Each week, GridIrion Heroics FCS writer Brian McLaughlin gives his FCS football playoffs outlook heading into the next week’s action. BMac breaks down his projection on the eight-team seeding, who is just outside the seeding, who will get the at-large bids, and who will nab an automatic bid after winning its conferences.
And last but not least? Which teams just missed this week’s 24-team postseason outlook but could be in it soon?
Before we go any further, let’s congratulate the three programs that are already locked in and have nothing worry about. St. Francis (PA) we recognized last weekend after the Red Flash clinched the Northeast Conference automatic bid, while Holy Cross locked up the Patriot League and South Dakota State nailed down the Missouri Valley. Congrats to all three.
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By each Tuesday, this column will publish, and it will be updated each week through FCS Selection Sunday on Nov. 20.
The final FCS football postseason outlook will come within ONE HOUR after action wraps on Saturday, Nov. 19 (late Saturday/early Sunday — depending on game times and endings). The FCS playoffs and postseason will begin on Nov. 26.
The weekly FCS football postseason predictions will always be pinned at the top of my Twitter acct (@BrianMacWriter) by Tuesdays, and will always be shared with our friends — FCS Fans Nation — on their outstanding Facebook page.
This week’s postseason explanation is below. Enjoy!
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I switched Sacramento State to the No. 1 spot this week, as the Hornets have now beaten nationally ranked Montana, Idaho, and Weber State in three successive weeks, hold a 9-0 overall record and have a blowout win over an FBS team (Colorado State). South Dakota State moves to No. 2 after struggling to get out of Northern Iowa with a win, whereas Sacramento State went to UNI and won by 16 earlier this year.
But I reserve the right to switch it right back (hell, it’s my seeding picture) based on results the next two weeks — or potentially even move somebody else in if they both slip, but I doubt that’ll happen.
Aside from that in the seedings? I didn’t really switch too much around. Weber State’s two-point loss in a nailbiter in Utah bumped the Wildcats down a bit, but I still think if WSU finishes 9-2 overall (which it probably will) — this is a mid-range to low seed.
The problem is William & Mary, Incarnate Word, Holy Cross, and Samford all clearly deserve a seed if they continue to win. The toughest road to accomplish that is Samford’s, but if the Bulldogs win out? They’ll be a locked seed with the committee. UIW and Holy Cross have almost no chance of losing the rest of the way, and W&M has some challenges in Villanova and a road trip to bitter rival Richmond.
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CONFERENCE AUTOMATIC BIDS
Now that this is coming more into focus, let’s explain a few things. First of all, as mentioned above — St. Francis in the NEC, Holy Cross in the Patriot League, and South Dakota State in the Missouri Valley Football Conference have secured their conference automatic bids. They are in. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re promised anything in terms of where they fit in, but they are in.
The ASUN-WAC combo (one auto bid awarded) will confuse you, trust me. So much so that I recommend you read the link about how it all works. I’m going with Eastern Kentucky here. See, Jacksonville State in the ASUN and Sam Houston in the WAC are ineligible for the playoffs because they’re in transition to the FBS level.
Of the higher-performing teams outside those two leaders, Eastern Kentucky has clearly performed best so far. It will come down to which playoff-eligible teams finished highest in the standings of these two micro-conferences. Then the strongest candidate will be chosen as the auto-bid representative by the ASUN-WAC.
Clear as mud?
EKU has beaten an FBS team (Bowling Green), recently beat the likely OVC champ (SEMO), and really only has one loss to a pure FCS team (Austin Peay) and that was very early. But EKU still has two tough games left. What a crazy mess with this combo’s auto bid.
North Carolina A&T, SEMO, and Davidson appear destined to get auto bids in one-bid leagues (see chart below).
THE AT-LARGE UNIVERSE
Have you ever thrown a bowl of freshly boiled spaghetti pasta into a strainer and then been given three minutes to separate it into single noodles again? First of all, it’s boiling hot — and secondly? They all kind of look alike.
