The Brawl of the Wild is always one of the biggest FCS games of the year. But the national implications for the 2019 showdown are as high as they've been for several seasons.
No. 3 Montana and No. 8 Montana State are two blue-blood programs in this subdivision. They both stepped out of the national spotlight for far too long, and now finally play in a game that's going to shake up the FCS playoff picture in a big way.
Last season was essentially a playoff play-in game with Montana State getting the dramatic road win. This year, both teams are already in the playoffs with eight Division I wins. Now, these two bitter rivals are positioning for playoff seeds.
A Montana win has the Griz looking like a serious contender for a deep playoff run. A Montana State win puts the Big Sky seeding picture in a jumbled mess while setting the Bobcats up for a deep playoff run.
Here are the scenarios.
The Grizzlies are 5-point road favorites. And for good reason as they looked scary good in a beat-down of then-No. 3 Weber State last week. Really, though, any score simulations or betting odds can be thrown out the window in a game like this.
This one can go either way. But let's say Montana wins…
The Griz are likely going to be a Top 4 playoff seed with a 10-1 record against the FCS.
The team they will be fighting with for the No. 3 seed is Sacramento State, assuming the Hornets beat UC Davis. Sac State did hand Montana its only loss (49-22). Sac State would finish 8-1 against the FCS with the one loss coming to Weber State (36-17), a team Montana beat 35-16. Sac State also owns a win against Montana State.
Head-to-head wins are a big deal for the playoff committee. But so are overall resumes. Montana would have two more Division 1 wins because of Sac State scheduling two FBS opponents and 1 non-counter opponent (Southern Oregon). It's tough to determine how the committee will weigh these two resumes. And there may not be much of a difference between the No. 3 and 4 seeds anyway because road trips to NDSU or JMU in the semifinals will not be easy.
Montana State would likely play in the first round.
The Bobcats are unlikely to be a seed with an 8-3 record against the FCS. They simply don't have a great win on their resume outside of SEMO, who will be another first-round team.
But it's not impossible for MSU to be a seed.
There are scenarios where an 8-3 against the FCS Montana State team could be a seed. The Bobcats would have to hope Illinois State (currently 8-2 against the FCS) loses to YSU. Which could happen. They have to hope Wofford (currently 7-2 against the FCS) loses to The Citadel. That could happen. And a Villanova (currently 8-3 against the FCS) loss to Delaware would help as well. This could happen, but isn't as likely as the other two. There's also the chance of the winner of Thursday's Southland Conference game between Southeastern Louisiana and Nicholls (both 7-2 vs. the FCS) could get the No. 8 seed in this scenario.
It's not impossible for the Bobcats to get a No. 8 seed with a loss. It would just take some upsets around the country for it to happen.
Montana State Wins
The Bobcats have won the last three Brawl of the Wild games. They are playing their best football all season and are on a three-game winning streak.
So let's say Montana State wins…
The Bobcats are going to be a playoff seed with a 9-2 record against the FCS.
Where would they be seeded? Probably in the 6-7 range. NDSU and JMU are No. 1 and 2, assuming they win Saturday. The Bobcats lost to Sac State, and would be seeded behind the Hornets assuming they beat UC Davis. And they would probably be seeded behind Weber State as well if the Wildcats beat Idaho State to finish 9-1 against the FCS with that one loss coming to Montana. MSU's loss to UND would also probably drop them a seed lower than South Dakota State as the Jacks would finish 9-2 against the FCS with a win Saturday at South Dakota and their two losses coming against NDSU and Illinois State, another seeded team if they defeat Youngstown State.
My guess would be a No. 6 seed for MSU in this scenario.
Montana still has an OK chance to be seeded.
It'd be really hard not to seed the Griz with a 9-2 record against the FCS, including a win against Weber State, who should be a seed as well. But one would imagine the Griz will be seeded behind MSU in this scenario.
So the question is would the playoff committee actually seed four teams from one conference? Nothing in their criteria says they can't. They can seed as many teams from one conference as they want. The committee, made up of ADs from each conference that participates in the playoffs, actually giving one conference that much love is questionable, though.
So who gets the bump?
You have to seed Montana State if it wins Saturday. Assuming Sac State and Weber State win, they both would finish with just one FCS loss. It'd be very hard to not to seed those two. Sac State beat Montana and Montana State. But Weber State beat Sac State. BUT … Montana beat Weber State.
Illinois State, who saw their starting QB suffer a season-ending knee injury last week, losing at YSU on Saturday would drop the Redbirds from being a seed and would certainly help the Big Sky's chances at four seeds. No teams outside the Big Sky, CAA and MVFC have a great argument for a seed, although we could see Wofford, SE Louisiana or Nicholls (who I mentioned their scenarios above) in the Top 8. And there isn't a great No. 2 CAA team with a strong case for a seed. It could maybe be Villanova.
If MSU beats Montana, and Sac State and Weber handle business, along with Illinois State losing in a tough road trip to YSU, something tells me we're going to see four Big Sky seeds. Not only because those four would deserve it, but because there aren't going to be a whole lot of seed-able resumes out there.
If MSU beats Montana, Illinois State wins to secure a seed and the committee doesn't want to seed four Big Sky teams, good luck trying to figure out who gets the short end of the stick between MSU, Montana, Weber State and Sac State.
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