Per usual, there was some controversy when the 2017 FCS playoff bracket was announced. The bubble leading up to the selection show was packed, meaning some teams felt satisfied and deserving of getting into the 24-team field while others felt screwed over.
But the page has been turned and 2018 is a new season. These motivated teams don’t want to leave it in the committee’s hands again. Whether they are snubs from a year ago, programs on the rise or teams looking to bounce back from disappointing seasons, here are eight teams that didn’t make the postseason last year but will this season.
MORE FCS COVERAGE:
FCS Home | Compare FCS Players | Compare FCS Teams
HERDER: Predicting Every 2018 Conference Champion in the FCS
Of all the teams that had something to gripe about, the Eagles probably had the biggest case. They finished 7-4 overall (two of those losses came against Texas Tech and North Dakota State) and 6-2 in the Big Sky. Unfortunately, the playoff committee decided the Top 3 FCS conference only deserved three bids.
EWU returns a veteran team. Quarterback Gage Gubrud is back with his top rusher Antoine Custer Jr. and second-leading pass catcher Nsimba Webster. The defense returns a majority of its starters, including big defensive tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli from injury. EWU is one of those “blue blood” teams in the FCS. It’s hard to imagine two consecutive playoffs without the Eagles. [divider]
Another 7-4 team from the Big Sky who didn’t reach the playoffs. The Grizzlies, though, finished tied for sixth in the conference at 5-3. That made it two years in a row they missed the postseason, an unacceptable occurrence in Missoula. Head coach Bob Stitt was let go and former HC Bobby Hauck returned to make the Griz a national contender once again.
Even with quarterback Gresch Jensen transferring after a terrific freshman season last year, Montana might still to be sitting decent at that position as transfer Dalton Sneed appeared to be Hauck’s guy. He’ll have Jerry Louie-McGee and Keenan Curran, who combined for 88 catches, 1,448 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. And with Josh Buss leading the defense, Montana looks primed to return to postseason play. [divider]
The Southland is arguably the fourth strongest conference in the FCS. So it seemed absurd when the 9-2 overall Cowboys were left out of the field. Their only two losses came to two conference opponents who made the playoffs. Those two games are at home this year against Nicholls and Central Arkansas. But McNeese has two tough nonconference road games at BYU and at Northern Colorado from the Big Sky.
Offense should be a big strength for McNeese in 2018. David Hamm and Justin Pratt combined for 1,468 yards rushing and nine touchdowns last year. Quarterback James Tabary leads the huddle after throwing for 2,511 yards and 21 touchdowns with eight interceptions. [divider]
Offensively, it all starts with quarterback Price Wilson, who threw for 3,311 yards last year. And on the defensive side, last year’s conference defensive player of the year Thomas Costigan leads nine returning starters. [divider]
The Redbirds were stuck in the middle of the deep 2017 Missouri Valley Football Conference. Five teams made the playoffs and ISU finished sixth. Since making the FCS title game in the 2014 season, the Redbirds have played in the postseason twice but haven’t made much noise.
Their 2018 roster is the most talented they’ve had in a few years. James Robinson nearly rushed for 1,000 yards last season as a sophomore and looks ready for a huge year. Quarterback Jake Kolbe is a senior and has started the two previous seasons, and dual-threat Malachi Broadnax is waiting in the wings after getting more playing time late last year as a freshman. They’ll have Spencer Schnell back as the leading receiver. [divider]
The 2016 national runner-ups had a rough October last year that spiraled the season downward. Seven games into the season, the once Top 10-ranked Penguins were 3-4 with those four losses being by five points or less against FBS Pittsburgh and ranked MVFC foes South Dakota, NDSU and South Dakota State. The next week, YSU lost 35-0 against Illinois State on Homecoming, essentially ending any playoff hopes.
Bo Pelini won’t accept another season like that. The physical offense should be strong, led by running back Tevin McCaster. Nathan Mays performed well in his five starts, but he’ll be pushed by Notre Dame transfer Montgomery VanGorder. Linebacker Armand Dellovade will be the anchor on an always-strong defense. [divider]
Danny Rocco saw immediate success in his first season as head coach, flipping the Blue Hens from 4-7 to 7-4. They certainly had a fair argument for a playoff bid with two of its losses coming to Virginia Tech and James Madison. But a 28-7 loss at Villanova to end the year weakened that argument.
Delaware will be tough to score on again with its top three tacklers back, but the offense is going to need some improvement. The Blue Hens will be tested in the nonconference at NDSU. The CAA slate is favorable, though, avoiding JMU and hosting Elon and Villanova. [divider]
One of the highlights of the 2017 season was the rise of Austin Peay. The Governors not only snapped their 29-game losing streak Sept. 16 against Morehead State, they went on to finish 8-4 with three of those losses coming against FBS opponents. They went 7-1 in the Ohio Valley Conference, but unfortunately the fairytale season wasn’t extended into the postseason.
Will Healy has done a masterful job as head coach. The next step as a program is to now make the playoffs. Looking at their schedule, it’s certainly a real possibility. Austin Peay will likely go 2-1 in the nonconference. Jacksonville State is still the top dog in the conference. The Governors might not be at that level just yet, but if they can go 7-1 in OVC games with no slip-ups, a 9-2 Austin Peay team will be playoff bound if the committee decides the conference deserves two bids. And what a turnaround that would be.