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: Which 2 CAA teams are in the Top 3?
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||McNeese||UC Davis||Rhode Isl.|
|Non-seed||Mo. St.||Ill. St.||ETSU|
|Non-seed||Rhode Isl.||JSU||Ill. St.|
|Non-seed||Stony B.||Mo. St.||JSU|
|Last 3 in||Mont.||Rhode Isl.||Mo. St.|
|Last 3 in||Idaho St.||Weber||Chatt.|
|Last 3 in||ETSU||WIU||WIU|
|1st 3 out||S. Dak.||S. Dak.||SHSU|
|1st 3 out||SHSU||Dela.||Towson|
|1st 3 out||Chatt.||ETSU||Idaho St.|
- “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.
For this particular week, my playoff listing is top heavy with Big Sky, CAA and MVFC, mainly because I need to see more "umph" from the OVC, SoCon and Southland in October. Some programs need to step up and snag these spots away from the Big Three conferences — and the Big Three will eat some of their own and whittle their own lists down. It happens every year.
I didn't move South Dakota State a bit after its loss to the North Dakota State. The Jackrabbits proved they could go into the Fargodome — once again — and go toe-to-toe with the FCS juggernaut of the 2010s. I did slide Wofford up a bit, as I continue to be impressed with the Terriers and how they go about their business. I also slipped UC Davis past Jacksonville State into the No. 8 seed … but could switch that right back with a nice October by the Gamecocks.
The newbies in my at-large are Missouri State, Western Illinois, Idaho State and ETSU. All five have Power Five Conference losses, but only one (WIU) has an FCS loss. It is October, and it's nice to have some fresh faces show up — but can they hold on to these spots through the gauntlet of October-November?
Who'd I leave out? Honestly a ton of teams I'm curious about beyond just the three below. Along with the three listed below, did you realize Tennessee State, Eastern Kentucky, Campbell, Maine, Incarnate Word and Central Arkansas — six teams, mind you — combine for only two FCS losses? Keep an eye on this group that isn't even listed.
This week was all about getting some clarity in the Missouri Valley. At the top, South Dakota State gave us great insight into how much space is between No. 1 NDSU and No. 3 SDSU. A close loss in Fargo told me much more about the Jackrabbits than a billion-point win over Pine-Bluff ever could. I've moved South Dakota State down to No. 4 on my list here, but that's only because this is resume based, and I feel Eastern Washington now has a better resume. If this was a poll, I'd keep SDSU on the three line.
Elsewhere, Missouri State officially entered my playoff radar with a second marquee home win over Illinois State. Both teams are squarely in my bracket, with Western Illinois also clinging to a spot.
On the east coast, Stony Brook finally notched a marquee win by surviving a late 2-point conversion attempt and edging out Villanova, shooting the Seawolves up into the meat of the bracket. I played with the idea of replacing Central Connecticut State as my NEC auto-bid after a loss to Lafayette, but I'm not ready to pull the trigger just yet.
Entering my top 8 is Elon because it's time to give the Phoenix their due. Elon doesn't have any one win that will blow you way just yet, but big wins over New Hampshire and Furman, plus a road win at Charleston Southern, gives it a strong resume ahead of a showdown in Harrisonburg. Right now, its only loss is to FBS South Florida.
Valley/CAA watch: Rhode Island is back in the field after a really impressive win at Harvard. The CAA has a 6-5 edge again this week, but as the CAA continues to beat each other up, those numbers will go down.
As I sat in the Fargodome press box after No. 1 NDSU narrowly defeated No. 3 SDSU, I was fully prepared to rearrange my Top 5. But after thinking about it, it's stayed the exact same. Re-watching that game (S/O ESPN+) confirmed to me that if a few plays go SDSU's way, the Jacks win. At the same time, if a few things go differently for NDSU, the Bison could have won by 10-14 points. It was that close of a game. In the end, I kept the Jacks at No. 3 because I don't think the teams below them are better. And even though EWU is playing at a high level, I still think KSU wins on a neutral field against the Eagles. New to my Top 8 is Rhode Island, who takes the place of fellow CAA team Maine.
Additions/Subtractions – I really didn't want to drop Villanova all the way out because I think that's a good team over there, as head coaches like to say in postgame pressers. But right now there's no room for another CAA team, which is also why Towson is on the bubble. ETSU and Missouri State enter the playoff field while the teams they beat, Chattanooga and Illinois State, remain in the bracket. That means two teams had to be bumped down. Those were WCU and Montana State. Both suffered losses, and while I still think MSU has a decent chance to make the playoffs, right now there are too many Big Sky teams ahead of them. One being Idaho State, who enters my bubble teams. At 3-1, the Bengals have played well these last two weeks. But their first win is a non-counter. They need better quality wins to get off the bubble and into the field.
Conference Count: (Not including bubble teams) CAA – 5, MVFC – 5, Big Sky – 4, SoCon – 3, Southland – 2