FCS Playoff Picture on Selection Show Eve
The regular season is finally done, and the final week gave us a little clarity on the playoff picture. By my count there are fourteen teams I would consider virtual locks and eight more on the bubble with a shot at one of the last two at-large bids. In this article I will review each conference, reveal the fourteen teams I have as “in” and then go through the final eight teams in a little more detail. I’ll reveal my picks for the final two teams that will get in the tournament at the end.
Big Sky Conference There were no eligible Big Sky teams in action this weekend, so their situation remains the same. Weber State (5-0) has the automatic bid and will be a candidate for a top four seed. Eastern Washington (5-1) has won five straight since their opening weekend loss to Idaho and are very likely to get an at-large bid. The only other school in the conversation is UC-Davis (3-2) who was #9 in the committee’s initial rankings on April 1st but only played (and lost) one game since that time. Both EWU and WSU are possible host sites for round one.
My Prediction: Weber State is in with the autobid, and Eastern Washington will get an at-large. UC-Davis is on the bubble for me.
Big South Conference Neither Big South Contender played this week, so they both played the waiting game. For Monmouth (3-0), who clinched the autobid with a 42-17 win over Kennesaw State, the wait is a lot less tenuous. They know they are in and are just waiting to find out where they are headed for round one. Kennesaw State (4-1) waited with their fingers crossed and their lucky rabbit foot in hand. The Owls are very much on the bubble. KSU has no noteworthy wins and got blown out in their game against Monmouth. The Owls must hope their recent history of success in the postseason (winning at least one game three years straight), and their ability to host a game gets them the benefit of the doubt. They got blown out by Monmouth last year and both teams ended up getting playoff wins so perhaps that will play a factor.
My Prediction: Monmouth is obviously in with the automatic bid. Kennesaw State is on the bubble.
Colonial Athletic Association It was a clean finish for the CAA as Delaware and James Madison both won their final games. Delaware (5-0) was voted as league champion over the Dukes after their 27-20 win over Villanova. The Blue Hens were ranked 7th in the committee’s April 1 rankings and have a chance at a seed. James Madison (5-0) was not chosen as the league champion but that is likely not going to have an impact on their postseason prospects. They were ranked #1 in the April 1 rankings and have a great shot at being named the #1 seed. They are a lock for an at-large bid. For Richmond (3-1), it is much murkier. With only one loss playing in one of the better leagues in FCS, they will be a candidate for an at-large. But they struggled mightily in today’s 23-6 loss to JMU, only putting up 200 yards of offense. It may not have been a good enough showing for a team with only three wins….two of which came against one team. Villanova (2-2) represented well this season, but at 2-2 after today’s 27-20 loss to Delaware the Wildcats are probably out of the picture.
My Prediction: Delaware has the automatic bid, and James Madison is a stone-cold lock for an at-large. I think James Madison will be seeded and UD will just miss out, but both will host first round games. Villanova is out. I’m putting Richmond on the bubble.
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference The MEAC will not have an automatic bid, but I still think they need be included here after South Carolina State (3-1) beat Delaware State to finish the season with one loss. I don’t know if I think two wins over DSU and a win over Alabama State warrants an at-large bid. But their loss is to a good Alabama A&M team, and they have a win over Alabama State who is no pushover. There is a chance the committee will give them the benefit of the doubt as the only reason they aren’t an automatic bid winner is Howard’s inability to travel due to DC COVID guidelines. I’m not saying they’re getting in (at least not yet), but I am just saying they should be on the radar.
My Prediction: I’m putting the Bulldogs on the bubble. We’ll sort this out later.
