2022 FCS Bracketology 7.0 — Playoff Predictions (11-7-2022)

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The 2022 FCS playoff bracket has 11 auto-bids and 13 at-large bids. Eight teams will be seeded with first-round byes. The national championship game is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 8, in Frisco, Texas. It will air on ABC.

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.


Notes

These predictions take current playoff resumes and all future scheduled games into consideration. 

This is through the eyes of the playoff committee and what I think they will do.


The Field

2021 Final Bracketology Accuracy: 7/8 seeds correct, 24/24 teams correct

Seeds
These are playoff predictions and don’t reflect my current Top 25. The numbers associated with teams may not match where I currently rank them on my ballot.

1. Sac State
2. SDSU
3. Montana State
4. NDSU
5. Holy Cross
6. Weber State
7. Samford
8. UIW

Auto-Bids
*Clinched

ASUN-WAC – Abilene Christian
Big Sky – Sac State
Big South – NC A&T
CAA – William & Mary
*MVFC – SDSU
*NEC – Saint Francis
OVC – SEMO
*Patriot – Holy Cross
Pioneer – Davidson
SoCon – Samford
Southland – Southeastern Louisiana University

At-Large Bids 
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.

Montana State (seed)
NDSU (seed)
Weber State (seed)
UIW (seed)
Idaho
Elon
Delaware
Furman
Chattanooga
21. New Hampshire
22. North Dakota
23. Richmond
24. Montana

Bubble Teams Left Out
Ordered from the best chance to make the bracket out of this group to the worst chance.

25. Fordham
26. Mercer
27. Youngstown State
28. Rhode Island
29. Eastern Kentucky
30. FAMU
31. Austin Peay


The Bracket

The FCS playoff bracket is regionalized to save on travel costs. The committee must utilize as many bus trips as possible in the first round. Bus trips (400 miles or less) are Saint Francis-Delaware, Davidson-Furman, NC A&T-Elon, and SEMO-Chattanooga.

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 can be matched up in the opening 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 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. The seeds also can’t be adjusted once set to even out the sides of the bracket.

Here is a Twitter thread on how the seeding process works.


The Explanation

As stated above, keep in mind this does factor in future games.

Seeds

If Sac State and SDSU win out, they will get the Top 2 seeds. I can see the committee just mirroring the polls, which have had SDSU No. 1 for multiple weeks now. But I also think the committee leans on paper resumes more than who they think is the better team. And Sac State arguably has an edge there.

If Sac State wins at Portland State and vs. UC Davis (which could be a challenging game), the Hornets would be 11-0 with an FBS win (Colorado State) and three now-ranked wins (No. 16 Montana, No. 15 Idaho, No. 5 Weber). Their Massey projected season-end strength of schedule is ranked No. 5.

If SDSU wins vs. Illinois State this week before a Week 12 bye, it would be 10-1 overall and 10-0 vs. the FCS. The Jacks would have two now-ranked wins (No. 4 NDSU, No. 21 UND), including knocking off then-No. 1 NDSU in Fargo. Their projected Massey SOS is No. 6.

Montana State had a wake-up call last week at NAU, needing a game-winning FG to win. The Bobcats should win at Cal Poly, and then it’s a home game vs. rival Montana, who may need to win to make the playoffs. MSU will be slight favorites to win at home, and if it does win, it would finish 10-1 overall and 10-0 vs. the FCS, featuring two now-ranked over No. 5 Weber State and No. 16 Montana. Massey’s projected year-end SOS for MSU is No. 17.

North Dakota State may lack the ranked wins and comparative SOS to jump higher in the seeds, unless UC Davis beats Sac State and/or Montana beats Montana State. The Bison will have two solid gauges to end the year, playing at SIU (playing for its playoff lives) and vs. No. 21 UND. If NDSU wins out, it would be 9-2 overall and 9-1 vs. the FCS (narrow loss to SDSU). The Bison would own just one ranked win over UND, although YSU could be ranked by season’s end and in the at-large pool. NDSU also has a blowout win over projected Big South champ NC A&T, but that probably isn’t a needle-mover for the committee. Massey’s projected SOS for NDSU is No. 22.

A few different teams will have arguments for the No. 5 seed. Holy Cross should finish 11-0, featuring an FBS win over Buffalo and one ranked win against now-No. 24 Fordham. Its projected SOS of No. 80 could drop them a spot or two.

