EDITOR'S NOTE: Our guess at first-round potential matchups, and even second round … all below. At-large teams and 'Bubble Teams' are discussed beneath the seeds.
Congratulations, seeds — you might get a chance to go home and have a Thanksgiving meal with your family (obviously that's up to the coach, but at least it's a possibility when you're an FCS Playoff seed).
We think we have a pretty good handle on who has nabbed the FCS seeds and who hasn't. And below that, we took a dive into the mess that is the 'Bubble Situation'.
[divider]MORE: Compare Any Two FCS Players or Any Two FCS Teams[divider]
Resident FCS lover Brian McLaughlin (that's me) took a final stab at creating the bracket after Week 12. Seeds, first-round hosts, who is in, who is out, who barely missed, you name it. And remember, the FCS Selection Show will air at 11 a.m. Eastern Time tomorrow (Sunday, Nov. 19) on ESPNU. You can follow all of the reaction with HERO Sports and on Twitter @BrianMacWriter.
So let's get to it:
THE FCS SEEDS/POTENTIAL SKED (These eight will host on Dec. 2)
1. James Madison (11-0) vs. Stony Brook/CCSU
2. North Dakota State (10-1) vs. EWU/South Dakota
3. Jacksonville State (10-1) vs. Kennesaw/Furman
4. Central Arkansas (10-1) vs. Sam Houston/NAU
5. South Dakota State (9-2) vs. UNI/Austin Peay
6. Wofford (9-2) vs. Delaware/Lehigh
7. Southern Utah (9-2) vs. Weber St/San Diego
8. Western Illinois (8-3) vs. Elon/Samford[divider]
THE SEEDING EXPLANATION
So how about the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds? Personally, I think these are no brainers, but there will be differences of opinion on No. 2. Nobody will question that the 11-0 and defending FCS national champions James Madison Dukes will be at No. 1 and will host throughout December. The questions will come about why North Dakota State with an FCS loss is ahead of Jacksonville State and Central Arkansas — who both only have Power Five Conference losses to Georgia Tech and Kansas State on their resumes.
My argument will be, in this case, that winning the Missouri Valley Conference and finishing 10-1 with a loss to what will turn out to be the No. 5 seed, South Dakota State, puts NDSU in the No. 2 spot. The MVFC is clearly a much deeper conference than the Ohio Valley Conference or Southland Conference — which aren't in the top three of FCS conferences when it comes to depth. Also, in the Southland, thanks to schedule rotation, Central Arkansas didn't play the No. 3 team, 8-3 Nicholls.
Too bad the conferences that rotate their schedules don't do it like the NFL, right? You make sure the best third (or so) of the league all play each other the next year. I really would have loved to have seen Sam Houston State, Central Arkansas, Nicholls and McNeese all play each other in the Southland to help solve this question, but none of the top four played all three of the others this year.
The only change I made this week was to switch Jacksonville State back up to No. 3 and Central Arkansas back to No. 4 because of the above discussion. Last week, the Gamecocks struggled a bit offensively, but rebounded this week to pound a decent Tennessee State team that has a winning record and an FBS win. So I felt JSU at No. 3 was correct.
Now, for the No. 5 through No. 8 spots, there will also obviously be disagreement. I doubt anybody will disagree that South Dakota State, Wofford and even Big Sky co-champ Southern Utah deserve to be in the Top 8, but maybe more arguments will be made against Western Illinois at No. 8. My argument is this … when we got all the results in today, the Leathernecks just flat out earned this seed.
See, this year Western Illinois beat an FBS (Coastal Carolina) by 42 points, handled a 7-4 Big Sky playoff team in Northern Arizona, beat Northern Iowa and Illinois State and finished hotter than South Dakota (three straight wins vs. USD's losses in four of the last five). WIU also finishes 8-3 and UNI and USD are 7-4 and the three did the 'roundabout thing' in beating each other up this year.
Western Illinois deserves a seed. Yes, it deserves it more than 10-1 Sam Houston State. The Bearkats have beaten one team with a winning record (Southeastern Louisiana at 6-5) since September, and its non-conference win over what normally is a strong Richmond (6-5) team paled as the season went on and the Spiders will not be in the playoffs. The Bearkats certainly deserve to be in the playoffs and likely will host a first-round game, but they shouldn't be a seed this year.
