FCS Playoff Projections: Selection Show Eve
The regular season is finished, and we are less than 12 hours away from the selection show. The bubble BLEW UP today, so there are still quite a few question marks as to who will be getting in, and who will be missing out. I’ll be categorizing the teams into five categories and including everyone who got six wins. There is a lot to do, so let’s hop right in. NOTE: The Massey rating have not been updated as of the time of this writing, so Massey ratings used are from before this week’s results.
LOCKS (18 TEAMS)
These teams have qualified automatically or are overwhelmingly certain to make it.
o North Dakota State (10-1, Massey #1): The Bison are my #1 seed with ten FCS wins and only one blemish against South Dakota State. As the outright champions of (in this author’s opinion) the best conference in the land (and with Montana State losing) I’d have NDSU as my top team.
o Sam Houston State (10-0, Massey #3): The defending champs won their 21st consecutive game and for my money I think they’ve earned the 2-seed and home field advantage. Their schedule isn’t as challenging as some others, but they are undefeated and defending champs.
o Villanova (9-2, Massey #12): I have the Wildcats as my #3. They have the same number of FCS losses as James Madison and beat the Dukes head-to-head. They also won the CAA autobid. That puts them ahead in my book.
o James Madison (10-1, Massey #10): The Dukes haven’t played as challenging of a schedule as the likes of NDSU and lost their toughest test (vs. Villanova). But they have ten DI wins. Most FCS fans think JMU should be ahead of Villanova, but JMU lost to the Wildcats so I say nah. I have them at #4.
o Sacramento State (9-2, Massey #13): The Big Sky is a mess at the top (in a good way), but Sac State won it outright and they beat Montana in the process. They didn’t have to play EWU or Montana State but beat both the Big Sky playoff teams they played and ran the table in the league. Their only FCS loss was to UNI early in the season. For that reason, I have them at #5.
o Eastern Washington (9-2, Massey #5): The computers are a fan of the Eagles who have an FBS win over UNLV and toppled Montana. They also lost to Montana State and Weber State, but beat Davis. I have them at #6.
o Montana (9-2, Massey #9): Their victory in the Brawl this week gives Montana a signature win to go along with their season opening win at Washington. Their only losses are to Eastern Washington and Sac State. I have them at #7.
o Montana State (9-2, Massey #8): I am surprised that I have MSU falling so far as I likely would have put them at #1 had they won today. Their EWU win is great, but they also have two Pioneer League wins and their best W beyond EWU is Weber State. I have them at #8 now.
o East Tennessee State (10-1, Massey #23): The Bucs won the SoCon automatic bid with an exciting 38-35 win over Mercer today. At 10-1 with an FBS win over Vanderbilt, ETSU is in the seed conversation although I don’t have them getting one.
o Missouri State (8-3, Massey #4): The Bears handled Dixie State with ease today to essentially lock down a bid. With great computer numbers and wins over the likes of South Dakota, Southern Illinois and UNI, Mo State is probably the MVFC’s most likely candidate for a second seed after NDSU.
o South Dakota State (8-3, Massey #2): The Jackrabbits also have great computer numbers and a gigantic win over North Dakota State. They also have an FBS win over Colorado State. But SDSU is just 6-3 overall against the FCS and three FCS losses, I would think, would make it tough to get into the seeding conversation.
o Kennesaw State (10-1, Massey #35): The Owls dismantled Monmouth for the Big South’s automatic bid today. They are undefeated against the FCS which will get them into the seed conversation. But their schedule is severely lacking, so I think they’ll be left on the outside looking in.
o UC-Davis (8-3, Massey #15): The Aggies have 8 DI wins and an FBS victory over Tulsa, but their best FCS win is over Weber State, and they have a bad loss to Idaho State. Davis in in, but not in the conversation for a seed.
o Incarnate Word (9-2, Massey #18): UIW clinched the Southland’s automatic bid after Southeastern Louisiana lost on Thursday and won the league’s outright title with a win over Houston Baptist today.
