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. UND 2. Weber St. 3. Jacksonville St. 4. JMU
Auto-Bids Big Sky – Weber St. Big South – Kennesaw St. CAA – JMU MVFC – UND NEC – Duquesne OVC – Jacksonville St. Patriot – Holy Cross Pioneer – San Diego SoCon – Chattanooga Southland – SHSU
At-Large Bids(Ranked from most likely to least likely to get in) 11. SDSU 12. Delaware 13. UC Davis 14. VMI 15. SLU 16. SIU
Bubble Teams Left Out 17. NDSU 18. Idaho 19. Murray St. 20. Monmouth
The Movement Explanations below, but a summary: I switched North Dakota and Weber State around for the top-two seeds. Sam Houston takes over as the Southland auto-bid, bumping Nicholls completely out of the bracket after a dominant win. Delaware, Southeastern Louisiana, and Southern Illinois enter the at-large bids, and leaving are North Dakota State and Villanova.
Seeds While I still have Weber State as my No. 1 team on my ballot, seeding is all about resumes, and it’s hard to argue against UND’s. The Fighting Hawks are 4-0 with wins against the current No. 5 and 6 teams. I’m keeping Weber at No. 2 ahead of JSU because I think the Wildcats will finish undefeated, and an undefeated Big Sky team with recent playoff success will be valued more than an undefeated OVC team. James Madison is a tough team to figure out, but the Dukes still can go undefeated, and I think the committee would seed them. The wins will have to get prettier, though.
At-Large/Bubble Teams So let’s talk about inserting Southern Illinois into the field this week from the bubble and moving NDSU to the bubble. Is leaving the Bison out of the playoffs a hot take? Not really. Hot takes suck, and the rationale is there. In this slimmed-down bracket, the MVFC isn’t going to have four teams in. Even getting three teams in (two at-large bids) isn’t guaranteed. You can’t have NDSU in the field over UND right now. SDSU has looked more impressive than the Bison and has a better resume. And SIU has the massive head-to-head win over NDSU plus a much better resume. Lastly, the Salukis have an easier schedule remaining – vs. SDSU, at Mo State, at Illinois State, vs. WIU. NDSU still has its toughest four-game stretch left – vs. UND, at USD, vs. SDSU, at UNI.
Is NDSU a top 10 team? Probably. But the Bison also have at least three teams ahead of them in the Valley. And that won’t get them in. A win this week against UND, of course, shakes this all up.
Delaware has looked great in its first two games and is now the favorite in the CAA North division. Southeastern Louisiana is also back in the field as my second-place Southland team. The Lions had a shootout with SHSU, who throttled Nicholls.
Onto the bubble teams … I explained NDSU being there above. Idaho sits as the No. 3 Big Sky team right now, which gives the Vandals a chance. Murray State is 3-0, but I don’t know if the OVC will get an at-large bid this spring. Same thing with the Big South and Monmouth.
Monmouth is in a tough spot right now for an at-large bid. You need to play four games to earn an at-large. The Hawks are only playing four conference games, and the first two have already been postponed. They need both games to get rescheduled, or else the only way for the Hawks to make the playoffs is to earn the auto-bid, which they did do in 2019.
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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.