As the second half of the FCS regular season hits, the playoff positioning ramps up.
This weekend features several matchups with playoff implications, whether it be teams positioning themselves for seeds or teams positioning themselves to hit at least seven D1 wins.
While non-D1 wins are still counted on FCS playoff resumes, the magic number to hit for strong playoff consideration is seven D1 wins. The at-large bubble is typically packed with seven D1-win teams, so six D1 wins make an at-large selection rare (but not impossible) while eight D1 wins make you stand out more.
Many games below could be the difference between six and seven D1 wins or seven and eight D1 wins by Selection Sunday.
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No. 5 Furman at Samford
Furman is getting a lot of love in the polls. The Paladins are 4-1 overall and 4-0 vs. the FCS with a ranked win over Mercer. A massive game vs. Top 10 WCU looms next week. But Furman can’t overlook a Samford team still led by Michael Hiers, who is already nearing 2,000 passing yards. An upset loss here sets Furman back in its high playoff seed hopes. Furman needs to avoid upset losses at Samford, vs. ETSU, vs. VMI, and at Wofford. If the Paladins do that and then split road games at No. 9 WCU and No. 25 Chattanooga, a seed seems likely at 9-1 vs. the FCS. If they beat both WCU and UTC, that could be a Top 4 seed at 10-0 vs. the FCS with three ranked wins. But a loss at Samford sets those conversations back.
Samford went from a preseason Top 10 team to out of the rankings. The Bulldogs are 3-3 but have won two games in a row vs. ETSU and Wofford. To hit the magic seven-D1-win mark for strong playoff consideration with a game vs. Shorter on its resume, they will have to win out. Games vs. playoff contenders Mercer and UT Martin are still to come after this Furman matchup.
No. 24 UAlbany at New Hampshire
UAlbany is 4-0 vs. the FCS and 4-2 overall with two competitive FBS losses to Marshall and Hawaii. The Great Danes own one ranked win over Villanova. They have favorable games upcoming at Maine and at Stony Brook, with more challenging contests coming vs. Rhode Island, No. 11 William & Mary, and Monmouth. A win on Saturday, and at least eight wins looks promising.
UNH is 2-3 with three tough losses. The Wildcats lost 45-42 to FBS Central Michigan, 29-25 to ranked Delaware, and 54-51 in overtime to Towson. A loss on Saturday means UNH would have to win out for a chance at the postseason. Games to come are at Stony Brook, at Rhody, vs. Villanova, at Monmouth, and vs. Maine.
The CAA is going to have multiple teams in the 7-8-win range, including these two teams and the two teams below.
Elon at Villanova
Elon is 3-3 overall and 3-2 vs. the FCS. A week after beating No. 5 William & Mary 14-6, the Phoenix lost 34-23 to No. 14 NC Central. A loss Saturday, and Elon would have to win out to reach seven wins for strong playoff consideration. Games remaining are vs. Monmouth, at No. 8 Delaware, at Richmond, and vs. Hampton.
Villanova is 4-2 overall and 4-1 vs. the FCS. The Wildcats own a ranked win over Rhode Island. But a 31-10 loss to UAlbany a week later knocked Nova out of the Top 25. A win on Saturday puts Nova in a good spot with five wins and games vs. Stony Brook, at UNH, vs. Towson, and at No. 8 Delaware remaining.
No. 16 Montana at No. 3 Idaho
Montana is 5-1 overall and 4-1 vs. the FCS. Non-D1 wins do count on a team’s playoff resume, but seven D1 wins is usually the magic number to hit to increase your odds for an at-large bid. Six D1 wins can get you in, but it doesn’t happen often. Montana got its first ranked win last week at UC Davis. The Grizzlies will be favored in games vs. Northern Colorado and at Portland State — so there are seven total wins and six D1 wins if they handle business. For the Griz to hit that seven-D1-win mark, they will have to win at least one game against three Top 10 opponents: at No. 3 Idaho, vs. No. 4 Sac State, or vs. No. 2 Montana State.
Idaho, meanwhile, is trying to position itself for a high playoff seed. The Vandals are 4-1 overall with an FBS win over Nevada, an FBS loss to Cal, and two ranked wins already over Sac State and EWU. A ranked win over Montana stacks its resume up even more. Idaho then has games vs. No. 2 Montana State, at Northern Colorado, at No. 22 Weber State, and vs. Idaho State. With Weber trending down, Idaho will be big favorites to win its final three games. If the Vandals beat Montana and then lost to MSU, a Top 4 seed at 9-2, an FBS win, and 3-4 ranked wins is possible. Beating both Montana schools and then winning the final three, and a Top 2 seed with home-field advantage is likely.
