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:
|NEC||St. Fran.||CCSU||St. Fran.|
|Non-seed1||UC Davis||UC Davis||S. Dak.|
|Non-seed||Ill. St.||Elon||Ill. St.|
|Non-seed||Rhode Isl.||S. Dak.||N. Ariz.|
|Last 3 in||N. Ariz.||McNeese||Rhode Isl.|
|Last 3 in||UNI||Ill. St.||McNeese|
|Last 3 in||McNeese||Chatt.||Chatt.|
|1st 3 out||A. Peay||S. Brook||Mont. St.|
|1st 3 out||SIU||Mont. St.||Dela.|
|1st 3 out||Chatt.||UNI||UNI|
- “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.
I shifted my seeds around a little bit to reward the play of South Dakota State and Eastern Washington, who both posted impressive wins this weekend. I bumped Kennesaw down a tad but have an open mind about the Owls' non-conference schedule with Samford and Jacksonville State ahead. The other seeding shift was moving Villanova in. The Wildcats look really good to me right now, playing brutally tough defense with a more-than-effective offense. The 'Cats look like one of the biggest threats to James Madison.
Other swaps? I really like what Butler is doing so far, so I swapped them out with San Diego for the automatic Pioneer bid after USD's big loss. But that can always change back. As for at-large spots, I've moved Rhode Island in and Maine and Elon way up. The CAA looks more and more formidable, and inevitably some of these teams will fall because they'll have to absorb losses to … well .. each other. But for now, these are the powers. McNeese is another addition.
As for the "just miss" teams, I'd just like to see a tad bit more from these three programs who've all shown glimmers of brilliance this year.
Holy CAA, Batman! Villanova and Maine are both out to surprise 2-0 starts. Both have an FBS win; both have a second win over a 2017 FCS Playoff team. In my book, that jumps them ahead of all teams not named North Dakota State/James Madison. Nicholls (owns a P5 win), Eastern Washington (NAU is the best FCS win any team has so far this season), SDSU (completely dominated Montana State) and Kennesaw (looked the part each of the past two weeks) round out my top eight teams.
Once you descend into the body of my playoff chart, you can unpack how I'm weighing individual wins against my pre-conceptions of each team. As an example: Samford has a loss to an ACC team and a win over a Division II team, so their resume is basically still blank. I don't feel comfortable ranking them ahead of UC Davis or Northern Arizona. Still, I'm high enough on the Bulldogs as a team that I still have them over South Dakota, Montana and Elon, all of whom own a quality FCS win. Speaking of Elon, how about that smackdown of Furman this weekend? I always give credit where it's due, and that convincing win moved the Phoenix up into my playoff picture. Furman has dropped into my First Four Out category.
Sam Houston State — I need to see more. The Bearkats might be 1-0, but they struggled with a Prairie View team they're way more talented than. If they show me some positives, I'll inch them back up the list, just as I did with UD after the Hens put it to Lafayette on Saturday.
Valley-CAA Watch: The Valley is clinging to four representatives, while the CAA's big week gives them a five-team delegation. For now, I've moved Stony Brook off a playoff line — despite what the final score might look like, the Seawolves struggled to put away Bryant on Saturday, so I want to see a little more before I give them an inside track on a playoff berth. Rhode Island might be in first place, but a win over Albany isn't going to change my mind on much. The Rams can upset UConn next week, but their next big CAA game isn't until October 13.
After two weeks of games, I'm convinced who the No. 3 team in the FCS is. It's South Dakota State after its dismantling of Montana State, who looked like a sure playoff team last week and is now a bubble team for me. The Jacks look legit defensively. Quarterback Taryn Christion is as good as ever. The running back room overall is more talented. The receiving group looks to be just fine with a number of options. The only (very) small worry is the offensive line at certain points in the game.
EWU also looks very good in a convincing win against Northern Arizona. NAU's star QB Case Cookus was knocked out of the game with what looked like a shoulder or upper-body/chest injury, but the Eagles were in control before that happened.
Non-seeded 1-3 teams: Each of these three teams (South Dakota, Samford and Montana) have a case to be seeded. But it's also hard to bump any of the eight seeds down. It's only Week 2, so these are three teams that can earn a first-round bye if they keep performing like they have.
Power 3 outlook: The CAA leads the way with five teams while the Big Sky and MVFC have four each. All three of these conferences should have five teams in the playoffs each year, but that's not going to happen because the playoff representatives from the other conferences won't let it. My guess is there will be four teams from each that make it in this season. The big question is how does that all sort out?
NEXT: Is it possible we see North Carolina A&T in the playoffs?
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