So that's it, in a wrap. Those are the eight I think should be home for Thanksgiving dinner.
RELATED: Top FCS NFL Draft Prospects for 2018[divider]
FIRST ROUND TEAMS (Nov. 25)
EDITOR'S NOTE: Full explanation of 'why' is below the first-round picks, bubble teams, and who were the first teams 'out'.
FIRST ROUND LOCKS – AT-LARGES (ranked – Sam Houston St. being the top 'non seed')
FIRST ROUND LOCKS – AUTOMATIC BIDS
LAST FOUR IN – AT-LARGE BIDS (ranked – Austin Peay being 'last in')
FIRST-ROUND MATCHUP PROPOSAL (NOTE: NCAA host bids will determine this)
Northern Arizona at Sam Houston State (compare these teams)
Eastern Washington at South Dakota (compare these teams)
Lehigh at Delaware (compare these teams)
Samford at Elon (compare these teams)
Central Connecticut State at Stony Brook (compare these teams)
Furman at Kennesaw State (compare these teams)
San Diego at Weber State (compare these teams)
Austin Peay at Northern Iowa (compare these teams)[divider]
EXPLAINING THE FIRST-ROUND CHOICES
We already discussed Sam Houston State not being a seed above, so I won't delve into that again. There's no question a 10-1 team like the Bearkats are close to a seed. The teams that jump out to me the most in the 'first round/at-large' locks are Northern Iowa and Weber State. These two programs have been extremely hot in October and November when they've hit the meat of their conference schedules, and they both have played extremely well on the defensive side of the ball. Hey … um, seeded teams? Watch out for these two.
Samford locked in its spot with a big home win today over Furman, and Stony Brook did the same as it survived a tough Maine team on the road. Those two will be interesting to watch. Furman is here because of body of work. The Paladins may have lost three FCS games, but Wofford, Elon and Samford are playoff teams and none was by more than 7 points. Furman has played well the past two months and very well could have knocked off Samford — only a 6-point loss.
South Dakota faltered down the stretch but an FBS win, a win over what I think is a seed (Western Illinois) and the fact the losses came to MVFC giants — several being close — puts the Coyotes in.
Kennesaw State looks like another buzzsaw, though they came in via the automatic bid spot instead of at-large. The Owls should be a first-round team but will be a brutal matchup for anybody who isn't prepared for that options attack. Don't be surprised by a first-round win here. Good luck, opponents. San Diego, Lehigh and Central Connecticut State are in on auto bids but it'll be tough to see them getting past the first round.
And for the bubble picks? The craziest choices we've ever had to make? Goodness gracious this was a brutal task. Tylenol, baby.
Eastern Washington, Northern Arizona and Delaware play in what I call 'top four' FCS conferences and all finished 7-4 with Power Five FBS Conference losses. All three have signature wins and all three are considered to have rock solid strength of schedule ratings — some of the highest in the FCS. EWU has been red-hot in recent weeks. NAU and Delaware both lost today but body of work gets them in.
And Austin Peay, the story of the year in the FCS if not college football, period. This program snapped a 29-game losing streak earlier this year and Sunday the Governors will watch a playoff selection show to see if they're in the playoffs for the first time in 40 years. APSU's argument is challenging three FBS programs and going toe-to-toe with all three of them — at least for a half if not four quarters. It gave UCF fits for a half, nearly knocked off Cincinnati in week one, and was solid against Miami (Ohio) into the fourth quarter. The committee admits that it does pay attention to such things.
The Govs could have scheduled cream puffs, but didn't. Their only FCS loss is to a Top Three seed (Jacksonville State) and they are 8-1 against FCS competition. There are strong arguments for other programs too, and APSU, EWU, NAU and Delaware may not get in based on the committee's criteria, but I think I have the right quartet here.[divider]
FIRST EIGHT OUT (ranked)
THE QUARTERS, SEMIS AND FINAL
QUARTERS (Dec. 8-9)
JMU bracket host WIU bracket
NDSU bracket host SUU bracket
JSU bracket host Wofford bracket
UCA bracket host SDSU bracket[divider]
SEMIS (Dec. 15-16)
JMU bracket hosts UCA bracket
NDSU bracket hosts JSU bracket[divider]
CHAMPIONSHIP (Jan. 6)
at Frisco, Texas[divider]