It will be a wild final weekend of regular season play in the Football Championship Subdivision as a host of teams scramble for auto bids and at-large berths in the expanded 20-team playoff field
By Chuck Burton
College Sporting News
I'm just going to go out and say it: thank you, Northern Iowa. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for winning last weekend and making my job of projecting the remainder of the FCS playoff field much, much easier.
I really didn't want to study all those Missouri Valley tiebreaker scenarios involving teams with three losses. (Maybe Stephen Hawking could figure it out, but I'm just glad that the questions don't need to be entertained.)
That doesn't mean that this weekend is devoid of any drama, however. Far from it.
The expansion of the FCS playoff field to 20 teams has made this weekend a mad dash for everything: seeding, at-large places, first-round byes, everything.
While a few more teams have punched their tickets to the playoffs — and some are mortal locks for an at-large bid whether they lose or not — the positioning of many of these teams are way, way up in the air.
It's going to make for a very bumpy final weekend in terms of playoff seeding.
For my projection the rest of the playoff field, I needed to go back to my playoff formula once again, a system which may or may not contain: the amount of wins that Penn in the playoffs this year would have if the Ivy League let their champion receive an autobid into the playoffs; the margin of victory that Jackson State needs to have this weekend in order to get into the conversation for at-large playoff berth; and the fictional result of matchup between Jacksonville of the Pioneer Football League and Sacramento State of the Big Sky.
Let's see what the crystal ball come up with this week.
Big Sky Conference:
If Montana State
in the 110th meeting of the "Brawl of the Wild", they will win the Big Sky auto bid. If they lose to the Griz, Eastern Washington
is still right there, with only 1-7 Idaho State left to beat. If both lose, Montana would be Big Sky co-champions along with the Eagles and Bobcats, but they cannot win the autobid since they lose on tiebreakers. Montana almost certainly needs to win to make the field, the Eagles and Bobcats are in no matter what happens. Projection: Eastern Washington.
Big South Conference:
Pity poor Liberty
, who royally put their postseason hopes in jeopardy with a 45-31 loss to Coastal Carolina
, who emphatically placed themselves in the Big South race this weekend. With the Flames and Seawolves facing off against each other this weekend, Stony Brook
can make this real easy: win, and they go undefeated in the Big South and get their first-ever appearance in the FCS playoffs with a 7-4 record. But a Liberty victory — and a win by Coastal over their bitter end-of-year rivals, Charleston Southern — would make a tiebreaker scenario that will have the NCAA breaking out their calculators. While the Chanticleers and Seawolves absolutely need to win to be in, Liberty has a slight chance — albeit a very slight one — to make the field even with a loss. Projection: Stony Brook
Colonial Athletic Association:
While William & Mary
's defeat last weekend put them out of the driver's seat and put Delaware
firmly in it, the outcomes - Villanova's loss to New Hampshire, UMass' loss to Delaware - simplified the CAA's autobid situation immensely. If the Blue Hens beat Villanova this weekend, they're the CAA champs and owners of the auto bid. If they lose, the Tribe win a co-championship and win the auto bid, thanks to their head-to-head 17-16 win over Delaware a few weeks ago. If both lose, Delaware is the CAA conference champion and auto bid winner since they'd be the only team with two conference losses. No matter what, though, both teams are playoff locks, either as the auto bid or at-large. Projection: Delaware.
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference:
has one goal: beat Florida A&M
in the "Florida Classic", and the Wildcats finish with a rare undefeated regular season and win the MEAC championship and auto bid. A loss would give a three-way tie for the championship, giving the Wildcats, Rattlers, and (potentially) South Carolina State (If the Bulldogs beat North Carolina A&T this weekend) a shared title — but in that scenario, Bethune-Cookman gets the autobid due to conference tiebreakers. Should Florida A&M win and North Carolina A&T upset South Carolina State, the Rattlers will snatch the auto bid away from the Wildcats. Bethune-Cookman is a lock for the playoffs no matter what happens: the Bulldogs and Rattlers need to win, and the Rattlers must hope for a bunch of upsets, to have a chance to make it as an at-large. Projection: Bethune-Cookman.
Missouri Valley Football Conference
: By beating Missouri State 38-14 last weekend, and Southern Illinois' 20-10 upset victory over Western Illinois, Northern Iowa
has clinched the Missouri Valley Conference championship.
Northeast Conference: Robert Morris
clinched the auto bid two weeks ago with their win over Central Connecticut State. The Colonels' 27-21 loss to Bryant didn't affect their playoff chances, though it might have hurt their slim chances of hosting a first-round game.
