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FCS Playoffs Bubble Watch (Week 12)
Today I’ll take a look at the FCS bubble on the eve of the final day of the season, and two days before selection Sunday. I’ve put all the teams that can still reach six wins into this document and have categorized them into five categories. I’ll do a run-through of each team by category.
-Locks: These teams will be in the field no matter what happens on Saturday.
-In Good Shape: These are teams that are not quite locks but are looking very good for being included.
-The Bubble: These are the teams that are in the mix but are right on the cut line. They need to win and hope the committee thinks highly enough of them to include them in the bracket.
-Needs Help/Longshots: These teams are in the conversation but are on the soft side of the bubble. They need to win and probably need teams above them on this list to lose to be in the conversation.
-Unlikely: These are teams that can still reach six wins but are unlikely to be included in the field.
LOCKS (14 TEAMS)
These teams will be in the field no matter what happens on Saturday.
o Montana State (9-1, Massey: 7): If MSU wins the Brawl, this would be my #1 seed. They’d be undefeated against the FCS, winners of the nation’s second-best conference, and would have two signature road victories. Even with a loss, the Bobcats are likely a seed.
o North Dakota State (9-1, Massey: 1): The Bison will be a candidate for the #1 seed if they beat South Dakota at home. They could realistically go no lower than 4. They’re probably a seed even if they lose. I have them at #2 right now.
o Sam Houston State (9-0, Massey: 3): The Bearkats have clinched the automatic bid and can put a cap on a perfect season with a win at ACU. Sam has won 20 consecutive games dating back to November 2019. Will the committee give them a top two seed, or will their relatively weaker schedule keep them in the 3-4 range? I have them at #3 right now.
o James Madison (9-1, Massey: 10): It will be interesting to see where JMU and Nova are seeded relative to each other if both win tomorrow. I have them at #4, but they did lose to Villanova and would have the same number of FCS losses.
o Villanova (8-2, Massey: 12): ‘Nova is probably looking at a seed if they beat Delaware on the road as they’d be 9-1 against FCS with a win at JMU and no bad losses. Possibly as high as top 4. They’re my #5 right now.
o Eastern Washington (8-2, Massey: 5): Its been an up-and-down year for the Eagles but they have an FBS win, two signature Ws in conference and no terrible losses. They’re probably looking at a seed with a win over Portland State. I have them at #6 right now.
o Sacramento State (8-2, Massey: 13): If Sac State beats UC-Davis to complete a perfect Big Sky schedule, they are likely looking at a seed. Their only FCS loss is to UNI early in the season. They’re my #7 at the moment.
o Montana (8-2, Massey: 9): If the Griz win the Brawl, they will probably be seeded. They’d have a P5 win (Washington), no bad losses and it would give them the signature FCS win they are currently lacking.
o East Tennessee State (9-1, Massey: 23): The Bucs still have work to do to clinch the SoCon but can probably count on being in the playoffs with their P5 win (Vandy) and 8-1 FCS record. Could even be in with a seed if things fall the right way.
o UC-Davis (8-2, Massey: 15): Aggies are in, but beyond an FBS win over Tulsa their best win is probably Weber State and they have a head scratching loss to Idaho State. Even with a win over Sac State this week they’re only on the bubble for a seed.
o South Dakota (7-3, Massey: 11): The Coyotes cannot pick up a bad loss since they’re playing at NDSU this week so I think they can safely say they’re in. A win puts them in the seed conversation with wins over NDSU and SDSU, although it may not be enough.
o UT-Martin (9-1, Massey: 25): The Skyhawks are undefeated against the FCS but seem unlikely to be seeded due to their weaker SOS. But they have clinched the OVC autobid.
o Incarnate Word (8-2, Massey: 18): Southeastern’s loss to Nicholls yesterday gave UIW the Southland’s automatic bid.
o Holy Cross (8-2, Massey: 29): The Crusaders clinched the Patriot League autobid with a win over Fordham last week.
