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 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 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. JMU 3. SDSU 4. Montana 5. NDSU 6. Delaware 7. SIU 8. UC Davis
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. UC Davis 16. Weber State 17. Montana State 18. Villanova 19. EWU 20. UND 21. Jacksonville State 22. Missouri State 23. VMI 24. UNI
Bubble Teams Left Out 25. Central Arkansas 26. Nicholls 27. UNH 28. Kennesaw State 29. Furman 30. South Dakota
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.
Movement From Last Week Explanations below, but a summary: James Madison and South Dakota State swapped for the No. 2 and 3 seeds. Weber State dropped out of the seeds, replaced with UC Davis. Kennesaw State and South Dakota entered the bubble teams while Richmond and NC A&T left.
Seeds While I have SDSU as my No. 1 team on my Top 25 ballot, I slid the Jacks to my projected No. 3 seed and JMU up to No. 2. The reason is because of the projective nature of this bracketology. After the Dukes dominated Weber State on the road, I have more confidence in JMU going 11-0 than SDSU going unbeaten. Going undefeated in the MVFC is tough, and SDSU may drop a game.
I have a feeling the committee would seed an 11-0 JMU team with, let’s say four ranked wins, compared to a 10-1 SDSU team with an FBS win, three ranked wins, and a non-counter win. But I could switch this back around in October based on results. For example, if Weber loses 2-3 more games, that takes some shine off of JMU’s win. This is all fluid. And I put more stock in wins versus currently-ranked teams than ranked wins at the time of the game. If you beat the No. 18 team in September and that team is no longer ranked and is 4-5 in November, it isn’t a big resume booster.
SHSU may not have as good of a resume in terms of strength of schedule and ranked wins, but it has a good shot to go 10-0, and I would be surprised if the committee didn’t seed the undefeated defending champs No. 1.
I did not drop Weber any spots in my Top 25 ballot and decided to wait until after this week’s UC Davis game to determine where the Wildcats belong. But in my playoff projection, I did move Weber out of the seeds and put UC Davis at the No. 8 spot. Weber is 1-2 with an FBS loss while Davis is 3-0 with an FBS win. The Aggies are on a better track to earn a seed than Weber right now.
At-Large Bids The at-large pool didn’t change. I did slide Villanova up a few spots since the Wildcats are 3-0 with a ranked win against Richmond.
There are five MVFC teams with at-large bids right now. We’ll see if the Valley does get six total teams in. But right now, a strong non-conference showing and records for these teams makes it hard to leave any of them out. Teams from other conferences should hope for a lot of upsets in MVFC play, because if the top six dominate the bottom five and there are six teams with 5-3, 6-2, 7-1, or 8-0 records in the standings, the committee has shown it isn’t shy to load the bracket up with Valley teams.
Bubble Teams UCA is right on the outside, but there currently isn’t room for three AQ7 teams. And JSU takes an at-large bid with its Florida State win.
Because the MVFC and Big Sky have looked so good through three weeks, it’s hard to find room for the No. 2 Southland team (Nicholls), No. 2 Big South team (Kennesaw), and No. 3 SoCon team (Furman).
UNH is 3-0 but doesn’t have a win yet that moves the needle for me. And South Dakota, who is 2-1 with a close loss to Kansas and two dominant wins against NAU (who just beat P5 Arizona) and Cal Poly, is looking good. But having seven teams from the MVFC in the bracket is just unrealistic.
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.