The FCS playoff field is back to 24 teams after a 16-team spring bracket. There are 11 auto-bids with the addition of the AQ7 and 13 at-large bids. Eight teams will be seeded.
The national championship game is scheduled for Jan. 8 in Frisco, Texas.
How the playoff field changes and takes shape every week is fascinating. So after every weekend of games, I will predict what the bracket will look like.
Below are predictions for the seeds, auto-bids, at-large bids, and which teams are on the bubble.
These predictions take current playoff resumes and all future scheduled games into consideration. Once we hit late October and playoff resumes are more full, it will shift to “if the season ended today.” But right now, future games and teams’ schedules are factored in.
These are playoff predictions and don’t reflect my current Top 25. The numbers associated with teams may not reflect where I rank them on my ballot.
These predictions are through the eyes of the playoff committee and what I think they will do, not necessarily how I would field the bracket.
Seeds 1. Sam Houston 2. SDSU 3. JMU 4. Montana 5. NDSU 6. Delaware 7. SIU 8. Weber State
Auto-Bids AQ7 – Sam Houston Big Sky – Montana Big South – Monmouth CAA – JMU MVFC – SDSU NEC – Duquesne OVC – Austin Peay Patriot – Holy Cross Pioneer – Dayton SoCon – ETSU Southland – SLU
At-Large Bids Ranked from most likely to least likely to get in. Seeded teams who are not their conference’s auto-bid will be at the top. This is not a ranking of which team is better than the other, but who has the best chance to get an at-large bid. For example, the third-place CAA team may have a better shot to make the bracket than the fifth-place MVFC team. This 12-24 list will reflect that. 12. NDSU 13. Delaware 14. SIU 15. Weber State 16. Montana State 17. UC Davis 18. EWU 19. UND 20. Jacksonville State 21. Villanova 22. Missouri State 23. VMI 24. UNI
Bubble Teams Left Out 25. Central Arkansas 26. Nicholls 27. Richmond 28. NC A&T 29. Furman 30. UNH
The FCS playoff bracket is as regionalized as possible to save on travel costs. Bus trips (400 miles or less) are Holy Cross-Villanova, Duquesne-Monmouth, and Austin Peay-Jacksonville State.
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.
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 order of seeds is NOT determined by regionalization.
I know I know I know. This bracket is extremely “Power 3 conference” heavy. When things shake out in November, we’ll see if the field is this full of Big Sky, MVFC, and CAA teams.
But for now, how do you not include six MVFC teams? If the Valley can take four of 16 bids in the spring bracket, taking six of the 24 this fall isn’t impossible. The CAA got six teams into the field in 2018.
SDSU, NDSU, UND, and SIU are all looking strong so far this season. Then you have Missouri State, who is looking at a 2-1 non-conference record featuring a ranked against UCA and a close P5 loss. UNI is also looking at a 2-1 non-conference record, including a good road win at Sac State and a close P5 loss.
Same thing for the Big Sky with five teams. Montana, Weber State, and Montana State are capable of earning seeds like they did in 2019. But two other teams are as well. EWU and UC Davis are both very likely to go 3-0 in the non-conference with FBS wins. I can’t leave any of these five Big Sky teams out either.
Now, if the MVFC or Big Sky beat each other up and the standings aren’t top-heavy with a lot of 6-2, 7-1, or 8-0 teams, that could take away 1-2 bids from them and go to a fourth CAA team, a third AQ7 or SoCon team, or a second Southland team.
The CAA only has three bids right now, mostly because I think that the second tier of teams like Richmond, UNH, Stony Brook, Maine, Rhode Island, and UAlbany are going to chop each other up and all be in that 4-4 range in the conference standings.
As it states above, the top eight seeds here don’t reflect the order of my top eight teams in my Top 25 ballot. But this is how I think the committee would seed things.
It’ll be interesting to see how they view resumes, though. Would a 10-0 SHSU team be seeded over an 11-0 JMU team? Who gets seeded higher if SDSU goes 10-1 with an FBS win, a non-counter win, and a random letdown loss to a non-playoff team and JMU also goes 10-1 with a random letdown loss to a non-playoff team?
Where would a 10-1 Montana team with a win against then-ranked P5 Washington fit in?
Those are all fascinating questions to think about right now. In upcoming bracketology articles, I’ll dive more into the teams in my bracket and on the bubble and why I have them where they’re at.
Check out the latest episode of the FCS Football Talk podcast, which is also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart, Stitcher, and Spreaker.
Sam’s coverage of the FCS began in 2012 as the sports editor and eventual editor-in-chief of NDSU’s The Spectrum. After graduating in 2015, he spent three years in the newspaper and magazine industry while starting his work for HERO Sports in the fall of 2016 as a freelancer. In May 2018, he joined the website full time as the Senior FCS Analyst.