The Ohio Valley Conference, Southern Conference and Southland Conference all need to step up their collective game to be big factors in the FCS Playoff outlook.
[divider]MORE: Compare Any Two FCS Players or Any Two FCS Teams
HERO SPORTS FCS PODCAST: Subscribe here[divider]
MCLAUGHLIN: Key Points From Week Eight
FCS PLAYOFF SEEDS: After Week Eight
FCS RECRUITING: Top 25 teams, Top 150 players & More[divider]
First let's start with the cool stuff. I mean … SEMO, Murray State, Incarnate Word, East Tennessee State … it's awesome to see some "new blood" in the discussion for FCS Playoff spots. These programs are exceeding expectations — trust me, I wrote all four of your previews (read here). While the previews tend to look on the bright side, I can't say that I thought we'd be analyzing these programs as potential playoff-bound teams this last year in the year.
On the flip side, I didn't think Jacksonville State, Sam Houston State, Nicholls and Samford would be teetering on being knocked out of the postseason. You can read that in my previews, too.
To these three conferences, it's time to step it up down the stretch. The leaders need to lead or this trio of conferences that I keep an eye on in the south are going to see their at-large playoff berths dwindle down to almost nothing. All three get automatic playoff berths for their champions, but they may not get much more. The OVC hasn't had an at-large berth since Eastern Illinois in 2015, and the Southland only had one apiece in 2015 and 2016. These conferences keep on beating each other up.
Unlike the MVFC, CAA and Big Sky — where 7-win teams are a near lock to make it — these three conferences have seen 12 teams with seven or more wins be excluded from the playoffs in just the past five years. What the OVC, SoCon and Southland need are definitive winners at the top. Even nine wins didn't get McNeese in last year. Since Georgia Southern and Appalachian State left the SoCon after 2013, the SoCon has only slightly built itself back up.
This year could be the toughest though since GSU and AppState were still dominant FCS teams and players like Jimmy Garoppolo played for Eastern Illinois in the OVC.
Last year and the year before, these three conferences had four at-large berths combined. I'd argue that this year it might be only two — or maybe even one — if some hungry teams don't prove themselves down the stretch.
HERE'S HOW IT LOOKS:
- OVC: At 4-0, Murray State is the league leader at this point, but the Racers likely need to win out to get into the FCS Playoffs. This weekend's home game with Jacksonville State and Nov. 10's home game with SEMO certainly jump off the page, and the season finale at Austin Peay is no afterthought either. The Racers truly need to win out and get the auto bid, because a 7-4 Murray State team may not get a bid, depending on the rest of the country's situation. Remember, an 8-win Austin Peay team with 3 FBS losses was left out last year … Jacksonville State, despite its crushing loss at SEMO, looks like it has the clearest path to an at-large berth, and could truly repair its reputation with a four-game win streak to close the year, which would include a win it Atlanta against Kennesaw State. Do that? And the Gamecocks are back in the fold. But trip up at Murray State this weekend and lose to Kennesaw State in the finale? That might be flirting with being left home … SEMO, to me, looks like the hottest team in the OVC, and the remaining schedule is probably the weakest of the three teams we're mentioning here. Eight wins is a near-lock scenario and nine wins and an OVC title and auto-bid are also within reach.
- SOCON: Samford's path is clear as a bell if it wants to get in — it must win its three remaining games, which includes front runners Wofford and ETSU, two other teams wanting a spot. This may damage the SoCon overall … but obviously a specific school would be happy with its berth. Wofford seems to have the clearest path to an at-large berth if it doesn't get the automatic bid … but if Wofford nabs the auto bid, there's a chance the SoCon may not get any other team in … ETSU needs to win two of its last three to lock up its first playoff spot since 1996. It's doable, but not a certainty. Mercer certainly controls its own destiny at 4-3 overall, but its next four games are tough ones in the SoCon … whereas 5-2 Chattanooga's path to 8 wins seems more clear, on paper, even with the SEC's South Carolina rounding out the schedule.
- SOUTHLAND: Nicholls has the easiest final four weeks, and could finish 8-3 with a P5 win on its resume. While the Colonels have two league losses on the resume, their overall body of work should snag an at-large IF they win out … On the flip side, Incarnate Word has been a wonderful story this year, but its remaining gauntlet of at Nicholls, Sam Houston State at home and at Central Arkansas looks like a tough road to get to the playoffs — but the Cardinals certainly control their own destiny. If they can replicate what they did to McNeese, they not only could hit the playoffs, they may take the Southland's automatic playoff berth … Central Arkansas is in luck, because the Bears get a shot at McNeese this weekend and UIW on Nov. 10. If UCA wins out, it would win the Southland, get an autobid and likely get a first-round bye for the second straight year … Meanwhile, McNeese is hardly out of it and could finish 9-2 if it gets past UCA this weekend, and Sam Houston State need to hope for a bunch of stuff to happen to be back in the mix.
Clear as mud? Yeah, that's what I thought. It is complicated, and a lot of things have to fall into place to make sure these conferences don't give up two or three berths combined, due to "parity".
TOP CROWDS: The FCS' Biggest Crowds After Week Eight[divider]
MCLAUGHLIN: Let's Do The FCS Schedule This Way[divider]