The FCS playoff bracket is as regionalized as possible to save on travel costs. Bus trips (400 miles or less) are Davidson-ETSU, Sacred Heart-Rhode Island, Mercer-Kennesaw, UT Martin-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.
Explanations below, but a summary: NDSU and JMU switched No. 3 and 4 seeds. EWU moved up to No. 5. SDSU left the seeds and was replaced by Missouri State. ETSU is the new SoCon auto-bid and Chattanooga leaves the field. W&M and UNI also leave the field, replaced by Mercer and Rhode Island. South Dakota also enters the field.
Sam Houston has been ranked No. 1 all year and will get the benefit of the doubt from the committee as the undefeated defending national champs with every starter coming back. It wouldn’t shock me if MSU is No. 1 and SHSU is No. 2 if the Bobcats win this weekend, though.
Montana State should be a Top 2 seed if it beats rival Montana. The Bobcats would be 10-0 against the FCS with two Top 10 ranked wins against EWU and UM, both being on the road.
I switched North Dakota State to the No. 3 seed from last week and moved James Madison to No. 4. I think last week’s results helped the Bison. Mo State beating UNI may have taken a now-ranked win off of NDSU’s resume, but Mo State is now a seedable team. NDSU beating a fellow seeded team is better than any of JMU’s wins. And USD beating SDSU means an opportunity for a higher-ranking win for the Bison on Saturday. The Bison can end the regular season with four then-ranked wins and two now-ranked wins against Mo State and USD. JMU has four then-ranked wins, but none of those teams are ranked anymore. Now, two of those wins I still consider “quality wins” for JMU — W&M and Weber, who would still likely be ranked if they hadn’t lost to JMU. The Dukes also have a “better loss” than NDSU, losing to Villanova after their All-American kicker missed two easy FGs in the fourth quarter. NDSU lost handily to SDSU, even if it was a one-possession final score. But I don’t go to the “quality losses” argument unless the wins and SOS are comparable. NDSU’s wins are better than JMU’s. Plus, with NDSU’s current strength of schedule 17th and JMU’s 48th, I believe the committee will seed NDSU higher than JMU, assuming both win on Saturday.
Eastern Washington gets the No. 5 seed and Villanova gets No. 6 if they both win. Nova will finish 9-2 with nine D1 wins and has two wins against currently-ranked teams — No. 2 JMU and No. 25 Rhody. EWU will finish 9-2 with eight D1 wins, one FBS win (UNLV), and two wins against teams currently in the Top 10 — No. 7 Montana and No. 10 UC Davis. EWU has the better resume.
Sac State is at No. 7, but this slot could be UC Davis’ if the Aggies beat Sac State on Saturday. I lean the Hornets winning this one. Sac State would then be 9-2 overall and 9-1 against the FCS, undefeated in the Big Sky, with two Top 10 wins against No. 7 Montana and No. 10 UC Davis. That resume could be as high as No. 5. I have the Hornets behind EWU because the Eagles’ SOS is 19th and Sac State’s is 32nd. Nova’s is 41st, but the committee will like its 9-1 FCS record and JMU win.
I don’t think it’s a hot take to have Missouri State the No. 8 seed over teams like ETSU or Kennesaw. The Bears will beat Dixie State. They will finish 8-3 overall and 8-2 against the FCS. The Bears lost 23-16 to Oklahoma State, who is now 9-1. They also lost by a TD at NDSU, and they do have a questionable 41-33 loss at YSU. But the Bears own two wins against teams that will be in the bracket — SIU and USD. And there’s this … Mo State currently has the second-toughest SOS. To be 7-3 with the No. 2 SOS is very, very impressive. No team in the Top 8 strength of schedules has a winning record besides Mo State. That’s a seedable resume.
Sam Houston, UT Martin, and Holy Cross have their AQs secured.
Montana State should have the Sagarin tiebreaker over Sac State if both finish undefeated in conference play. I like Kennesaw to beat Monmouth. Villanova owns the tiebreaker over JMU. NDSU, Sacred Heart, and Davidson should win to get their AQs. I have ETSU beating Mercer in the de factor SoCon championship. And UIW owns the tiebreaker over SLU.
After the four at-large bids that are seeds…
Montana and UC Davis are locks to make the field with eight wins featuring an FBS victory. If the Griz beat MSU, they are definitely a seed. And if the Aggies beat Sac State, they are likely a seed.