o UT-Martin (9-2, Massey #25): The Skyhawks clinched the OVC title when SEMO lost last week. It is a good thing too, because they took their first FCS loss at the hands of SEMO today.
o Holy Cross (9-2, Massey #29): They had already clinched the league title, but the Crusaders put a bow on a perfect Patriot League season with a 45-6 win over Bucknell this week.
o Sacred Heart (8-3, Massey #87): The Pioneers clinched the NEC’s automatic berth with today’s 38-14 win over Long Island.
o Davidson (8-2, Massey #109): Davidson clinched the Pioneer League’s automatic berth with a 45-14 win over Drake.
IN GOOD SHAPE (2 TEAMS)
Above, you have 18 teams that can sleep soundly tonight. Below you have two more that are also sleeping pretty well, but I just can’t quite get over the hump to call them stone-cold locks.
o South Dakota (7-4, Massey #11): I had the Coyotes as a lock last week, which may have been just a teeny bit premature. They got completely blown out by NDSU today which gave me cause for pause. I took them out of the lock category but, especially after what happened on the bubble today, they should feel pretty good about their odds.
o Southeastern Louisiana (8-3, Massey #17): SELA lost to Nicholls this week to fall to 8-3 and miss out on a share of the Southland title. They don’t have any eye-popping wins, but with an 8-2 FCS record overall and decent computer numbers they are in good shape considering the state of the bubble.
THE BUBBLE (8 TEAMS)
This is where uncertainty begins. And it is a mess. Most of the teams I previously had as the most likely to get in lost this week, which blows up the bracket and potentially opens the door for 6-5 teams to get into the fold. Last week I had six teams on the bubble for three spots, with five more in the next tier down waiting in the wings. This week, four of the six bubble teams lost and three of the five in the next tier lost. Here is where we stand right now.
o Southern Illinois (7-4, Massey #6): I had the Salukis listed as “in good shape” last week and they are the only team to fall from that category into the bubble in advance of selection Sunday. They got there by losing 35-18 at home to 3-7 Youngstown State in their season finale. SIU does have seven DI wins and a key victory over SDSU which is more than most teams on this list can say. The computers love them too. They would be in deeper trouble had the bubble performed stronger today. As it is they’ll sweat it out, but I think they’ll get in.
o Stephen F Austin (8-3, Massey #28): Going into the week, SFA was one of the bubbliest teams. They were right on either side of the cut line. However, as one of the few teams in that situation that performed well today (42-6 victory over Lamar), they are now sitting relatively pretty. Although they have a non-DI win and do not have any flashy quality wins (their best is probably against a mediocre Eastern Kentucky team) they had a near miss against Texas Tech (28-22) and Sam Houston (21-20). If the committee factors that in, they’re probably a shoo-in with a 7-2 FCS record.
o Florida A&M (9-2, Massey #65): As indicated by their Massey rating, FAMU has played an extremely mediocre SWAC schedule. But they are 8-1 against the FCS with only a one-point loss to Deion Sanders’ Jackson State. Couple that resume with what happened to the bubble contenders today (and the fact that their game with Bethune-Cookman today drew over 60K) and you might have a recipe for the first SWAC playoffs participant in decades.
o Northern Iowa (6-5, Massey #8): I had UNI on my second tier of playoffs contenders last week simply due to their quantity of losses. But four of my six “bubble” teams lost, and three of the other five second tier squads lost too. The Panthers, on the other hand, won 41-3 over Western Illinois. UNI has more quality wins, by far, than anyone else on the bubble. They beat outright Big Sky champion Sacramento State, likely playoff participants South Dakota State and fellow bubble team Southern Illinois. Their only bad loss was to Illinois State (4-7) in OT. If you’re going to include a 6-5 team, and after what happened today you might, UNI is probably the best bet.
