A matchup between Dakota schools that may determine the No. 1 team in the FCS rankings and the playoff seeds. Sound familiar?
This time, it’s No. 4 South Dakota hosting No. 1 South Dakota State in a game with huge playoff implications.
USD is 6-1 overall and 6-0 vs. the FCS with two ranked wins over North Dakota State and Youngstown State. Its Massey strength of schedule is 39th in the FCS.
SDSU is 7-0 overall and 6-0 vs. the FCS with three ranked wins over Montana State, North Dakota, and Southern Illinois. Its Massey SOS is 25th in the FCS.
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 USD Wins…
The Coyotes extend their home winning streak over SDSU to three in a row, and they put themselves in serious consideration for the No. 1 national ranking and No. 1 playoff seed. No. 2 Montana State plays at No. 9 Idaho on Saturday, and MSU also has a head-to-head loss to SDSU. So voters could go USD, SDSU, MSU in their ballots if USD and MSU win Saturday.
Now, a USD win would be monstrous, but the Coyotes could be at risk of a hangover similar to when UND beat NDSU two games ago, only to go to Northern Iowa and lose 27-0 last weekend. The Coyotes have to go to No. 11 SIU next week. They also host No. 14 UND the following week before traveling to Western Illinois.
If USD wins out, it has the best argument for the No. 1 seed at 10-0 vs. the FCS and five ranked wins.
If the Yotes beat SDSU, stumble next week, and then win out, the playoff committee could be dealt with a difficult scenario where USD, SDSU, and Montana State all have one FCS loss to one of the other two teams.
The pressure is on SDSU to win out to set itself up for another national title run. Tough tests remain vs. No. 12 NDSU, at No. 24 YSU, and vs. Missouri State. Another loss, and a 9-2 SDSU team probably loses a Top 2 seed and home-field advantage unless there are some upsets elsewhere.
Lose Saturday and then win out, and there is a promising scenario where the Jacks could keep a Top 2 seed at 10-1. They would have five ranked wins with a key head-to-head on No. 2 Montana State. MSU dropping a game at Idaho or Montana, or USD stumbling after beating SDSU would help the Jackrabbits. USD would have the best argument for the No. 1 seed if it wins out. And SDSU may have the stronger overall case for the No. 2 seed ahead of MSU if they both finish 10-1.
There is also a scenario where a 10-1 SDSU team gets bumped out of the Top 2 seeds. If USD goes unbeaten vs. the FCS, it’s going to be a Top 2 seed with five ranked wins. If MSU goes 10-1 with four Top 10-ranked wins, does MSU’s strong finish to the season and four Top 10 road wins get the Bobcats a seed over SDSU, who would have the same record, one more ranked win, and the head-to-head win over MSU? Especially since MSU came within a replay review away from beating SDSU, and its overall wins could be considered stronger. It doesn’t seem highly likely since SDSU’s head-to-head should carry a lot of weight, but it isn’t a preposterous scenario to see SDSU seeded behind USD and MSU if all three finish 10-1 overall.
If SDSU Wins…
SDSU adds to its stacked playoff resume with ranked win No. 4. It also gives the Jacks some wiggle room for a Top 2 seed and home-field advantage.
If the Jacks win out, they are unquestionably the No. 1 seed with six ranked wins. But let’s say SDSU beats USD, then next week NDSU pours absolutely everything into the Dakota Marker game and gets a win (sound familiar?), then the Jacks beat YSU and Missouri State. At 10-1 with five ranked wins, what two teams will be seeded above SDSU to knock the Jacks out of home-field advantage? Montana State, maybe? Just based on MSU’s finish and four Top 10 wins, although SDSU still has that head-to-head argument. But who else? It won’t be USD. It won’t be NDSU with two FCS losses. It probably won’t be Furman or Delaware based on their fewer ranked wins and lesser strength of schedules compared to SDSU. Heck, the Jacks could lose to NDSU (or YSU) and still have a strong case for the No. 1 seed at 10-1.
NDSU winning the Dakota Marker, but SDSU getting a higher seed and going on to win the national title would be quite the role reversal.
The Coyotes would have to put a loss behind them quickly.
Back-to-back ranked opponents are ahead — at SIU and vs. UND. They then finish the regular season at WIU. If USD loses to SDSU and then wins out, its 9-2 overall record and 9-1 mark vs. FCS opponents with four ranked wins will at least be in the conversation for a Top 4 seed. That will be dependent on how teams like Montana State, Idaho, Montana, Furman, and Delaware finish their seasons.
If USD loses again after SDSU, a shot at a seed at 8-3 with three ranked wins is possible, but it’s not highly likely. Even though one loss is to the FBS, USD’s eight wins will be stacked up against nine and 10-win teams. A three-loss team hasn’t earned a playoff seed since 2019.
A darker scenario is three straight losses to SDSU, SIU, and UND before beating WIU. At 7-4, USD will lean on its head-to-head wins over YSU and NDSU to get into the bracket from the bubble.