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Question Three: How many 2018 playoff teams will the Southland Conference produce?
Chase Kiddy: Two or Fewer
The Southland's status as a potential 3-bid league is a recently obtained one, so some historical perspective might be warranted here. In the beginning of the FCS era, which started in 2006, the Southland never got three bids. It's only in the last five years, when the FCS playoff expanded from 20 to 24 teams, that the Southland started squeezing a third team in there. That expansion first took place in the 2013 season; since then, the Southland has landed three playoff teams in three of the five seasons.
So, the Southland has put 13 teams in the playoff in the last five years. How have those teams done? You might be surprised to learn that the SLC has collectively gone 12-13 in the playoffs since 2013, which actually doesn't sound too bad, given the conference's general reputation as a playoff flame-out.
Then, a couple minutes later, you realize that Sam Houston State has won 10 of those 12 games. An 11th was a second-round matchup where two SLC teams played each other, so one of them had to win. When you boil things down, teams from the Southland Conference not named Sam Houston State have gone 1-8 against non-Southland playoff opponents over the last five years. Those eight losses include three from seeded teams playing in their first game of the postseason.
So why do I bring all that up? I suspect that the playoff committee is going start wanting to see a little more from a Southland playoff team going forward. The Bearkats might have some ugly exits, but at least they're pulling their weight when it comes to advancing through the bracket. The rest of the conference just hasn't performed when the lights get brighter. A correction on this trend is coming, and I'm betting it happens this season.
Now, inevitably, there will be fans who think this is unfair. "Concentrate on this season when you're talking about this season," they might say. "The past doesn't matter!"
Okay. We can do that. Central Arkansas just lost a ton of talent as well as its head coach, so I feel pretty confident in predicting that they'll take a step back toward the middle of the pack. And the middle of the pack? It's an improved bunch. Southeastern Louisiana is rarely a bad team; Stephen F. Austin could finish north of .500, coaching problems not withstanding. Wins could be more evenly distributed this year in the SLC, and that's probably not good news for a conference that just saw McNeese go 9-2 and miss the playoffs.
I believe Sam Houston State and Nicholls will be the only teams to reach the playoffs in the Southland this season. The good news for SLC fans is that I think both of those teams should be really good this season. The Quality-over-Quantity approach might be a good one for a conference in dire need of a PR campaign.
Sam Herder: Three or More
It’s all about how this question is phrased. If I was asked how many Southland Conference teams deserve to make the playoffs in 2018, I would have taken the two or less option. But the question is how many Southland teams will make the playoffs – and because of that, I say three.
Despite Sam Houston State being the only team able to prove it can make the deep postseason run, there’s still an odd infatuation with southern teams from the playoff committee.
Last year, two Southland teams were seeded – SHSU at No. 6 and Central Arkansas at No. 4. Nicholls joined the field as an unseeded team. UCA lost right away to New Hampshire, a team that barely beat a mediocre Central Connecticut State team and got whooped by South Dakota State in the quarterfinals.
That shows two seeded Southland teams is just too many. Three Southland teams in the bracket, in general, is too many, but it will happen again this year.
SHSU is still going to be a national power and probably earn a seed. Nicholls looks to be very solid and also will deserve to be in the playoffs if the Colonels play to their potential. The playoff committee showed last season they aren’t shy of leaving a Southland team with a good record on the bubble. But it’s still going to be a three-bid league in 2018 with whoever that third place team is.
The problem is the Southland plays nine conference games. Being a top-heavy conference, that means four teams usually have good looking records. And as history shows, that’s good enough from the committee to put three teams into the playoff field.
What do you think?