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 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
3. Montana State
7. Sacramento State
8. Southern Illinois
Big Sky – Idaho
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.
Montana State (seed)
Southern Illinois (seed)
Sacramento State (seed)
North Dakota State
22. Western Carolina
23. Austin Peay
Bubble Teams Left Out
Ordered from the best chance to make the bracket out of this group to the worst chance.
25. Youngstown State
26. William & Mary
27. Tennessee State
29. Holy Cross
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, UAlbany-Lafayette, Davidson-Western Carolina, Northern Iowa-South Dakota.
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 due to multiple losses.
Ranked wins below are using the media poll rankings to maintain consistency in the resume breakdowns.
#1 South Dakota State is 8-0 overall and 7-0 vs. the FCS with an FCS-high four ranked wins over Montana State, UND, SIU, and USD. Two more ranked opponents are coming in the next two games — 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 five ranked wins, which could be two more than other teams in the Top 4 seed discussion.
The No. 2 seed and pivotal home-field advantage will get interesting. It could be Furman, who was No. 3 in last week’s playoff committee Top 10 and who is now No. 2 in the media and coaches polls after Montana State lost at Idaho. If Furman wins out, it will be 10-1 overall and 10-0 vs. the FCS with three ranked wins. But its Massey projected year-end strength of schedule is 68th. Furman could get jumped by Idaho if Idaho wins out. It could also get jumped by Montana or Montana State if one of them wins out. This would be due to an equal number of ranked wins but stronger strength of schedules.
Right now, I’ll project Idaho, Montana State, and Furman to win out to project seeds 2-5 like this…
#2 Idaho faces three unranked opponents to end the regular season. If the Vandals win out, they would be 9-2 with three ranked wins (two Top 10 wins over Montana State and Sac State), one FBS win over Nevada, and only one FCS loss (vs. Montana). Their projected year-end strength of schedule is 8th.
#3 Montana State would be 9-2 with three ranked wins, all against Top 10 teams on the road. The two losses were inches away from wins against SDSU and Idaho, the Top 2 seeds in this scenario. MSU’s projected year-end strength of schedule is 6th.
Those two could bump #4 Furman, who would be 10-1 overall and 10-0 vs. the FCS with three ranked wins and a projected year-end strength of schedule ranked 68th. I think the playoff committee would value the Top 10 strength of schedules of Idaho and MSU to move Furman down. They’d all have the same number of ranked wins, but on top of the SOS, Idaho has an FBS win, and MSU has higher-ranked wins.
#5 Montana is projected to go 9-2 with three ranked wins, beating Top 10 Sac State this week but losing to Montana State. This could bump Idaho ahead of Montana in the seeds (even though the Grizzlies have the head-to-head) due to overall body of work. Montana’s projected year-end strength of schedule is 29th, so there is a chance the committee could move Montana ahead of Furman. But Furman would have two more D1 wins than the Griz, and Montana’s loss to unranked NAU earlier in the season could be influential as well.
If Montana wins out to finish 10-1, the Griz would have a great shot at the No. 2 seed with four ranked wins, pushing Idaho to No. 3. This scenario isn’t out of the question at all, but two Top 10 teams to come will challenge Montana’s path to the 2 seed.
#6 Delaware is 7-1 overall and 7-0 vs. the FCS with one ranked win. The Blue Hens only have one ranked opponent left, hosting Villanova. They look built to win out, but only two ranked wins and a projected year-end strength of schedule of 55th may keep them out of the Top 5.
#7 Sac State will have an interesting resume. If the Hornets lose at Montana this weekend and then win out, they won’t have any ranked wins but will be 8-3 with an FBS P5 win over Stanford. It’s looking more likely that one or two 8-win teams will be in the mix for a seed. And Sac State’s P5 win will stand out. The playoff committee had the Hornets No. 8 last week. If they have a competitive loss to Montana and then win out, the committee may not feel the need to move them out of the Top 8.
