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.
RELATED: FCS Playoff Committee Members
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.
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.
2. Sam Houston
5. Montana State
AQ7 – Sam Houston
Big Sky – Sac State
Big South – Monmouth
CAA – Villanova
MVFC – NDSU
NEC – Bryant
OVC – UT Martin
Patriot – Holy Cross
Pioneer – Davidson
SoCon – VMI
Southland – SLU
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.
12. JMU (seed)
13. EWU (seed)
14. Montana State (seed)
15. UNI (seed)
16. SIU (seed)
18. UC Davis
19. Kennesaw State
22. William & Mary
24. Missouri State
Bubble Teams Left Out
25. Weber State
31. South Dakota
2019 Final Bracketology Accuracy: 7/8 seeds correct, 1-5 seed order correct, 23/24 teams correct
The FCS playoff bracket is as regionalized as possible to save on travel costs. Bus trips (400 miles or less) are Davidson-ETSU, Holy Cross-Monmouth, UT Martin-Missouri State, and VMI-W&M.
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: Villanova went from the No. 3 to the No. 6 seed after losing, JMU moved from No. 5 to No. 3, Montana State went from No. 7 to No. 5, SIU went from No. 6 to No. 8 after losing, and Sac State dropped out of the No. 8 seed and was replaced by UNI at No. 7. Bryant is my new NEC auto-bid instead of Sacred Heart. Rhode Island dropped out of my at-large bids and was replaced by William & Mary.
NDSU has a 50/50 game this week at SDSU, but the final two games are at YSU and vs. USD. If the Bison run the table, they would be 11-0 with three or four wins against teams I think would still be ranked in November. That should get the No. 1 seed nod over a 10-0 SHSU team with maybe one ranked win.
I still think the committee gives SHSU the benefit of the doubt and a Top 2 seed if the Bearkats go undefeated despite their strength of schedule. 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.
JMU should go 3-0 (vs. Campbell, at ranked William & Mary, vs. Towson) to finish 10-1 (loss to Nova). The Dukes will likely have two wins against opponents ranked in the last November poll before Selection Sunday — Weber and W&M. I moved JMU to my No. 3 seed ahead of EWU this week because the Eagles have a couple of ranked games left (vs. Montana State and at UC Davis) and are more likely to drop a game than JMU. But if EWU wins out, it could jump JMU for the No. 3 seed and possibly be a Top 2 seed if NDSU loses to SDSU. EWU is currently 7-1 with an FBS win, a non-counter win, and a ranked win against Montana.
Montana State is undefeated against FCS teams. The Bobcats can rise as high as a Top 4 seed if they win out, meaning wins at ranked EWU and Montana along with a home win vs. Idaho. Or they could be an at-large bid if they lose both ranked games. If they split the ranked games and beat Idaho to finish 9-2, a 6-8 seed is on the table. I put them in the middle at No. 5 and we’ll order things again after this week’s result against EWU.
Villanova suffered its first FCS loss last weekend to William & Mary, and it was an ugly performance. If Nova beats Elon, Stony Brook, and Delaware, it finishes 9-2 overall and 9-1 against the FCS with a win against JMU, which can get them in the No. 6-8 seeds.
I took out Sac State as a seed from last week and put UNI in at No. 7. That may seem crazy for the 5-3 Panthers. But two of the losses were 16-10 at Iowa State and 34-20 at NDSU. Since a weird 34-21 home loss to South Dakota, UNI has beaten then-No. 6 SDSU 26-17 and then-No. 3 SIU 23-16. It also has a September 34-16 win at Sac State, who may go unbeaten in the Big Sky. If UNI beats Illinois State, Missouri State, and WIU, it finishes 8-2 against the FCS with four ranked wins. That has to be a seed, right?
SIU lost its first FCS game to UNI and is now 6-2 overall with an FBS loss. The Salukis play Mo State, Indiana State, and YSU. If they win out, that’s a 9-1 record vs. the FCS with two currently-ranked wins (SDSU and Mo State). That is a seedable resume.
Keep an eye on SLU as a potential No. 8 seed if it wins out and finishes undefeated against the FCS. Its strength of schedule will be a big question mark, though. And unlike SHSU, the Lions aren’t proven against top-tier FCS teams. SDSU could also get back into the seeds if it wins out, meaning a win vs. NDSU.
If SIU and UNI win out, SDSU beats NDSU this weekend, and then the Jacks and Bison win out, we could be looking at a 2019 Big Sky scenario where the committee has a hard time not seeding four teams from one conference.
I still have Monmouth as my Big South auto-bid, although I think Kennesaw has had the better season to date. Monmouth has had the upper hand in the series lately. If Monmouth gets the AQ, Kennesaw (currently 7-1 overall, 6-0 vs. the FCS) has the resume for an at-large bid. If Kennesaw gets the AQ, I don’t think Monmouth (currently 5-3 overall and 5-2 against the FCS) will have the resume for an at-large bid, meaning the Big South would be a one-bid league.
Sac State is my Big Sky auto-bid as it sits 5-0 with games vs. Cal Poly, vs. Portland State, and at UC Davis remaining. We could have an interesting scenario where the conference’s auto-bid is not a seed. I think by season’s end, even if Sac State goes 8-0 in the Big Sky, EWU and Montana State (Sac State doesn’t play either team) will have better resumes. Plus, UNI could bump Sac State out of the seeds with the head-to-head win and twice as many ranked wins.
I moved Bryant into my NEC auto-bid and switched out Sacred Heart. Bryant, Sacred Heart, and Saint Francis U are all 3-1 in the standings. Bryant has the head-to-head wins against both. My thought last week was Bryant would suffer a second loss somewhere and Sacred Heart would win out. Merrimack I think could play spoiler on Nov. 20, but I’ll give Bryant the benefit of the doubt as the AQ right now.