That’s our at-large picture — and the friction does put off some heat in this instance, too.
It is loaded with potential Big Sky, MVFC, CAA, and SoCon teams. Yes, SoCon teams. Now, thankfully these leagues have meaningful games left for us to be able to sift through the pasta (OK, I’ll quit with the dad joke spaghetti analogy — at least until next week).
BIG SKY — Idaho could very well finish 8-1 against the FCS. Some may even argue it deserves a seed if it closes out like that. Montana could maybe argue for a seed if it wins Cat-Griz at the end of the year, pushing Montana State down into the at-large realm, potentially. Doesn’t that seem to happen every year?
The Big Sky wildcard is UC Davis (5-4).
The Aggies could disappear quickly if they lose on the road to either Idaho or Sacramento State the next two weeks — but they’ve won four in a row, winning by an average of about 40 points a game. They’ve played one of the most brutal schedules in the country. Their losses to South Dakota State and Weber State were by two points and five points respectively. Could UC Davis earn a spot as the last school in? Yes, certainly if it wins the next two weeks. It controls its own destiny because a 7-4 UC Davis team has a shot.
MVFC — Since North Dakota State and South Dakota State are truly locked for seeds, the only real debate is with North Dakota and Youngstown State. UND beat YSU by five points a few weeks ago, but YSU could nail down an 8-3 record more easily than UND, who has to go to Fargo to take on the Bison in the season finale. Could they both get in if they’re 7-4 or better? It depends on the rest of the country and how much it chops itself up. But an 8-3 YSU team is a playoff lock, and that appears possible.
CAA — Much like the SoCon (below), the CAA needs to not eat its own the next two weeks. Of the William & Mary, Elon, Delaware, Rhode Island, Richmond, and New Hampshire mess, it needs about three of those to win out to make an impression. Otherwise, we’re looking at a bunch of 7-4-type teams and then it’ll go to splitting hairs and it’s very possible no CAA team gets a seed, and decent teams stay home.
My guess is that William & Mary and Delaware — with FBS wins on their resume — and Rhode Island emerge from this, and a final at-large may go to Elon. UNH had the softest schedule rotation situation among the top half teams of the CAA and may get left home at say, 7-4 (that North Carolina Central blowout loss hurt the Wildcats’ rep).
SOCON — This league is identical to the CAA — it really needs two teams to solidly emerge in the next two weeks, one to be 10-1 or 9-2 (or maybe two of them do that?) and maybe a final team finishes 8-3 and gets in as one of the last at-larges. And then one goes home. Right now Samford’s the leader, Chattanooga, Furman, and Mercer follow.
Hell, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the SoCon. Chattanooga winning at home against Samford this weekend seems possible, obviously, and Mercer beating Furman at home also does. Circular firing squad, anybody? What do you want on your Tombstone? It makes for some great drama, but I don’t know if the SoCon ultimately wants these teams to cancel each other out of the postseason picture.
ANY OTHERS?: Really just one, Fordham. The Rams should finish 9-2 but really don’t have that signature win that makes them a lock to get in as a rare Patriot League at-large team. It’s too bad if they get left out because of schedule strength because the Rams gave Holy Cross all the holy hell it could want in a 1-point road loss and were beating FBS Ohio U. by six points within under a minute remaining in the game before falling.
Again, clear as mud, right? Need a hot towel? Or a cold drink? Or a cold compress?
Questions? Debate? Hit BMac up on Twitter (@BrianMacWriter) and let’s have some fun.
REMEMBER: The FCS selection committee will ignore all FBS losses and all lower-division wins in its playoff consideration. So on the chart below, you’ll see the overall team record and the FCS record. Most of these teams have played FBS opponents this year — and eight have won against FBS teams (which is indicated in chart below). BEATING an FBS team is a big poker chip come playoff time, and could be the ultimate tiebreaker when it’s not obvious any other way.
