We are one day away from knowing what the FCS playoff field looks like. All of the playoff-implication games have been played. So it’s time to do one last bracketology this season.
Below are predictions for the seeds, auto-bids, at-large bids, and which teams are on the bubble.
This is through the eyes of the playoff committee and how I think they will form the bracket.
2019 Final Bracketology Accuracy: 7/8 seeds correct, 1-5 seed order correct, 23/24 teams correct
1. Sam Houston
4. Sac State
7. Montana State
AQ7 – Sam Houston
Big Sky – Sac State
Big South – Kennesaw
CAA – Villanova
MVFC – NDSU
NEC – Sacred Heart
OVC – UT Martin
Patriot – Holy Cross
Pioneer – Davidson
SoCon – ETSU
Southland – UIW
Ordered from most likely to least likely to get in. Seeded teams who are not their conference’s auto-bid will be at the top.
Montana State (seed)
21. Southern Illinois
First 5 Left Out
Ordered from best chance to make the bracket to worst chance.
25. Rhode Island
28. Weber State
The FCS playoff bracket is as regionalized as possible to save on travel costs. Bus trips (400 miles or less) are Davidson-ETSU, UT Martin-Missouri State, UIW-SFA, and FAMU-Kennesaw.
The committee avoids conference matchups in the first round if the two teams played each other in the regular season. However, if two conference teams did not play each other during the regular season, they may be paired up in the first round. Non-conference opponents who did play each other in the regular season may be matched up.
Once first-round teams are paired up via proximity, they will be slotted with the seeds that are (again) as close as possible regionally.
The home team in a game between two unseeded teams is determined by who submitted the higher bid to host.
The order of seeds is NOT determined by regionalization.
Sam Houston finishes 10-0 with one now-ranked win against No. 22 SFA. While the strength of schedule isn’t great at 68th entering this week, the Bearkats are the defending national champs, return every starter, and, for the most part, dominated its opponents.
NDSU gets the nod over JMU as the No. 2 seed. The Bison are 10-1 with four then-ranked wins and two now-ranked wins (Mo State and USD). With an SOS at No. 17 this week compared to JMU’s 48th, the committee likely gives NDSU the nod at No. 2.
JMU is also 10-1 and has a “better loss” than NDSU. The Dukes lost to Nova after their All-American kicker missed two easy field goals that would have won the game. NDSU got handled pretty good by SDSU, more than the final score showed. But the committee will look at quality wins before going to quality losses. JMU beat four ranked teams this year. None of them are currently ranked, although you can still point to the Weber and W&M wins as solid wins, as both would still be ranked and in playoff consideration if they didn’t play JMU and lose.
I think Sac State has a really good shot at the No. 4 seed. The Hornets are 9-2 overall and 9-1 vs. the FCS (early loss to UNI). They finished 8-0 in the Big Sky and have two current Top 10 ranked wins against Montana and UC Davis. And the SOS was 32nd entering this week, which isn’t too bad.
Montana is right behind Sac State at No. 5, but recency bias and how the Griz beat Montana State could have them go to No. 4. Montana is 9-2 overall with two FCS losses to EWU and Sac State. The Griz have the dominant win over No. 3 MSU and also own a Power Five win against Washington.
No. 6 Villanova is 9-2 overall and 9-1 against the FCS. The Wildcats have a win against JMU, which could result in them being seeded higher than No. 6. But an ugly loss to W&M may make the committee be a bit more hesitant on having Nova too high. Nova has two wins against currently-ranked opponents (JMU and Rhody).
Montana State could be No. 6 and Nova No. 7, but I put MSU at No. 7 because of the decisive loss to Montana. MSU is 9-2 and 9-1 against the FCS with one current-ranked win against EWU. But I think the committee will value Nova’s win over JMU more than MSU’s win over EWU.
And then the No. 8 spot is tricky. ETSU could easily be here. But I went with EWU. EWU is 9-2 with eight D1 wins, one FBS win against UNLV, and two wins against current Top 10 teams Montana and UC Davis. That’s hard not to seed, especially with a 19th SOS entering this week. Montana is seeded ahead of EWU even though EWU has the head-to-head because of recency bias. Montana dominated MSU, who just beat EWU.
ETSU could easily be a seed at 10-1 with nine D1 wins, one being against Power Five Vandy. ETSU only has one win against a currently-ranked team (Mercer this weekend) and its SOS was 75th entering this week.
Kennesaw could also be a seed with a 9-0 record against the FCS. But none of those wins are against currently-ranked teams and its SOS was 89th entering this week. A lot of teams would be 9-0 with that FCS schedule.
