The buildup to this weekend’s South Dakota State vs. North Dakota State game has been different. SDSU is a two-score favorite and is mostly plowing its way through ranked FCS opponents to keep its stranglehold on the No. 1 ranking. Uncertainty surrounds NDSU, its play, and its resume from the media and its own fans. But one thing hasn’t changed, and that’s the outcome of this game will have big postseason implications.
SDSU is 8-0, featuring four ranked wins and three victories over teams in this week’s Top 10. Its Massey strength of schedule is currently 25th.
NDSU is 6-2 with two FCS losses and no ranked wins. Its Massey SOS is currently 40th.
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 SDSU Wins…
The Jackrabbits add ranked win No. 5 and extend their winning streak on the Bison to five games.
They have one more ranked game next week at Youngstown State, which could get interesting. YSU may be left out of the playoff bracket if it finishes 7-4 with a loss to SDSU. The Penguins would get in if they beat SDSU to finish 8-3, pushing SIU or NDSU to the wrong side of the bubble if one of them goes 7-4. This will be a massively important game for YSU. Meanwhile, SDSU could afford a loss next week and still likely get a Top 2 playoff seed at 10-1 and five ranked wins.
SDSU, of course, won’t have this mindset. But beating NDSU this week gives the Jacks even more wiggle room if they were to stumble next week at YSU before beating Missouri State at home.
The pressure is on the Bison to beat their two remaining ranked teams — vs. SIU, at UNI.
If they win both, an 8-3 Bison squad with two ranked victories is surely in the bracket with a slight chance at a seed if several other results go their way. It appears one or two eight-D1-win teams can earn seeds.
If NDSU goes 1-1 to finish 7-4, there is no guarantee the Bison make the bracket, depending on many scenarios. If SIU beats USD this weekend, then the Bison beat SIU but lose at UNI, there is a scenario where SDSU, an 8-3 SIU team, and 7-4 UND/USD/UNI teams with head-to-head wins on 7-4 NDSU could push the Bison to the No. 6 spot in the committee’s MVFC order. Six teams from the Valley making the bracket seems promising right now. The committee probably will favor a 7-4 NDSU team over a 7-4 YSU team, unless YSU upsets SDSU next week to finish 8-3. There is also a small chance that the MVFC doesn’t get six teams in and two 7-4 teams are left out.
In short to sum up that brain-numbing paragraph: a 7-4 NDSU team has a greater than 50% chance of making the bracket, but there are scenarios where the Bison get left out.
If NDSU goes 0-2 after losing to SDSU, the Bison are left out of the bracket at 6-5 and no ranked wins.
If NDSU Wins…
The Bison suddenly turn the question of whether they’ll make the playoffs to how high of a seed can they get to.
Beating the No. 1 team vaults NDSU up in the rankings. Another win next week over ranked SIU raises the Bison up more. And if they add another ranked victory at UNI, the Bison are 9-2 with three consecutive ranked wins and in play for a Top 5 seed, depending on what happens elsewhere with teams like SDSU, South Dakota, Idaho, Montana, Montana State, Sac State, Furman, and Delaware.
If NDSU beats SDSU and then splits the final two games, an 8-3 record and two ranked wins highlighted by handing No. 1 SDSU a loss has a promising shot at a 6-8 seed.
Beating SDSU to hit seven wins likely locks up a playoff bid, even if the Bison were to lose to SIU and UNI to finish 7-4, which would also probably seal bids for SIU and UNI. But the Bison’s playoff chances at 7-4 and the SDSU win also depend on how UND, USD, and YSU finish, as it’s going to be an absolute battle for six likely playoff bids between seven teams with at least seven victories.
SDSU isn’t in a bad spot from a seeding perspective if it loses Saturday. But it does turn on the pressure to win out, including beating a desperate YSU team who may need to win out to make the playoffs.
If the Jacks lose to NDSU and then beat YSU and Missouri State, they will be 10-1 with a non-D1 win but five ranked victories. That would be two more ranked wins than teams like Idaho, Furman, and Montana State if they all win out to be in the discussion for Top 4 seeds. Plus, SDSU has a head-to-head win over Montana State.
There’s a real possibility that SDSU can lose Saturday and still be the No. 1 seed. Maybe Idaho would jump SDSU with three ranked wins and an FBS win. Maybe. But even Idaho doesn’t have a great argument to jump a 10-1 SDSU team due to its overall body of work. Same thing for a 10-1 Montana team with four ranked wins but an unranked loss. Same thing for a 10-0 vs. FCS Furman team with two less ranked wins than SDSU and a projected year-end strength of schedule ranked 68th compared to SDSU’s 13th.
You never know, but it seems the only way SDSU loses home-field playoff advantage is if the Jacks lose twice.
It’s an unlikely (but not impossible) scenario that SDSU loses to NDSU, then gets upset at YSU in a flat performance before beating Missouri State to finish 9-2. That opens up a whole new article on where exactly SDSU would be seeded.