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: Ranking all 125 FCS Teams
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:
|2||UC Davis||Weber||UC Davis|
|NEC||Sacred H.||Sacred H.||Sacred H.|
|Last 3 in||JSU||Towson||McNeese|
|Last 3 in||WIU||Nicholls||Stony B.|
|Last 3 in||Samford||Ill. St.||JSU|
|1st 3 out||UNI||Stony B.||Samford|
|1st 3 out||Ill. St.||Mont. St.||Ind. St.|
|1st 3 out||Monmouth||NC A&T||NC A&T|
- “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.
At first glance, you'll note that we have three Big Sky seeds, 2 CAA and 2 MVFC seeded based on results up to today. The season won't end that way, but going with our usual criteria "as of today" they would have earned it. Now, the UC Davis/EWU game this weekend in Cheney will settle a seed and knock one of the two out. You can write that in pen. Also, Weber State will play a team I have currently as an at-large (Idaho State) in its season finale. That game also will likely settle another seed.
The CAA is in the same boat … as Delaware needs to survive at Stony Brook and Villanova and injury-plagued Elon needs to scrap through Towson and a road trip at Maine. Those will all be tough games. If these two teams falter somehow, James Madison and Maine are sitting there waiting to pounce on a seeding spot.
As for the MVFC? I feel strongly that NDSU and SDSU have already locked up seeds and their remaining games are quite winnable based on how the teams are playing right now.
I had Colgate as a seed last week, but I think the depth in the top three conferences bumps the Raiders out — if only for a week. If Colgate beats Lehigh this weekend, it'll be right on the cusp of nabbing a low seed and a first-round bye. If somehow the Raiders can go up to West Point and knock off Army in the regular season finale? It had better be a middle seed. This program has done nothing but be perfect so far, and its defensive effort will be one of the best in FCS history if this continues. Is the schedule on par with a CAA or MVFC team? Obviously not (though Colgate is 2-0 against the CAA).
As for the OVC, SoCon and Southland, all three really need a team to scream out its case these last two weeks. Could it be a 9-2 ETSU team beating a red-hot Samford in the final week? How about a 9-2 SEMO team if it handles its business? And in the Southland? This past weekend really hurt the league when McNeese fell to SE Louisiana, and it remains to be seen if this league will get more than its auto-bid team. These last two weeks are critical.
And the #FCSTrending teams of the week? This is easy — Samford in the SoCon and Western Illinois in the MVFC. I have them both in by the hair of their chinny-chin-chin this week, but I see them solidly in the bracket as middle to high-end at-large teams (unless of course, Samford wins the SoCon, which is mathematically possible, by the way).
As for Monmouth, Montana State, Indiana State, Furman … you name it. We're watching closely. Monmouth has won 5 straight, Indiana State has won 3 in a row and Furman has won 4 out of 5 and is really wishing the Colgate game hadn't been canceled due to hurricanes (Colgate would agree).
PS — I have North Carolina A&T in the playoffs as an at-large for now, but there is a chance the Aggies could get back in the Celebration Bowl hunt if MEAC rival Florida A&M falls one more time this year. That would leave another at-large berth out there for another conference, and it is unlikely Florida A&M would have the resume necessary to get an at-large FCS berth if NC A&T wasn't available.
I'll be honest with you — I really hate some of my selections I've made here. I tried to find some compromise in my seeded area between what the playoff committee put out and what I believe to be true, but if I've learned anything from playing RPG video games, it's that you're better off picking a lane and staying in it than trying to live in the middle ground. That's how I ended up with Kennesaw over Elon, which no reasonable person could put at No. 5 after the Cheek injury; it's also how I got UC Davis at No. 4 instead of No. 2, where the Aggies would undoubtedly be in this week's committee ranking.
Elsewhere: Welcome to the field, Samford Bulldogs. The win over Wofford actually puts Samford in position to win the SoCon, despite not winning a Division I game until October 6. They probably don't make the field as an at-large team, so you can probably figure out my early take on the SoCon's de facto title game between ETSU and Samford. That game will be played on November 17.
Valley/CAA Watch: It was time to move a CAA team out of the bracket, and Stony Brook was the only logical choice here. I'm on record saying I think the Seawolves are a playoff-caliber team, but it's tough to deny that, as things lay right now, SBU is the least deserving CAA team. Towson and JMU are fading fast, but both have head-to-head wins over Stony. They're right back in with a win over Delaware this weekend. The Valley is back to five teams in the field, courtesy of Northern Iowa's win over Illinois State. I wanted to move the Redbirds out of the field, but the FBS upset is keeping them afloat.
The playoff bracket and especially the seeds are nowhere close to being set in stone. It seems all of the Top 6-7 teams in the CAA play each other in the final two weeks and EWU and UC Davis also square off this week. There's going to be some big-time shuffling going on. Because of some of the losses this last weekend, I now have six CAA teams in the field. I expect it'll be just five come Selection Sunday. If JMU loses in the last week to Towson, which is a very real possibility, it's going to be fascinating to see where the Dukes fall not only in CAA standings but in the playoff picture. Who would've thought JMU could be a questionable bubble team?
Seeds – Weber jumped Kennesaw in my seeds this week just because the committee showed they valued Weber's resume more with their rankings reveal last week and I want this to be as accurate as possible. JMU moved out of my seeds and Elon moved in. Right now, it's hard to bump any of my three Big Sky teams out of the Top 8, especially with JMU and Wofford losing. But I doubt we'll see three Big Sky seeds when the bracket is revealed.
Additions/Subtractions – All of my almost-seeds (Wofford, McNeese and Towson) from last week lost, causing a headache for me. Taking their place are Maine, Colgate and Nicholls. Colgate is really close to moving into a seed, especially with some CAA and Big Sky matchups these last two weeks. UNI and JSU enter the playoff field while UND and Chattanooga are bounced. My three bubble teams are all new with Indiana State, Samford and NC A&T having decent arguments to make the playoffs if the season ended today.
Conference Count: (Not including bubble teams) CAA – 6, Big Sky – 4, MVFC – 4, SoCon – 2, Southland – 2, OVC – 2
NEXT: Week 10 Recap and Thoughts
SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast
COMPARE: Last week's playoff predictions