Ohio Valley Conference:
If Jacksonville State
wins this weekend over Tennessee Tech, they will be the OVC champions and will win the auto bid. If the Gamecocks lose, Southeast Missouri State
, whose regular season is complete, will be champions and will be guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. The Gamecocks have an outside shot at a seed if they win; lose, and they may be playing the weekend after Thanksgiving. Projection: Jacksonville State.
With their 24-7 win over Georgeto[COLOR=rgb(0, 0, 0)]w
punched its ticket for the playoffs with sole possession of the Patriot League championship. While the 146th meeting of Lehigh and Lafayette — college football's most-played rivalry — is only for bragging rights, the Mountain Hawks will almost certainly need to win Saturday to either get a first-round bye or to host a game.
Southern Conference: Appalachian State
won the auto bid with a dominating 43-13 win over Wofford. If the Mountaineers manage to beat FBS Florida in the Swamp, they're almost a lock for the No. 1 seed; but they're likely a high seed even if they lose.
If Stephen F. Austin
wins this weekend over Northwestern State in the "Battle for Chief Caddo", the Lumberjacks will be Southland champs, win the auto bid and have a real shot at one of the lower seeds. If SFA loses, it opens up the door for McNeese State
, who must get past Central Arkansas to have a shot at the playoffs (since the Cowboys' win against transitional Lamar would not count as a D-I win, and they would only have six). If both lose, the Lumberjacks, Cowboys and Demons would be co-champions of the Southland — and Northwestern State
would win the auto bid. SFA would almost certainly earn an at-large berth, even with a loss. Projection: Stephen F. Austin.
The At-Large Race
Along with the usual suspects, there are some very intriguing teams that don't play in autobid conferences that could become playoff-eligible and have a chance for hope going into this weekend.
(While 8-1 Penn and 7-2 Yale would be playoff-eligible, the 50-plus-year-old ban on postseason play means the Ivy League, once again, will be sitting on the sidelines come playoff time. A shame, too, since the Quakers have the sort of team that could make an intriguing run through the playoffs this year.)
While the regular seasons of Dayton
(10-1) and Jacksonville
(10-1) are over, both teams are Pioneer Football League co-champions and could - with some help - make it into the playoff field. The Dolphins' chances appear to be better than the Flyers' — their only loss came to Appalachian State, who is likely to be a high seed — but it will be dependent on other potential teams not making the field.
Also, FCS independent Old Dominion
, if they beat North Carolina Central this weekend, can get to seven D-I wins and become playoff-eligible. However, the Monarchs would seem to be sitting behind Jacksonville, who beat them 35-25 to open the year.
In the auto-bid conferences, there are a host of teams that cannot win automatic berths, but are already eligible, and can play their way into the tournament as well. The list is:
(9-1). A mortal lock for an at-large bid and probably a first-round bye. If the Blue Hens beat 6-4 Villanova this weekend, they have a really good shot at the No. 1 overall seed, unless Appalachian State upsets FBS Florida.
Southeast Missouri State
(9-2). A lock for an at-large bid, with their only losses coming to FBS Ball State and nationally-ranked Jacksonville State. The question is, though, will the Redhawks get a first-round bye?
(8-2). Another mortal lock, and another strong candidate for a seed as long as the Eagles get by 1-9 Idaho State.
(8-2). A mortal lock for a first-round bye, thanks to their upset of FBS Ole Miss in week one and the Gamecocks' last-minute win against Southeast Missouri State last weekend. If JSU wins against Tennessee Tech, a seed is almost certain.
(8-2). The Bobcats a lock, no matter how the "Brawl of the Wild" turns out. But if they win, they will be a strong candidate to be a seed. If Montana State wins, it is a mortal lock for a seed.
South Carolina State
(8-2). A win this weekend will put the Bulldogs at 9-2, with their only losses coming to (potentially) undefeated Bethune-Cookman and SEC East champion South Carolina — but, on the flip side, without any real impressive wins. If there are a lot of losses with potential bubble teams in the CAA, SoCon and Missouri Valley, their history with tough playoff battles vs. Appalachian State will probably mean they make the field as a first round game, perhaps even as a host.
Stephen F. Austin
(8-2). If the Lumberjacks keep Chief Caddo, they'll win the auto bid, earn a first-round bye, and even have a shot at a seed. If they lose, they'll still be in the field but they'll probably be playing Thanksgiving weekend, maybe even on the road.
(8-2). The Terriers are a lock for a playoff spot. Whether they play on Thanksgiving weekend or get a first-round bye depends if they can beat 6-4 Chattanooga this weekend.
