The 2023 FCS playoff bracket has 10 auto-bids and 14 at-large bids. Eight teams will be seeded with first-round byes.
How the playoff field changes and takes shape every week is fascinating. So after every weekend of games moving forward, I will predict what the bracket will look like.
Below are predictions for the seeds, auto-bids, at-large bids, the bracket, and which teams are on the bubble.
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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.
2021-2022 Final Bracketology Accuracy: 14/16 seeds correct, 46/48 teams correct
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. South Dakota State
2. Montana State
4. South Dakota
7. Western Carolina
Big Sky – Montana State
Big South-OVC – UT Martin
CAA – Delaware
MVFC – South Dakota State
NEC – Duquesne
Patriot – Lafayette
Pioneer – Davidson
SoCon – Furman
Southland – UIW
UAC – Central Arkansas
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.
South Dakota (seed)
Western Carolina (seed)
North Dakota State
21. Southern Illinois
22. Austin Peay
24. UC Davis
Bubble Teams Left Out
Ordered from the best chance to make the bracket out of this group to the worst chance.
25. Northern Iowa
27. New Hampshire
29. Tennessee State
The FCS playoff bracket is regionalized to save on travel costs. The committee tries to utilize as many bus trips as possible in the first round. Bus trips (400 miles or less) are Duquesne-Villanova, Austin Peay-Chattanooga, UT Martin-Central Arkansas, and UAlbany-Lafayette.
If a conference has four or more teams in the bracket, the committee can add an extra flight to avoid having all teams on one side of the bracket.
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. Regular-season non-conference rematches should be avoided in the first 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.
Teams at the top of each matchup in the bracket below indicate who we project would host, which is determined by either bid amount, revenue potential, or sometimes who is more deserving.
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.
As stated above, keep in mind this does factor in future games.
The playoff committee considers ranked wins as victories over teams who were ranked at the time of the game. They also factor in the overall opponent record, so it evens out if a team has a ranked win at the time and that opponent then goes on to not be ranked.
Ranked wins below are using the media poll rankings to maintain consistency in the resume breakdowns.
#1 South Dakota State is 7-0 overall and 6-0 vs. the FCS with an FCS-high three ranked wins over Montana State, UND, and SIU. Three more ranked opponents are coming in a row — at USD, vs. NDSU, and at YSU. The Jackrabbits are rolling right now and look built to run the table and earn the No. 1 seed. Even one loss could still get them a Top 2 seed and home-field advantage at 10-1 and around five ranked wins, especially with the head-to-head over Montana State, who will also be in the running for a Top 2 seed.
#2 Montana State is 6-1 with two ranked wins over Weber State and Sac State. The loss is to SDSU. The Bobcats have made it through two of their ranked Big Sky road games with a 2-0 record. Two more are coming at Top 10 teams Idaho and Montana, plus favorable home games vs. NAU and EWU. If MSU wins out, a Top 2 seed seems likely with four ranked wins. One scenario where that could be a No. 3 seed for MSU is if USD beats SDSU and then both win out. That could result in 1. USD 2. SDSU 3. MSU due to SDSU’s head-to-head over the Bobcats. MSU does look built to win out to put itself in that Top 2 conversation. But if the Bobcats suffer one more loss, it could drop them to the 3-5-seed range, depending on who they lose to and how that particular team finishes.
#3 Furman got past its toughest FCS test last weekend by beating Top 10 WCU. The Paladins are now 6-1 overall and 6-0 vs. the FCS, featuring two ranked wins over Mercer and WCU. They have one more ranked matchup coming in a couple of weeks at Chattanooga. If they win there and also handle business vs. ETSU, vs. VMI, and at Wofford, a 10-0 vs. the FCS team with three ranked wins and an above-average strength of schedule will have a strong case for a Top 4 seed. This also depends on what happens with the SDSU-USD results and how Montana State finishes.
#4 South Dakota is 6-1 overall and 6-0 vs. the FCS with two ranked wins over NDSU and YSU. The Coyotes host No. 1 SDSU this weekend in a massive showdown. A win and all of a sudden USD has gone from a 3-8 team last year to the frontrunner for the No. 1 seed. USD also has ranked games coming at SIU and vs. UND before finishing at WIU. That road trip to SIU could be a hangover game for USD. The Yotes are built well, though, and a somewhat safe projection is for them to lose this weekend vs. SDSU and then win out. At 9-2 overall and 9-1 vs. the FCS with four ranked wins, it looks like a resume worthy of a Top 4 seed.
#5 Delaware is 6-1 overall and 6-0 vs. the FCS, featuring one ranked win over UNH. The Blue Hens have a manageable schedule ahead — at Towson, vs. Elon, at Campbell, and vs. ranked Villanova. They will be favored to win them all with the Nova game being a challenge. At 10-0 vs. the FCS but a low number of ranked wins, it’ll be interesting to see how the committee stacks that up to other teams with one less overall win but one or two more ranked wins and a tougher strength of schedule.