No. 6 North Dakota State at No. 15 North Dakota
NDSU is 4-1 overall and vs. the FCS with two now-ranked wins on No. 20 UCA and No. 21 EWU. A loss Saturday sets NDSU way back in its hopes for multiple home playoff games as a high seed. A win gives the Bison an impressive third ranked win already on its resume. NDSU’s next two games are very favorable vs. Western Illinois and Murray. But the final three are at No. 1 SDSU, vs. No. 13 SIU, and at UNI. If the Bison lose this weekend, they have little to no wiggle room for another loss if they hope to get a first-round bye.
UND is 3-2 overall and 3-1 vs. the FCS. A win all of a sudden puts the Fighting Hawks in a seed conversation with only one ranked team remaining on their schedule. A loss and UND would need to win four of its final five to hit the seven D1 wins mark for playoff consideration. UND plays at UNI, vs. Indiana State, at Murray State, at No. 10 South Dakota, and vs. Illinois State. At UNI and at USD are probably 50/50 games, making an upset win this weekend a huge resume booster for UND and a little more room for error in the remaining games.
No. 23 Youngstown at No. 10 South Dakota
YSU sits at 3-2 overall and 3-1 vs. the FCS. After getting knocked out of the Top 25 two games ago with a loss to unranked UNI, the Penguins beat then-No. 6 SIU 31-3. A second Top 10 win and fourth overall victory puts YSU in a great position for the playoffs at 8-3 with favorable games vs. Illinois State, vs. Missouri State, at Indiana State, and at Murray State remaining, plus a game vs. No. 1 SDSU.
USD is 4-1 overall and 4-0 vs. the FCS, featuring a ranked win at then-No. 2 NDSU. A fifth win on Saturday would be huge. USD should beat Indiana State and Western Illinois later this season for seven wins. The other three games are vs. No. 1 SDSU, at No. 13 SIU, and vs. No. 15 UND. Even if the Coyotes lost those three, seven D1 wins and two ranked wins is a good resume on the bubble. Winning just one of those, and the Coyotes are a lock at 8-3.
Northern Iowa at No. 1 South Dakota State
UNI has a 4-2 record in Brookings dating back to 2015, including a two-game winning streak. This season, the Panthers are 3-2 overall and 3-1 vs. the FCS, winning three straight with a win over ranked YSU two weeks ago. UNI looks capable of hitting six wins by winning at Illinois State, vs. Western Illinois, and at Missouri State. The tougher tests to hit at least seven wins come this weekend at No. 1 SDSU, vs. No. 15 UND next week, and vs. No. 6 NDSU to end the regular season.
SDSU has its eyes on a Top 2 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. SDSU is 5-0 with four D1 wins and two ranked wins over Montana State and UND. A loss this weekend makes the wiggle room smaller for a high seed with tough games still to come. The Jackrabbits have to play at No. 13 SIU and at No. 10 USD in the next two weeks, then host No. 6 NDSU, and then go to No. No. 23 YSU before hosting Missouri State. If SDSU loses to UNI and then wins out, a Top 2 seed with its overall body of work and potentially six ranked wins is still in the cards. But two losses would make it difficult to secure home-field advantage at 9-2 and eight D1 wins.
No. 25 Chattanooga at Mercer
Can the SoCon get a third team into the playoff bracket this season? If there is a squad behind WCU and Furman to do it, it’s one of these two. But hitting seven wins may be difficult for the loser on Saturday.
Chattanooga is 4-2 overall/vs. the FCS, losing to North Alabama and Top 10 WCU 52-50. A win Saturday, and a path to seven wins looking promising with games vs. ETSU and at VMI coming in the next two weeks. But the Mocs end the season vs. No. 5 Furman and at Alabama, so these next three games are key to hitting seven wins.
Mercer is 4-2 overall and 4-1 vs. the FCS, losing 38-14 to Top 5 Furman. Mercer has a more promising path to eight wins than the Mocs to get a leg up on several seven-win teams on the bubble, but the Bears have to win Saturday first. They then play vs. Wofford, at No. 9 WCU, at The Citadel, and vs. Samford.
UC Davis at No. 22 Weber
UC Davis is 3-3 overall and 3-2 vs. the FCS, losing two one-possession games to ranked EWU and Montana. A loss at Weber makes UC Davis’ path to seven wins a tough one as it would have to win out. They go to an improving NAU team next week, then play vs. Portland State, at Idaho State, and vs. No. 4 Sac State. The NAU game may be a 50/50 matchup, so these next two games are vital for UC Davis’ playoff hopes.
Ranked No. 10 not long ago, Weber has been on a slide in the last three games, losing 40-0 to now-No. 2 Montana State, needing a fourth-quarter comeback to beat winless Northern Colorado 28-21, and losing 27-10 last week to unranked NAU. At 3-3 overall and 2-2 vs. the FCS, Weber already has to win out to hit that seven-D1-win mark. That would require winning vs. UC Davis, at No. 21 EWU, at Idaho State, vs. No. 3 Idaho, and at Cal Poly.