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 with first-round byes.
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.
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.
2019 Final Bracketology Accuracy: 7/8 seeds correct, 1-5 seed order correct, 23/24 teams correct
These are playoff predictions and don’t reflect my current Top 25. The numbers associated with teams may not match where I rank them on my ballot.
1. Sam Houston
2. Montana State
8. Sac State
AQ7 – Sam Houston
Big Sky – Montana State
Big South – Kennesaw
CAA – Villanova
MVFC – NDSU
NEC – Sacred Heart
OVC – UT Martin
Patriot – Holy Cross
Pioneer – Davidson
SoCon – Chattanooga
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.
Sac State (seed)
21. Southern Illinois
23. William & Mary
Bubble Teams Left Out
Ordered from best chance to make the bracket to worst chance.
25. Rhode Island
30. South Dakota
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, VMI-W&M, and Chattanooga-SIU.
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.
Movement From Last Week
Explanations below, but a summary: SHSU went from the No. 2 seed to No. 1. NDSU went from No. 1 to No. 4. Montana State went from No. 5 to No. 2 while EWU went from No. 4 to No. 7. UNI and SIU exited the seeds, replaced by SDSU and Sac State. New auto-bid projections are Kennesaw, Sacred Heart, UTC, and UIW.
With NDSU losing to SDSU, Sam Houston is back to my No. 1 seed. I think the committee gives the Bearkats the benefit of the doubt even though their strength of schedule isn’t great. Which, by the way, SHSU’s Massey SOS is 65th, JMU’s is 53rd, and Montana State’s is 50th. It’s not like SHSU has some egregious SOS compared to other top teams. They are in the same ballpark. It is OK to use the spring season as one of many “data points” because it showed SHSU’s best players are studs against top competition, not just studs against weaker competition in this fall slate.
Montana State jumped to my projected No. 2 seed after beating EWU. The Bobcats are hot right now. If they win out (vs. Idaho, at Montana), they are 10-1 overall and 10-0 against the FCS with three then-ranked wins (Weber, EWU, Montana) and two now-ranked wins (EWU, Montana). That’s a Top 2 seed, if not the No. 1 seed.
JMU and NDSU should both win their remaining games. If they do, they are Top 4 seeds. Who gets No. 3? Who gets No. 4? Their resumes may end up pretty similar. Both would be 10-1 with one FCS loss. JMU has three then-ranked wins, but no wins against teams that are currently ranked. The Dukes play No. 25 W&M and Towson. So that’s another chance at a ranked win, but they may end the season with no wins against teams in the polls. NDSU has three then-ranked wins and two now-ranked wins. One of those ranked wins, UNI, is in danger of falling out of the polls. The Bison play YSU and USD. The Yotes are currently ranked but could fall out if they lose to SDSU this week. So the Bison could end up with one win against a team still in the Top 25.
It’ll be pretty similar resumes. But JMU narrowly lost to Nova after its All-American kicker missed two easy field goals that would have won the game. NDSU was dominated by SDSU, even though the Bison made it interesting in the end. Plus, if you just watch the games, JMU is playing sharper ball than the Bison. So that’s why I have the Dukes at No. 3 and NDSU No. 4, which either way you are going on the road in the semis unless the No. 1 or 2 seed gets knocked off.
Villanova is 7-2 overall and 7-1 against the FCS. It does have a bad-looking loss to William & Mary. But if the Wildcats beat Stony Brook and Delaware, they are 9-1 against the FCS with a win over JMU and a 44-0 win over Rhody, who may be in the bracket. I think that’s in the 5-7 seed range.
SDSU is getting healthy and looking like a team that can get back to Frisco. The Jacks need to avoid letdown performances after defeating NDSU and take care of No. 19 USD and unranked UND. If they do, they finish 9-2 overall (eight D1 wins) with an FBS win (Colorado State) and two then-ranked wins (NDSU and USD). That gets them in the 6-8 range.
With two losses in a row, EWU needs to win out to get a seed. The Eagles are 7-2 (six D1 wins) with an FBS win (UNLV) and a ranked win over Montana. They have two road games left, at No. 6 UC Davis and at Portland State. Not easy, but going 2-0 gets them into the seeds.
Sac State is 7-2 overall, 7-1 against the FCS, and 6-0 in the Big Sky. The Hornets have one ranked win against Montana. They host Portland State this week before going to No. 6 UC Davis in the regular-season finale. That last game will have a seed on the line, and I currently lean Sac State to win out.
SHSU and Montana State are undefeated in their conferences right now. I switched out Monmouth and put in Kennesaw as the Big South’s auto-bid. Both are undefeated in conference play, but the Owls are playing better. The two meet in the regular-season finale. Villanova owns the tiebreaker over JMU in the CAA standings. NDSU is still atop the MVFC despite losing. Sacred Heart is now atop the NEC after Bryant lost last week.
UT Martin, Holy Cross, and Davidson are atop their leagues. VMI is out as the SoCon’s auto-bid, and UTC is in. The Mocs will get the AQ if they win out. UIW took SLU’s spot as the Southland’s AQ after winning the head-to-head last weekend.
After the four at-large bids that are seeds…
UC Davis is a lock to make the bracket after hitting eight wins last week. The Aggies are 8-1 overall with an FBS win (Tulsa). They have two huge remaining home games against ranked EWU and Sac State. If they win out, the Aggies could be as high as the No. 5 seed. I don’t think they will, though.
