they’ll be rewarded with three bids. NDSU, UND and SDSU get in. When the MEAC declared themselves ineligible I very nearly gave the extra bid to Missouri State. I just don't think the committee will give half the at-larges to one league. But they could.
This is a one-bid league in the best of times. Duquesne (4-0) is playing Sacred Heart (2-1) in the NEC Championship game this Sunday. The winner will be in the playoffs. That is pretty much all you need to know about the NEC.
My Prediction: I’ll go with the Dukes to get the bid playing at home. Although the other time these teams met Duquesne only won 30-27. Sacred Heart has done slightly better against their common opponents. It should be a good game.
Ohio Valley Conference
This is another complicated conference as several of these teams played fall games and it is unclear how much those contests will factor in. Murray State (5-1) was ranked 10th in the committee’s rankings two weeks ago and seemed to have the inside track in the league, but that was before a loss to Austin Peay knocked the Racers down a peg. That loss may have cost the league a shot at multiple bids. The Racers host Jacksonville State (5-1, 8-2) on Sunday with the league title on the line. The Gamecocks also lost to Austin Peay, and played several games in the fall (including a win over FBS FIU) that may-or-may not factor into their playoff fate. The winner of their game will get the automatic bid. The loser will be squarely on the bubble. Jax State probably has a better shot at an at-large than the Racers who have had a rough go of it for many years and did not play any fall games.
My Prediction: I predict Jax State will win to claim the autobid and Murray will be one of the top teams left out. The Racers were in the initial top ten, though, so the committee thinks highly of them. They'd be a candidate for one of the final spots at 5-2.
The Pariot League split into two, three-team divisions with each team playing a four-game schedule followed by the league title game. All the schedules have been shortened to three games, now, due to COVID cancellations. The South Division has been wrapped up, with Bucknell (2-0) claiming their spot in the title game after having beat both divisional opponents Lafayette and Lehigh. COVID cleared the North Division right up for us too. Holy Cross will be the champion of the North due to a positive test in the Colgate program cancelling this week’s game. The title game will be Bucknell vs. Holy Cross.
My Prediction: I’ve always like Bucknell’s vibe with their colors and their helmets. So I am going to pick them. Based off color. The same way my young son fills out his NCAA Tournament bracket and beats me.
Recently, the Pioneer League has been San Diego’s to lose. But last week, Davidson (4-1) shocked the Torreros in San Diego, 31-25, ending their 39-game conference winning streak. Now the Wildcats have the inside track for the conference title and can wrap it up officially with wins over Presbyterian and Stetson. They can more-than-likely even take an L in one of those game and still get the bid at this point.
My Prediction: Davidson gets it done and gets into the playoffs.
I can’t ever remember a time VMI (5-1) was good (I looked it up, they haven’t had a winning season since 1981), but the Keydets were #8 in the initial committee poll two weeks ago. Unfortunately for them, they immediately took it on the chin to East Tennessee State in their next game. The ETSU Bucs (4-1) are now a half game behind VMI with just one game on the schedule left to play for both teams. ETSU would have the tiebreaker over VMI due to their win head-to-head, but the Keydets have a half game lead since ETSU’s has fewer games on the schedule due to an earlier cancellation. I don’t know how the SoCon plans to sort this out, but it could sort itself out with both teams in action one more time. I am of the notion that if both teams finish with one loss both deserve playoff spots, but it isn’t a foregone conclusion. Both have had to get through several close games to get to where they are. No one else in the league is seriously threatening for a spot.
My Prediction: I think they both get in with a win in their final game. I have a suspicion one of them might lose (and if your team is on the bubble, this is what you want), but I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say they both win and get in.
Sam Houston State (4-0) was ranked fourth in the committee’s poll and is probably a shoe-in for a playoff spot. A win over McNeese this week is probably enough to get them in even if they lose to UIW in their final game. Speaking of Incarnate Word (3-1), they are on the bubble at 3-1 after losing to Nicholls 75-45 last week. If both teams get past their opponents this week, UIW will play Sam Houston on the final week of the season with the autobid on the line in a game that will probably see a little bit of scoring. I think UIW probably needs to win out to get in, although a strong showing in a loss to Sam Houston would keep them in consideration. Nicholls State (4-2) is another team that has scored their share of points this season, but a loss to McNeese last week probably knocked them out. They still could be the #2 Southland team if UIW loses, but I don’t know if the SLC would get two at that point.
My Prediction: I think Sam Houston will take care of the remainder of their schedule and be the only team from the Southland to get into the field. But with an extra spot opening up after the MEAC pulled out, that could well open up a spot for a second southland team whoever that may be.
To recap, here are the teams I have in the field.
Big Sky (2): Weber State, Eastern Washington (Also Considered: UC Davis, Idaho) Big South (1): Monmouth (Also Considered: Kennesaw State) CAA (3): James Madison, Delaware, Richmond (Also Considered: Villanova) MVFC (3): NDSU, SDSU, North Dakota (Also Considered: Missouri State, SIU) Northeast (1): Duquesne (Also Considered: Sacred Heart) Ohio Valley (1): Jacksonville State (Also Considered: Murray State) Patriot League (1): Bucknell (Also Considered: Holy Cross) Pioneer League (1): Davidson Southern (2): East Tennessee State, VMI Southland (1): Sam Houston State (Also Considered: UIW, Nicholls State)
Teams not currently in the field but also seriously considered were: Kennesaw State, Missouri State, Murray State, UIW/Nicholls State
By my count I have a total of 27 teams still in the pool for sixteen spots. We’ll see if the picture becomes clearer over the next two weeks or if the committee is handed a crapshoot.