The MVFC, SoCon, and Southland auto-bid race could get interesting when NDSU-SDSU, VMI-ETSU, and SLU-UIW play this weekend.
It’s quite interesting that five of the eight seeds could be at-large bids, but that’s where we’re at currently.
I touched on SDSU above. If the Jacks beat NDSU and win out, they are probably a seed. If they lose and proceed to beat USD and UND, they are playing in the first round. If they lose twice, they are on the bubble and either one of the last teams in, or one of the first teams left out.
UC Davis (7-1 overall) needs to win one more game and the Aggies are in the field, in my opinion. That would mean eight wins, including an FBS victory vs. Tulsa. They also have a win against Weber, who is back in the Top 25. UC Davis plays at NAU, vs. ranked EWU, and vs. ranked Sac State. Going 1-2 gets you into the field, 2-1 has seed potential, and 3-0 no doubt has UC Davis as a seed, potentially in the Top 4.
I touched on my mindset of the Kennesaw and Monmouth scenario under the auto-bid section.
ETSU is 7-1 with an FBS win vs. Vanderbilt and a non-counter win. This week’s game at VMI is massive for the SoCon title race and AQ. ETSU then plays at WCU (should be a win) and vs. Mercer (another team in the playoff hunt). Going 3-0 (obviously) or 2-1 gets ETSU in the field. The SoCon is looking like a two-bid league with the potential to get three teams in, depending on what happens elsewhere.
Montana (6-2 overall) is not playing great offensive football right now, going 3-2 in October with the most previous game being a near loss to SUU, who is now 1-8. The Griz play at Northern Colorado and at NAU before hosting ranked Montana State. If they go 2-1, they are in the bracket with eight victories featuring an FBS win against Washington. If they go 1-2, a seven-win Montana team isn’t a lock because a 7-4 Weber squad could be the fifth Big Sky team in the field instead of Montana. If Montana goes 3-0, a 6-8 seed is on the table.
William & Mary is 6-2 overall (6-1 against the FCS) and coming off of a dominating win at Villanova. With games at Delaware, vs. ranked JMU, and vs. Richmond, the Tribe needs to go 2-1 to make the bracket. Going 1-2 and finishing with seven wins puts you on the bubble.
UIW’s shot at an at-large bid took a hit when the Cardinals lost to McNeese a couple of weeks ago. They can redeem themselves by beating ranked SLU at home this weekend. If they lost and won their final two games at Nicholls and at HBU, the Cardinals finish 8-3 with an FBS win against Texas State. UIW wouldn’t have a ranked FCS win and does have a loss to YSU, a bottom team in the MVFC. That’s a 50/50 playoff resume.
Missouri State is a very talented team and one of the best 24 in the FCS, but the Bears are the last team in the field right now because of their remaining schedule. Currently 5-3 overall and 5-2 vs. the FCS, the Bears play at ranked SIU, vs. ranked UNI, and at Dixie State. The Bears are definitely in the field going 3-0 with two ranked wins against UNI and SIU plus South Dakota (who is now ranked) from September. They are most likely (but far from a lock) in the bracket going 2-1. And they are left on the bubble going 1-2.
Weber got a must-win at EWU and then beat Idaho State to move to 4-4 overall. Weber’s four losses are to a P5 team and three Top 10 FCS teams (JMU, UC Davis, Montana State). The Wildcats should win out (vs. Portland State, at SUU, vs. Northern Colorado) and finish 7-4. With five Big Sky teams looking like they will likely be in the bracket, would a 7-4 Weber team with four “quality losses” and a win at EWU get a bid? The playoff committee put six CAA teams in the 2018 bracket. Weber will want to see Montana suffer two more losses to finish 7-4, because EWU, MSU, Sac State, and UC Davis have solid paths to the playoffs. Then it could be a 7-4 Montana team with a P5 win that’s trending down vs. a 7-4 Weber team with an EWU win that’s trending up for the fifth Big Sky bid.
Chattanoga and Mercer are my No. 3 and 4 teams in the SoCon right now. I only see two SoCon teams making it right now, but a third is possible by Selection Sunday. UTC is 5-3 overall and 5-2 against the FCS and has a win against ETSU. Mercer is 6-2 overall and 5-1 against the FCS but lost 45-7 to VMI. The Bears still have to play UTC and ETSU.
EKU is my No. 2 AQ7 team, but I’m not sure if that conference gets an at-large bid in the current makeup of the playoff picture. EKU is 6-2 overall and 6-1 against the FCS, but lost to MVFC bottom-dweller Indiana State and won’t have any wins against currently-ranked FCS teams unless it upsets SHSU on the road on Nov. 13.
Maine could have an interesting case, but a fourth CAA team in the bracket may not be likely. The Black Bears are 4-4 overall and 4-3 vs. the FCS. They have a 27-16 October win against W&M, who is now ranked. And if Maine wins out against Stony Brook, UMass, and UNH, it would be 7-4 with an FBS win. For reference, SIU went 7-5 with a dominating win over UMass in 2019 and was left out of the field.
The No. 2 team in one of the SWAC divisions will get consideration. But with bad strength of schedules and how packed the bubble looks to be, I don’t know how realistic an at-large bid is for a team like FAMU, who is 6-2 overall with an FBS loss and a non-counter win. We’ve seen 8-3 teams and 9-2 teams from second-tier FCS conferences get left out in past seasons because they didn’t have any quality wins. FAMU has the 113th SOS right now out of 128 teams.
USD has to win at WIU and beat either SDSU or NDSU to hit seven wins and get consideration from the committee. The Illinois State loss really set the Coyotes back.
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