#6 Montana is 6-1 overall and 5-1 vs. the FCS. The loss is to NAU while the Grizzlies have two ranked wins over UC Davis and Idaho. If they handle business vs. Northern Colorado and at Portland State and beat ranked Sac State in Missoula, the Griz are 9-1 heading into the Brawl of the Wild against potentially No. 2 MSU. A win there puts Montana in at least the Top 4 seed conversation, if not the Top 2 (depending on the SDSU-USD result and where those two teams go from there). A loss to MSU and a 9-2 record with three ranked wins is likely in the bottom half of the eight seeds.
#7 Western Carolina just lost to Top 5 Furman. The Catamounts are now 5-2 overall and 5-1 vs. the FCS with two ranked wins over Samford and Chattanooga. They will need to handle business vs. a playoff-potential Mercer team this week. A win there, plus wins at Wofford, vs. ETSU, and at VMI results in a 9-1 FCS record and two ranked wins. Does the committee have enough respect for the SoCon to seed a second team? WCU should hang around the Top 10 in the polls for the rest of this season, and the committee may mirror that perception of a strong WCU team.
The No. 8 seed will be competitive. UIW will be in the mix, but its strength of schedule and lack of any ranked wins may prevent it from being seeded. Sac State also has potential, but it would need to win at Montana to have a stronger case. NDSU may be considered if it goes 8-3, but three FCS losses and a blowout loss to UND make a seed unlikely, assuming the Bison lose to SDSU.
Projecting ahead, Idaho may have the best case for the No. 8 seed. The Vandals are 5-2 overall, 4-1 vs. the FCS, have an FBS win over Nevada, an FBS loss, and two ranked wins over Sac State and EWU. The FCS loss is a close one to Montana, who looks to be a seed. The committee does look at who you lost to and how you lost. A win over No. 2 Montana State this weekend puts Idaho in the Top 4 seed conversation looking at its remaining schedule. But I will pencil in a loss to MSU followed by wins over Northern Colorado, Weber State, and Idaho State. At 8-3 overall with two ranked wins, an FBS win, two close losses to seeded teams, and a Top 10 strength of schedule, that may be enough for the last seed.
I’ll provide more thoughts on conference title races as more games are played. But this is pretty straightforward on who I think earns their conference’s AQs.
After the four at-large bids that are seeds…
Right now, there are six MVFC teams in the bracket. Let’s see how things play out and if that actually happens. But it looks like these six teams can hit at least seven wins, all with a quality win or wins to point to. Plus, there is an extra at-large bid this year compared to 2022 with the Big South and OVC merging, the Southland looks like a one-bid league instead of two, the Big Sky may have one less bid than last year with EWU and Weber falling back plus UC Davis on the bubble, and the CAA may not be deemed strong enough to get five bids in like last year. That all opens the door for six MVFC teams currently positioned well to make the bracket.
The MVFC will be a jumbled mess, though. There is potential for NDSU, UND, YSU, SIU, UNI, and Illinois State to finish 7-4, not to mention the two South Dakota schools as seeds.
Eight teams fighting for five or six spots? Yikes.
Since we’re projecting ahead, let’s say NDSU finishes 8-3 with an upcoming loss to SDSU. UND finishes 7-4 with an upcoming loss to USD. YSU finishes 7-4 with an upcoming loss to SDSU. SIU finishes 7-4 with upcoming losses to USD and NDSU. UNI finishes 7-4 with an upcoming loss to NDSU. Illinois State ends up 6-5 with upcoming losses to UNI and UND.
In this scenario, SIU (who is currently ranked No. 11) might be the most nervous.
UND has a dominant win over NDSU, so it’d be tough to leave the Fighting Hawks out at 7-4. YSU has a dominating win over SIU, so that head-to-head favors YSU getting in before SIU if both are 7-4. But UNI has wins over YSU and UND, so if those two are in, the committee should put a 7-4 UNI team in. And that’s six teams already from the MVFC in the bracket in this scenario (SDSU, USD, NDSU, UND, YSU, UNI). Where does that leave SIU, who has an FBS win over NIU, a win over a playoff-potential Austin Peay team, and one ranked win over SEMO (who has since fallen out of the Top 25)? Is there an argument for SIU to get in before any of the six MVFC teams above? Yet, No. 11 SIU is much more highly ranked than YSU (No. 24) and UNI (No. 23). That may lead to YSU or UNI getting left out if all are 7-4. Right now, I left UNI out since its play has been up and down. UNI feels most likely to let a game slip that it should have won to clear up this jumbled mess.
