Welcome to the HERO Sports FCS Mailbag, week 11 edition. FCS writers Brian McLaughlin and Sam Herder take questions each and every week on Twitter and give in-depth answers here in the mailbag. Tweet them both at @BrianMacWriter and @TheHerd215 to get your questions answered!
@PeterMooney09: Can Elon or Stony Brook still earn a seed? What will need to happen?
Brian: I don't see Elon getting a seed now, but Stony Brook might be able to with a bunch of help — namely it would need to win, and then it needs Southern Utah and Western Illinois to lay eggs, and it doesn't want South Dakota to upset South Dakota State. So yes, there's a path for Stony Brook to get a seed, but it doesn't completely control its own destiny. Will it host a first round game if it doesn't get a seed? I think so.
Sam: The CAA is too good of a conference to only have one playoff seed. If Elon upsets James Madison, then sure, you have to seed the Phoenix. But I don't see that happening. Stony Brook should get a win at Maine. The Seawolves would then be 9-2 with their only FCS loss by four points to a good Delaware team. That, in my mind, should get them a seed. But they will have to hope some Top 10 teams fall in the final week.
With one week left in the regular season, who has a better chance of getting 5 teams in the playoffs – CAA or MVFC?
— Nick Daly (@dalynw4) November 13, 2017
Brian: I'm going to go with the Missouri Valley here, because I think we're looking at five teams that are 7-4 or better in the MVFC, and 7 wins in the MVFC gets you in. I don't think it'll get a 6-5 team like potentially Youngstown State or Illinois State. Now, If ISU upsets North Dakota State this weekend? All hell will break loose and you may see as many as six Valley teams in. I wouldn't say that's likely, but it's possible.
Sam: Just by looking at the games remaining in both conferences, I'll say the Valley. NDSU, SDSU, USD and Western Illinois all are probably locks. Northern Iowa should handle Indiana State to get in at 7-4. And if Illinois State takes down the Bison, the Redbirds are 7-4 and need to be in the field as well, maybe bumping a Valley team out.
How about that *struggle win* by JSU? I think they have a lot of room for improvement between now and December.
— Zack White (@ZackWhiteIT) November 13, 2017
Brian: Jacksonville State gets it done with defense first, so there's that. On offense? Yes, at times it has struggled and the Gamecocks will need to shore that up if they want to make any long playoff runs. The offense seems to be the vulnerability with the Gamecocks, but the defense is solid.
Sam: Here’s the beef a lot of FCS fans with the Gamecocks. They are a great program, yes. They’ve become one of the national powerhouses in the FCS. But when teams out of the CAA and the MVFC are consistently defeating ranked teams week after week and JSU defeats Tennessee-Martin 14-7, it’s tough to argue the Gamecocks are a Top 2 team, or seed, in the FCS.
Now, I still think the Gamecocks are in the national title picture this season. Their defense is a big reason why. But if JSU’s offense can’t score more than 14 points against a 6-4, 2-4 Ohio Valley Conference team, I don’t know how far the defense can carry them in the playoffs.
— Brian Rives (@BrianRives) November 13, 2017
Brian I enjoy reading your coverage of the FCS Football landscape. If AP gets the W next Saturday, can we write them into the field? Finishing at 8-4? My Govs have been fun to watch jQuery17209306763266553406_1510620175428jQuery17204020297194763318_1510622148744jQuery17205420692057513437_1510622284260jQuery172015330567999453493_1510623208344
— Kevin Lawrence (@KevinLawrence25) November 13, 2017
Brian: As of today, at 7-4, Austin Peay is on the outside looking in, yes. If the Govs beat EIU this weekend, then you need to keep your eye on about five other bubble games on Saturday (we'll be publishing this list this week) — and you're going to want to hope for 3 or 4 of these teams to fall. Bottom line? We have a bottleneck of bubble teams this year, and there are going to be a lot of miffed off programs Sunday, just watch.
