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.
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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||JMU||UC Davis||UC Davis|
|Non-seed||Stony B.||Stony B.||Stony B.|
|Last 3 in||Ind. St.||NC A&T||NC A&T|
|Last 3 in||Idaho St.||WIU||Ind. St.|
|Last 3 in||Furman||Mont. St.||UIW|
|1st 3 out||Mont. St.||UNI||Mont. St.|
|1st 3 out||Mont.||UND||WIU|
|1st 3 out||EKU||UIW||McNeese|
- “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.
What a crazy weekend we just had. We now have five teams locked into the FCS Playoffs — NDSU, Kennesaw State, Colgate, San Diego and Jacksonville State. And who are we kidding? Eight-win teams from the Big Sky like Weber State, UC Davis and Eastern Washington are playoff locks, as is SDSU with 7 wins already from the MVFC. Those schools already have nabbed 9 of the 24 spots in my book.
And the other 15? They'll be nabbed by midnight on Saturday.
First of all, my seeding report above assumed that no 5-loss team will make the field. Now, there have been rare instances in years past that 5-loss teams have gotten in, but I need the final week's data before I'd include one. Also, in this week's report, I'm assuming that North Carolina A&T finishes second in the MEAC and Florida A&M gets the title and Celebration Bowl slot, making the Aggies eligible for an FCS Playoff spot. And this year? The playoff committee needs all the 9-win teams with wins over an OVC champ and FBS team it can get. So the Aggies are firmly in my bracket this week.
Ultimately, I think no conference will get more than two seeds, so I'm sticking with that philosophy for now. There are several of what I'd call "play-in" games going on around the country this week, and several games that will directly influence the seedings. Keep an eye on my "last three in" — Indiana State, Idaho State and Furman. They all three have challenging paths but would be worthy of a spot if they prevail. And waiting in the wings should these three fall? The Brawl of the Wild winner out in Montana could be grinning widely if somebody above trips up.
Tune in Saturday night around 10 p.m. when we release our final version of our seeding report, ahead of Selection Sunday (Nov. 18).
If ever there was an argument to put forward against playoff expansion, then surely it's this 2018 season, where there just aren't 24 deserving teams. Pick any team on the bubble — heck, pick half of the eventual field — and I can make a pretty reasonable case why there could be a more deserving team elsewhere in FCS Football. That's a fitting complement to the reality at the top that we're all already aware of. North Dakota State will dominate this field next month.
What were my toughest inclusions? Well, picking a third Valley team wasn't easy after the entire middle half of the conference lost this past week. I elected to ride with Western Illinois here for a few reasons: 1) I think they eventually end up finishing third place after beating Indiana State, 2) It already has a head-to-head win over Northern Iowa, and 3) Illinois State is currently 2-5 in conference play.
For the seeds, I moved UC Davis down to my unseeded No. 9 spot, because I just can't see the committee giving seeded positions to three Big Sky teams, and as I've said all season, I think Davis' defense will be a major playoff liability. Towson felt like the most reasonable choice for that final seeded spot, given wins over Elon & Stony Brook and no bad losses.
Also included in this bracket is North Carolina A&T and Southeast Missouri State. With a bubble this weak, the FCS Playoff Committee is obviously going to go off-script for at least one or two of these picks, and I think SEMO is the most predictable choice here. I'm not convinced the OVC is a worthy two-bid league, but on the other hand, the Redhawks were literally one play away from winning the conference. They'll be 8-3 and seeking an at-large berth, and in a year with this much parity, eight wins aren't something you'll find around every corner.
You may have noticed I only included one Southland team in this bracket. The committee might end up putting multiple SLC teams in, but don't tell me it was deserved. McNeese has a very real chance at finishing 6-5 (with its best non-con win against Northern Colorado), and both Incarnate Word and Lamar will have played the entire season without a win over a Division I non-Southland opponent. Meh.
Valley/CAA Watch: The Valley is down to three bids. Yikes. The CAA still has six. I continue to have no idea if that's realistic or not, and it could all be moot if Elon loses at first-place Maine next week, but y'all gotta tell me who we're leaving out if it started today. The CAA has five teams that are all 7-3 and all have at least one win over someone else in the mosh pit. Team No. 6 is Elon, which is 6-3, and perhaps more importantly, has only taken one loss since the committee ranked them No. 5 just 12 days ago. I think the committee is hoping Elon loses and it makes their decision easy because if the Phoenix go up north and beat the Black Bears, the Colonial really might put six teams in the field. I just don't know who you could burn at this point. All six teams have strong resumes.
Seeds – Elon, UC Davis and Delaware moved out of my seeds with losses while Maine, Towson and Colgate jumped into the Top 8. Maine hasn't played the toughest of CAA schedules, but has beaten Towson and is 6-2 against FCS opponents with an FBS win. JMU moves into my almost-seeds. I expect the winner of the JMU and Towson game to earn a seed. UC Davis also heads to the almost-seeds. The Aggies deserve a first-round bye if they finish 9-2 with an FBS win, but I don't know if three Big Sky teams get a seed, and EWU and Weber are more deserving right now.
Additions/Subtractions – Four of my non-seeds lost this last weekend. JSU moves into my non-seeds from last week's last three in by earning the OVC auto-bid. SEMO moves to the last three in because I believe they'll get in as a second OVC team with their head-to-head on JSU. McNeese, WIU and UNI are out of my field with bad losses. I kept Idaho State in my field for now, but that could easily change if Weber beats them and it also depends on the winner of the Montana/Montana State game and how UND does. The Bengals do have head-to-win wins on MSU and UND, but owns a non-counter win. Incarnate Word moves into the field along with Indiana State and NC A&T while Montana State is now on the bubble and can maybe get in with a win against rival Montana.
Conference Count: (Not including bubble teams) CAA – 6, Big Sky – 4, MVFC – 3, SoCon – 2, Southland – 2, OVC – 2
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