Two CAA teams are in a good position to make the bracket in Villanova and UAlbany. UAlbany is 5-3 overall and 5-1 vs. the FCS with a ranked win over Nova. The loss is to UNH. UAlbany has a favorable schedule ahead at Maine, vs. W&M, at Stony Brook, and vs. Monmouth. It can get into the seed discussion by winning out. Villanova is 5-2 overall and 5-1 vs. the FCS with a ranked win over Rhody. The Wildcats should hit seven wins by beating Stony Brook and Towson, although Towson just beat W&M. A game at UNH will be tough. They also have to go to Top 10 Delaware to end the regular season. Going 3-1 down the stretch will comfortably get Nova in the bracket at 8-3. Going 2-2 puts them up against many other bubble teams at 7-4.
Out of the Big Sky, Sac State is positioned well to make the playoffs, while UC Davis may have just enough to get in. Sac State is 5-2 overall with an FBS P5 win over Stanford. The losses are to ranked Idaho and Montana State. The Hornets should hit seven wins by beating Idaho State and Cal Poly at home. A loss at Montana is our projection. Then the regular-season finale vs. ranked UC Davis is a biggie for both. If UC Davis wins, that likely means eight victories and a playoff bid, assuming UC Davis can win at NAU, vs. Portland State, and at Idaho State, which are no gimmes. If UC Davis loses to Sac State, will its seven wins but no ranked victories be enough for a bid?
Chattanooga is 6-2 with a ranked win over Samford. The losses are to North Alabama and ranked WCU. That UNA loss could come back to bite the Mocs. They should hit seven wins by winning at VMI this weekend. But then they host Top 5 Furman and finish the regular season at Alabama. Beating Furman and hitting eight wins no doubt gets Chattanooga in. If it loses to Furman, a 7-4 Chattanooga team may still get in due to its competitive loss to WCU and a potential competitive loss to Furman, two teams that could be seeded.
Austin Peay looks to be the second team out of the UAC to make the bracket. The Govs are 5-2 overall and 5-1 vs. the FCS with the loss to ranked SIU. They could earn the auto-bid by knocking off ranked Central Arkansas to end the regular season. But Austin Peay first needs to handle business vs. North Alabama, at EKU, and vs. Utah Tech. The Govs will be favored in all of them, but that road trip to EKU will be a challenge. Win the next three, and Austin Peay’s eight wins stand out compared to a lot of seven-win teams on the bubble.
I touched on the UNI situation above. There very well could be seven MVFC teams with legit arguments to make the bracket. But it’s hard to see the committee putting that many teams from one conference in the field. The most is six, and even that doesn’t happen too often.
Keep an eye on Richmond. After a tough 1-2 start in the non-conference, the Spiders are now 5-3 overall (5-2 vs. the FCS), 4-1 in the CAA, and have one ranked win over Rhody. Games ahead include vs. Campbell, vs. Elon, and at slumping W&M. That could be eight wins and in serious consideration for a bid. But a lack of ranked wins and two losses to unranked Hampton and Morgan State could be questioned by the committee.
New Hampshire is another CAA team to keep an eye on. The Wildcats are 4-3 overall and 4-2 vs. the FCS. It does have a ranked win over UAlbany. The FCS losses are to ranked Delaware and unranked Towson. The path to seven to eight wins isn’t super challenging, but it isn’t a given (at Rhody, vs. ranked Villanova, at Monmouth, and vs. Maine).
Mercer is 5-3 overall and 5-2 vs. the FCS. The losses are to ranked Furman and Chattanooga. A big opportunity arrives this weekend at ranked WCU, but I’ll project that as a loss. Wins are more favorable at The Citadel and vs. Samford. At 7-4 and no ranked wins, Mercer will need a lot of bubble losses to go its way to make the field.
Tennessee State has a shot out of the Big South-OVC as the conference’s second bid. The Tigers are 5-2 overall and 4-1 vs. the FCS with the loss to ranked UT Martin. They have a win over non-D1 Lincoln, which will hurt them in the total D1 wins category for bubble consideration. But there are winnable games remaining vs. Lindenwood, at Charleston Southern, at EIU (EIU can also be in the playoff mix), and vs. Tennessee Tech. It isn’t out of the question for TN State to go 9-2 with eight D1 wins. At EIU (5-3, 5-2 vs. the FCS) could be a swing game for both in playoff consideration. But for TN State and EIU, a lack of ranked wins and their strength of schedules may be a concern when it comes to the bubble.
Fordham is 5-2 overall with an FBS win over Buffalo and two FCS losses to Georgetown and ranked UAlbany. How its offense is playing led by QB CJ Montes and how Holy Cross’ defense is playing, Fordham has a good shot to beat HC this weekend. Add in wins over Bucknell and Colgate, and pencil in a loss to Patriot League favorite Lafayette, and Fordham is 8-3 with an FBS win and a ranked win over Holy Cross (HC is still ranked in the Coaches Poll). That will get consideration from the committee to give the Patriot League a second bid for the second year in a row.
Other teams who I’d consider on the bubble of the actual bubble are Eastern Illinois, Illinois State, Abilene Christian, and Holy Cross.