BUBBLE WATCH: Austin Peay Is Close
Sam: The OVC hasn’t been a 2-bid league since 2014. It is the eighth best conference out of 13 in the FCS, according to the Sagarin Ratings. Even if it gets to 8-4 with three FBS losses, I think it’s 50/50 if Austin Peay makes the playoffs. And the reason for this is because there’s a ton of teams that could finish 7-4 or 8-3 that have more quality wins than the Governors. Do they get in over a fifth team from the MVFC or a fourth team from the Big Sky, like a Montana? I’m really not sure if they do.
Is a 2 loss SDSU worthy of a #5 seed over a 1 loss Sam Houston if there are no upsets in the Top 10 next weekend?
— Matthew Fraase (@MatthewFraase) November 13, 2017
Brian: Absolutely South Dakota State is worthy of a No. 5 seed over Sam Houston State, and that's exactly where I have them going into the final weekend. SDSU's body of work — beating North Dakota State, Western Illinois and Illinois State, and possibly South Dakota this week — surpasses Sam Houston State's resume. Compare those three wins with Sam's best three — non-playoff Richmond, bubble Nicholls and non-playoff Southeastern Louisiana.
Sam: I know my editors won’t let me, but I wish I could make this next word a size 100 font: absolutely (editor's note: I tried). I understand SHSU fans believe their football team is good this season. And the Bearkats are a good team with a bunch of talent. But how anyone can reasonably compare the body of work, not the overall records, between SHSU and SDSU and say the Bearkats deserve a better seed is beyond me.
The Jacks are 8-2 and have wins at the time against three ranked opponents: No. 12 WIU, No. 2 NDSU and No. 17 Illinois State. All three could make the playoffs. SHSU is 9-1, highlighted by wins against No. 7 Richmond and No. 23 Nicholls State. Richmond won’t make the playoffs this season. The MVFC is ranked the top conference in the FCS and is ahead of the MAC and Conference USA out of the FBS. The Southland is ranked the seventh. SHSU needs statement wins in a weak conference. And defeating Prairie View 44-31, Northwestern State 40-36 and Abilene Christian 44-35 are not statement wins.
If JMU beats Elon, while Stony Brook, UNH, and Delaware all win, does the CAA get all five teams at 8-3 or better in the field?
— Matt Krause (@Voiceinthebox) November 13, 2017
Brian: I think there is the danger of a 7-4 CAA team being left at home, like with Albany last year. Right now I think the biggest candidate to be dropped if somehow it fell at Albany would be New Hampshire. I do think though, to answer your question, that 8 wins in the CAA locks you in. That's why JMU, Stony Brook and Elon are done deals. New Hampshire and Delaware get in with wins, and still might get in if they lose and go 7-4.
Sam: Above I said the MVFC should get five teams in. While I absolutely believe the CAA should get five teams at 8-3 or better in, I don't know if the playoff committee will have 10 total teams from two conferences fill the bracket. There are going to be a lot of 7-4 — even 8-3 — teams left out of the playoffs. And one of those teams will probably come from the CAA.
What are the historical comparisons of conference team representation(CAA, MVC, SOCON, OVC) in past years vs. this year in your mock bracket?
— Stuart Steed (@StuartSteed) November 13, 2017
Brian: I think it's about par for the course. The one conference who may possibly bump itself up a bit could be the Southland Conference if Nicholls were able to secure that ninth win at SE Louisiana Thursday night. Keep an eye on that one Thursday. It's a biggie.
Sam: I think each conference will get there typical number of teams in. The Valley will have five, the CAA with four and probably the Big Sky with three to four. The OVC has a chance to get two while the Southland has four teams with an argument record-wise to make the field. The bubble teams are going to be interesting and we'll see how the committee values the strength of conferences. Because that bubble is as full as it can get without bursting.
Maybe a week premature w/o knowing the bracket, but here’s one. Which national title contender/Top 8 seed is most prone to an upset and early exit from the playoffs (losing in, or before, the quarterfinals)?