The MVFC’s strength could get Missouri State a seed. The Bears finished 8-2 against the FCS and have two current-ranked wins against SIU and USD. And with an SOS of No. 2, the committee could seed them.
After the four at-large bids that are seeds…
Missouri State finished 9-2 overall, 8-2 against the FCS, and have two current-ranked wins against SIU and USD. And with an SOS of No. 2, the Bears are firmly in with a chance at a seed.
SDSU may get discussed as a seed at 8-3 (7 D1 wins) and victories against NDSU and FBS Colorado State, but ultimately too many teams are ahead of the Jacks in that discussion. The Jacks are in as an unseeded team.
UC Davis ends the regular season on a two-game losing streak, both to ranked teams. The Aggies don’t have any currently-ranked wins and beat Weber State when Weber was No. 14. But with eight D1 wins and an FBS win against Tulsa, UC Davis is in.
SLU lost to unranked Nicholls this week, which means two losses in the final three games to finish 8-3 overall and 8-2 vs. the FCS. But by hitting eight D1 wins and being highly-ranked most of this season, the committee will put SLU in.
South Dakota finishes 7-4 overall and 7-3 against the FCS. The Coyotes have a win against SDSU, who is in the field, and a win against bubble team UNI. The Coyotes are in, even with a non-competitive loss to NDSU this week.
Southern Illinois is playing with fire by losing to YSU this week. The Salukis have lost three of its final four and finishes 7-4 overall and 7-3 vs. the FCS. But with several seven-win teams losing this weekend, the Salukis should get in helped by their win over SDSU.
FAMU got a dominating win this weekend, then had bubble teams VMI, Mercer, Rhode Island, Chattanooga, Monmouth, and W&M all lose. It was the perfect scenario for FAMU to get into the field at 9-2 overall and 8-1 vs. the FCS. FAMU has an SOS in the 100s, so that could keep it out. But a ton of teams losing makes its path to the bracket much easier.
These final two teams are tough…
I was never sold on the MVFC getting six teams in. But when VMI, Mercer, Rhode Island, Chattanooga, Monmouth, and W&M all lose, Northern Iowa has a decent shot at getting in. The Panthers are 6-5 overall and 6-4 against the FCS. They have three wins against teams that will be in the bracket (Sac State, SDSU, and SIU) and three FCS losses to teams in the bracket (NDSU, USD, Mo State). The MVFC typically gets a lot of respect from the committee, and if the CAA got six teams in a few years ago, the MVFC has a chance at it this season.
The last spot I give to SFA. I think the committee will like how it finished this regular season. The Lumberjacks are 8-3 overall and 7-2 against the FCS. They have one then-ranked win (EKU) and no currently-ranked wins. One FCS loss was 28-24 to non-playoff Jacksonville State. And the other was a 21-20 loss to No. 1 SHSU, although SHSU was without its starting QB. The FBS loss was 28-22 to P5 Texas Tech. SFA ended the regular season on a five-game winning streak, all double-digit wins. Compare that to other bubble teams like Rhody and Mercer losing this weekend, and SFA gets the nod.
Rhode Island just had to win this weekend to get in, but it lost to Elon. Rhody is now 7-4 overall with an FBS win against UMass. That FBS win may not impress the committee. It didn’t in 2019 when 7-5 SIU with a UMass win was left out. And Rhody has lost four of its last five games vs. FCS opponents, all by double digits
Mercer had a very close loss to ETSU. And ETSU could be a seed, so the committee may look at it as a “quality loss.” Mercer is 7-3 overall and 6-2 against the FCS, but the problem is the six D1 wins with no currently-ranked wins may be the killer. Mercer not getting an FCS opponent on the non-conference schedule is a lesson for all FCS teams with playoff hopes.
Richmond is 6-5 overall and 6-4 against the FCS. It lost by seven to Nova and 16 points to JMU, two teams that will be seeded. And Richmond is hot right now, winning four straight games with a healthy Joe Mancuso back at QB. The Spiders will get heavy consideration, but the lack of ranked wins will make the committee hesitate to put them in.
With so many teams failing to hit seven D1 wins this weekend, Weber State will be looked at closer. The Wildcats are 6-5 overall and 6-4 against the FCS. It has the best win of the bubble teams, beating EWU. Three of the FCS losses were to highly-ranked teams (JMU, Montana State, UC Davis). But I don’t see it being enough to get in. Six Big Sky teams and six MVFC teams in doesn’t seem likely.
EKU is 7-4 and 7-3 against the FCS. There aren’t many bubble teams that can say they have seven D1 wins. But EKU doesn’t have any wins against currently-ranked teams, and if the AQ7 gets a second team in, it will be SFA with its head-to-head on EKU.