(7-3). While many are discounting their chances, I think their chances may be better than most people think. They might even make it at 7-4, though they would need some help to do so. A better situation for the Flames is the win against Stony Brook and nab the autobid. If that happens, a first-round bye isn't out of the question.
North Dakota State
(7-3). If the Bison can put away 4-6 Missouri State this weekend, they are in a strong position for an at-large bid, and might even get a first-round bye. They're another strong candidate for a home game.
(7-3). If the Rattlers beat Bethune-Cookman, will it be enough to give them a shot at the playoffs? That's the burning question in Rattler Nation this weekend. With a bad loss to Tennessee State on their resume, they'll probably need to beat the Wildcats — and get lots of help — to make the field.
William & Mary
(7-3). The Tribe probably won't be a seed, but a win over Richmond this weekend will put them in a very strong position for a first-round bye and an outside shot at a seed. A loss probably means a first-round game — likely at home, however.
Need to Win To Be Potential At-Large
Central Connecticut State
(7-3, six D-I wins). A win over 1-9 St. Francis would make the Blue Devils playoff eligible, and their losses to Youngstown State, New Hampshire and Robert Morris are not horrible. But they'd need to win and get help to leapfrog other teams.
(7-3, six D-I wins). The Grizzlies have to win the 110th "Brawl of the Wild" to make the field, unless the playoff committee is willing to throw out its own rules in order to include a Griz team with six D-I wins and not a signature one in the bunch. If you're a Griz fan, you have to think of the "Brawl of the Wild" as a playoff game: win, and you're in, with a first-round home game.
(6-4). A win over Wofford this weekend would put the Mocs at seven D-I wins. That, and their earlier win over fellow bubble team Georgia Southern, might just be enough to propel them into the field. UTC also has a one-point loss to Appalachian State.
(6-4). The Raiders can become eligible by dispatching Fordham this weekend, but don't really have a fantastic win to show the committee. They would need to win, and root for a whole lotta upsets.
(6-4). A win over Bryant would put the at 7-4. The Dukes would probably sit above Dayton, whom they beat in the opening weekend, but not many other teams — notably Central Connecticut State, who defeated them already.
(6-4). The Eagles' 21-14 upset win over Appalachian State means they're a near lock to make the field, if they can travel to 5-5 Furman and win this weekend. If they do it, they look like a mortal lock to host a first-round game.
(6-4). If the Minutemen beat 4-6 Rhode Island — no easy feat, since the Rams have already upset bubble teams Villanova and New Hampshire already this year — they are a mortal lock for the field. Like Georgia Southern, a win probably means hosting a first-round game.
(6-4). All the Wildcats need to do is beat 1-9 Towson, and they're in the field for the seventh straight year. Tiny Cowell Stadium means the Wildcats could be sent on the road in the first round.
(6-4). Beat William & Mary, and the Spiders are likely in, maybe hosting a first round game to boot.
(6-4). The game that most at-large teams' fans will be following is undoubtedly the Wildcats' game at Delaware. If Villanova wins, you can't deny them a spot in the playoffs, and maybe even a home game for the defending national champs.
(6-4). I can say with certainty if Weber State wins its final game they will be in the playoffs. Unfortunately, it's against FBS Texas Tech. The odds seem slim.
(6-4). Another big game that folks will be watching is the one between Northern Iowa and the Leathernecks. If Western Illinois wins, they're a lock for a playoff spot, probably being sent on the road.
Finally, using my own special mix of the GPI, my picks for the conference champions and the winners this weekend, not considering six D-I win teams, and subtracting our conference champions, the current projected at-large teams are:
William & Mary
Southeast Missouri State
North Dakota State
South Carolina State
BUBBLES BURSTING (in the order they were burst): 10-1 Jacksonville
, 7-4 Liberty
, 8-3 Old Dominion
, 8-3 Central Connecticut State
This shows you how close it all appears to be - and how fragile this whole bracket is. A couple different outcomes can throw everything into a whirlwind. There's a lot of teams that can make it. (And I don't envy the committee this weekend.)
