Predicting the FCS playoff bracket is going to be as difficult as it’s ever been for the 2021 spring season.
The 24-team bracket has been reduced to 16 teams. The typical format is 10 auto-bids from 10 conferences and 14 at-large bids. This spring, there will be 10 auto-bids and only six at-large bids.
Only four teams will be seeded compared to the usual eight.
Fall games are included in playoff resumes. And while teams can play up to eight regular-season spring games in a 13-week period, the amount of games conferences are playing ranges from four to eight. A minimum of four games must be played to qualify as an at-large bid.
In short, there is going to be a huge imbalance when evaluating playoff resumes. Nonetheless, we will give it a shot and provide weekly playoff predictions.
These predictions take current playoff resumes and all future scheduled games into consideration.
These are playoff predictions and don’t reflect my current Top 25.
These predictions are through the eyes of the playoff committee and what I think they will do, not necessarily how I would field the bracket.
Seeds 1. NDSU 2. Weber St. 3. JMU 4. SHSU
Auto-Bids Big Sky – Weber St. Big South – Kennesaw St. CAA – JMU MVFC – NDSU NEC – Duquesne OVC – Murray St. Patriot – Holy Cross Pioneer – San Diego SoCon – VMI Southland – SHSU
At-Large Bids(Ranked from most likely to least likely to get in) 11. SDSU 12. Delaware 13. UC Davis 14. JSU 15. Nicholls 16. UND
Bubble Teams Left Out 17. Richmond 18. Mo State 19. ETSU 20. Idaho
The Movement Explanations below, but a summary: NDSU and JMU move into my seeds and SDSU and JSU go to the at-large bids section. New auto-bids for me are NDSU (MVFC), Murray State (OVC), and VMI (SoCon). Nicholls takes UIW’s place as a Southland at-large bid with a big head-to-head-win. Chattanooga moves out of the field after opting out, and ETSU enters the bubble teams section along with Richmond.
Seeds Last week I had SDSU as the top seed and the auto-bid out of the MVFC and NDSU in as an at-large bid. I swapped those around after re-thinking, and that’s about as big of a hint of who I’m picking to win the Dakota Marker game Saturday (which is still on as of this typing). JSU leaves the seeds after losing and entering is JMU. The Dukes looked good against W&M despite several key starters out and playing for the first time in a few weeks. They’ll have a great opportunity for a resume-building win this week against No. 15 Richmond.
SHSU and Weber stay in my seeds. SHSU is positioned well for a seed. Weber is a bit shakier after looking rusty and needing a Hail Mary with its backup QB in to beat NAU.
At-Large/Bubble Teams SDSU is my very first at-large bid as my projected No. 2 MVFC team. Followed by Delaware (No. 2 CAA team) and UC Davis (No. 2 Big Sky team).
JSU stays in the field despite a loss to unranked Austin Peay. The Gamecocks are 7-2 overall, 6-1 versus the FCS, and have an FBS win from the fall. JSU and Murry State play on April 11, which will be massive for the auto-bid. Both teams will need to stay clean before that game if whoever loses the JSU/Murray State contest wants a shot at an at-large bid.
Nicholls moves back into the at-large bids after taking UIW’s spot as the No. 2 Southland team, beating the Cardinals 75-45 Saturday in a defensive slugfest.
And right now, I think the MVFC gets three teams in the playoffs, and UND is my No. 3 team. But the Fighting Hawks just had their second-straight game called off due to COVID issues, so this is fluid.
For the bubble teams…
Richmond is just on the outside right now as the No. 3 CAA team. I’m not sure the CAA will get three teams in, but that could change depending on how things shake out in the North and South division standings and what happens in other conferences, notably the MVFC.
Missouri State is 4-4 overall. But three of those losses came in the fall, one against Oklahoma and the other two vs. Central Arkansas. The Bears are 4-1 in the Valley this spring with three straight wins against ranked opponents (at the time of the game). With this week’s big game against UND canceled, the Bears have just one game left against YSU. If they win and finish 5-1 in the best conference in the FCS (lost head-to-head against NDSU), would they be in the discussion for an at-large bid despite the four overall losses and three FCS losses?
With Chattanooga not playing its starters and losing to Mercer for its first SoCon loss, then opting out two days later, VMI is in control of the SoCon auto-bid at 5-0. I’m not sure anymore if the SoCon’s No. 2 team gets an at-large bid with UTC out, but I put ETSU (3-1) on the bubble.
And then we have Idaho as the No. 3 team in the Big Sky, a conference that is unlikely to get a third team in, but you never know.
Sam’s coverage of the FCS began in 2012 as the sports editor and eventual editor-in-chief of NDSU’s The Spectrum. After graduating in 2015, he spent three years in the newspaper and magazine industry while starting his work for HERO Sports in the fall of 2016 as a freelancer. In May 2018, he joined the website full time as the Senior FCS Analyst.