Top 25 rankings are made up of “what have you done for me lately” votes. If you lose, you drop. And it’s tough to rise if the teams in front of you keep winning.
The HERO Sports FCS Playoff Power Poll looks at the entire body of work to decide what the top eight seeds should be if the season ended today. Strength of schedule, Division I wins, FBS wins, wins against ranked FCS opponents and results against common opponents are some of the criteria taken into consideration.
Teams will slide up and down, appear and disappear, as their resumes strengthen or weaken throughout the season. With one week of games remaining, here is what FCS writers Brian McLaughlin and Sam Herder believe the playoff seeds should look like today.
Brian McLaughlin's seeds
1. James Madison (10-0) – No need to explain here. The Dukes are the defending champions, they’ve kept their sheet clean and they have the nation’s longest Division I win streak at 23.
2. North Dakota State (9-1) – If the Bison win this weekend, they need to be one of the top two seeds. Period. A Missouri Valley champion in this FCS climate has earned the right to host throughout December.
3. Central Arkansas (9-1) – I bumped the Bears up a spot because I felt their body of work was stronger than Jacksonville State’s last weekend, but that can easily switch back up in the final weekend. Bears’ only loss is to Kansas State.
4. Jacksonville State (9-1) – Gamecocks look locked in to two home games in the playoffs and a first-round bye. They get it done on defense, but are hoping to fire up the offense in the postseason.
5. South Dakota State (8-2) – The two losses seem like a distant memory now, especially with the way this program has been winning the past few weeks. It’s hard to believe this team was ever struggling on offense, because it isn’t now. This is a scary matchup for anybody in the playoffs.
6. Wofford (9-1) – Here’s an interesting scenario: What if the Terriers go down to South Carolina and win this weekend? Well in my mind that puts them in the top four. Will it happen? Probably not, but it’d be interesting wouldn’t it?
7. Southern Utah (8-2) – The Thunderbirds can sew up the Big Sky title with a win at home against Northern Arizona this weekend, and that seems to be the likely situation. In that case, they’ll undoubtedly get a first-round bye and a seed.
8. Western Illinois (7-3) – The Leathernecks are perplexing, but in recent weeks they’ve really turned it up a notch and look like a potential seed. A win this weekend against Southern Illinois I think makes them the third Missouri Valley seed
Sam Herder's seeds
1. James Madison (10-0) – The Dukes shut down a terrific Richmond offense, but had to score a late touchdown to win 20-13. They have found themselves in more close battles than maybe fans expected, but the wins keep coming. Elon could really throw the playoff seeds into a huge kerfuffle if the Phoenix upset JMU this weekend. But it’s hard to picture the Dukes having an off day this late in the season.
2. North Dakota State (9-1) – NDSU made a statement last week, dominating No. 10 South Dakota 49-14. The national polls and committee rankings dropped the Bison after a loss to SDSU a couple weeks ago. Maybe it’s just a “you lost, you drop” type of thing. But as the committee does more research and puts the resumes on the table, there’s little to no argument of another team taking the No. 2 seed. A win against Illinois State gets NDSU to 10-1 with an outright MVFC championship. The Bison have had worse resumes in the past with worse losses to non-playoff teams and have still been seeded No. 1 or 2.
3. Jacksonville State (9-1) – The defense continues to shine for the Gamecocks. I don’t care what conference they’re in and what the competition is, this defensive unit is near the top in the FCS. The problem is the offense just isn’t producing the numbers it has in the past, which will make it tough to predict JSU to make it far in the playoffs.
4. South Dakota State (8-2) – The Jackrabbits are on a four-game winning streak and may be the hottest team in the FCS. After a huge win against NDSU, they were taken to overtime at home against Illinois State. But a 27-24 win like that will create even more confidence. Now it’s time to head south on I-29 for a rivalry game against USD. Both teams are probably playing for a seed. The stakes couldn’t get much higher.
5. Central Arkansas (9-1) – UCA has scored 42 or more points in its last four games. Hayden Hildebrand has had one of the better seasons at quarterback that not a lot of people have recognized. And for an offense-happy Southland Conference, they are only allowing 18.9 points per game.
6. Wofford (9-1) – Wofford just keeps on winning. Seven of its wins have been by seven points or less, though. So we’ll see how well the playoff committee likes a 24-21 double-overtime win against Chattanooga or a 31-24 victory versus East Tennessee State. The Terriers will find themselves somewhere as a seed. And their option offense is a nightmare for any team to prepare for.
7. Southern Utah (8-2) – SUU still looks like the favorite to capture the Big Sky title. This weekend’s game against Northern Arizona, both 6-1 in the conference, probably determines who gets a seed. SUU is 8-2 overall while the Lumberjacks are 7-3. Weber State is also 8-2 and should defeat Idaho State, but the Wildcats own a win against an NAIA school. Don’t schedule non-Division I games if you can help it, folks.
8. South Dakota (7-3) – The Coyotes still hold this spot down because this is a power poll of what’s happened so far. Western Illinois has a strong chance to take over this eighth seed. But so far? Both USD and WIU have the same record with FBS wins, but USD owns the head-to-head. The ‘Yotes have a tough game against SDSU while the Leathernecks should defeat Southern Illinois. With a USD loss and a WIU win, the Leathernecks get the third seed out of the Valley.