Missouri Valley Football Conference For the first time in a decade, the NDSU Bison are not MVFC Champions. Three teams claim a share of the MVFC spoils this year, but none are the Bison after South Dakota State (5-1) toppled NDSU in Fargo by a score of 27-17 today. The Jackrabbits are likely to be seeded after their road win gave them four straight Ws following their week 2 loss to North Dakota. They are officially in the field no matter what after being declared the MVFC’s automatic bid. North Dakota State (5-2, 6-2 including fall) will have to settle for an at-large bid, which they will likely get at 5-2 in the spring with a good win over North Dakota on the resume. North Dakota (4-1) had their game against Youngstown cancelled and also can claim a share of the MVFC title. They can feel pretty good about getting an at-large bid with wins over SIU and SDSU on their resume, and only a loss to NDSU as a blemish. They still haven’t played since that 34-13 loss to NDSU on March 20th. After that it starts to get interesting. Missouri State (5-1, 5-4 including fall) is also an MVFC co-champion. As the co-winner of a league with at least three likely teams, one would think they would have a decent shot at an at-large bid. The rub is that they only played one of those three teams (a 25-0 loss to NDSU) and had three fall losses. Southern Illinois (4-3, 5-3 including fall) went out and got themselves a 55-48 win over another bubble team in Southeastern Louisiana. It will be tough to get into this field with three losses, but to their credit SIU’s losses were all to good teams (SDSU, Mo State, UND) and they have a blowout win over NDSU as well.
My Prediction: SDSU has the automatic bid and I think NDSU and UND are locks to get in with at-large bids. Mo State and Southern Illinois will settle this on the bubble.
Northeast Conference The NEC season has been in the can for a week now, as Sacred Heart (3-1) won the title over Duquesne in a thrilling OT game last weekend. The Pioneers will find out where they are headed for round one tomorrow.
My Prediction: Sacred Heart will be in the playoffs as the lone Northeast Conference rep.
Ohio Valley Conference There were no OVC games this weekend so Jacksonville State (6-1, 9-2 including fall), who claimed the Ohio Valley Conference automatic bid by winning at Murray last week, rested up and waited for news about their draw. The Gamecocks are a squad that would benefit by having their full schedule considered (fall included). They know they’ll be in, but they don’t know whether they’ll get the opportunity to host. For that bit of information, we’ll have to wait until tomorrow. As for Murray state (5-2), while the Racers were ranked tenth in the committee’s initial rankings, they went 0-2 since that time. A 5-2 record is decent, but there isn’t a lot of meat on those bones. A lot went right today, though, for a weak bubble and the Racers are a great story. Perhaps that is enough to get them in.
My Prediction: Jacksonville State has the autobid locked up. Murray State will be on the bubble.
Patriot League I picked Bucknell to win the Patriot League title because of all the obstacles Holy Cross was going to have to overcome to even get to the title game. They hadn’t played a game since March 27, and their entire athletic department was put on pause early in the week. Those pauses oftentimes linger, but even if it doesn’t (and it didn’t), Holy Cross would still lose half their practice week. All of those things didn’t matter, though, as the Crusaders thrashed the Bison by a score of 33-10 in today’s league title game.
My Prediction: Holy Cross will be the Patriot League’s lone rep in the playoffs.
Pioneer League COVID may have bailed out Davidson (4-2). A COVID issue in the Stetson program cancelled this weekend’s game between the Wildcats and the Hatters. That eliminated Davidson’s opportunity to lose/choke and hand the title to San Diego. The Wildcats did not care about the circumstances and unapologetically started celebrating immediately. And why shouldn’t they? It wasn’t their fault. Don’t feel too bad for San Diego, they ended losing to Valpo anyway. Had Davidson played and lost, there would have been a four-way tie atop the standings. Let the Wildcats celebrate and look forward to being in the playoffs.
My Prediction: Davidson will be the lone Pioneer League rep in the playoffs.
Southern Conference The Keydets got it done. VMI (6-1) jumped out to an early lead and never looked back in beating their rivals, The Citadel, 31-17. VMI had their first winning season since 1981 and captured their first league title since 1977 with the victory that was played in front of a sellout crowd at home. The Keydets will be in the FCS playoffs with the automatic bid. It wasn’t as good of a day for Mercer (5-3, 5-6 including fall) who came into the day needing a win and some help to claim the SoCon for themselves. They got neither the win, nor the help, as the Bears got blown out by Samford 44-20. The loss probably puts the Bears’ playoff hopes on ice, but it brings ETSU (4-2) back into the picture. The Buccaneers lost their regular season finale at Mercer but have the only win by a SoCon team over VMI. They don’t have a mind-blowing resume but that quality win keeps them in the conversation.
