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: Is NDSU back to No. 1?
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:
|NEC||St. Fran.||CCSU||St. Fran.|
|Non-seed1||UC Davis||Chatt.||Rhode Isl.|
|Non-seed||Rhode Isl.||N. Ariz.||Nova|
|Last 3 in||SHSU||Samford||Weber|
|Last 3 in||Samford||S. Dak.||SHSU|
|Last 3 in||Sac. St.||Rhode Isl.||WIU|
|1st 3 out||Dela.||Ill. St.||Nicholls|
|1st 3 out||Nova||Stony B.||Towson|
|1st 3 out||Mont.||Mont. St.||Mercer|
- “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.
Putting the potential FCS Playoff bracket in order post Week 3 was about as easy as riding one of those mechanical bulls at a country western bar. Every time you think you've got the hang of it, you get tossed into a heap in the corner and the next thing you know, somebody has put a bag of ice on your noggin.
In this week's poll, I tried to be cognizant of how many teams from each conference I was sliding in there, but realized that with just three weeks worth of data, there were just going to have to be some exceptions. The CAA, for instance, is very strong this year and at least for Week 3, I think it's logical that five teams would be deserving. Now, once they start chopping each other up in league play? That will obviously change, but non-conference wise, these programs have looked very good. With the MVFC, I only have three for the time being. Why? Because I want to see that fourth team emerge to check out. Could it be Western Illinois eventually? Possibly. Could South Dakota bounce back? Maybe. Could Missouri State or Indiana State be the ones? Maybe so. But for now? It's NDSU, SDSU and Illinois State and I'm waiting for the next team.
The SoCon and Big Sky are sort of in the same boat. They both need a strong front-runner to emerge, and that may be Eastern Washington and Wofford, but the question of how many teams get in will be the biggie. And if the first four conferences mentioned above leave openings, those will likely go to the Southland and OVC.
Let's just hurry up and get another week in so we can see where this is all heading, shall we?
What do you do in a week where everyone either lost a game that mattered or won a game that didn't? I guess there's more than one way to skin this cat, but for my field, I kept a lot of the teams the same and reordered some squads in the middle.
The only addition in my top eight is that I've swapped in McNeese for Nicholls. McNeese is now 3-0 with a key conference victory over the Colonels and a nice little non-conference win at Northern Colorado. I doubt you could find three better resumes in FCS right now. And while we're on the topic of the Southland, let's get this out of the way — Sam Houston State is not in my field. An uninspiring win over Prairie View and a home loss to North Dakota doesn't leave me feeling confident about the Bearkats. They're probably back in the field if they win next week at Nicholls; if they lose, I don't see a path to the playoffs for them.
I struggled with whether or not I should leave one-win teams like Samford and South Dakota in the field. Ultimately, I left them in for two reasons. The first, and probably most important, is that I believe in the talent on the team. Samford's record will probably get worse before it gets better, with upcoming games against Chattanooga and Kennesaw, but I think they'll figure out how to win one of those games. As for the 'Yotes, I don't think it's unreasonable to think they can feast on a vulnerable MVFC and pump their record back up.
The second reason I left one-win teams in the field? I felt even less confident in the teams I left out of the field. Montana State is a great example — even though the Bobcats won this week, they still gave up a ton of points to a Wagner team that isn't very good. Last week, after the SDSU game, I was confused about whether or not Montana State is a playoff team; this week, I'm feeling pretty confident that the Bobcats aren't quite there yet, even if the record is better than some other schools.
Valley/CAA Watch: Look, I don't like how many CAA teams I have in there right now either, but I'm not sure I can make a case for taking any one of them out just yet. Villanova and Maine are clearly in the field. I couldn't deny Rhode Island a spot any longer after the offensive show they put on Saturday. Elon had a game in Williamsburg canceled this weekend, so the Phoenix are still just 1-1 with a loss to FBS South Florida, but that Furman win was convincing. And Delaware? That season-opening loss to the Rams looks better every week. Obviously, the CAA isn't getting six teams in the field, but if you want to force the issue, you've gotta tell me who you feel confident taking out right now, today. Thanks, Rosco, I'll hang up and listen.
McNeese enters my list of seeds and I have a hard time seeing the Cowboys dropping from the top eight. The win against Nicholls was absolutely essential to avoid going 9-2 and getting left out of the playoffs again. Now they face a tough BYU team this weekend and then they should win their remaining Southland Conference games (avoids SHSU) to finish 10-1. SHSU remains in my playoff field while Nicholls drops to a bubble team. Because the Big Sky is improved and the SoCon looks very competitive, I think they take away an at-large bid from the Southland, which only gets two teams in the postseason this year. The SHSU-Nicholls game this weekend is a biggie. The rest of the field gets jumbled from there because of last weekend's results. I'll explain that below.
UND – Some in the UND camp seemed to take my Week 1 tweet out of context and think I ruled the Fighting Hawks out of the playoff discussion altogether. In reality, and in which I said on the North Dakota Football Tailgate Show podcast, I thought the Fighting Hawks had a decent chance to push for the playoffs, but I'm not going to put them in my playoff picture after a Week 1 win against a bad Mississippi Valley State team. They were still an unproven team at that point. I also said I'd wait a few weeks to make that playoff prediction until better FCS opponents are on their overall resume. And like I predicted, UND defeated No. 5 SHSU and I now consider them a playoff team at this point in the season. I don't know, seems reasonable. Certainly nothing "soft" about it.
Additions/Subtractions – As stated above, things get jumbled and there's really not enough room to get all the deserving teams in. I added WIU because of its impressive win against Montana. Yet I dropped Montana State even though the Bobcats defeated WIU. I expect MSU to continue fighting for a playoff spot, but right now there are too many Big Sky teams in the field and not enough MVFC teams. Keep in mind the number of teams from each conference is a big factor on who's in and who's out. Mercer is added to my bubble teams after beating Samford, but Samford is still in my field. Seems odd, yes, but I still believe Samford is going to go on and have a better season. The same can be said for Towson/Villanova.
Weber earns some respect with its big victory against South Dakota, who drops out of my playoff picture. Again, I think USD is a really good team, but right now there's just no room for their 1-2 resume on my list of teams. Delaware is dropped completely from my list, not because of anything it did these last two weeks, but because of other teams earning more impressive victories and five CAA teams already in the field. UNI is also off my list even though I think the Panthers are one of the best 0-2 teams in the FCS.
Conference Count: (Not including bubble teams) CAA – 5, MVFC – 4, Big Sky – 4, SoCon – 3, Southland – 2