ETSU is also at eight wins with an FBS victory (Vandy). The Bucs have seven D1 wins, though. They are likely already in the bracket, but a win this weekend at WCU confirms that. Then if they beat playoff-hopeful Mercer, the Bucs will be considered for a seed at 10-1 overall with an FBS win and one ranked win (VMI).
If Montana beats NAU this weekend, the Griz are a lock to make the bracket at eight wins with an FBS victory (Washington). If they then beat Montana State (who is looking for a Top 2 seed) at home, a 9-2 Montana team is in the playoff seed mix.
SLU saw its chance at a seed slip after suffering its first FCS loss to UIW. The Lions are still in a good spot for an at-large bid, and can still get the AQ if UIW slips up and suffers a second conference loss. At 7-2 overall and 7-1 against the FCS, the Lions should beat Northwestern State this weekend to hit eight wins. They then host Nicholls, a team still fighting for a potential playoff spot. Nicholls plays UIW and SLU, and things could get interesting in the Southland if Nicholls beats both.
Missouri State got a huge ranked win against SIU last week. The Bears are now 6-3 overall and 6-2 against the FCS. They needed that win or else would have needed to beat ranked UNI this week to make the playoffs. Even if Mo State loses to UNI and then beats Dixie State, a seven-win team that just beat SIU is likely in the bracket. If Mo State hits eight wins, that probably won’t be enough for a seed and it will still play in the first round.
Southern Illinois went from a team in the seeding picture to now looking at a first-round game with two straight losses to UNI and Mo State. The Salukis are 6-3 overall and 6-2 against the FCS. Their win against SDSU will carry a lot of weight. They should win their last two games at Indiana State and vs. YSU, and an eight-win SIU team is in.
VMI just lost to ETSU, but does own the head-to-head against UTC, who could go on to win the SoCon’s AQ. VMI has two losses in the conference. At 6-3 overall and 6-2 against the FCS, the Keydets play at Furman and vs. WCU. Going 2-0 for sure gets them in. Going 1-1 and finishing with seven wins isn’t a lock due to a lack of ranked wins.
W&M is 6-3 overall and 6-2 against the FCS. The Tribe will lose to JMU this weekend. But if it beats Richmond, that is seven wins highlighted by a win against Villanova, who could be a seed. That gives W&M a good shot to make the field.
UNI went from a seed potential after beating highly-ranked SDSU and SIU to now playing for its playoff lives. The Panthers were upset at Illinois State and are now 5-4 overall and 5-3 against the FCS. They need to win out at ranked Mo State and vs. WIU to make the field with seven wins. A 6-5 team likely won’t cut it, although if one team was able to, it would be UNI with three ranked wins (Sac State, SDSU, SIU). However, there will be a lot of seven- and eight-win teams fighting for bids, so six D1 wins may not be enough.
Rhode Island started 5-0, then got dominated in three straight games. After beating FBS UMass, the Rams are back in focus at 6-3 overall. If they beat UNH and Elon, they are in at 8-3 with an FBS win. However, I don’t trust them to win out. A seven-win Rhody team with an FBS victory is right on the bubble. In 2019, a 7-5 SIU team with a UMass win was one of the first teams left out.
Monmouth (6-3 overall, 6-2 against the FCS) won’t have the resume to get an at-large bid, in my opinion. I put the Hawks here because they and Kennesaw are 5-0 in the Big South and meet in the regular-season finale. Monmouth has had the upper hand recently. We could easily see Monmouth get the AQ and KSU (who is undefeated against the FCS) would have the resume for an at-large bid.
Enough teams may beat themselves up to give FAMU a good shot at the bracket, as long as the Rattlers win out and finish second in the SWAC East. That would give them nine wins, but eight wins against D1 opponents. The problem is just because you have eight D1 wins doesn’t mean you are in the bracket. In 2017, McNeese was left out at 9-2 (eight D1 wins) due to its bad strength of schedule. In 2018, Monmouth was left out at 8-3 (eight D1 wins) due to its bad strength of schedule. FAMU currently has the 111th SOS out of 128 teams.
Nicholls has won three straight games. It has two losses in the Southland, both to SLU and UIW, who have one loss in conference play. Nicholls plays them both again, and if the Colonels win out, the Southland will be a mess trying to figure out who the auto-bid is and if there is room for all three teams to make the field.
At 5-4 overall and 5-3 against the FCS, Delaware is still holding onto some playoff hope. The Blue Hens would have to win at Richmond and vs. ranked Nova to hit seven wins and have a shot.
South Dakota (6-3 overall, 6-2 vs. the FCS) needs to beat either SDSU at home or NDSU in Fargo to hit seven wins. That’s a tough task.
Mercer is playing 10 games this season and played Alabama and NAIA Point in the non-conference. Not great for building a playoff resume. The Bears are 5-1 in the SoCon (6-2 overall with five D1 wins). They have only played one of the top SoCon teams so far, resulting in a 45-7 loss to VMI. Mercer plays the other top two teams (vs. UTC and at ETSU) to finish the regular season. They need to win both to hit seven D1 wins.
SFA and EKU are 6-3 overall. EKU is 6-2 against the FCS and SFA is 5-2. SFA will be considered if it wins out at UCA and Lamar to reach seven D1 wins. EKU plays at No. 1 SHSU and vs. Jacksonville State. After losing last week to SFA, the Colonels will have to pull off an upset this weekend and then beat JSU to make the field. Losing to SHSU and beating JSU may not be enough, even as a seven-win team and a head-to-head loss to SFA.
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