My Prediction: VMI is in with the title and good for them. I think you can still talk about Mercer, but I just don’t see them getting in at this point. That leaves ETSU who I think is on the bubble.
Southland Conference Sam Houston State (6-0) left no doubt, beating UIW 42-14 to sew up their perfect regular season. The Bearkats were ranked 4th in the April 1 committee poll, and I think their performance since has put them in a prime spot for a seed. I think they will get one. The rest of the league more-or-less eliminated themselves either today or with their previous performances. Hand it to Southeastern Louisiana (4-3) for taking a shot by going on the road and playing fellow bubble team SIU. But their loss today probably sealed their fate. Same for UIW (3-3) who would have been in the conversation with an upset of Sam Houston.
My Prediction: The Southland will have a seeded team in Sam Houston but no at-large teams.
The Bubble (Two Spots Left) With ten automatic bids in the bag and four at-larges likely in the bag as well (Eastern Washington, NDSU, UND and James Madison), that leaves two spots left to be claimed. For me there are eight teams that are in the running for those two spots. Let’s run them down, and then I will reveal my picks for the final two teams to be included.
-UC-Davis (3-2, Big Sky): The Aggies finished third in what is considered a power conference (although with five opt outs I am not sure its as strong as it typically would be this spring). Their losses are both to playoff teams and both were competitive. They were also ranked in the committee’s April 1 poll (#9). On the flip side, they have no wins over teams with a winning record, and with just three wins overall they are lacking in that category as well.
-Kennesaw State (4-1, Big South): The Owls have only one loss and a history of postseason success. They have won playoff games each of the last three years. They are also a possible host site for the playoffs which could give them an edge. On the flip side the Big South is bad, and they lost by 25 to its best team (Monmouth). Their nonconference wins came against a D2 and a transitioning D1 from D2.
-Richmond (3-1, CAA): The CAA is one of the best leagues in the nation (typically), and the Spiders are the only team outside the top two in the conference with a shot at the playoffs. It is hard to leave out a one-loss CAA team. But if you are going to do it, it would be one who only has three wins and two of them came against a team that had no wins over a DI scholarship team.
-South Carolina State (3-1, MEAC): South Carolina State are de facto MEAC champions, and the MEAC was supposed to get an automatic berth this year. SCSU would likely have gotten that automatic berth had they been able to schedule a game against Howard. Unfortunately, COVID made that impossible. In addition, SCSU’s loss to Alabama A&M (which took place all the way back on March 6) isn’t a bad one as AAMU is winning the SWAC. Alabama State is a decent win too. However, there is no true quality win here, and two of their wins are against the same team. Also, the loss to Alabama A&M was a blowout while their wins were all close.
-Missouri State (5-1, 5-4 Including Fall, MVFC): Does the fall count? We don’t really know. But Missouri State won a share of the MVFC which is one of the best (if not the best) conferences in the nation. Hard to leave out a 5-1 MVFC team, but its easy to leave out one that is 5-4. So, does fall count? It likely wouldn’t matter as much if the Bears had beaten any of the MVFC’s elite teams but they lost 25-0 to NDSU and didn’t play either of the others. They did beat Southern Illinois though, and they can host a game.
-Southern Illinois (4-3, 5-3 Including Fall, MVFC): SIU has almost certainly played the toughest schedule of anyone on this list. They have the best win of anyone on this list as well, with a 38-14 shellacking of North Dakota State. They also went out and made a statement by scheduling and beating fellow bubble team Southeastern Louisiana on the final week of the season. Their three losses are the most of any team on this list (although all three were against possible playoff teams). They got blown out in two of those losses. If anyone deserves to get in this field with three losses it is SIU. That head-to-head-loss to Missouri State stings, though.