o Weber State (6-5, Massey #16): But if not UNI, it would probably be Weber. Another team that played a very challenging schedule, Weber finished with four wins in five games after a 2-4 start. Weber’s worst loss is to 5-6 Portland State, and they have a signature win over Eastern Washington. I’d put them behind UNI because they have fewer quality Ws than the Panthers. But they are very comparable.
o Mercer (7-3, Massey #28): The Bears are on the bubble after a potential game tying field goal in the final seconds against ETSU missed, costing them a shot at the SoCon title. Mercer is 6-2 against the FCS with their entire FCS performance coming against the SoCon. They only scheduled two noncon games and they were against Alabama and a non-DI. Mercer showed they are a good team with their performance against ETSU today, and that might be enough to get them in. Although they have no bad losses, their best win is probably over a 6-5 Chattanooga team. But if the committee watched today, they might have come away impressed even if the Bears lost.
o Rhode Island (7-4, Massey #43): The Rams had a likely path to the postseason today but fell at Elon for their fourth FCS loss. URI must hope that the committee finds all FBS wins to be created equal. Their win over UMass is their biggest positive asset (even though they suuuuuck). But while they are 7-4 from a good league, they did not beat a fully funded team with a winning record this year and lost to two mediocre 6-5 teams (Maine and Elon) and a 4-7 Towson team. They aren’t giving the committee a ton to work with (although neither is the rest of the bubble).
o Nicholls (6-5, Massey #21): The thing that is interesting about Nicholls is they only have three FCS losses as they played two FBS games. They also have no bad losses and finished the year with a great win over likely-playoff-bound Southeastern Louisiana. There aren’t as many notable wins as a UNI, but a 6-3 FCS record doesn’t look bad.
OTHERS IN THE CONVERSATION (5 TEAMS)
These are squads that will get a look by the committee, but I don’t think will get serious consideration.
o William and Mary (6-5, Massey #31): I had the Tribe as one of the top teams on the bubble going into the week, but they lost to Richmond which pretty much ruined it. They have a little intrigue with their win over Villanova. But they lost to pretty much everyone else with a pulse and finished on a three game losing streak. There are at least two 6-5 teams that are more interesting.
o Monmouth (7-4, Massey #33): The Hawks could have played their way in with a victory over Kennesaw today but instead they got punched in the mouth. They simply have no wins of note whatsoever and some mediocre losses. Seems unlikely they’ll get a look.
o Eastern Kentucky (7-4, Massey #38): They are 7-3 against the FCS but have a bad loss to Indiana State and have no wins over anyone with a winning record. I don’t think there’s enough here to be seriously considered.
o Chattanooga (6-5, Massey #26): The Mocs were on the list last week, as they had a big win against East Tennessee State. They still have that win, but now have a bad loss to the Citadel to go along with their bad loss to Austin Peay and there probably simply isn’t enough there at 6-5 to be seriously considered.
o Maine (6-5, Massey #50): Maine has wins over Rhode Island and William and Mary and an FBS W over UMass. They might not make the playoffs, but they may have played a key role in one or two other teams making it if W&M and Rhode Island don’t get in.
NOT LIKELY (14 TEAMS)
These teams got to six wins but are unlikely to be considered.
o Elon (6-5)
o Richmond (6-5)
o North Carolina Central (6-5)
o Norfolk State (6-5)
o Austin Peay (6-5)
o Murray State (6-5)
o Fordham (6-5)
o San Diego (7-4)
o Morehead State (7-4)
o Dayton (6-4)
o Furman (6-5)
o VMI (6-5)
o Albama A&M (7-3)
o Alcorn State (6-5)
And that is it! Looking forward to seeing how it shapes out tomorrow. For what it is worth, I would have the twenty teams listed as “locks” or “in good shape” as in easily. My last four in from the bubble would be Southern Illinois, Stephen F. Austin, Florida A&M and Northern Iowa. My first four out would be Weber State, Mercer, Rhode Island and Nicholls. GO VALLEY!