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:
|7||Ill. St.||UC Davis||Weber|
|Non-seed||Weber||Stony B.||Rhode Island|
|Last 3 in||Mo St.||Mo St.||Nicholls|
|Last 3 in||Nicholls||Idaho St.||Chatt.|
|Last 3 in||NAU||UND||Mo. St.|
|1st 3 out||SHSU||Nicholls||SHSU|
|1st 3 out||Stony B.||UNI||Stony B.|
|1st 3 out||NC A&T||Dela.||Dela.|
- “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.
With Elon's loss (and let's hope Davis Cheek is OK) I'm sliding James Madison back up into the Top 3. And if SDSU slips some, I still think the Dukes are an FCS monster that slipped, and this past week's blowout win over a very strong Villanova team proves it. The Wildcats continue to be pummeled in a league that is stacked. Stick 'Nova somewhere else in the FCS? The 'Cats are a playoff team with a great defense.
UC Davis just continues to be clutch. It looked bad at the half for the Aggies but this program rallied and knocked off another Big Sky playoff team in Idaho State. This was one of the top showdowns of the year in the Big Sky. Because of the losses in my Top 8, I'm sliding Towson and Illinois State in and keeping EWU because the Eags are limping, injury-wise, but have been pounding teams and scheduled tough. Both Towson and ISU have big games ahead.
ETSU is one big win away from earning a seed, nationally, I think, and Wofford this week is a massive chance to prove it is legit. If the Bucs get it done again? Of course, they're a seed in my book — period. But the SoCon has been a tough read this year.
When it comes to the last few teams in and out, the Southland looked weaker this past couple of days, to be honest. Nicholls losing to Abilene Christian wasn't a good sign, and Sam Houston going back and forth with Northwestern State didn't help. The Southland looks more like a 2-bid league to me.
Lastly, keep an eye on North Carolina A&T, the team that beat FBS East Carolina and probably OVC champ Jacksonville State. If the Aggies wake up from their MEAC slumber and go 9-2 overall, this might just be one of those years they nab an FCS Playoff at-large spot (if FAMU wins the MEAC and the Aggies win out).
And Chattanooga, Campbell, Montana State and Rhode Island — you're on deck. One more big week and we'll be yelling about you all.
Ahh, Elon. We hardly knew you! The Phoenix take a precipitous tumble back into the ranks of the unseeded. That's partly because they lost to Delaware on the road by 12, but it's more about the fact that I don't know what this team is going to look like for the next month. Until I know what's going on with Malcolm Summers and Davis Cheek — I'm writing this on Sunday night — I have to assume this team's offense won't be as efficient as it was through the first six weeks of the season. That's a major ding, in my book. Hopefully, those guys come back healthy by playoff time, and we get to see a really good Elon team play at full strength again.
I really struggled with the bottom of this bracket. Delaware is looking better, but its best win is also a comeback victory over a banged-up Elon team. Sam Houston could be figuring some things out offensively, but I really have no way of knowing what the Kats look like against a team that matters. Northern Iowa is a complete mystery to me. In the end, I went with North Dakota, because the Idaho State loss looks much more acceptable at this point, and the Hawks have two legitimate show-me-something wins.
That brings me to Montana. The Griz are in my hot box of doom right now. I need to see some proof that the Portland State loss did not completely crush this team. Neither Montana team has impressed me in weeks.
I want to give a brief shoutout to the ETSU Bucs, here — I called them out multiple times last week, and they scored yet another road win, clinching a winning record for the 2018 season. I'm happy for those guys. It's not always convincing, and it's not always pretty, but there's something to be said for a team that just keeps digging out wins — particularly a newish program that's still learning how to climb the mountain.
Valley/CAA Watch: In the interest of full disclosure, I want to tell you my first draft of this week's playoff picture had seven CAA teams in it. Yeah. I hated myself for it too, so I moved Delaware out of the field. UD looks like a playoff squad, but their resume is thinner than the other CAA teams ahead of it, so the Hens had to go. The Valley is down to four this week, but both UNI and USD could sneak back in next week with good showings. I'll have more on the CAA's playoff berth ceiling later in the week.
Strength. Of. Schedule. With how the playoffs have shaken out and how the committee has formed the bracket over the last handful of years, it's mind-numbing to me how people still don't comprehend the strength of schedule argument. Not all one-loss teams are created equal. We see it every year, teams with great records and great national rankings statistically not get rewarded with a high seed because the level of opponents isn't strong. And these teams that do get a high seed usually flame out when facing a program from a tougher conference. Yet this trend of "how can you not move X team up when they're dominating opponents" continues for yet another regular season. I just don't understand how we fall into this trap year after year. Until these top teams from weaker conferences prove they can be a threat in the later rounds of the playoffs, they aren't going to be looked at as world-beaters for beating conference foes by a ton of points. Strength of schedule, overall resumes and conference reputations all are data points for the people whose opinions truly matter when it comes to picking the bracket.
Seeds – UC Davis' resume continues to be one of the best in the country. 4-0 against FCS opponents, two of which are in the playoff picture, along with an FBS win. That needs to be rewarded. Weber takes EWU's spot in the Top 8 with the head-to-head win. I also was very close to putting JSU in the seeds because we all know it's going to happen eventually. But right now I gave the No. 8 spot to Illinois State. I don't see an argument to have the Gamecocks over the Redbirds. Both have one loss to teams in the playoff hunt, but the Redbirds have a dominating FBS win on its resume.
Montana State – I feel like a crazy ex with MSU. Hot and cold even though they're doing nothing wrong. The Bobcats won off a bye week, yet I still dropped them from my field. The reason for this isn't what MSU has done, but because other Big Sky teams have simply moved in front of them with better wins.
Additions/Subtractions – A lot of playoff teams lost last week, again. UND moved from the bubble to the field with its convincing win against Montana. So does Missouri State as of right now as the Bears have a couple ranked wins and other MVFC teams beat up on each other. Nicholls is now one of the last teams in after a bad loss. The only thing keeping them in is a convincing win against Sam Houston State, who stays on the bubble for now. But watch out for the Bearkats. This is a different team with a new QB. Lastly, the CAA race is a mess. Stony Brook and Delaware are still in the hunt and have been upgraded to a bubble team.
Conference Count: (Not including bubble teams) CAA – 5, Big Sky (plus UND) – 5, MVFC – 4, SoCon – 3, Southland – 2