Each season, we wonder … which FCS programs will make the playoffs this year that didn't make it this past season?
Thirteen of last season's 24 FCS playoff teams did not make the field in 2015. So could we see that kind of turnover again in 2017? It's possible, and we're here to give an idea of some of the schools we think could vie for those spots.
Below are the 10 schools that got left out of the bracket last year, but could very well be FCS playoff contenders this year:[divider]
ALBANY (7-4 in 2016)
The Great Danes are the North Dakota of 2017. Last year the UND Fighting Hawks were still boiling in the preseason after they won seven games in 2015 (including an FBS win over Wyoming) yet got left out of the FCS playoffs. They bounced back to win nine games and a Big Sky title, and did well in the 2016 postseason.
Albany also won seven games last year, including the first win over an FBS team in school history — at Buffalo — yet were left out. Watch what happens this time around.[divider]
After a one-year hiatus, 2017 sure is looking like a great season for the Dukes — who easily return the deepest batch of talent in the ever-improving Northeast Conference. Year over year this program is at or near the top, and it's looking like an NEC title caliber team again this season. That of course comes with an FCS Playoff berth.[divider]
There is going to be quite the scrum at the top of the Patriot League this season, as usual. Two years ago, this league actually sent two teams to the FCS Playoffs, and Fordham was one of them.
This year, Lehigh looks good, Colgate certainly proved itself with its "Week 0" win at Cal Poly, and the other teams in the Patriot League? They'll get their licks in on these three, too. But the Rams have Chase Edmonds.
Keep an eye on them as playoff contenders — either as the Patriot League champs or maybe even as an at-large entry to the big dance.[divider]
KENNESAW STATE (8-3)
The Owls enter their third year of existence after an 8-3 sophomore campaign. They have good infrastructure for such a young program, a fertile recruiting base in Georgia, and a lot of up-and-coming guys who started as freshmen and sophomores two years ago are coming into their own now. I'd contend that if the Owls can't overcome Charleston Southern at the top of the Big South this year, it'll happen by next season. But they'll at least be in contention this year.[divider]
The Cowboys haven't had a losing season since 2004 and return eight starters on offense — including stud QB James Tabary — and eight starters on a very seasoned and talented defense as well.
After going 10-0 in the regular season and winning the Southland title in 2015, things dipped a bit last year at 6-5 — but a lot of these current seniors were a part of that undefeated team two years ago.[divider]
The Griz have players on their roster who enjoyed a win over North Dakota State two years ago this month. This is a program accustomed to winning, and we think they rebound well this year.
It just doesn't feel right to have a playoff bracket with no Montana teams in it, but a late tumble by the Griz last year led to it. It won't happen this year.[divider]
SOUTHERN UTAH (6-5)
The Thunderbirds were ranked No. 7 in the preseason conference poll by both the Big Sky media and coaches. I just don't get that. This is clearly one of the FCS' top defensive front sevens, and the program keeps producing defensive studs who sign professional contracts.
The Southern Utah defense may lead the way, but the offense is hardly devoid of talent, and there are returners who played in the playoffs in 2015. Don't sleep on the T-birds.[divider]
STONY BROOK (5-6)
The Seawolves have a truckload of starters back (18 — 9 on offense, 9 on defense) from a team looked like a playoff team out of the CAA for just about half of the 2016 season. Don't forget, this team beat Big Sky champion North Dakota and absolutely hammered FCS quarterfinalist Richmond. It also lost four in a row to end the 2016 season — but three of those four were by less than a touchdown. Brace for a big rebound this year.[divider]
TENNESSEE STATE (7-4)
The Tigers won seven games last year, and come into the 2017 season looking even better than they did a year ago. They're loaded with returning starters (17) and get former two-year Florida Gator starter Treon Harris at quarterback.
Could this be the year Jacksonville State gets pushed in the OVC? Possibly — whether it's the Tigers, Tennessee Tech, UT Martin, or one of the other programs that had solid 2016 campaigns.[divider]
WESTERN ILLINOIS (6-5)
The Leathernecks started off 2016 very strongly before slipping some late in the year — and that cost them a playoff spot. Don't count on that happening again this fall.
The week-in, week-out Valley schedule may be as delightful an experience as sitting on an anthill covered in honey on a hot summer day — blindfolded — but we feel certain coach Charlie Fisher will have the troops ready for it.[divider]