We all know the CAA is good. But are they six teams in the FCS Playoff good?
The answer, of course, is probably not. Dating back to the 2013 expansion of the FCS Playoff field to 24 teams, no conference has ever gotten six teams in the field. To do so would be a monstrously impressive feat; one conference of teams, filling up a full quarter of the field, would be a near-unmatchable show of league dominance.
The playoff committee would likely never make such an aggressive selection move. Even if the CAA (or any other conference) deserved that kind of postseason reward, the political ramifications of focusing that heavily on one conference would include heavy backlash. Unlike in college basketball, the FCS committee has shown over time that it's happy to look out for unproven teams with inflated records at the expense of deserving candidates from powerful conferences like the Missouri Valley and the CAA.
Still… the CAA is so strong through the middle of the conference that the CAA has a non-zero chance at a six-team showing. So I dug up some historical data for context and matched it up against the remainder of the CAA calendar to figure out exactly what a six-team CAA playoff scenario would look like.
Exactly How Crazy Is This?
The CAA was arguably the most dominant league in FCS for the first decade of the 21st century. That's when the Colonial became known as "the SEC of the FCS," before North Dakota State started its Division I dynasty and the Valley became the premiere conference of this decade. Since the 2013 expansion, it has never received five total bids in one single season.
The Missouri Valley, on the other hand, has received five bids (one auto, four at-large) three of the five post-expansion years: 2014, 2015 and 2017.
Why is the Valley's five relevant to this conversation? Well, because every time the 10-team Valley receives five bids, it's putting exactly half of its conference into the playoff field. That's mathematically analogous to the 12-team CAA receiving six bids.
The Colonial faces the extra challenge of taking up a larger percentage of the playoff bracket as a whole, but from a purely conference-oriented perspective, the committee has given us some of precedent on drafting half of a conference for the postseason.
So What Would Have to Happen in November?
A lot of things would have to go exactly according to script, which is incredibly unlikely in this particular conference. Some teams, like Delaware and James Madison, seem like obvious playoff locks at this point in the season; others, like Rhode Island and Maine, will need to come out swinging in their final weeks to thread the needle.
Here's one fairly realistic scenario that could potentially result in the CAA receiving six bids:
Week 10: JMU beats New Hampshire; Rhode Island wins at Elon; Towson beats Maine
Week 11: JMU beats Rhode Island; Towson loses at Elon; Stony Brook beats Delaware; Maine wins at Richmond
Week 12: Towson beats JMU; Delaware beats Villanova; Maine beats Elon; Rhode Island beats New Hampshire; Stony Brook beats Albany.
In this scenario, five teams — Delaware, Madison, Maine Stony Brook and Towson — all finish as 6-2 co-champions. One would receive the auto-bid, while the other four would all likely receive at-large bids. Additionally, the committee would have the option of extending a bid to URI (7-4; wins at Delaware and Elon are strong resume builders) or Elon (7-3; wins over Towson and JMU would be difficult to ignore, regardless of the health of the team).
Rhode Island and Elon are definitely the wildcards here. It's impossible to predict how the committee will respond to the Phoenix's status as a good team missing both key personnel and a canceled game in the wins column. Rhode Island faces a similar problem, at least for the moment, with the continued absence of JuJuan Lawson. If the Rams quarterback sits through the regular season and into the playoffs, it would be hard to predict how the committee might weigh an impressive win over Delaware with Lawson, measured against a blowout at the hands of Stony Brook without him.
Doesn't it Matter What Other Conferences Do?
Of course it does. However, it seems like much of the FCS has paved the way for one particularly deep conference to dominate the bid procedure this season. The middle of the Valley has proved wildly inconsistent this year, and as a result, the MVFC will likely only receive three or four bids; the Big Sky appears to have four teams solidly in the field, but there's a big drop off after Idaho State. Other conferences, like the Southland and the OVC, are seeing enough turmoil that the number of at-large bids are likely to be minimal.
There are wildcards like Independent North Dakota and potential MEAC at-large qualifier North Carolina A&T. Both could eat bids that might otherwise fall down to a fourth or fifth-place team in a deep conference. There's always a chance the committee takes a chance on a team with a paper tiger record, like Campbell. Those factors are simply impossible to predict.
Cut to the Chase. Is This Going to Happen or Nah?
The CAA has way more playoff teams than the number of playoff teams it will eventually have.
— Chase Kiddy (@chaseakiddy) October 27, 2018
The CAA still has six teams ranked in the most recent edition of the STATS FCS poll; it also has five teams ranked inside BennettRank's Top 20. When it's all said and done, the CAA could have six teams well-qualified for playoff inclusion.
However, for reasons that are as mathematical as they are political, it just seems really unlikely that six teams are going to get the nod here. Too many things would have to break the conference's way, and even if they did, there's no guarantee the people responsible for making bracketology decisions would reward a conference's fifth or sixth-best team. For now, the conservative estimate for the CAA is five teams.