Updated after the MEAC announced it won’t meet the criteria to have an AQ.
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 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.
RELATED: Sam’s Top 25 Ballot
- Selection Show: Sunday, April 18 (10:30 a.m. CT — ESPNU)
- 1st Round: Weekend of April 24
- Quarterfinals: Weekend of May 1
- Semifinals: May 8 (11 a.m. CT on ESPN, 7 p.m. CT on ESPN2)
- Championship Game (Frisco, Texas): Sunday, May 16 (1 p.m. CT on ABC)
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.
RELATED: Conference AQ Tiebreaker Procedures
4. Weber St.
Big Sky – Weber St.
Big South – Kennesaw St.
CAA – JMU
MVFC – NDSU
NEC – Duquesne
OVC – JSU
Patriot – Holy Cross
Pioneer – Davidson
SoCon – VMI
Southland – SHSU
At-Large Bids (Ranked from most likely to least likely to get in)
Bubble Teams Left Out
18. Murray St.
20. Mo State
Bus trips (400 miles or less) are JMU-VMI, Delaware-Duquesne, and ETSU-Davidson.
Explanations below, but a summary: The order of my four seeds changed a bit. Davidson replaces San Diego as the Pioneer’s auto-bid, and Jacksonville State takes over as the OVC auto-bid as Murray State moves to the bubble. UC Davis and Nicholls moved out of the at-large bids to make room for EWU and ETSU.
Remember, this bracketology is through the eyes of the committee, so I adjusted the seeds based on the committee’s Top 10 rankings. Last week I had it NDSU, Weber State, JMU, and SHSU. This week, I kept NDSU at No. 1 because I think the committee will move the Bison to No. 1 if they beat SDSU. JMU moves up a spot to No. 2 because the committee is obviously high on the Dukes.
SHSU moves up to No. 3 because I think the Bearkats would slide up and SDSU would slide down the committee’s rankings if the Bison beat the Jacks. And then I kept Weber State in my seeds even though the Wildcats are No. 6 in the committee’s rankings. I believe Weber could jump SDSU and UND in the rankings to be in the Top 4 if it beats Idaho State to finish 5-0. I’m not sold on the committee giving the MVFC two of the four seeds.
Delaware is 3-0 and may get the CAA’s auto-bid since it could come down to a vote if the Blue Hens and JMU don’t play the same number of games. EWU should get in if it beats Idaho on Saturday as the No. 2 Big Sky team with a 5-1 record. ETSU did hand VMI its first loss this last weekend. VMI is now 5-1 in the SoCon, and ETSU is 4-1. Both teams have one game left. If VMI beats The Citadel on April 17, it would get the auto-bid due to having the better winning percentage over ETSU.
Then we have the two MVFC teams in there. UND only has one game left at YSU on April 17. If the Fighting Hawks win, they would finish 5-1 with a head-to-head win against SDSU. As evident in this bracketology that figures in future games, I am going with NDSU beating SDSU on April 17. The Jacks are 4-1 right now. Would the committee really move SDSU from No. 3 on last week’s rankings all the way to the wrong side of the bubble just because the Jacks lost to NDSU (assuming it’s a competitive game) and finished 4-2? At the same time, if you put a 4-2 SDSU team in, you have to put a 5-1 UND team in too with the head-to-head advantage.
The other scenario is SDSU beats NDSU, which would result in UND getting the auto-bid (if it beats YSU) with the tiebreaker advantage over SDSU. You also would have to put SDSU into the field with its win over NDSU. And if the Valley doesn’t get two at-large bids, that leaves NDSU out. However, it doesn’t seem likely the committee would leave the Bison out in this scenario and the MVFC would get three total bids.
Finally, Richmond slides into the field as the bracket goes back to six at-large bids. The Spiders could get the CAA’s AQ if they beat W&M this weekend, if JMU isn’t able to schedule another CAA opponent, and if Villanova beats Delaware on April 17.
Monmouth is 2-0 with two games left. This weekend’s game against Kennesaw should be for the Big South auto-bid. If Monmouth loses, I don’t think the Hawks are in at 3-1.
Murray State lost its first OVC game to Austin Peay. I also think the Racers will lose to JSU on Sunday, giving the Gamecocks the auto-bid and leaving Murray State out of the field at 5-2.
Incarnate Word is the only one-loss team in the Southland behind undefeated SHSU. The Cardinals lost to Nicholls, but Nicholls suffered its second loss last weekend to McNeese. The best chance for the Southland to get two teams in is for UIW and SHSU to win Saturday and then have UIW beat SHSU on April 17.
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). 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?