It's the time of year again where I use a magical, secret formula to prognosticate which teams may be playoff-bound the weekend after Thanksgiving... and the teams who will be looking ahead to 2011. You might know it as ten conferences, ten autobids and the scrum for the at-large bids - but there's no denying it's here. The playoffs are almost here, and it's time to see who's probably in, and who's probably out.
By Chuck Burton
College Sporting News
The addition of two new autobid conferences and two new at-large bids did cause me to change my formula slightly, a system which may or may not contain: a rating to explain exactly how bad Virginia Tech and Akron would be if they played in FCS; how a butterfly which flaps its wings in the Susquehanna affects the schedule strength of Savannah State; and how an earthquake in South Dakota affects the playoff hopes all the FCS schools west of the Mississippi river.
I crunched all the numbers, and I have come up with projections based on every eligible teams schedule and came up with who if the playoffs were held today would be in the field. Let's find out which teams are the odds-on favorites to become "America's Top Twenty" this year.
Big Sky Conference:
With their 30-7 win over Eastern Washington
, Montana State
is in the drivers' seat for the autobid with three games to go, but if they falter the Eagles are right there, with only 1-7 Idaho State left on the conference slate. If Montana State loses a conference game and the unlikely event that Eastern Washington falls to Idaho State, Montana
and Weber State
could have an opening for a Big Sky co-championship, but they cannot win the autobid since they lose tiebreakers to Eastern Washington. Projection: Eastern Washington.
Big South Conference:
With so many conference games to go, five teams are still in the running, but it's two undefeated teams that seem like they're on a collision course: Liberty
, who survived a scare against 1-7 Presbyterian last weekend, 34-24, and Stony Brook
, who - despite their loss to 2-6 Lafayette a few weeks ago - could, after beating Charleston Southern 41-21, be playing for the Big South title on November 20th if they can win their next two games. Coastal Carolina
could, if they beat Liberty in two weeks, be rooting for the Seawolves to lose twice - if that happens and the Chanticleers win out, they would win the Big South autobid. Gardner-Webb
could also get into the conversation if they win out, but they need help. Projection: Liberty.
Colonial Athletic Association:
No fewer than five teams are in contention for the CAA championship, with three teams currently tied with one league loss each. William & Mary
is ever so slightly in the drivers seat, but Delaware
are right on their heels. Should all three schools lose one more time - not an outlandish possibility at all - New Hampshire
are sitting with two conference losses, and could at least get a co-championship if they win out. If there are four or more teams with two conference losses at the end of the year, it could very well be that the autobid will go to the winner of a coin flip. Projection: William & Mary.
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference:
Squarely in the driver's seat is undefeated Bethune Cookman
, but they still have to face two teams very much with the MEAC championship and autobid on their minds: Hampton
and Florida A&M
. If the Pirates upset the Wildcats this weekend, their matchup against Florida A&M the following weekend will loom very, very large. Hampton, Bethune Cookman, Florida A&M and South Carolina State
all could finish the regular season with one conference loss and be at worst co-champions of the MEAC as long as Bethune Cookman loses at least once. Of the one-loss teams, Bethune Cookman, South Carolina State, Florida A&M, and Hampton could all win the autobid: in that order of tiebreaker. Projection: Bethune Cookman.
Missouri Valley Football Conference:
Handicapping the winner of this conference is anybody's guess. Only Northern Iowa,
with only one conference loss, sits in the driver's seat in control of their destiny, with Western Illinois, Missouri State
and - yes - Indiana State
still in consideration. A win by the Sycamores over the Panthers - which would only be their third over UNI over the last twenty years, if it happens - would put all sorts of scenarios in play, including opening the door a crack for three-loss teams North Dakota State
, South Dakota State
and Southern Illinois
to at least win a co-championship. It's impossible at this point to go through all the scenarios, but Northern Iowa can help everyone's prognostications by winning this weekend, and making it easier. Projection: Northern Iowa.