SLU and South Dakota are also locks, in my opinion. SLU is 8-1 vs. the FCS, and even with a loss to Nicholls, it will still be in. A win to finish 9-1 against the FCS probably won’t get a seed due to the recent loss to UIW. USD is 7-2 against the FCS and owns wins against bubble teams UNI and SDSU. A loss at NDSU won’t knock the Coyotes out of the bracket. If they get a win, the Coyotes should be a seed.
SIU is 7-2 against the FCS and has a win against SDSU. The Salukis have the ninth-toughest SOS. They shouldn’t have a problem beating YSU at home to make the field. A letdown performance and a loss could spell trouble since they would be losers of three of their last four games. That would be a pretty big upset, though. I don’t think SIU is a lock just yet, but a win against struggling YSU is then a playoff lock.
SDSU needs to beat UND to get in. Win and you’re in at 8-3, seven D1 wins, an FBS win against Colorado State, and an NDSU win. I think the Jacks are out with a loss. A loss means six D1 wins for NDSU and UND, plus six D1 wins for UNI assuming the Panthers beat WIU. UNI would have three ranked wins, one being against SDSU. The Panthers would be in over the Jacks if the committee chose a fifth MVFC team behind NDSU, Mo State, USD, and SIU. But I believe the Jacks beat UND to secure a bid.
VMI and Mercer are in as the No. 2 and No. 3 SoCon teams. If VMI beats WCU, it has seven D1 wins and the head-to-head on Mercer and Chattanooga. The Keydets are in with a win. I have Mercer losing to ETSU. But even with a loss to finish with six D1 wins, I think the Bears are still in because it has the head-to-head on UTC from this last weekend. The SoCon deserves three teams in, in my opinion. A fourth isn’t out of the question, but I don’t see there being room for a fourth.
I think Rhode Island beats Elon and W&M loses to Richmond. Rhody would be 8-3 with an FBS win against UMass. Yes, it’s UMass. But the committee puts an eight D1-win CAA team in the field.
As explained above in the VMI and Mercer section, the SoCon potentially could get four teams in, but way too many results would have to go the conference’s way to make room for four. I gave Chattanooga the short end of the stick, even if it has a win against my projected auto-bid ETSU. The Mocs first need to beat the Citadel to hit seven D1 wins. With head-to-head losses against VMI and Mercer, those seven wins may not be enough.
FAMU should beat Bethune-Cookman to hit nine wins and eight D1 wins. As the second-place team in the SWAC East, the Rattlers will be heavily considered as an at-large bid. But a lot of results will have to fall their way. 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.
UNI has a chance if it beats WIU. The Panthers would be 6-5 with three ranked wins against Sac State (who could be a seed), SIU, and SDSU. If SDSU loses to UND and finishes with six D1 wins, UNI can make the field as a fifth MVFC team. I believe the committee would lean SDSU over UNI if the Jacks beat UND because of their FBS win against Colorado State and NDSU win. And I have the Jacks beating UND.
Monmouth can certainly beat Kennesaw to win the Big South’s auto-bid. If the Hawks do, KSU will likely be an at-large bid. If Monmouth loses, it will be 7-4. And with questionable non-conference losses, that may not be enough for a bid. Right now, I lean KSU to win on Saturday.
SFA can hit eight total wins and seven D1 wins by beating Lamar. The Lumberjacks do have “quality losses,” losing by six points to Texas Tech, who is now 6-4, a 21-20 loss to No. 1 SHSU (without SHSU’s starting QB playing), and a 28-24 loss to Jacksonville State. But I don’t see any quality wins that are enough to warrant a bid. Even on a five-game winning streak heading into Selection Sunday, will decent wins against EKU and UCA be enough for the committee?
EKU will have seven D1 wins if it beats Jacksonville State. The committee would go with SFA before EKU, though. Seven D1 wins will at least get EKU consideration.
W&M has a decent chance to make the field if it beats Richmond. That would be seven D1 wins, one being a decisive victory over a seeded Nova team. However, Richmond is hot right now and I’m not sure W&M gets a win. Plus, with JMU and Nova in the field and a potential 8-3 Rhody team in, are there enough at-large bids for a fourth CAA team?
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.