OK, so here's the thing about the FCS Playoffs: The top eight teams get to eat Thanksgiving dinner at home with no game that weekend (nice reward … I'm changing the reward this week though, you get to have more Pecan Pie. Last week I think I wrote that it was the sweet potato casserole – just know that you'll all be asleep by 4 p.m.).
Each year, the NCAA tries to structure things so that teams don't have to travel extensively at least for the first two rounds, if not three. There's a lot of give-and-take, which means 'human input'.
So resident FCS lover Brian McLaughlin (that's me) took a personal look at creating the bracket after Week 11, as in — if the season had to end today. Seeds, first-round hosts, who is in, who is out, who barely missed, you name it.
CELEBRATION BOWL: Celebration Bowl Picture Coming Into Focus for HBCUs
IVY LEAGUE: Yale perched atop Ivy League – eyeing first outright title in 37 years
[divider]MORE: Compare Any Two FCS Players or Any Two FCS Teams[divider]
THE SEED SUMMARY
So, the seeds … I will repeat this: North Dakota State? If it wins the Missouri Valley Football Conference, should (and better) get the No. 2 seed. Look at it this way. Who is the chief competition? Solid programs at Jacksonville State and Central Arkansas. But a 1-conference loss Valley team has a better resume than a 0-conference loss Ohio Valley Conference or Southland Conference team. The results have proven this for years. So that's the first point that may spark some arguments this week and next.
Sorry, I'm a big time SOS guy — Strength … Of … Schedule.
Second likely contentious issue? Unless South Dakota State trips up at South Dakota or Western Illinois trips up against Southern Illinois, I think we're looking at a three-seed Valley this year. But we never know what's going to happen in that crazy league. Write it all in pencil. Beyond that? The Big Sky champion — right now Southern Utah is beginning to look like that team — should be a seed if it is 9-2.
That has been quite the gauntlet to survive, but Northern Arizona is coming to town this weekend at SUU. No guarantees. Lastly, I swapped Jacksonville State and Central Arkansas for the No. 3 spot based on the results of today. JSU barely got out of UT Martin, 14-7. UCA won by a mile. May switch it back next week.[divider]
ALSO, THE BUBBLE
My goodness has this landscape changed in a few days. The biggest risers? Furman, Delaware, Weber State, Samford, Northern Iowa, New Hampshire, Montana …. ahhhh, my head is spinning. The problem right now with the at-large situation is there are way too many teams that'll finish with 7 and maybe 8 wins, and not enough teams with 10 wins to clean out the palate. That's called parity, folks. And we have our selves a serious parity problem (is it really a problem though?).
I'm already wondering about potential 8 and 9-win teams outside of the power two (MVFC and CAA). I don't think 8 wins is a guarantee anymore if you aren't in the MVFC or CAA, based on what I'm seeing as of today. Also, the potential of a MEAC second-place team getting in like North Carolina A&T last year? It's not going to happen. Not this year. Elon and South Dakota dropped out of the seeding situation this weekend with their losses, and I don't see that changing. But they are two of the most surprising stories of 2017 (outside of Austin Peay and Columbia) and the Phoenix and 'Yotes are in, I think, regardless of what happens the final weekend. They've come a long way.
Kudos to both of them. Obviously when you look below you'll see some automatic qualifying conferences tossed in there. At this point, Central Connecticut State and San Diego are "in". Lehigh isn't, but it's looking good for the Mountain Hawks. And Kennesaw State? I have them "in" by a slight edge over Monmouth, but if Monmouth beats KSU in Georgia this week and claims the Big South crown? It'll change things drastically in the picture below because geographically we go from a team in Georgia (Kennesaw) to a team in New Jersey (Monmouth). We'll see. That could change the bracket a bunch.
So here's how I see it, as of the results of Nov. 11:[divider]
FIRST ROUND SLATE (Nov. 25)
EDITOR'S NOTE: Keep in mind that with FCS first-round games, teams bid to host. One would logically expect a program with an average of 20,000+ fans at home to make a better case to host than one with a much smaller average attendance. But we don't have the bids in front of us, so we'll say "vs." instead of "at" for now. We'll let the NCAA sort that out. One would think that teams like Montana (largest attendance in the FCS last year) and Delaware and Northern Iowa would likely host, based on traditional attendance numbers.
Lehigh vs. Stony Brook (statistical comparison)
Northern Arizona vs. Northern Iowa (statistical comparison)
Elon vs. Furman (statistical comparison)
Samford vs. Sam Houston State (statistical comparison)
South Dakota vs. Montana (statistical comparison)
Kennesaw State vs. Delaware (statistical comparison)
San Diego vs. Weber State (statistical comparison)
Central Conn. State vs. New Hampshire (statistical comparison)[divider]
SECOND ROUND WITH SEEDS (Dec. 2)
1. James Madison vs. Lehigh/Stony Brook
2. North Dakota State vs. NAU/UNI
3. Central Arkansas vs. Elon/Furman
4. Jacksonville State vs. Samford/SHSU
5. South Dakota State vs. USD/Montana
6. Wofford vs. Kennesaw/Delaware
6. Southern Utah vs. San Diego/Weber St.
8. Western Illinois vs. CCSU/UNH[divider]
THE REST OF THE WAY (Quarters, Semis, Final)
QUARTERS (Dec. 8-9)
JMU bracket host WIU bracket
NDSU bracket host SUU bracket
UCA bracket host Wofford bracket
JSU bracket host SDSU bracket[divider]
SEMIS (Dec. 15-16)
JMU bracket hosts JSU bracket
NDSU bracket hosts UCA bracket[divider]
CHAMPIONSHIP (Jan. 6)
at Frisco, Texas[divider]
OUT, BUT JUST BY A HAIR
(but that can change in a few days)
Western Carolina (7-4) – at the ACC's North Carolina this weekend
Youngstown State (5-5) – hosting Missouri State