With just six at-large bids in the 16-team FCS spring playoff bracket (down from the usual 14), several worthy teams will be left on the wrong side of the bubble.
How will the playoff committee split those at-large bids? Let’s dive into it.
We’ll look at the seven conferences that are viewed as multi-bid leagues in a normal 24-team bracket: Big Sky, Big South, CAA, MVFC, OVC, SoCon, Southland.
This is through the eyes of the playoff committee and uses past precedent on determining which conferences will get more at-large bids. You’ll see the word “likely” used a lot. That’s because none of these scenarios/results of these scenarios are a slam dunk.
Likely at-large bids: 0-1
The Big Sky’s only chance at an at-large bid most likely comes down to Eastern Washington.
UC Davis and Idaho suffered their second losses last week, putting them on the outside looking in. If EWU beats Idaho on the red turf Saturday, the Eagles finish 5-1 and will definitely get an at-large bid from the committee. EWU did lose to Idaho on Feb. 27.
If EWU loses, the Big Sky would be a 1-bid league with Weber State, who is 4-0 with one home game left on Saturday against Idaho State.
Idaho could make a case for an at-large bid with another win over EWU and an April 17 win at Northern Arizona to finish 4-2. But a 4-2 Idaho team is a long shot for a bid. The committee would really have to like its two wins over EWU and forgive its losses to UC Davis and especially Idaho State.
Likely at-large bids: 0
It is unlikely the Big South gets an at-large bid this spring. The conference got two teams into the field in 2017 and 2019 and didn’t get an at-large bid in 2018 when an 8-3 Monmouth team was left out.
It’ll come down to this weekend’s game of No. 7 Kennesaw State at No. 20 Monmouth.
If KSU wins, the Owls secure the auto-bid at 3-0 in the conference and 5-0 overall (4-0 against D1 opponents). Monmouth has one game left, at Robert Morris. A 3-1 Monmouth team probably doesn’t get an at-large bid from the committee.
Flip that around … a Monmouth win against KSU and RMU obviously means Monmouth gets the AQ. What happens to a KSU team that’s 3-1 versus D1 opponents and 4-1 overall (non-counter W vs. D2 Shorter)? Maybe the Owls get in because they have a strong national brand name, but the playoff committee doesn’t seem to be high on No. 7-ranked Kennesaw State, leaving the Owls out of their Top 10. This tells us it’s unlikely the Owls, or Monmouth for that matter, would be considered for an at-large bid.
This weekend’s matchup appears to be a playoff-elimination game.
Likely at-large bids: 2
The CAA can get all sorts of crazy. It’s going to come down to Delaware (3-0 overall, 3-0 CAA), Villanova (2-1, 2-1), Richmond (3-0, 3-0), and James Madison (4-0, 2-0) fighting for two or three total bids.
Right now, No. 1-ranked JMU doesn’t have any games remaining, although the Dukes are searching for an April 17 opponent. If the Dukes don’t get a game, they have the required minimum of four total games to qualify as an at-large bid. But they don’t have the minimum of three CAA games to qualify as the AQ.
If JMU doesn’t get a game, Richmond beats W&M on April 10 (no scheduled games after that), and Delaware beats Delaware State this weekend and Villanova next week — you’re looking at three undefeated CAA teams. Either Delaware or Richmond gets the AQ through a voting tiebreaker. And an undefeated, top-ranked JMU team is absolutely getting an at-large bid. The committee probably gives the CAA two at-large bids here. But if the CAA only gets one at-large bid, whoever doesn’t get the AQ vote between Delaware and Richmond is left home.
Things will go bonkers if Nova beats Delaware.
If Nova beats Delaware + JMU doesn’t get another game in + Richmond beats W&M = Richmond gets the AQ. Again, JMU for sure gets one at-large bid. If the CAA is a 2-bid league, Nova and Delaware both would get left home with one loss apiece. If the CAA is a 3-bid league, Nova gets the second at-large bid.
JMU = for sure in unless it gets a game on April 17 and loses.
Richmond = for sure in if it beats W&M and Nova beats Delaware. Likely in, but not guaranteed a spot if JMU and Delaware both finish undefeated.
Delaware = for sure in with a win over Nova and Richmond loses to W&M. Likely in, but not guaranteed a spot if it finishes undefeated along with undefeated JMU and Richmond teams. Likely eliminated with a loss to Nova.
Villanova = Lose to Delaware and it is eliminated with two losses. Beat Delaware and not guaranteed an at-large bid, but would get a bid if the CAA is a 3-bid league.
Likely at-large bids: 2
The Valley has four 4-1 teams in the standings right now:
NDSU (5-1 overall)
UND (4-1 overall)
SDSU (4-1 overall)
Missouri State (4-4 overall)
NDSU has two games left and the others have one game left — YSU @ Mo State on April 10, NDSU @ UNI on April 10, SDSU @ NDSU on April 17, and UND @ YSU on April 17.
If UND beats YSU, the MVFC is probably going to get two at-large bids. If UND wins and SDSU beats NDSU, then UND gets the AQ with the same conference record as the Jackrabbits but with the head-to-head advantage. In this scenario, UND and SDSU are in the field. And like JMU, a 6-2 NDSU team (assuming the Bison beat UNI this weekend) is not getting left out of the field. This scenario equals a 3-bid league.
Let’s say NDSU beats SDSU and UND beats YSU. The Bison get the AQ. SDSU would finish 4-2. 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)? At the same time, if you put a 4-2 SDSU team in, you have to put a 5-1 UND team in with the head-to-head advantage. This scenario most likely equals a 3-bid league as well, but SDSU is feeling nervous about getting left out if the committee only gives the MVFC one at-large bid.