The No. 8 seed will be competitive. UIW will be in the mix, but its projected year-end strength of schedule is 89th, and a lack of any ranked wins may prevent it from being seeded. UIW played a non-D1 game, and its matchup against Northwestern State has been canceled. So UIW will be 9-1 if it wins out with an FBS loss, but the Cardinals will only have eight D1 wins, no ranked wins, and a weaker SOS.
An 8-D1-win Sac State, Southern Illinois, UNI, or NDSU team has a better resume to be seeded over an 8-D1-win UIW squad.
Also, keep an eye on a UAlbany team that could finish with nine D1 wins.
Projecting ahead, Southern Illinois has an opportunity at home to beat Top 10 South Dakota this week. A game at NDSU next week will be tough. Then the Salukis host Indiana State. If they split these next two games and beat ISU, the Salukis will be 8-3 with two ranked wins, an FBS win, and a projected year-end strength of schedule of No. 9, making a good argument for a seed.
After the four at-large bids that are seeds…
UAlbany is 6-3 overall and 6-1 vs. the FCS with two competitive FBS losses. It has three games to go (the NCAA allows you to play an extra game if you play at Hawaii). The Great Danes have one ranked win so far, and they have a big one this week hosting No. 24 William & Mary. If they win and then beat Stony Brook and Monmouth, UAlbany can be a dark horse for a seed with nine D1 wins and two ranked victories.
Northern Iowa is 5-3 overall and 5-2 vs. the FCS with two ranked wins and has the No. 1 projected year-end strength of schedule. UNI should hit seven wins by beating WIU and Missouri State. And with head-to-head wins over ranked YSU and UND, two other teams looking likely to finish 7-4, UNI has a big edge there to make the bracket. And in the regular-season finale, UNI hosts NDSU, where both teams could be at seven wins looking to 100% lock in a bid with a victory and its eighth W.
South Dakota is 6-2 overall and 6-1 vs. the FCS with two ranked wins. The Coyotes can get back into the seed picture if they win out, but we’ll see how they respond to the lopsided SDSU loss in the next two games at ranked SIU and vs. ranked UND. Even if they happen to lose both, the Yotes should hit seven wins by beating WIU. And its head-to-head victories over NDSU and YSU will be favorable for the committee.
Mercer picked up a huge win last week over ranked WCU, moving to 6-3 overall and 6-2 vs. the FCS with one ranked win. Now the Bears need to avoid an upset. If they do and beat unranked The Citadel and Samford, the Bears should be in with eight wins. Western Carolina, despite losing two in a row to Furman and Mercer, can also hit eight wins by beating Wofford, ETSU, and VMI. The Catamounts would then likely be in the field at 8-3 and two ranked wins.
North Dakota has had two meh performances after stomping NDSU. But at 5-3 overall and 5-2 vs. the FCS with a ranked win over the Bison, the Fighting Hawks are still positioned well to go at least 2-1 in the final three games (Murray State, ranked USD, Illinois State) to hit seven wins. That head-to-head over the Bison will be key because North Dakota State will likely either have seven or eight wins. NDSU is currently 6-2 but has zero ranked wins and two FCS losses. The Bison face three consecutive ranked opponents to end the regular season. A plausible scenario is a loss at SDSU this weekend and then beating SIU in Fargo next week to sit at 7-3. That leaves a massive regular-season finale at UNI. The winner there looks to hit eight wins and secure a playoff bid. The loser will be 7-4 and will have their fate put into the hands of the playoff committee. If the Bison go 7-4, it’s tough to see the committee leaving NDSU out of the bracket, even if its resume isn’t the best with only one ranked win. Last year, Montana and Delaware were stumbling late in the season and still got in at 7-4. Brand matters, even if it’s subconsciously for committee members.
Villanova is 6-2 overall and 6-1 vs. the FCS with a ranked win. The Wildcats look to hit eight wins and secure a bid by beating unranked UNH and Towson. Then a game at Top 10 Delaware will have big seed implications.
