When the clock hits zeros for the No. 2 Furman at No. 14 Chattanooga game, the result won’t just have (obvious) implications for the two squads or the SoCon, but for teams across the FCS vying for at-large bids and high seeds.
Chattanooga is 7-2 overall/vs. the FCS with one ranked win. The losses are to North Alabama and ranked Western Carolina. Its Massey strength of schedule is 86th in the FCS.
Furman is 7-1 overall and 7-0 vs. the FCS with two ranked wins. Its Massey strength of schedule is 56th in the FCS.
What does this weekend’s result mean for both teams for playoff positioning? Let’s start with if the home team wins.
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If Chattanooga Wins…
The Mocs clinch the SoCon’s auto-bid into the FCS playoffs.
Chattanooga would improve to 8-2 vs. the FCS and 7-1 in the SoCon. It has a bye next week and plays at Alabama (who has zero ranked FCS wins so far this year) in Week 12. We will call our shot now and say Chattanooga loses to Alabama.
At 8-2 against FCS competition and two ranked wins, Chattanooga will at least be discussed as a seed. But chances are likely the Mocs will be playing in the first round.
This result would also mean the SoCon has a good shot at four playoff bids. Furman should hit nine wins by beating VMI and Wofford. WCU has lost two in a row to Furman and Mercer, but it did beat Chattanooga. The Catamounts can hit eight wins if they win favorable games against Wofford, ETSU, and VMI. And Mercer just beat WCU to hit six wins. The Bears will be favored to beat The Citadel and Samford. If they do so, there’s another eight-win team out of the SoCon that will be hard to leave out of the bracket.
Furman’s shot at a Top 4 playoff seed could disappear. Expect the Paladins to rebound and beat VMI and Wofford to finish 9-2 overall and 9-1 vs. the FCS. But with two ranked wins, there will be several other 9 or 10-win teams with equal or more ranked victories and a tougher strength of schedule to push Furman out of the Top 4.
SDSU looks locked for a Top 2 seed. Idaho will likely be a Top 3 seed if it wins out. Montana could be a Top 2 seed if it wins out. Or if Montana State wins out it’ll have a good argument for a Top 4 seed. Delaware looks primed to go 10-0 vs. the FCS and be in that discussion for a Top 4 seed. A 9-1 vs. FCS Furman team with two ranked wins could be bumped to the lower half of the eight seeds.
If Furman Wins…
The Paladins clinch the SoCon’s auto-bid into the FCS playoffs.
They also add another ranked win with a promising path to a Top 4 playoff seed. If Furman then handles business vs. VMI and at Wofford, it will be 10-1 overall, 10-0 vs. the FCS, and own three ranked wins. That could be anywhere in the No. 2-4 seed range.
SDSU will be No. 1 if it wins out. Idaho is favored to win out, and if the Vandals do, they could be the No. 2 seed at 9-2 with three ranked wins (two Top 5 wins), an FBS win, one FCS loss, and a Top 10 strength of schedule. But if Montana wins out, the Grizzlies could be No. 2 and Idaho could be No. 3, pushing Furman to No. 4. Montana winning out would require beating Top 10 Sac State and Montana State. If the Griz do so, they will be 10-1 with four ranked wins, three Top 10 wins, a head-to-head win on Idaho, one FCS loss, and a stronger SOS than Furman.
It seems unlikely that a 10-0 vs. Delaware team would jump a 10-0 vs. FCS Furman team due to Furman having one more ranked win and a similar SOS.
The playoff committee could certainly mirror the current polls and give Furman the No. 2 seed. But Idaho, Montana, or both could move ahead of Furman due to their overall resume.
The Mocs will be sweating on Selection Sunday.
Chattanooga already has seven wins right now. A good spot with three weeks remaining in the regular season, one may assume. But the Mocs have a bye next week, and then they go to Alabama in Week 12.
We’ll double down on our projection above and say Chattanooga loses to Alabama.
A loss to Furman results in Chattanooga finishing 7-4 overall and 7-3 vs. the FCS with one ranked win. They did beat Mercer, who has a good chance to secure eight wins and make the bracket. That helps Chattanooga’s argument to also be in the field. The problem for the Mocs is … WCU and Mercer could have eight wins to Chattanooga’s seven. And WCU has a head-to-head win over Chattanooga while Mercer has a head-to-head win over WCU.
In a potentially packed bubble with several seven-win teams, would the playoff committee give the SoCon a fourth overall bid and put Chattanooga in? Maybe. But the conference has only gotten three total bids in the last two playoffs, and the committee has left three 7-4 SoCon teams out of the bracket between the 2021 and 2022 seasons, including Chattanooga last year.