-Murray State (5-2, Ohio Valley): MSU hasn’t been good at football for awhile and their 5-2 finish is a great story. They were #10 in the committee’s April 1st rankings. However, they lost their final two games after that ranking was released. They now have a loss to a mediocre Austin Peay team and all their wins came over mediocre-to-bad OVC teams. Is a good story and the ability to host enough to get them in?
-East Tennessee State (4-2, SoCon): The Bucs sort of fell off the playoff radar when they lost to at Mercer last week but have reemerged after the Bears’ loss to Samford this week. ETSU’s loss to Mercer isn’t too bad, and Furman is probably better than their record indicates. The Bucs have the best win of anyone on this list other than SIU with their road W over SoCon champion VMI. That and the closeness of their losses to Furman and Mercer are their advantage. The closeness of their wins and lack of quality wins beyond VMI is their weakness.
My Picks To Be The Last Two In: I’ll start this by saying I do not envy the committee this year. You could really put these eight teams into a hat and draw two to be the participants. There isn’t a lot of noncon data to compare strength between leagues, so you’re relying on the eye test quite a bit. With all that said, I am going with Missouri State as one of my picks. As MVFC co-champ at 5-1, it doesn’t really matter to me that they don’t have a mind-blowing win as most of the other teams on this list do not have a mind blowing win either. In fact, their win over SIU is better than any other wins on this list besides SIU’s win over NDSU and possibly ETSU’s win over VMI. There are only three reasons MSU wouldn’t get in in my opinion. One, fall results matter more than most of us think. Two, the committee is committed to spreading bids around to different leagues and doesn’t want to give the MVFC four (which makes sense on some level since there isn’t much noncon data this year). Or three, they decide to go with SIU instead. While I can very easily make an argument for both MSU and SIU, I really don’t think they’ll give 66% of the at-large bids to one league. SIU has a better win than MSU, and played a much, much tougher schedule than the Bears. They went through the gauntlet of NDSU, SDSU, UND and Southeastern LA. MSU only played NDSU of that group, and lost that game 25-0. However, I think the difference will be MSU’s head-to-head win over SIU and that is what will get them in. With MSU in, I went ahead and disqualified SIU from the other spot since I don’t think one league will get five teams in. With the remaining six teams you have four with no good wins and no bad losses (SCSU, UC-D, KSU, and UR). You have one with no good wins and one kind of bad loss (Murray). And you have one with one good win and one kind of bad loss (ETSU). At this point you are really splitting hairs and I had to find a way to pick someone. Three of the four teams with no good wins or bad losses got blown out in their losses to good teams. Since they were uncompetitive in their chance to prove themselves, I got rid of UR, SCSU and KSU. They had their chance and didn’t represent. UC-Davis was competitive against Weber and Eastern Washington, but never got over the hump in two tries against quality teams and for that I couldn’t get over the hump with them. I don’t think Murray has the meat on the resume to get the bid. That leaves me with East Tennessee State. And I am going with the Bucs for the last spot. I think that win over VMI is what separates them from the field and so they will be the last team in.
By my count, here are the teams I have in the field.
Big Sky (2): Weber State, Eastern Washington (Also Considered: UC Davis) Big South (1): Monmouth (Also Considered: Kennesaw State) CAA (2): James Madison, Delaware, (Also Considered: Richmond) MEAC (0): (Considered: South Carolina State) MVFC (4): NDSU, SDSU, North Dakota, Missouri State (Also Considered: SIU) Northeast (1): Sacred Heart Ohio Valley (1): Jacksonville State (Also Considered: Murray State) Patriot League (1): Holy Cross Pioneer League (1): Davidson Southern (2): VMI, ETSU Southland (1): Sam Houston State
And that is it. We’ll see how my picks stack up in a few hours. I don’t envy the committee’s task. If you’re still with me, thank you for reading and good luck to your teams!