No. 2 Montana State continues its quest for a Top 2 FCS playoff seed and pivotal home-field advantage as it embarks on yet another Top 10 road trip. On the opposite sideline, No. 9 Idaho looks to regain some of its shine that was lost after its Montana loss a couple of weeks ago.
Montana State is 6-1 with two ranked wins over Weber State and Sac State. The loss is to No. 1 SDSU. MSU’s Massey strength of schedule is 19th in the FCS.
Idaho is 5-2 overall, 4-1 vs. the FCS with the loss to No. 7 Montana, an FBS win over Nevada, an FBS loss to Cal, and two ranked wins over Sac State and EWU. Idaho’s Massey strength of schedule is 8th 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 Idaho Wins…
The Vandals put themselves in a great position for a playoff seed.
Games, of course, aren’t won on paper. But one could reasonably project Idaho to win at winless Northern Colorado, at slumping Weber State, and vs. better-than-expected Idaho State. At 9-2 overall, three ranked wins, an FBS win, and one FCS loss, Idaho could creep back into the Top 4 seed discussion. That would be dependent on how teams like SDSU, USD, Furman, and Delaware finish, and also how Montana finishes, the lone FCS team to defeat Idaho in this scenario.
But that playoff resume, including a good strength of schedule, is going to have Idaho in the Top 4 conversation.
For Montana State
Suffering a second FCS loss sends MSU down the seeding order with pressure to win out to secure a first-round bye. You’d expect MSU to rebound and win its next two at home vs. NAU and EWU. The regular season ends with a brawl in Missoula against a Montana team also eyeing a seed and saving a good chunk of money to not host a first-round game.
If MSU beats Montana, the 9-2 Bobcats have a shot at a Top 4 seed along with teams like SDSU, Furman, and Idaho. There’s also a chance a 10-0 vs. FCS Delaware team or a 9-1 vs. FCS USD team pushes MSU out of the Top 4 if those finishes do happen for those squads. Although Delaware will be lacking ranked wins, so their argument for a Top 4 seed won’t be as strong. USD could also beat SDSU this weekend, which could result in the South Dakota schools being in the Top 3 seed discussion if they both win out.
If the Bobcats lose at Montana (ducks head) and finish 8-3, that could be a seed with a good SOS, two ranked wins, and the three losses (assuming they’re close losses) to seeded teams. But MSU certainly could be playing in the first round at 8-3.
If Montana State Wins…
For Montana State
The Bobcats continue to stack up a helluva resume. This would be their third ranked win. Not to mention their third ranked win on the road. Not to mention their third ranked win on the road against a Top 10 team at the time of the game. Add in how they lost at No. 1 SDSU (yes, the committee looks at who you lost to and how you lost), and MSU looks loaded for a Top 2 seed.
Of course, the Montana game still looms. Beat the Griz (and handle business vs. NAU and EWU), and MSU will have a great argument for the coveted home-field advantage in the bracket. Although the Top 2 seed race could be interesting if USD beats SDSU this weekend, USD finishes 10-0 vs. the FCS with five ranked wins, SDSU finishes 10-1 with five ranked wins, and MSU finishes 10-1 with four ranked wins and the loss to SDSU.
Beat Idaho but lose to Montana, and a Top 4 seed could still happen at 9-2 depending on how teams like SDSU, USD, Furman, Montana, and Delaware finish.
From one of the hottest teams in the FCS to back-to-back losses … but it isn’t all doom and gloom for Idaho.
Would the Vandals get a Top 4 seed? No. Would they even get a Top 6 seed? Probably not. But at 8-3 (again, we’re going to pencil in wins over UNC, Weber, and Idaho State) with two ranked wins, an FBS win, and a very good strength of schedule, there is a shot at a No. 7 or 8 seed. The committee may favor that resume over a 10-1 UIW team, for example, who has zero ranked wins and a much weaker SOS.
An 8-3 record is far from a lock at getting a seed, though. The last time a three-loss team earned a playoff seed was in 2019.