To close this out, let's take a look at my projections for the first and second-round matchups:
Seeds: No. 1 Delaware, No. 2 Appalachian State, No. 3 Eastern Washington, Appalachian State, No. 4 Stephen F. Austin, No. 5 Jacksonville State
First-Round Byes: William & Mary, Wofford, Northern Iowa, Southeast Missouri State, Montana State, Bethune-Cookman, North Dakota State
Blue Hen Bracket
Robert Morris at Lehigh
1st round winner to play at No. 1 Delaware
Southeast Missouri State at Northern Iowa
Stony Brook at UMass
1st round winner to play at No. 2 Appalachian State
Wofford at William & Mary
New Hampshire at Montana
1st round winner to play at No. 3 Stephen F. Austin
Bethune-Cookman at North Dakota State
South Carolina State at Georgia Southern
1st round winner to play at No. 4 Eastern Washington
Montana State at No. 5 Jacksonville State
Bonus Picks, Playoff Implication Version
Bryant 28, Duquesne 14 — Didn't think this game had playoff implications, did ya? Well, it does, and like the Seawolves, the Bulldogs are finishing strong and will eliminate one potential playoff team this weekend.
Central Connecticut State 35, St. Francis (PA) 3 — Don't laugh: the Blue Devils have a shot at this thing. An outside one, but one nonetheless. They won't blow it at home.
Yale 31, Harvard 15 — Well, this should
have playoff implications, but this 127th version of "The Game" unfortunately will be the last game these seniors will play.
Coastal Carolina 35, Charleston Southern 34 — What to call this rivalry? Buc-Chant? Chant-Buc? Either way, it will be a dogfight, and with the Seawolves' win, it will be for bragging rights in the end.
Colgate 42, Fordham 17 — RB Nate Eachus will close his junior year averaging, what, 30 carries per game? It won't be enough for playoffs, though.
Georgia Southern 29, Furman 28 — You're in, Eagle fans. You're in.
Old Dominion 57, North Carolina Central 3 — The Monarchs' strong push to the playoffs — just short this year — will serve them well in the CAA next year. Trust me.
Texas Tech (FBS) 65, Weber State 28 — I like the Wildcats, but Texas Tech shows zero mercy on their FCS opponents.
McNeese State 35, Central Arkansas 24 — The vastly-improved Cowboys will win and get to 7-4. Unfortunately, with only six counter D-I wins and a Stephen F. Austin victory, it won't be enough for playoffs.
Picking the Top 25
No. 22 Lehigh 31, Lafayette 30 — It's a cliche, but "throw out the records" when these two teams, playing for the 146th time in college football's most-played rivalry, meet. It will be a nail-biter, with Lehigh prevailing - just.
Stony Brook 35, No. 21 Liberty 21 — The Seawolves steal the autobid from the Flames, and for the second straight year finish strong with a 7-4 record and an outright Big South championship.
No. 19 UMass 21, Rhode Island 17 — I can't see the Minutemen losing this game. Can they?
No. 6 William & Mary 28, No. 18 Richmond 17 — The 120th meeting between the Tribe and Spiders comes down to injuries - Jimmye Laycock's troops just have fewer to deal with.
No. 17 North Dakota State 35, Missouri State 21 — The Bison have come too far and played too well to be denied the playoffs now.
No. 16 Penn 55, Cornell 0 — We'll never know how good the Quakers might have been in the playoffs. I bet they would have made a deep, deep run.
No. 1 Delaware 28, No. 15 Villanova 24 — The game every at-large team will be watching goes exactly the way they want it to go.
No. 14 New Hampshire 38, Towson 0 — The least likely at-large team to be upset will not be upset.
No. 13 Northern Iowa 28, Western Illinois 27 — The Leathernecks have too much to play for, but it's not like Panther head coach Mark Farley's squad to disappoint going into the playoffs. (There's plenty of time in the playoffs themselves
for that. *rimshot*)
No. 12 South Carolina State 38, North Carolina A&T 0 — The Bulldogs will get the win they want - and in the end, it will be just
enough to make the playoffs.
No. 11 Montana 31, No. 8 Montana State 28 — Don't go against the Griz in a big spot. Just don't do it. You've been warned.
No. 8 Wofford 35, Chattanooga 31 — Home is the key for Mike Ayers in this game, which crushes the Mocs' playoff dreams.
No. 7 Bethune-Cookman 35, Florida A&M 34 — I have to give the nod to the Wildcats, who are so close to making history. It's going to be a crazy one, though.
No. 5 Stephen F. Austin 42, Northwestern State 24 — "Chief Caddo" stays in Nacogdoches.
No. 4 Jacksonville State 35, Tennessee Tech 21 — Don't underestimate the momentum from the Gamecock's huge win against Southeast Missouri State last weekend.
No. 3 Eastern Washington 28, Idaho State 3 — RB Taiwan Jones gets the win — and the seed.
Florida (FBS) 35, No. 2 Appalachian State 31 — It won't be a blowout.