If YSU beats UND, SDSU and NDSU are likely both in the field no matter who wins the Dakota Marker game while UND is on the bubble at 4-2. A 4-2 SDSU vs. 4-2 UND leans toward SDSU for an at-large since the committee is higher on SDSU than UND in their rankings. But a 5-1 SDSU vs. 5-1 UND means UND gets the AQ.
But bah gawd, King, is that Missouri State’s music!?!?!?
There is a chance a one-loss Missouri State team jumps a two-loss SDSU or UND team if the Valley gets two at-large bids.
Mo State is a big factor in the equation. According to the MVFC, there are 16 different scenarios for the league’s AQ.
Scenarios Resulting in AQ for Each Team:
6 — South Dakota State
5 — North Dakota State
4 — North Dakota
1 — Missouri State
So there’s a long shot Mo State gets an AQ. That leaves its hope of a playoff bid coming via an at-large nod. The Bears are 4-4 overall, but three of those losses are in the fall. They have three straight wins against ranked opponents at the time of the game – No. 21 USD, No. 10 UNI, No. 10 SIU. The Bears need to beat YSU this weekend to have a shot.
If UND loses to YSU, Mo State could be that third team in along with NDSU and SDSU. If UND beats YSU, it’s hard to see Mo State jumping those three Dakota schools for an at-large bid, including a two-loss SDSU team.
Likely at-large bids: 0-1
The best hope for the OVC to get an at-large bid is for Murray State to beat Jacksonville State this Sunday. This would give Murray State the AQ, and the chances of JSU getting an at-large are good. The Gamecocks would finish 8-3 overall with an FBS win from the fall.
If JSU beats Murray State, the Gamecocks are the AQ and Murray State falls to 5-2 with two straight losses. The Racers’ chance at an at-large bid is low.
It’s possible in this scenario that Austin Peay could get an at-large bid if it beats Eastern Illinois this weekend. The Govs would have three straight wins to end the regular season, including against JSU and Murray State, and would finish 5-5 overall and 5-2 in the OVC. Three of the losses came in the fall, two of which were against FBS opponents. But the hurdle for APSU is the two spring losses against Tennessee Tech and UT Martin will be eyesores for the committee.
A two-loss OVC team has a low chance of getting one of the six at-large bids unless that two-loss team is JSU with wins from the fall. If Murray State beats JSU, the OVC is a 2-bid league. If JSU beats Murray State, the OVC is a 1-bid league.
Past precedent tells us a lot about the selection process. And history repeats itself every year, both with the committee and results in the playoffs. We’ve seen six or seven-win MVFC teams get in the field over eight-win teams from Tier 2 conferences. With this reduced spring bracket, the only conference that could get a two-loss team in is the MVFC.
Likely at-large bids: 1
The SoCon has two teams left in serious playoff contention — VMI is 5-1 in the conference and ETSU is 4-1.
ETSU did hand VMI its first loss last weekend. Both teams have one game left. If VMI beats The Citadel on April 17, it would secure the auto-bid due to having the better winning percentage over ETSU. ETSU plays Mercer this weekend and is reportedly looking for an April 17 game to boost its playoff resume.
Between the four southern conferences (Big South, OVC, SoCon, Southland), the SoCon is best positioned to get an at-large bid. VMI should beat The Citadel to earn the AQ. Mercer is on a three-game winning streak, but ETSU should beat the Bears. A 5-1 ETSU team that beat its conference’s AQ should get an at-large bid.
Mercer has an outside shot at an at-large bid. If the Bears beat ETSU this weekend and Samford next week, they would finish 6-5 overall (three losses in the fall) but would be 6-2 in the SoCon with four straight wins. A two-loss SoCon team doesn’t have a favorable probability of getting an at-large bid, though.
Likely at-large bids: 0-1
The Southland’s chance at an at-large bid took a hit when Nicholls suffered its second loss last week versus McNeese. The Colonels were coming off a dominant win against Incarnate Word, handing UIW its first conference loss. Nicholls’ only loss prior to McNeese was against Sam Houston, who is currently 4-0. The Southland was looking good for two total bids until the second Nicholls loss.
The odds of a two-loss Southland team making the bracket aren’t high, but what happens in other conferences could make it more likely.
If UIW beats Northwestern State this weekend, it would go into the regular-season finale versus SHSU at 4-1. SHSU is 4-0 with a game this weekend against McNeese. If UIW and SHSU win this weekend, then UIW beats SHSU on April 17, UIW would get the AQ and SHSU would likely get in as a one-loss at-large bid. But if SHSU beats UIW and the Cardinals finish 4-2, the Southland looks like a 1-bid league.
Also keep an eye on Southeastern Louisiana, who is 3-2 but could leave a good impression on the committee in these last two weeks. A win against Nicholls this weekend is a quality win. And SLU added a huge non-conference game against No. 16 Southern Illinois out of the MVFC. A win at SIU and a 5-2 SLU team would get consideration. The problem is one of the Lions’ losses is to UIW, which would make it hard for SLU to take the Southland’s only at-large bid in what is a 2-max-bid conference.
What To Cheer For
This is what you want to happen in other conferences to help your conference get more at-large bids:
Big Sky: Idaho to beat EWU on April 10.
Big South: Kennesaw State to beat Monmouth on April 10.
CAA: William & Mary to beat Richmond on April 10. Villanova to beat Delaware on April 17, which would give the CAA two undefeated teams and two one-loss teams instead of three undefeated teams if Delaware beats Nova, Richmond beats W&M, and JMU doesn’t play another game or plays and wins.
MVFC: YSU to beat Mo State on April 10. YSU to beat UND on April 17.
OVC: JSU to beat Murray State on April 11.
SoCon: Mercer to beat ETSU on April 10 or The Citadel to beat VMI on April 17, but not both.
Southland: UIW to lose at least one more time. SHSU to win out.