Weber State is also favored to win out. It would finish 9-2 with eight D1 wins, featuring an FBS win over Utah State and one now-ranked win over No. 16 Montana. The two losses are narrow ones to Top 3 seeds Sac State and Montana State. The UC Davis win could also look better by Selection Sunday.

Samford is currently 8-1 overall and 8-0 vs. the FCS. It has one now-ranked win over No. 13 Furman. It has a very tough end of the season, playing at No. 11 Chattanooga and vs. No. 12 Mercer. Samford could rise to the No. 5 seed if it wins out.

UIW has a bye and then should beat Northwestern State to finish 10-1 overall. It would have nine D1 wins, including an FBS win over Nevada. The loss is to SLU. UIW did have a dominant ranked win over SIU, but the Salukis have fallen out of the Top 25. If W&M wins out, it could bump UIW out of the seeds. Idaho could also factor into the No. 8 seed. UIW’s projected SOS of 56th could drop it out of the Top 8.

Auto-Bids

A few notes…

SDSU, Saint Francis, and Holy Cross have clinched their auto-bids.

Sac State looks to have the AQ tiebreaker edge on Montana State if both go 8-0 in the Big Sky.

I’ve stopped trying to project the ASUN-WAC auto-bid and just going with who’s at the top of the most recent computerized ranking.

The OVC auto-bid will come down to a coin flip if UT Martin and SEMO finish undefeated in OVC play. They do not play each other since Lindenwood’s late addition resulted in each conference member having a game taken off its schedule.

At-Large Bids

After the four at-large bids that are seeds…

Idaho will have a battle vs. UC Davis before going to Idaho State. If it wins out, Idaho will be 8-1 vs. the FCS (narrow loss to No. 2 Sac State) and a now-ranked win over No. 16 Montana, who was No. 3 at the time of the game.

Elon has a Week 12 bye. It can punch its ticket to the playoffs by beating Hampton this week. That would give Elon its eighth D1 win and an 8-3 overall record (8-2 vs. FCS) with three ranked wins over No. 8 W&M, No. 14 Richmond, and No. 18 Delaware.

Delaware is currently 7-2 vs. the FCS, featuring an FBS win (Navy) and one now-ranked win (No. 23 Rhody). It looked much better against Monmouth this last week after a 20-point loss at Elon. One more win and Delaware is in. The Blue Hens host No. 14 Richmond before going to rival Villanova.

Furman is currently 7-2 overall and 6-1 vs. the FCS. It does have a non-counter win, something to consider if Furman finds itself on the bubble. It has a resume-boosting win over now-No. 11 Chattanooga. The lone FCS loss is to No. 10 Samford. Furman should hit at least seven D1 wins this season, playing struggling Wofford in Week 12. If it wants to firmly secure a playoff bid, winning at No. 12 Mercer will be huge this week. Eight D1 wins, and Furman is feeling confident on Selection Sunday. Seven D1 wins, and Furman is jumbled with what looks to be a decent-sized bubble.

What will be huge for Furman is its win over Chattanooga. Because Chattanooga looks likely to hit eight D1 wins. The Mocs are 7-2 overall and 7-1 vs. the FCS. It owns one now-ranked win over No. 12 Mercer. Hosting No. 10 Samford this week is a big-time game for SoCon playoff positioning. Even if UTC loses, a win at WCU should happen the next week to finish with eight D1 wins.

Richmond got a huge ranked win over UNH this last weekend to hit seven D1 wins (7-2 overall, 7-1 vs. the FCS, loss to No. 19 Elon). The Spiders should be in with one more win (since it’d be over a ranked foe), but it won’t be easy at No. 18 Delaware and vs. No. 8 W&M.

North Dakota is 6-3 overall and 6-2 vs. the FCS. Its two then-ranked wins over No. 24 UNI and No. 7 Missouri State are no longer currently-ranked wins. However, YSU looks to be in playoff contention by the season’s end, and UND owns a win over the Penguins. It also owns a win over potential ASUN-WAC auto-bid ACU. Plus, UND’s projected season-end SOS is No. 2. If the Fighting Hawks beat struggling South Dakota at home this week before going to No. 4 NDSU, a seven-D1-win UND team with that SOS has a good argument to get in over several other seven-D1-win teams.

New Hampshire is 6-3 overall and 6-2 vs. the FCS (losses to NC Central and No. 14 Richmond). It does have a resume-boosting win over now-No. 19 Elon. Seven D1 wins is not a gimme to get in the bracket this year, so this weekend’s game vs. No. 23 Rhody (also at six D1 wins) could be a playoff-elimination game. UNH has a winnable game at Maine to end the season. Win twice and UNH has a decent shot to get in. Lose to Rhody and beat Maine, and it will be nervous on Selection Sunday.

