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.
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||JMU||UC Davis|
|7||Ill. St.||KSU||Ill. St.|
|NEC||Duq.||Sacred H.||Sacred H.|
|Non-seed1||Dela.||Ill. St.||Stony B.|
|Last 3 in||ETSU||Idaho St.||Nicholls|
|Last 3 in||UIW||UND||Chatt.|
|Last 3 in||McNeese||Nicholls||McNeese|
|1st 3 out||JSU||Dela.||Maine|
|1st 3 out||Chatt.||Mo. St.||JSU|
|1st 3 out||Nicholls||Rhode Isl.||Rhode Isl.|
- “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.
Well, that was a fun weekend — for the headache medicine industry. First, some seeding explanations. UC Davis has one loss — to a 5-2 Stanford team whose only losses are to Notre Dame and Utah. Technically, the P5 loss won't even matter in consideration — UC Davis 5-0 vs the FCS with an FBS win (a pretty bad San Jose State team). This is why I have UC Davis ahead of James Madison, for now (probably should have had it this way last week too, but UC Davis' impressive win this weekend solidified things for me). The Aggies do have some tough ones ahead (at Eastern Washington jumps out) but could finish 10-1. If that's the case, they're staying in this spot on my seeding ranking. Sorry James Madison fans.
As for the rest of the group, Towson is flying high too, with only a P5 loss — but the Tigers have the toughest four-game stretch left in the nation. If Towson wins all four? Wow. If it wins three, still wow. Even winning two, which I think is very realistic, possibly nabs the Tigers a seeding (depending on other national dynamics). Weber State is kind of in the same boat and playing great defense. I kept Illinois State in because I feel like it hung in there as well as anybody could right now with NDSU, and Colgate will get No. 8 until somebody proves otherwise. The Raiders' game with Army (currently 5-2) at year's end is one I'll be watching very closely and with a massive upset, Colgate would be deep into the seedings.
The Southland, OVC and SoCon continue to be confusing (or exciting – it's all semantics right?). Because there are no clear-cut front-runners, I was forced to project some and went with SEMO, Incarnate Word and Wofford until these three leagues start to clear up down the stretch. Because of constant upheaval, these teams will probably change weekly — as will the number of at-large berths they get. This opens up doors for an Independent like North Dakota or a MEAC team like North Carolina A&T to come in — if their resumes are strong enough (I'd say 9 wins, maybe 8, gets them in).
Just missed teams? You guessed it, they're Southland, OVC and SoCon until we know a bit more about these teams, and the same goes for the next tier of teams waiting in the wings: Samford is surging, Murray State just needs one more signature win to crack into this, as does Central Arkansas (who by the way knocked Murray State around, so you know who'd jump up first). One more strong week for these three, and they'll be in the discussion.
In terms of both bracketology and scoreboard results, this was one of the most tumultuous weekends of the season. I tweaked a lot of my top seeds, moving JMU back into the No. 2 spot and dropping SDSU back into the No. 4 spot. Madison, Eastern and SDSU could all really be arranged in whatever order you like — I've ordered them this way because I think it's the best combination of respect for the resumes and observations from watching these guys play.
Further down in my seeds, I've moved Weber State up to No. 5, which jumps it over numerous teams from last week, when I had the purple Cats around No. 10. Part of this because teams above them lost, but part of it is just because the Wildcats are accumulating one of the best playoff resumes of any team anywhere in FCS. The loss to NAU is something of a head-scratcher, but not many teams can claim the wins that they have. I actually value the win over EWU more than UC Davis' win over San Jose State. Does anyone think San Jose State would beat any of the top five teams in the FCS?
Let's talk about turmoil in the southern conferences. I still have Jacksonville State in the field as the OVC champ, because honestly, the Cocks are still probably going to win that conference. I understand that they got drilled by SEMO and that Murray State is now in sole possession of first place, but I also don't really care about the standings a full month before the playoffs begin. This is actually a terrible spot for the Racers, who now have to host a suddenly irritated JSU squad this week, similar to Saturday's SoCon showdown with Wofford and ETSU on the heels' of the Terriers' road beatdown at Furman. I expect JSU to beat Murray, and I think Murray will knock off SEMO in November, putting Jacksonville State back in control of the auto-bid.
In the Southland, I'm not sure what to make of losses by McNeese and Sam Houston. All I can tell you is that I'm not putting Incarnate Word in my field unless/until they're the SLC's official automatic qualifier. This is a team whose schedule is nine Southland teams and two FBS losses, so I'm not sure that's worthy of any sort of at-large berth. And if you think that's unfair, don't yell at me — yell at Incarnate Word. Not just because of how it scheduled, but because it scheduled a pay game with Iowa State for December 1, when it could be hosting a playoff game. Tough to believe in a team when its own administration isn't buying in.
VALLEY/CAA WATCH: I moved both Rhode Island and Missouri State out of the field after losses. Missouri State, in particular, has the resume to get back in quickly with a win or two; URI is in serious jeopardy after back-to-back losses to Maine and Stony Brook. The Rams still have to go to Elon and JMU, which means 6-5 feels like the most likely possibility at this point. The CAA has five teams in this week, compared to the Valley's four. The Big Sky has three seeds right now; the CAA only has one.
This just continues to get tougher each week, especially with what's going down in the OVC and Southland.
Seeds – SDSU moves out of the seeds and really doesn't have too great of a resume right now. It's biggest resume-booster was "almost" beating NDSU. With its injuries mounting up and UNI winning that game in convincing fashion, the Jacks are out of the seed discussion for right now. EWU moves back into the seeds, which makes three Big Sky teams in the Top 8. I expect that to change in these final weeks, though. Most of the other teams moved up a spot with SDSU dropping.
Additions/Subtractions – UNI and Stony Brook, with their convincing wins, moved into the group of almost seeds while Wofford is back on track. Delaware moves from the bubble and into the field while Rhode Island and Maine go to the bubble with bad losses. Missouri State is bumped out of the field while McNeese and Nicholls are now in the last three in section. The Southland is just a mess and who knows which teams and how many teams are going to make the field. And as far as the OVC, I believe it's a one-bid league, so SEMO moves into the field while JSU is out.
Conference Count: (Not including bubble teams) CAA – 5, Big Sky (plus UND) – 5, MVFC – 4, SoCon – 3, Southland – 2