— Joshua A. Swanson (@Swany8) November 13, 2017
Brian: Yeah, I tend to agree with you above. Without seeing exactly matchups — like a great offense against a bad defense, that sort of thing — its hard to tell. So let's go in reverse. How about I just say … any seed that maybe isn't a defensive juggernaut that runs into Kennesaw State's tricky option offense and only has a short time to prepare for it? That could be a short playoff run for that seed. Or how about if you're struggling on offense a bit and Delaware comes to town for that second round game? The Blue Hens have the defense to put your lights out. Key matchups could answer that question, and we just don't know who will pared up with whom.
Sam: I’m not sold on JSU’s offense or SHSU’s ability to match the physicality of the CAA or the MVFC. Those two are my picks to get upset, depending on matchups.
— DukeDogNation (@DukeDogNation) November 7, 2017
Brian: Honestly, I think the early signing period in December will play a bigger part with the Power Five monoliths who cut each other up over such things. There may be FCS recruits who choose to sign then, but I doubt they were planning to do anything differently in January or early February anyway.
Maybe the one way it DOES help FCS schools is if the FCS recruit signs in December and therefore is not available in February when something falls through at a Minnesota or a Virginia and then come in the 11th hour to try to steal an NDSU or JMU type recruit. That has happened. In that case, it could benefit the schools — and maybe if an FCS recruit is dead sure, it takes 1.5 months of pressure off his shoulder when he's off the market.
Sam: For total transparency, I don’t follow recruiting much. But I do know what happens a lot. Getting a verbal commitment is just half the battle. Often times, a player who has verbally committed to an FCS school gets a late offer from an FBS team. And let’s be real, a lot of high school players are going to take that FBS offer over FCS.
With the early signing period, it gives players who are firm on their commitment the ability to get it done with and sign. It also prevents FBS coaches from saying “OK, this player is committed to NDSU or JMU or another FCS team that has a lot of success. Maybe we should reevaluate him, see what they see and gauge his interest in coming to a ‘bigger’ program.”
After shutting down Richmond (38 ppg avg, 13 vs JMU) can we start talking about where JMU’s defense ranks against all-time FCS Defensive units? Top 5?
— Sons of Bridgeforth (@BridgeforthSons) November 13, 2017
Brian: You know what? You just lit a fire for a story idea, and I'm going to research that this week. Thanks for the idea. We'll run this story the week of the second round when JMU is hosting. But quick answer? I don't know the answer to this without the research, but it's certainly worth looking at.
Sam: It’s hard to objectively and realistically rank where this unit is. You can go by statistics, sure, but you also have to take into consideration the tough conference and great offenses the Dukes have shut down this season. Allowing 9.6 points per game in the CAA is probably a little more impressive than allowing 8.0 points per game in the Southern Conference, for example. But since we’re talking about rankings, I’d put the Dukes at No. 1 in the FCS for this season.
How will geography and/or TV ratings effect seedings and Friday / Saturday playoff schedules?
— Mark Ahrens (@MarkAhrens) November 13, 2017
Brian: I think geography will certainly come into play, maybe TV ratings to a lesser extent. In general these games tend to be all on ESPN3, with maybe a top one going on ESPNU or even ESPN2. I would guess the defending champions, James Madison, may attract a tad more attention from a greater audience — curiosity factor — and that may get JMU on the Deuce or on The U instead of ESPN3, but we'll see.
As for geography? I know the NCAA has said they don't want to have a bunch of rematches early in the tourney if it can be helped, but lets face it — a team like Northern Arizona's not coming to James Madison in the second round. Geography will matter.
Sam: As far as geography, it does impact the seedings some. The playoff committee is allowed to adjust the seeds if two teams from the same conference would match up in the quarterfinals. They try to avoid that. And I’m fine with that as long as they don’t take a team out of the Top 2 just because the No. 7 or 8 seed is from the same conference.
For deciding who gets to play on ESPNU or ESPN2 during the quarterfinals and semifinals and what days a game gets picked for, it basically depends on who ESPN and the FCS thinks will draw in the most casual fans. It’s a big reason why every NDSU quarterfinal and semifinal game has been on a main network and why JMU will see the same thing this postseason.