IN GOOD SHAPE (7 TEAMS)
These are teams that are not quite locks but are looking very good for being included.
o Kennesaw State (9-1, Massey: 35): KSU can clinch the Big South automatic bid with a win at home over Monmouth this weekend. Should they lose, they’d probably still get in with an 8-1 FCS record. But as their Massey rating indicates, they have played an aggressively unchallenging schedule and have nothing even close to a signature or even good win. So, they’d probably have to sweat it out a little bit.
o Missouri State (7-3, Massey: 4): Missouri State is 7-2 against the FCS playing in the best league in the nation and has wins against the likes of South Dakota and Southern Illinois (not to mention North Dakota and UNI). They are probably in. The only thing keeping me from making them a lock is the fact that they lost to 2-7 Youngstown State and play a 1-9 Dixie State on the final week. Should they falter, that would be two very bad losses and they’d be sweating it out a bit on selection Sunday. With a win, they would be in the seed discussion. I actually have them as my #8 seed right now, but I would swap in Montana if they win the Brawl.
o South Dakota State (7-3, Massey: 2): SDSU has an FBS win and a win over North Dakota State. Even if they lost this week to UND, that wouldn’t be a bad loss. So, they are probably in. They’d only have a 5-4 FCS record with a loss, though, as they have an FBS and non-DI win. That was the only reason I didn’t lock them. But they’re in good shape.
o Southern Illinois (7-3, Massey: 6): SIU is 7-2 against the FCS with no bad losses and a win over South Dakota State. They are looking very good and should make it even if they lose to Youngstown. However, that loss would give them a very bad loss, and their only really good win is SDSU so I can’t quite lock them.
o Sacred Heart (7-3, Massey: 87): The Pioneers need only to win against a 2-7 Long Island team to claim the NEC’s automatic bid.
o Davidson (7-2, Massey: 109): Davidson need only to win against 2-7 Drake at home to win the Pioneer League’s automatic bid.
o Southeastern Louisiana (8-3, Massey: 17): The Lions finished the regular season with a loss to Nicholls to put their inclusion in the field somewhat in doubt. SELA is 8-2 against the FCS but their best win is over a 6-5 Nicholls team (who they later lost to). They lost to UIW, the only other good team in the Southland, and their nonconference was not impressive. They’re probably still getting in but can’t feel 100% comfortable about inclusion.
THE BUBBLE (6 TEAMS)
These are the teams that are in the mix but are right on the cut line. They need to win and hope the committee thinks highly enough of them to include them in the bracket. Or win their league’s automatic bid. There are 21 total teams in the “locks” or “in good shape” portion of the list. If you assume all those teams are getting in that would leave three spots for the remaining teams.
o Monmouth (7-3, Massey: 33): If your team is on the bubble (and is not this team), this is the #1 team to root against this week. With no quality wins in what would be a 7-3 FCS record, it doesn’t seem like the Hawks would be in line for an at-large. However, they can clinch the Big South title with a win at Kennesaw State. Based on their recent results relative to Kennesaw’s, I would pick Monmouth as the favorites. Bubble teams should send the Hawks all their bad vibes.
o Mercer (7-2, Massey: 28): Similarly, Mercer can with the SoCon title with a win at ETSU. I think the Bears are less likely to win than the Hawks and have a stronger case for an at-large if they don’t. The problem for Mercer is that they only scheduled ten games, and two were against an FBS (Alabama) and a non-DI. So if they lose, they’d have a 6-2 FCS record entirely within the SoCon. Even with no bad losses and a decent W against Chatty, I don’t personally think that would be enough to get them in. Although it would still keep them in the convo.
o William and Mary (6-4, Massey: 31): As far as true bubble teams go, I think the one with the best case for inclusion is William and Mary. Assuming they beat Richmond, William and Mary would be 7-3 against the FCS and would have a signature win over Villanova. Their two worst losses are to Delaware and Maine who are both 5-5 (and the others are to Virginia and James Madison). That ‘Nova win separates them from the others on this part of the list in my book, but they are truly a bubble squad.
o Rhode Island (7-3, Massey: 43): Right next to the Tribe on the bubble list is Rhode Island. Their biggest claim to be included is that “you can’t leave out an 8-3 team from the CAA….can you”? They have what technically counts as an FBS win over UMass but are otherwise lacking in impressive victories. Assuming they win at Elon, URI would be 7-3 against the FCS with their best win probably coming against 5-5 Delaware (or UMass…..but they really, really suck). They also have mediocre losses to Towson (4-6) and Maine (5-5). At the end of the day, URI has benefitted from a CAA schedule that misses JMU and William & Mary and playing the world’s worst FBS team. Still…..8-3 in the CAA tho. This is an extremely bubbly team.
o Stephen F. Austin (7-3, Massey: 28): Speaking of teams that will likely be 8-3 without much substance, SFA has probably shown more in their losses than their wins. They lost to Texas Tech by only 6 and were one point short of #1 Sam Houston State (their other loss came to 5-5 Jacksonville State). SFA is 7-2 against the FCS and their best wins are probably against 6-4 Eastern Kentucky (who lost at home to Indiana State) and 5-5 Central Arkansas (who lost at home to Mo State), both mediocre teams in their league. If the committee considers competitive losses, that would be to their benefit. Bubbly indeed.
