For a number of years running, the annual question regarding the playoff selection committee's announcement would be who's going to get Woofed? There always seems to be one team left out of the field that was arguably more deserving than a team that got in. But that's it, a marginally questionable choice affecting one team. Not this year. No way.
By Sam Partridge
The CAA Today Columnist
College Sporting News
Because of the expansion of the Big Sky and Missouri Valley along with some big upsets in the Northeast, Patriot and Big South conferences, the committee is faced with the largest pool of teams the FCS playoffs have ever seen. As a result, not only will there be several teams feeling Woofed, but we could probably put together a pretty good eight team FCS NIT of teams that are left home on Thanksgiving weekend.
The expansion of the BSC and MVFC have created two more conferences, like the CAA, that are playing unbalanced schedules and have resulted in large numbers of teams with records that would normally put them in line for playoff bids. However, the committee is going to need to do deeper dives than in past years and really examine the quality of wins and strength of overall schedules to separate the wheat from the chaff and put together the highest quality field.
The upsets in the smaller conferences on the east coast have created questions as well. Can a 10-1 Lehigh team get left out because of a mediocre computer ranking? Can a 9-2 Stony Brook team with a rout of Army and a battle against Syracuse not get in after a surprising two touchdown loss at Liberty?
OTHER QUESTIONS THAT NEED TO BE ANSWERED:
Just how good is the Ohio Valley, still a one-bid league given its recent playoff history or good enough to steal an at-large?
How many teams can the CAA get in with a possibility of a six-way tie at the top and lower computer rankings than in recent years?
Can an FBS win outweigh some lackluster play in conference?
These are all questions the committee needs to answer. By my count, there are 34 teams that can at least make an argument for inclusion in the field. Many will be eliminated by losses in head-to-head battles this weekend but a whole lot more than 20 will remain by the close of play Saturday evening.
I'm not sure I'd want to be in the room making selections, but I'd love to be a fly on the wall listening in.
CAA PLAYOFF OUTLOOK
When the FCS playoff selection committee tries to break down the merit of as many as six CAA teams and their resumes, they will be left with a conundrum. While they all will potentially have 7+ wins and 6-2 conference records, there's one thing that is truly lacking: any kind of non-conference yardstick. For example, the CAA as a conference played 10 FBS games and lost them all with only William & Mary playing a relatively winnable game. Outside of that, the other 23 non-conference games were a collection of non-auto bid league opponents and some mediocre teams from the Ivy, Patriot and Northeast conferences. True, Penn has put itself in position to win the Ivy League, but if the CAA's best non-conference wins are over a 5-4 team from the Ancient Eight, that's not saying much. What it does do, however, is go a long way in explaining the reason for the CAA's lackluster computer ratings this year. While leagues like the Big Sky and Missouri Valley racked up some wins against BCS programs and played some revealing intersectional games, the league that likes to call itself the SEC of FCS mostly feasted on local cupcakes.
This puts the committee in a tough spot because the polls still rate the conference well but the computers do not agree. So, while there are CAA teams littering the Top 25, the weakness in the computer rankings means that no team is safe with a loss this week, potentially not even Old Dominion. Even more, with no wins from outside the conference to measure relative strength, the committee must choose between similar resumes of teams that have simply beaten each other. No team in the top 6 lost to Delaware, Maine, William & Mary, Georgia State or Rhode Island so every conference loss was to another top 6 team.
Let's take a quick walk through the top 6 teams and their cases:
Old Dominion (6-1, 9-1)
Easily the class of the league the first half of the season, the Monarchs have stumbled just enough in the second half to raise some questions. While still only having one loss and coming into the finale at James Madison at 9-1, I can't shake the feeling that the Monarchs could get woofed with a bad loss on Saturday. If the wrong combination of results happens, Old Dominion could find themselves in a 6-way tie that they would be ineligible to win. After a berth for whoever wins the auto bid, the committee would try to decide which other CAA team or teams should get at-large spots. To me, the Monarchs have two strikes against them in this regard with a weak non-conference schedule that lacked an FBS game and the fact that they are leaving FCS. Why give a school that's heading for "greener" pastures a playoff spot over FCS stalwarts like UNH, Villanova or JMU or a Towson team that played two FBS squads? Hard to leave out a team that heads into the last week ranked #4 but the computer rankings are much lower. Would be a fascinating case.