The NEC features two teams who are undefeated in league play and who face off against each other this weekend: Robert Morris
, who throttled Duquesne 34-11 last weekend, and Central Connecticut State
, who beat Wagner this past weekend 38-20. If the Colonials beat the Blue Devils, they will clinch the autobid no matter what happens in the final weekend of the season vs. Bryant; if Central Connecticut State wins, and beats Monmouth the following week, they will be the NEC champions. Monmouth
can still get into the discussion to become NEC co-champion- if everything falls just right - but after their loss to Sacred Heart last weekend, they cannot qualify for an autobid. The autobid will either go to the Colonials or the Blue Devils. Projection: Robert Morris.
Ohio Valley Conference:
At last, a conference which is easy to determine. Two teams - Jacksonville State
and Southeast Missouri State
- are undefeated in league play. If the Redhawks win when they face off against the Gamecocks in two weeks, they will be OVC champions. If Jacksonville State wins - and win the rest of their games - they will finish the season undefeated and they will win the title. If the Redhawks lose to the Gamecocks and Jacksonville State loses their other two games, Southeast Missouri State will be OVC champions. Projection: Southeast Missouri State.
In the driver's seat right now is Lehigh
, who is undefeated in league play. If they beat Holy Cross
this weekend, and Lafayette
- still, incredibly, in contention with a 2-6 record - loses to Colgate
, they will guarantee at least a share of the Patriot League championship and would win it outright with a win over Georgetown
the following week. If Lehigh loses all three games, it opens up all sorts of possibilities to every other school in the league, including Bucknell
. Projection: Lehigh.
Three teams could potentially be co-champions of the SoCon: Appalachian State, Wofford
. The Terriers face off against both the Mocs and Mountaineers in consecutive weeks to close the year, and that should determine the SoCon champion. Chattanooga has to hope both Appalachian State loses to Georgia Southern this weekend and Samford upsets Wofford - that, coupled with a Wofford win against the Mountaineers in two weeks, would make their season-ending game vs. the Terriers for a potential co-championship. Projection: Appalachian State.
It wouldn't be playoff season without a complete playoff mess in the Southland. Stephen F. Austin
seemed in complete control of their title destiny until their incomprehensible 27-24 fall-from-ahead loss to 4-4 Texas State. If the Lumberjacks win their next two games - and Northwestern State
, also at 3-1 in the Southland, does the same vs. Southeast Louisiana and Nicholls State - the Demons and Lumberjacks will not only battle for the "Chief Cadoo" trophy on November 20th, they'll also be battling for the Southland championship and the playoff autobid. Waiting in the weeds is McNeese State
, who could benefit from an upset against either team if they win out, and Central Arkansas
, who would would also benefit from more losses around the Southland. Only McNeese State, Stephen F. Austin and Northwestern State can win the autobid, however. Projection: Stephen F. Austin.
The Ten At-Larges:
It is an imperfect indicator, but using my own special mix of the GPI, not considering six D-I win teams, and subtracting our conference champions, the current projected at-large teams are:
The field has some shocking omissions: notably, Montana
(one loss puts them at six D-I wins), South Carolina State
(who could finish at 9-2, but have a comparably weaker schedule), Richmond
and James Madison
(who, like Montana, are one loss away from six D-I wins), and North Dakota State
(ditto). All of these bubble teams, with wins, will probably find themselves back into the fold for the at-large bids, including notables like Chattanooga
and Georgia Southern
, which need to win out to have a chance.
In addition, the projections have 10-1 Jacksonville, out of the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League, and Cal Poly, who were not Great West Conference champions, in the field. Dayton
, who could be co-champions with the Dolphins, are not in the mix due to their loss to Duquesne of the NEC, and Southern Utah
, who were the Great West conference champions but only can attain six Division I wins.
To close this out, let's take a look at some potential first and second-round matchups, shall we?
Seeds: No. 1 Appalachian State, No. 2 William & Mary, No. 3 Delaware, No. 4 Eastern Washington
First-Round Byes: Villanova, Jacksonville State, Wofford, New Hampshire, Stephen F. Austin, Northern Iowa, Southeast Missouri State, Western Illinois
Jacksonville @ Bethune Cookman, to play No. 1 Appalachian State
Stephen F. Austin at Jacksonville State
Robert Morris @ UMass, to play No. 2 William & Mary
Western Illinois at Southeast Missouri State
Lehigh @ Liberty, to play No. 3 Delaware
New Hampshire at Northern Iowa
Cal Poly @ Montana State to play No. 4 Eastern Washington
Wofford at Villanova
If you're an FCS fan and this doesn't get you excited for the playoffs, you need to get your pulse checked.
