Every week of action in the FCS shapes the playoff picture. While coaches and players will give you the cliche answer of wanting to compete for a conference championship, the long-term goal is always to set yourself up for a playoff seed or a playoff bid.
As more games are played and conference foes eat each other up, the 24-team bracket is going to change. But our FCS staff of Brian McLaughlin, Chase Kiddy and Sam Herder are going to make weekly predictions on what they think the playoff field is going to look like.
BennettRank: MVFC, CAA Dominate the Top 5
This is a combination of what would happen if the season ended today while also recognizing what lies ahead on each team's schedule.
The guys break down their seeds, first-round teams, the last three in and the last three left out in the table below:
|Non-seed1||Ill. St.||Chatt.||Ill. St.|
|Non-seed3||UC Davis||Nicholls||Rhode Isl.|
|Non-seed||Rhode Isl.||N. Ariz.||Nova|
|Last 3 in||C. Ark.||Weber||Mont. St.|
|Last 3 in||S. Dak.||S. Dak.||WCU|
|Last 3 in||E. Kent.||Stony B.||WIU|
|1st 3 out||Mont.||Rhode Isl.||SHSU|
|1st 3 out||Nova||Mont. St.||Towson|
|1st 3 out||Stony B.||Dela.||Stony B.|
- “1-8” – Is obviously where we think schools will fit in as seeds, based on results so far.
- “NEC, PAT AND PIO” – The automatic berths for the NEC, Patriot and Pioneer conferences.
- “Non-seed 1,2,3” – These are the best three teams not seeded, ranked 1, 2, 3.
- “Non-seed” – These are the next batch of at-large teams in alphabetical order.
- “Last 3 in” – The last three teams we think squeak in.
- “1st 3 out – The first three schools left out of the bracket.
This weekend's results made my head spin. To be bluntly honest? I didn't really feel like I had 24 worthy playoff teams this week. But as we head into conference play, the cream will rise and I'm beginning to look forward to that — specifically in the CAA.
The CAA, up to down, is the most perplexing conference because the parity is the highest caliber parity in the FCS this year. It's one thing to "chop each other up", it's a whole other thing to "chop each other up and could also chop nearly all of the other conferences up too". The Elon, Maine, Rhode Island, Towson, Villanova, Stony Brook logjam is a mess, and don't think that a healthy UNH or a revitalized Delaware won't have a say in messing up one of the above teams' season. We need to see these teams go at each other, but for now? I left the CAA with five teams in. It's not realistic to have any more than that.
So where do we go to plug the other holes in the bracket? That's tough, because the OVC and SoCon both hurt themselves this weekend, as far as potential playoff spots. If they both chop each other up like this, there's going to be several sad 6 and 7-win teams at home in the postseason. If it comes down to splitting hairs with 7-win teams this November, you can be sure those 7-win invites will be going to the MVFC, Big Sky and CAA — so 8 wins is a must for SoCon, OVC and Southland teams this year, and any other league will need 9 wins.
As for the Top 8 seeds? I didn't touch a thing this week. Of the 8, only one lost and that was McNeese to a ranked FBS team (BYU) — and the Cowboys hung in there for a while. The other 5 that actually played won impressively. So for now? No budge.
Bring on the conference schedule — let's start to sift through this.
This week offered the least amount of week-to-week movement in my rankings, and by a pretty large margin, too. Up top, the only change in my top eight was flipping Eastern Washington and Maine. That decision was less about punishing the Black Bears for an FBS loss and more about rewarding Eastern for taking care of business against a conference opponent. I do think EWU and South Dakota State could be the only two teams in this second tier we've imagined that's below JMU/NDSU — let's call it "Tier 1.5" — so I think the fourth slot is the right hole to peg them, going forward.
Past that, there's not a ton of change. My 9/10/11 teams all won and all held their ground. Illinois State shoots up into my No. 12 spot, courtesy of their first really meaningful win of the season. I'm happy to see this — I bought into the Illinois State hype in the offseason, and I'm glad to see my faith was well-founded.
Also into the rankings is Weber State. My offensive concerns are still very much present, but as I mentioned on the podcast last week, it's tough to keep a team out at this point in the season that hasn't lost to FCS competition.
Leaving the rankings are a pair of CAA schools. I do think Delaware winds their way back into the playoff picture eventually, but at this point, it's just too tough to squeeze in a team whose two wins are against a bottom-level Patriot League team and a bottom-level Ivy team. Rhode Island also takes a small tumble out — the Rams were on a bye last week, but this move is more about the fact that their resume doesn't compare favorably to a lot of bubble teams at this particular moment in time.
Valley/CAA watch: Both teams have five schools in. So does the Big Sky, for that matter.
None of my eight seeds changed, which after the first few crazy weekends made things a little easier. The big game this Saturday is 1-seeded NDSU taking on 3-seeded SDSU. I've already started to think about how I'm going to do my seeds after this. In my opinion, I don't think NDSU drops below a 3 seed if the Bison lose. And SDSU shouldn't drop below a 6 seed if the Jacks lose. But we'll see how things play out with the score and also what other teams do.
MORE: Sam's Top 25 This Week
Chattanooga – The Mocs are 4-0 and looking impressive. I was a bit hesitant when they were 3-0 because the first three opponents weren't very good. But knocking off a Samford team, which is seeing its stock plummeting, was impressive. Chattanooga is close to earning a seed, but right now the overall body of work of my Top 8 teams are stronger.
Additions/Subtractions – Just as quick as UND entered my playoff field, the Fighting Hawks left. A week after knocking off No. 5 SHSU on the road, they lost a Homecoming game to Idaho State. The Bengals aren't a terrible Big Sky team, but they aren't usually a top-half team. Speaking of SHSU, the Bearkats don't appear to be the FCS power as in years past. The typically high-powered offense only scored seven on Nicholls, losing 27-7. Now, SHSU still has a chance to win its remaining eight games and go 9-2. We'll see how many bids the Southland gets this year and if SHSU is that third team. But right now, the Bearkats are out. Samford is the last team to exit my playoff picture. So who enters? Nicholls is back in along with Montana State, whose offense is getting better. Then Western Carolina makes its debut. The Catamounts might not have the sexiest of wins, but a 3-0 SoCon team deserves to be in the discussion for now. However, one of those wins is a non-counter against D2 Newberry, which might come back to bite them.
Conference Count: (Not including bubble teams) CAA – 5, Big Sky – 5, MVFC – 4, SoCon – 3, Southland – 2
NEXT: Brian's Week 4 Recap and Thoughts
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