New Hampshire (6-1, 8-2)
The Wildcats can make things really easy by simply beating Towson at home on Saturday and taking the CAA auto-bid. However, a loss against the Tigers could really be a problem for New Hampshire. A look at the schedule shows that not only did they lack a significant non-conference win, but they're the only team in the top 6 of the league to miss playing two of the others. And, with a loss to Towson this weekend, they would only have one win, a nailbiter against Richmond. So, while they would finish at 8-3, there would be no guarantee of a playoff berth for the Wildcats, especially as the number of 6-2 teams grows.
Towson (5-2, 6-4)
Believe it or not but the Defending champs could get the auto-bid again. The Tigers were given up for dead at 3-4, but they have rebounded by playing their best football of the year and can become playoff eligible with a win at New Hampshire. Not only that, but Towson has a few things going for it, notably a couple of scenarios where they are conference champions. Outside of that, they would make a compelling case as the hottest team in the league with wins over Villanova and New Hampshire in the last three weeks. Towson has also played arguably the toughest schedule in the conference, with road games at JMU, Delaware, Villanova and New Hampshire along with a home game against Old Dominion. Throw in the two FBS games, including one in Death Valley against LSU, and it's hard to think of too many teams in the country that could emerge with 7+ wins. For that reason, I think a win on Saturday gets Towson a bid at 7-4.
Villanova (5-2, 7-3)
Villanova heads into the Battle of the Blue on Saturday looking for its eighth in of the season and a shot at the playoffs. The Wildcats have one giant feather in their cap, a road win against Old Dominion that is the only blemish on the Monarchs record. For that reason, there is still a scenario where coach Talley and his team can steal the auto-bid, namely if they knock off the Blue Hens, Towson beats UNH, ODU beats JMU and Richmond beats William & Mary. Outside of that happening, there still seems to be a solid chance that the Wildcats can sneak out an at-large. The best scenario might be if JMU beats ODU, UNH beats Towson and Richmond loses. That way, New Hampshire wins the auto-bid and Villanova ends tied with ODU and JMU, two teams it beat head-to-head. Couldn't hurt to possibly match up Villanova and Lehigh in a first-round game either.
James Madison (5-2, 7-3)
For a team once ranked #2 in the country, the fall has been steep and the Dukes find themselves on the outside of the bubble with one game to play. While still ranked in the top 15 in the polls, the computers don't love James Madison and, while they have seven wins, another loss would knock them out of consideration for an at-large spot. It's a tough draw to face the best team in the league to close the season, but getting Old Dominion at home gives the Dukes the best possible chance to make a playoff statement in their finale. In reality, the Dukes season has been mediocre, with their best win a 13-10 late triumph at home against Towson. The last five weeks have seen JMU go 3-2 but one of those wins was a 28-21 win over woeful Georgia State and another was a 27-26 2OT win over William & Mary where the Tribe missed a 31-yard field goal to win the game in regulation. A win against ODU won't guarantee a bid, but I think it would squeeze Mickey Matthews team into the field. Best case scenario for JMU: Towson, Richmond and Villanova all lose and ODU, JMU and New Hampshire grab bids.
Richmond (5-2, 7-3)
The Spiders have flown under the radar all season and it's easily the biggest surprise of the year that they come into the last game with a shot at the playoffs. On paper they have the easiest matchup, but William & Mary is much better than their 2-8 record and it's a rivalry game so anything can happen. If the Spiders can get the win, there are a couple of scenarios where they could potentially steal the auto-bid based on how the computer rankings shake out. Even if that doesn't happen, though, Richmond has good wins on the road at Villanova and at home against JMU. In fact, the case can arguably made that the Spiders have been the most consistent team in the CAA as they haven't really laid an egg the entire season and their two losses were one-score shootouts against league leaders ODU and UNH. Spiders might be the hardest call in the bunch if they're in the hopper with a number of others teams since they will finish 8-3 without a bad loss but without a really standout win either.
If New Hampshire and ODU win, things become pretty simple, but part of me would to see the chaos of a six-way tie and how the committee would break it.
As always, send me any comments to caatoday at yahoo dot com