Robert Morris 35, Central Connecticut State 31 - The game of the year in the NEC ends up being yet another one to remember for the Colonials.Dayton 31, Drake 28 - The Flyers continue their bid to be co-champions of the Pioneer Football League. But because a scheduling quirk means that Jacksonville and Dayton do no play each other, if both finish at 10-1 we'll never know who should have been champion.
Jackson State 35, Alabama State 33 - All signs point to a Grambling State/Jackson State SWAC championship game.Lehigh 31, Holy Cross 27 - Lehigh has big momentum going into Worcester this weekend, but Holy Cross has been here before. It should be a thriller.Picking the Sports Network Top 25
No. 25 North Dakota State 25, Southern Illinois 24 - Seriously, isn't every Norris Division - I mean, Missouri Valley Conference game - involved in some way in the title race?
No. 23 Jacksonville 56, Butler 7 - The Dolphins' policy of running up the score continues to provide benefits. But just wait until they play Bethune-Cookman in the first round.
No. 20 Richmond 16, No. 22 James Madison 12 - With these defensive-minded depleted teams, it would not surprise me to see, say, three safeties on the afternoon.
No. 21 Grambling State 42, Concordia (AL) (D-II) 6 - RB Frank Warren should really be able to pile up some yards here.
No. 19 Cal Poly 51, South Dakota 31 - The Coyotes are thrilled they're going to be joining the Missouri Valley football conference next year. The Mustangs will be thrilled to send them away from the Great West with a lopsided loss.
No. 18 Penn 35, Princeton 0 - The lone undefeated team in the Ivy League should cruise to victory against the hapless Tigers.
No. 17 Northern Iowa 37, Indiana State 3 - I'd love to see the upset, but I have to believe that the Sycamores aren't ready to stomp on a perennial playoff team like Northern Iowa.
No. 16 South Carolina State 30, Howard 0 - Buddy Pough has to have seen Jacksonville's running up the scores to get higher rankings. With the Bulldog's ineffective offense, though, thirty will have to do in terms of blowout.
No. 15 UMass 27, Maine 23 - While the Minutemen rightfully should celebrate their win over James Madison, the Black Bears would like nothing better than to upset the CAA apple cart with a big win.
No. 14 Liberty 30, Gardner-Webb 27 - As great as the Flames have been, I have a feeling the Bulldogs - who have an outside chance at the title and autobid - will really bring the heat here.
Weber State 35, No. 12 Montana State 20 - Playing a hunch that the Wildcats, looking to finish strong, will impress the playoff committee with a couple of pelts from Montana to show them - one Grizzly, one Bobcat.
No. 11 Bethune-Cookman 14, Hampton 13 - This could be a serious upset watch game, with the Pirates with everything to play for. I still think the Wildcats are too strong, however.
No. 10 Stephen F. Austin 37, Nicholls State 7 - After last weekend, all I know is I would not be surprised if my rational pick here were completely incorrect.
No. 9 Southeast Missouri State 35, Southwest Baptist (D-II) 3 - It will be a fine exhibition game before the Jacksonville State game next weekend.
No. 8 New Hampshire 31, No. 4 William & Mary 23 - The Wildcats have been playing playoff games since mid-October, while the banged-up Tribe have not.
No. 7 Wofford 38, Samford 13 - The Dinosaur Bone offense shows the Bulldogs how it's done.
No. 5 Delaware 27, Towson 0 - Fresh off the bye, K.C. Keeler and company take care of business at home against the Tigers.
No. 3 Villanova 35, Rhode Island 3 - The Wildcats rarely fall into trap games, especially lately.
No. 2 Jacksonville State 35, Eastern Kentucky 13 - The Colonels - remember them? - seemed to stop playing a long time ago, and the Gamecocks, in case you hadn't heard, are still undefeated.
Georgia Southern 35, No. 1 Appalachian State 34 - At home, with all that hatred and the fact that it's for sure a game the Eagles have to have to make the playoffs, Georgia Southern channels Erk Russell and finds a way to throw the SoCon for a loop.