Austin Peay could grab the UAC’s auto-bid if it wins its next two games against EKU and Utah Tech and then beats Central Arkansas. I may lean toward UCA winning right now and getting the AQ, even though UCA just lost a conference game to Tarleton. But even if Austin Peay loses to UCA, it can hit eight wins by winning its next two and standing out in the at-large pool among seven-win teams.
Chattanooga is already at seven D1 wins. The issue is it plays No. 2 Furman this week, then has a bye, then plays Alabama. If the Mocs beat Furman, they will earn the SoCon’s auto-bid. If they lose, three other SoCon teams with at least eight wins could be ahead of the Mocs in the playoff picture. Would the SoCon get a fourth bid from the committee? Right now, I’d project the Mocs to get in over YSU and W&M (below). It’s hard to see the committee giving the MVFC seven bids. And W&M could hit eight wins if it beats ranked UAlbany this week and then wins out. But if W&M loses Saturday and finishes with seven wins, Chattanooga also has seven wins and a stronger victory than W&M has with UTC’s win over a team in the bracket (Mercer).
Youngstown State looks likely to finish 7-4, but it may be the odd team left out from the MVFC since the Valley could get six teams in. YSU does have a dominating win over ranked SIU, but it also has head-to-head losses to UNI and USD. SIU could finish with 2-3 ranked wins and an FBS win, pushing YSU back to the bubble. Beating No. 1 SDSU next week would obviously be huge and then would get YSU into the bracket at 8-3 if it handles business at Indiana State and Murray State. That will be a big ask to beat the Jacks, though, so YSU has to hope either NDSU loses out to go 6-5, or hope SIU loses these next two games vs. USD and NDSU to knock the Salukis back in the committee’s minds. No matter what happens, an MVFC team with a good case to be in the bracket will be left out. YSU’s projected year-end strength of schedule is 13th, which will help its case.
William & Mary is 5-3 overall and 5-2 vs. the FCS with no ranked wins. It snapped a three-game losing streak last week. The Tribe can get into the playoff projected field by winning at ranked UAlbany this week. If they lose and then win out (Hampton, Richmond) they would have seven victories but no ranked wins (unless Richmond, who is receiving votes right now, is in the Top 25 by Week 12).
Tennessee State is 6-2 overall and 5-1 vs. the FCS. The Tigers don’t have a ranked win and also own a non-D1 win, which could hurt on the bubble. They’ll get a serious look if they win out (Charleston Southern, EIU, TN Tech) to finish 9-2 with eight D1 wins. The eight D1 wins and nine total victories would stand out among seven-win teams on the bubble. One concern is a lack of ranked wins and a projected year-end strength of schedule ranked 91st, compared to YSU’s 13th and W&M’s 62nd.
Watch out for Richmond. After an 0-2 start and a 2-3 record in September, the Spiders have won four straight to sit at 6-3 overall and 6-2 vs. the FCS. They do not have a ranked win. Two games remain vs. Elon and at ranked William & Mary. The winner of that last game could be for a playoff bid. If Richmond beats Elon and loses to W&M, a 7-4 Spiders team may be left out due to no ranked wins and a projected year-end strength of schedule ranked 84th.
Holy Cross is 5-3 overall and 5-2 vs. the FCS. Getting an at-large bid may be difficult. HC will have to beat FBS Army, plus Lehigh and Georgetown, and hope the committee puts them in at 8-3 with an FBS win. Army is currently 2-6. The Crusaders do not have any ranked FCS wins, so a 7-4 finish likely won’t be enough for a bid.
Gardner-Webb is 4-4 overall and 4-2 vs. the FCS. The Runnin’ Bulldogs have won two straight over a solid EKU team and ranked UT Martin, handing UT Martin its first FCS loss. If they win out (Bryant, TN Tech, Charleston Southern), they will get a look at 7-4 and one ranked win. But Tennessee State, another bubble team, does have a head-to-head on Gardner-Webb, potentially blocking its path to the bracket.