o Florida A&M (8-2, Massey: 65): FAMU plays in the SWAC which does not send its divisional champions to the playoffs but rather the SWAC title game (and then to the Celebration Bowl). Teams that don’t make the ship are eligible for the playoffs, however, and the Rattlers’ AD has been campaigning. FAMU is 7-1 against the FCS (would be 8-1 win a win) with just a week one 1-point loss to Deion Sanders’ Jackson State Tigers as a blemish. As their Massey rating suggests, the Rattlers have amassed their wins against a particularly week slate. Is a stockpile of wins, regardless of quality, enough to give FAMU the first SWAC playoff berth in years? Maybe, actually. We’ll see. But if Monmouth and Mercer lose and I were a betting man, I’d bet on FAMU to be included.
For what its worth, if I had to guess which three the committee would pick (assuming Monmouth and Mercer lose) I would pick William and Mary, Florida A&M and Rhode Island. I could almost toss coin between SFA and Rhody though. The Rams’ “FBS” win was the difference for me…..I guess.
NEEDS HELP/LONGSHOTS (7 TEAMS)
These teams are in the conversation but are on the soft side of the bubble. They need to win and probably need teams above them on this list to lose to be in the conversation.
o San Diego (6-4, Massey: 102): The Torreros need Drake to beat Davidson. If that happens, they can get in with a win over Stetson.
o Bryant (6-4, Massey: 86): If I did my math right (and my assumptions about NEC tiebreakers are accurate), Bryant can win the NEC with a win over Merrimack and a Sacred Heart loss to Long Island.
o Northern Iowa (5-5, Massey: 8): The team with the strongest case on this part of the list is Northern Iowa. No one has the quality wins the Panthers have as they’ve beaten three likely playoff teams in South Dakota State, Southern Illinois and Sacramento State. UNI has only one bad loss (4-6 Illinois State) and even they are ranked 22nd by Massey. The problem is they just have too many losses. With a win this weekend they’d be 6-4 against the FCS (lost by 6 to Iowa State) and it is hard to rationalize a 6-5 team over an 8-3 team like SFA or URI, or a 9-2 team like FAMU. Plus, they’d be the 6th team from their league.
o Weber State (5-5, Massey: 16): Similar problems plague Weber. They have just one iffy loss (5-5 Portland State) and have a great win against Eastern Washington. They don’t have as many good wins as UNI, which is why I’d put them behind the Panthers at this point. They’d also be the 6th team from their league.
o North Dakota (5-5, Massey: 14): If the Fighting Hawks win this weekend over SDSU, they’d be 6-5 and have a signature win (over SDSU). Their losses are to four playoff bound teams and FBS Utah State. They don’t have the number of quality wins as UNI (who they didn’t play) but also don’t have a loss as bad as UNI does to Illinois State. The committee’s priorities would be illustrated if the choice came down to those two somehow.
o Chattanooga (6-4, Massey: 26): Chatty has an interesting profile that includes a bad loss to Austin Peay, a competitive P5 loss to Kentucky (28-22), OK losses at VMI and Mercer, and a huge win against East Tennessee State. Its that ETSU win that puts UTC in the conversation. It would be tough to put them in over two squads (VMI and Mercer) who they lost too, though.
o VMI (6-4, Massey: 46): The Keydets have wins over Chattanooga and Mercer, who would potentially be the other SoCon teams in the conversation. But they have two bad losses (Citadel and Furman) and no signature wins beyond Mercer and Chattanooga. It would be hard to include them above some of the other teams on this list.
UNLIKELY (27 TEAMS)
These are the teams that can still reach six wins, but are unlikely to be included in the field.
o Jacksonville State (5-5)
o Eastern Kentucky (6-4)
o Central Arkansas (5-5)
o Abilene Christian (5-5)
o Portland State (5-5)
o Hampton (5-5)
o North Carolina A&T (5-5)
o Elon (5-5)
o Richmond (5-5)
o Delaware (5-5)
o Maine (5-5)
o North Carolina Central (5-5)
o Delaware State (5-5)
o Norfolk State (6-4)
o Duquesne (6-3)
o St. Francis PA (5-5)
o Austin Peay (5-5)
o Tennessee State (5-5)
o Murray State (5-5)
o Fordham (6-4)
o Morehead State (6-4)
o Marist (5-4)
o Dayton (6-4)
o Furman (5-5)
o Nicholls (6-5)
o Alabama A&M (6-3)
Alcorn State (6-4)
If I have time tomorrow evening, I’ll do another one on the eve of the selection show. But for now that is all I’ve got. GO VALLEY!