On Oct. 13, the playoff potential buzz around North Dakota and Southern Illinois was minimal. UND got rolled 55-20 the day before at unranked Idaho State to drop to 3-3. And the Salukis had no momentum and lost their third straight game with a 21-7 home loss to Illinois State to fall to 2-4.
Fast forward to today, and both teams are now very much alive in the playoff picture and look capable — both on the field and with their remaining schedule — to make the 24-team bracket.
Since those games on Oct. 12, the Fighting Hawks and Salukis are a combined 4-0 with each getting a win against a ranked opponent.
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UND defeated Cal Poly 30-26 after the Idaho State loss in a key road game. Then this last week, the Hawks took down No. 9 Montana State 16-12.
This team is now 5-3 overall with three games to play. The Hawks have then-ranked wins against No. 24 Sam Houston State, No. 12 UC Davis and No. 9 MSU. Only MSU is currently ranked at No. 14, but SHSU has a good chance to be a playoff bubble team and UC Davis' postseason hopes aren't completely gone.
On paper, the Fighting Hawks, now ranked No. 24, will finish 7-4 with a loss next week at No. 3 Weber State and home wins against Northern Colorado and Southern Utah. Now, seven wins is usually the magic number, but there are going to be a lot of 8-to-9-win teams on the bubble in a season where 12 regular-season games are allowed. UND can make the decision easier on the playoff committee with a huge upset at Weber State. Or else the Hawks will have to take care of business at home to end the season and hope Montana State, Sam Houston State and UC Davis can finish strong.
A resume UND might be going up against at the end of the regular season is SIU's.
The Salukis have won two straight, including a 35-10 win against No. 18 Youngstown State a couple of Saturdays ago. They are now 4-4 overall with an FBS win (UMass) and an FBS loss (Arkansas State). So the playoff committee views SIU as a 4-3 team with an FBS win.
SIU, who has battled injuries to key players throughout this season, now has a good shot to hit seven D1 wins in the next three games: at Indiana State, versus Missouri State and at Western Illinois. The regular-season finale is a home game against No. 1 North Dakota State. A win there obviously makes the committee's decision easy. The chances of that happening aren't high, though.
So on paper, we could be looking at a 7-5 SIU team with an FBS win and an FBS loss. YSU is no longer a ranked team currently, which begs the question of which win is better: UND beating Montana State, or SIU beating FBS UMass, who is 1-7 right now, 45-20?
The Salukis have to take care of business against teams they're supposed to beat on paper. They also have to hope YSU reaches the playoffs and that UT-Martin wins the OVC auto-bid to build their resume.
Who knows what will happen in the final month of the season. But if UND and SIU do finish with seven wins, it'll be fascinating to see how the playoff committee views them.
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