The chase for FCS playoff seeds intensifies this weekend in Missoula.
For Montana, a Top 2 seed is a legitimate possibility after a concerning September start. Winning out could complete that regular-season turnaround, which means knocking off a Sac State team also looking to make a statement to the playoff committee. The ranked wins category has been at zero for the Hornets all fall.
Montana is 7-1 overall and 6-1 vs. the FCS with two ranked wins over UC Davis and Idaho. The loss is to unranked Northern Arizona. Its Massey strength of schedule is currently 51st.
Sac State is 6-2 overall with no ranked wins and an FBS P5 win over Stanford. The two losses are to ranked Idaho and Montana State. Its Massey SOS is currently 20th.
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 Montana Wins…
The Grizzlies add ranked win No. 3 and their second win over a Top 7 team.
Sandwiched between this matchup and the Brawl of the Wild is a trip to Portland State. That could be a gotcha game if the Griz aren’t careful, but let’s pencil in a win there. If Montana then beats rival Montana State in Missoula, it has a great case for the No. 2 playoff seed and pivotal home-field advantage.
No. 2 seed Montana hosting a semifinal game vs. either No. 3 seed Idaho or No. 6 Montana State? Lordy, what a scene that would be.
The Griz would be 10-1 with four ranked wins, three coming against Top 10 teams. Coupled with a projected year-end strength of schedule ranked 29th, this could see Montana jump No. 2-ranked Furman in the seeds, who may be 10-1 overall and 10-0 vs. the FCS with three ranked wins but a projected year-end strength of schedule ranked 68th.
There is also a realistic scenario that Montana wins its next two games and then loses to Montana State (there’s a screenshot opportunity for the folks on eGriz).
This scenario could see SDSU, Idaho, MSU, and Furman as the Top 4 seeds, assuming they all win out, while Montana falls between the 5-8 seeds, most likely in the 5 or 6 spot.
For Sac State
Sac State would have an interesting resume if it loses at Montana and then wins out.
An 8-3 record featuring an FBS P5 win over Stanford but no ranked FCS wins may be a seedable resume. Although Stanford isn’t very good, and not all FBS wins are weighed the same. The playoff committee was high on the Hornets last week, ranking them No. 8. Would a close loss at Montana and then winning out knock them out of that Top 8? Maybe not. Their projected year-end SOS is ranked 20th, which will carry weight, as there looks to be multiple eight-D1-win teams fighting for a seed.
Of course, Sac State has to handle business vs. Cal Poly and at UC Davis, who will be playing for its playoff life at that point. A loss to UC Davis, and a 7-4 Sac State team and a 7-4 UC Davis team are battling on the bubble with many other 7-4 squads.
If Sac State Wins…
For Sac State
Sac State can solidify a seed by winning in Missoula and then taking that momentum to beat Cal Poly and UC Davis. At 9-2, an FBS P5 win over Stanford, a ranked win over the Griz, and the two losses to Top 10 Idaho and Montana State, the Hornets will be a seed.
Frankly, that’s tough to determine right now. The Brawl is going to determine the order of seeds in a major way.
A messy scenario for the committee is Sac State beating Montana and then Montana beating Montana State. How do you arrange those teams when Idaho has wins over Sac State and MSU, MSU has a win over Sac State, Sac State has a win over Montana, and Montana has wins over Idaho and MSU? All four deserve to be seeded somewhere.
Idaho likely gets a No. 2 playoff seed at 9-2 overall, one FCS loss, two ranked wins, an FBS win over Nevada, and a projected year-end SOS ranked 8th. After that, how the committee orders Furman, Montana, MSU, Sac State, and Delaware for seeds 3-7 will be quite the Rubik’s Cube.
Things could go several different ways for the Griz if they lose Saturday.
Montana could respond by winning out, finishing 9-2 with three ranked wins and two victories over Top 10 teams. This likely leads to Idaho getting the No. 2 seed if the Vandals win out due to their overall body of work. Montana will be in the mix for a Top 4 seed at 9-2, but there will be stiff competition with Furman, Delaware, and Sac State in that hunt as well for seeds 3 and 4 behind SDSU and Idaho.
Montana could go 1-1 down the stretch, beating Portland State and losing to MSU. At 8-3, the Griz have an argument for a seed with its win over Idaho and two total ranked victories. At seven D1 wins, though, there is a possibility they get bumped to the first round.
Montana could also go 0-2 down the stretch (another screenshot opportunity), overlooking PSU and losing again to MSU to end the regular season on a three-game skid. At 7-4 with six D1 wins, does Montana get left out? Or will the Idaho win and two overall ranked wins carry enough weight to get the Griz in the bracket? Chances seem higher than 50% that a 7-4 Montana team still makes the playoffs even with one less D1 win than many teams left on the bubble.