It’s time to take one final stab at what the 2023 FCS playoff bracket will look like before Selection Sunday.
The official bracket will be announced Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU. This year’s bracket has 10 auto-bids and 14 at-large bids. Eight teams will be seeded with first-round byes.
Below are predictions for the seeds, the at-large bids, and which teams are on the bubble. This is through the eyes of the playoff committee and what I think they will do. For more background on the playoff selection process, check out this interview with FCS Playoff Committee Chair Kent Haslam.
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2021-2022 Final Bracketology Accuracy: 14/16 seeds correct, 46/48 teams correct
1. South Dakota State
3. South Dakota
8. Montana State
Big Sky – Montana
Big South-OVC – Gardner-Webb
CAA – Villanova
MVFC – South Dakota State
NEC – Duquesne
Patriot – Lafayette
Pioneer – Drake
SoCon – Furman
Southland – Nicholls
UAC – Austin Peay
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)
Montana State (seed)
North Dakota State
21. UC Davis
22. Southern Illinois
23. Youngstown State
24. Sacramento State
Bubble Teams Left Out
Ordered from the best chance to make the bracket out of this group to the worst chance.
26. UT Martin
27. Western Carolina
29. Eastern Illinois
30. Holy Cross
Unfortunately due to heading to a wedding celebration tonight, this bracketology version will not feature an actual bracket projection, just predicting who’s in the field. Bracketing the field takes time to do it properly and follow the same guidelines the committee does.
But here are some notes on how the bracket is formed.
The FCS playoff bracket is regionalized to save on travel costs. The committee tries to utilize as many bus trips (400 miles or less) as possible in the first round.
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.
First-round hosting is determined by either bid amount, revenue potential, facilities, athlete experience, and/or team performance.
The order of seeds is NOT determined by regionalization. The seeds are ordered through an individual voting process by committee members. Seeds can’t be adjusted once voting results are complete.
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 several losses.
South Dakota State will be the No. 1 seed at 11-0 and seven (!) ranked wins.
Montana put its exclamation point on the No. 2 seed argument by thumping Top 5 Montana State. The Grizzlies finish 10-1 overall with four ranked wins, three over Top 10 teams.
South Dakota should get the No. 3 seed, although some committee members may consider them at No. 2. USD is 9-2 overall and 9-1 vs. the FCS with four ranked wins, three over Top 10 teams. USD’s SOS is around 19th, while Montana’s is 31st. I still think the Griz will be No. 2, though.
UAlbany finishes 9-3 overall and 9-1 vs. the FCS with two ranked wins and two competitive FBS losses. UAlbany owns a 31-10 head-to-head win on Nova, who is the CAA’s auto-bid due to a tiebreaker. UAlbany has the better resume for a higher seed despite Nova getting the AQ.
Idaho is up huge on Idaho State as of this typing and will finish 8-3 overall with three ranked wins (two over Top 5 teams), an FBS win over Nevada, and two FCS losses. A top 10 SOS coupled with its wins should give Idaho a decent seed.
Villanova just crushed Top 10 Delaware to finish 9-2 overall and 9-1 vs. the FCS with two ranked wins. It is behind UAlbany due to the head-to-head loss.
Furman, who was No. 2 in the polls, had a costly loss to Wofford. But the committee factors in two things: overall body of work and injuries. Furman was without captain and starting QB Tyler Huff, who is expected to return for the playoffs. Furman is 9-2 overall and 9-1 vs. the FCS with three ranked wins, a resume good enough for a seed.
The No. 8 seed is tough…
It’ll be between Montana State, NDSU, or Austin Peay.
I’ll lean Montana State, even though its loss at Montana today was ugly. But Montana had an ugly loss to end last year and still made the field as one of the last teams in. MSU may be in the same position fighting for the last seed.
Austin Peay is 9-2 overall, 9-1 vs. the FCS, one ranked win, and ends the regular season on a 9-game winning streak. Its SOS is 28th. But it lost big to SIU in September, a team NDSU beat decisively last week.
Montana State and NDSU are both 8-3. They both have two ranked wins. MSU’s two were at Top 10 teams at the time, which is how the committee views the ranked wins. MSU’s SOS is 5th compared to NDSU’s 13th. MSU has been ranked in the Top 5 for most of this season. NDSU was between 10-15 in recent polls before cracking the Top 10 this week. MSU has an ugly loss at seeded Montana. NDSU has an ugly loss at unseeded UND. MSU lost by an inch at SDSU. NDSU lost by three scores at SDSU.
Those are reasons to seed MSU over NDSU. Although the committee could look at MSU’s decisive loss Saturday and NDSU’s decisive win at ranked UNI as something that swings their individual seed votes.
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After the four at-large bids that are seeds…
NDSU will be in contention for a seed at 8-3, written about above.
Delaware, Mercer, and Richmond are all 8-3 overall and 8-2 vs. the FCS with a ranked win. They all have a good argument to get in above several 7-win teams.
North Dakota is 7-4 overall and 7-3 vs. the FCS. Its lone ranked win is a dominant one over NDSU, which should be enough for a bid.
NC Central is 9-2 overall and 8-1 vs. the FCS with one ranked win. Its SOS is in the 90s, but it also was ranked in the Top 10 in recent weeks, something that will be hard to ignore for the committee.
UC Davis just beat Top 10 Sac State to finish 7-4 overall and 7-3 vs. the FCS with two ranked wins.
Southern Illinois is 7-4 overall with an FBS win over NIU and a win over seedable Austin Peay.
Youngstown State is 7-4 overall and 7-3 vs. the FCS, owning a 31-3 win over SIU as its lone ranked win.
Sacramento State just lost to unranked UC Davis to finish 7-4. It does not have any ranked wins. But the Hornets do have an FBS P5 win over Stanford. And they also have a win over Southland champ Nicholls, who beat UIW. That’s why Sac State gets this last spot instead of UIW.
UIW is 8-2 overall with seven D1 wins. Its only FCS loss is to Nicholls, who Sac State (above) beat. But it doesn’t have any ranked wins and its SOS is in the 80s.
UT Martin losing at unranked Samford today could be costly. It finishes 8-3 overall and 8-2 vs. the FCS with no ranked wins over teams in the media poll or over teams in the playoff field.
Western Carolina also had a costly loss today at unranked VMI. WCU finishes 7-4 overall and 7-3 vs. the FCS with two ranked wins. But its best win is over Chattanooga, who may not be in the playoff field.
Chattanooga finishes 7-4 overall and 7-3 vs. the FCS with a ranked win over a team in the field (Mercer). But Mercer has one more win, and UTC’s loss to WCU pushes it down.
Eastern Illinois is 8-3 overall and 8-2 vs. the FCS. But it doesn’t have any wins over teams in the playoff field, and its loss to UT Martin pushes it down.
Holy Cross is 7-4 overall and 7-2 vs. the FCS with two one-score losses to FBS teams. But the Crusaders do not own any ranked wins.