The last spot may be between Montana and Fordham. If the Griz beat Montana State to finish 8-3, they are in. But this projection has them losing that game. Montana should beat EWU this week. What’s ironic is a 7-4 Montana team (projected No. 21 SOS) and a 9-2 Fordham team (projected No. 81 SOS) will be hanging their hats on their quality losses and not their wins. Fordham nearly beat FBS Ohio and No. 6 Holy Cross. Assuming it has a competitive loss at MSU, Montana will have one-possession losses to No. 3 MSU, No. 2 Sac State, No. 5 Weber State, and No. 15 Idaho. The losses to Sac State and Weber were on the road without starting QB Lucas Johnson. The committee does factor in injuries, and I’m sure that point will be hammered home in the room. My gut says the committee would put a 7-4 Montana team in over a 9-2 Fordham team, considering its SOS and close losses without its starting QB.

But …

A team like Mercer could bump both out if Mercer wins out. Or if YSU hits eight D1 wins. Or if UT Martin gets the OVC’s auto-bid coin clip, SEMO would have a good chance to get an at-large bid. If SEMO got the AQ coin flip, the OVC would probably be just a one-bid league.

Bubble Teams

I talked about the Fordham situation above. The bubble could shake out favorably for Fordham. But the “quality losses” argument may not always hold up in the selection room. And that goes for Montana as well.

Mercer (7-2 overall, 7-1 vs. the FCS, loss to No. 11 Chattanooga) can win itself into the bracket. It won’t be easy, though, as the Bears have to play arguably the top two teams in the SoCon — vs. No. 13 Furman and at No. 10 Samford.

Youngstown State got a huge last-minute win at Illinois State. Now it’s 6-3 overall and 6-2 vs. the FCS (losses to No. 4 NDSU and No. 21 UND). If YSU wins at Missouri State and wins vs. Southern Illinois, it has a shot at the bracket with eight D1 wins and its projected SOS of No. 23. If it splits, a seven-D1-win team may not make it, especially with a head-to-head loss to seven-D1-win UND.

Rhode Island is 6-3 overall and 6-2 vs. the FCS (losses to No. 18 Delaware and No. 8 W&M) with a ranked win over No. 19 Elon. It should hit seven D1 wins looking at its Week 12 opponent vs. UAlbany. But a road game this week at No. 17 UNH will be tough. That could be a playoff eliminator for the loser of that game, as UNH is also at six D1 wins.

I think Eastern Kentucky is the best team in the ASUN-WAC. But I don’t know if the conference gets an at-large bid, so it may come down to the auto-bid computerized rankings. EKU is 6-3 overall with an FBS win (Bowling Green), a close FBS loss, and handed No. 22 SEMO its first FCS loss a couple of games ago. If EKU wins at Jacksonville State and vs. Kennesaw, it should be considered for an at-large bid (if it doesn’t get the AQ). JSU (7-2) will be a competitive game.

Florida A&M will have a similar resume as last year’s at-large bid team if it wins out. FAMU would be 9-2 overall with eight D1 wins. One loss will be scrapped against FBS UNC. The other loss is 59-3 to No. 9 Jackson State, compared to last year’s 7-6 loss to JSU. With a projected SOS ranked No. 105 and a more packed bubble, plus last year’s 38-14 first-round loss to SLU not helping its case, FAMU’s chances of making the playoffs are smaller than last season unless upsets go their way.

Austin Peay is a part of the ASUN-WAC. This is a solid team but already has two conference losses, making it a challenging road for a bid. The Govs are 6-2 vs. the FCS and go to surging Kennesaw State and to FBS Alabama to finish the year. Not an ideal finish. If they beat Kennesaw, they will be bunched with a lot of other seven-D1-win teams. Beat Alabama? Give em the No. 1 seed!

If SEMO and UT Martin finish undefeated in the OVC, the tiebreaker would move down to a coin flip since they would have similar records against the next-best teams in the standings. If SEMO gets the OVC auto-bid coin flip, UT Martin likely won’t get an at-large bid with its non-conference losses to now-unranked Missouri State and Kennesaw State. If UT Martin gets the OVC auto-bid coin flip, SEMO would have a stronger chance for an at-large bid. SEMO would hit nine D1 wins if it wins out (at EIU, vs. Murray State).