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MEAC CHAMPION: North Carolina Central (7-2 overall – with poker chip wins over the CAA’s UNH and Big South leader NC A&T) should have no problem with last-place Norfolk State (1-8) this weekend and the Eagles should lock up the MEAC title. After Norfolk State, only a non-conference game at Tennessee Tech (3-6) remains.
SWAC SITUATION: Undefeated and nationally ranked Jackson State (9-0) hasn’t officially locked up its berth in the SWAC title game, but with Alabama A&M (3-6) and Alcorn State (4-5) remaining, the Tigers are in good shape to win the SWAC East. In the West Division, Prairie View A&M (5-4) needs to put away Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2-7) and Mississippi Valley State (1-8) to make the SWAC title game.
SWAC TITLE GAME (Dec. 3, site TBD): Jackson State (SWAC East) vs. Prairie View A&M (SWAC West)
IVY LEAGUE CHAMPION: Princeton is 8-0, but has its toughest two tests of the year remaining — at third-place Yale (6-2) and in New Jersey at home against second-place Penn (7-1).
CELEBRATION BOWL (Dec. 17, Atlanta): Jackson State (SWAC) vs. North Carolina Central (MEAC)
FCS FOOTBALL POSTSEASON PREDICTION – WITH TWO WEEKS LEFT
THE VOTE: Note that the FCS column denotes record vs. FCS. That is what the playoff committee will look at — unless the FCS school has an FBS win or a lower-division loss).
|SEED||AS OF NOV 5||CONF.||REC||FCS||STRK|
|1||Sacramento State||BIG SKY||9-0||8-0+||W9|
|2||SOUTH DAKOTA ST.*||MVFC||9-1||9-0||W9|
|4||Montana State||BIG SKY||8-1||8-0||W6|
|5||William & Mary||CAA||8-1||7-1+||W6|
|6||Weber State||BIG SKY||7-2||5-2+||L1|
|NON SEED 1||Samford||SOCON||8-1||8-0||W7|
|NON SEED 2||Idaho||BIG SKY||6-3||6-1||W1|
|NON SEED 3||Montana||BIG SKY||6-3||6-3||W1|
|CONF. AUTO BIDS|
|BIG SOUTH||N.C. A&T||BIG SOUTH||6-3||5-2||W6|
|NEC||ST. FRANCIS (PA.)*||NEC||6-2||6-1||W6|
|LAST THREE IN|
|LAST 3 IN||Richmond||CAA||7-2||7-1||W4|
|LAST 3 IN||Mercer||SOCON||7-2||7-1||W1|
|LAST 3 IN||SE Louisiana||SOUTHLAND||6-3||6-1||W3|
|OUT LOOKING IN|
|OUTSIDE||UC Davis||BIG SKY||5-4||5-3||W4|
UPDATE NOV. 8: If a school is bolded and has an (*) next to it? It has clinched an FCS Playoff berth with its conference’s automatic bid.
ALSO: A (+) indicates the team has beaten a Group of Five Conference FBS team (EX: Weber State’s big win over Utah State), and a (&) indicates the team has beaten a Power Five Conference FBS team (EX: Southern Illinois’ win over the Big Ten’s Northwestern). FBS wins are key “poker chips” come postseason selection time.
Certain programs are ineligible for the FCS football postseason yet are playing in one of the playoff-bound conferences (EXAMPLES: Pioneer League and NEC leaders St. Thomas (MN) and Merrimack respectively, as well as FBS transitional teams and WAC and ASUN leaders like Sam Houston and Jacksonville State). Also, the ASUN-WAC combination will award one automatic bid on behalf of two conferences that are still in the forming stages — and you can read more about how that unique setup works at NCAA.com, because it is confusing.
NOTE: Brian McLaughlin has been a voter on the STATS/PERFORM FCS football poll since 2016, and has written FCS postseason predictions since the same year. He also votes on the FCS postseason awards — the Walter Payton Award (top offensive player), the Buck Buchanan Award (top defensive player), the Jerry Rice Award (the top freshman in FCS football), and the Eddie Robinson Award (top coach that year).
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