FCS Playoff Race – Week 11


As sad as its is, the regular season of college football is coming to an end.  For several FBS programs, this means their teams fight for the right to play at a lower-tier bowl game.  For the fans of some FCS programs, however, the real season is just beginning.

Last week we took a high-level look at the programs that are in the hunt for an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs.  Some of the teams (Cal-Poly, Jacksonville State) lost and pushed themselves further from the bubble; others (Georgetown, Furman) won and enhanced their positions.  Where do we stand heading into this week’s games?

Below is an analysis of the teams by conference.  The lone team with a shot at an at-large bid from a conference without an automatic bid was Cal-Poly.  The Mustangs entered last weekend with a 5-3 record but lost to UC-Davis, squashing its chance of reaching seven Division 1 teams.  With this in mind, all playoff teams should come from the following conferences.

(Note: This is not a prediction of which bubble teams will win this weekend; we simply aim to identify the teams in the chase and their chances based on current results and future schedules.)

Big Sky

IN – Montana State (9-1), Montana (8-2).  These two teams have been atop the FCS for most of the season and have earned playoff spots.  Montana State has likely earned a seed in the playoffs.

STILL ALIVE – None.  (Author’s note – Portland State was previously listed as a candidate for eight D1 wins; two of the Vikings’ six wins to date were against sub-D1 teams.  Kudos to reader DevyYanks90 for reminding the author and clarifying this situation.)

Big South

IN – None.

STILL ALIVE – Liberty (7-3), Stony Brook (6-3).  While Liberty has its bye this week, Stony Brook should be able to dispatch 4-5 Gardner-Webb.  Should this happen, the Seawolves finish their season against the Flames at Liberty for conference supremacy.  The winner of that showdown would win the Big South’s auto bid, and it would be hard for either team to win an at-large.  Liberty lost to its three quality opponents (NC State, JMU and Lehigh), as did Stony Brook (UTEP, Buffalo and Brown).

Colonial Athletic Association

IN – Towson (7-2), New Hampshire (7-2), Maine (7-2), Old Dominion (8-2).  The first three teams are currently tied for first in the CAA, and each has quality wins without “bad” losses.  The Monarchs have eight D-1 wins, which historically is enough for CAA teams to reach the playoffs.

STILL ALIVE – James Madison (5-4), Delaware (5-4).  James Madison has a chance to reach seven D-1 wins this season, which the NCAA selection committee has deemed sufficient in prior seasons for CAA teams for at-large bids.  Two of their losses were against 7-2 Maine by one point in overtime and against 8-2 Old Dominion on the road by a field goal.  Delaware has a chance to reach seven wins with winnable games against Richmond and Villanova.  However, one of their five current wins is against D-2 West Chester, so their seven-win resume would be less appealing compared to a seven-win JMU resume.

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

IN – None.

STILL ALIVE – Norfolk State (8-2), Florida A&M (6-3), Bethune-Cookman (6-3), South Carolina State (5-4), Morgan State (5-4).  The Spartans have won a share of the MEAC title with two weeks to go.  A win against Morgan State Saturday will give it the conference’s title outright.  If the Bears defeat NSU, however, it opens up the race for several teams with one week remaining.  There are too many iterations to consider without knowing the results of the weekend’s games, but we’ll have more analysis next week if Morgan State is victorious.

Norfolk State still has a good resume should it not win this weekend, but the resume is not solid enough to be a lock yet.

Missouri Valley Football Conference

IN – North Dakota State (9-0), Northern Iowa (7-2).  The undefeated Bison are the #1 team in the country right now.  Northern Iowa’s two losses are against NDSU and a one-point defeat to Iowa State.

STILL ALIVE – Illinois State (7-3), Indiana State (5-4), Youngstown State (5-4).  Illinois State’s three losses are to Eastern Illinois, Youngstown State and NDSU.  The Redbirds have a bye this week and close their season at home against UNI.  If they and Youngstown State tie at 7-4, the YSU Penguins have the tie-breaker thanks to their head-to-head win.  The Indiana State Sycamores are likely to reach seven wins this season, as they close their schedule against teams with a combined three wins – Missouri State and Southern Illinois.  How many seven-win MVFC teams would secure at-large bids?

Northeast Conference

IN – None.

STILL ALIVE – Albany (6-3), Duquesne (7-2).  Neither of these teams appears to have a strong enough resume to garner an at-large invitation.  Both teams are 5-1 in-conference, though Albany has the head-to-head tie-breaker courtesy of its win on October 8.  If the Great Danes defeat Monmouth and Sacred Heart, it will win the NEC’s auto bid outright.  If Albany loses to either and Duquesne wins out, the Dukes, Monmouth and Sacred Heart all remain alive for the conference’s automatic bid.

Ohio Valley Conference

IN – None.

STILL ALIVE – Eastern Kentucky (6-3), Tennessee Tech (5-3), Jacksonville State (5-4), Tennessee-Martin (5-4), Murray State (5-4).  Jacksonville State and Murray State each finish their seasons against two teams with losing records to date; they’ll need to win out to get to the seven-win total.  Tennessee Tech has only ten games on its schedule, meaning it will max out at eight wins (which include on sub-D1 win).  If Eastern Kentucky wins out against Tennessee Tech and Austin Peay, none of the other conference standings would matter as the OVC title would be theirs.  None of these teams, save Eastern Kentucky, has a resume worthy of an at-large this season.

Patriot League

IN – Lehigh (8-1).  Lehigh’s overall record is very impressive and they’ve been ranked high in the top 25 most of the season.  Their lone loss was by a touchdown in overtime to CAA-leading New Hampshire.  Out of conference wins over Monmouth and Liberty supplement their undefeated conference record to date.

STILL ALIVE – Georgetown (8-2).  Although the regular season has two weeks remaining, the Patriot League’s automatic bid will be decided when the Mountain Hawks host the surprising Hoyas this Saturday.  A win by Georgetown would guarantee no worse than a tie with Lehigh at 9-2, but would secure the auto bid by virtue of head-to-head results.  At 8-3, the Hoyas would have an impressive record but not have a strong enough resume to be granted an at-large bid.

Southern Conference

IN – Georgia Southern (8-1), Wofford (7-2), Appalachian State (6-3).  The Eagles have been ranked at the top of the FCS polls most of the season; their lone loss was to Appalachian State by a touchdown on the road.  Wofford’s losses are to Clemson by eight and surging Furman (see below) by five.  The Mountaineers should reach eight wins by season’s end and have a quality win against GSU with losses only to Virginia Tech, Wofford and Furman.

STILL ALIVE – Furman (6-3).  It is difficult to leave Furman in the “still alive” category rather than “in” considering their recent wins over ASU and Wofford.  Despite these significant wins, though, the Paladins have lost to Coastal Carolina on the road, Samford at home and GSU by 30.  Their ceiling for wins is likely only seven, as their season finale is at Florida.  Unless they defeat Elon in convincing fashion this weekend, they will remain classified as “still alive”

Southland Conference

IN – Sam Houston State (9-0).  The Bearkats secured the conference’s auto bid this past weekend.

STILL ALIVE – Central Arkansas (7-3).  The Bears conclude their season with a winnable game against Texas State.  Their losses are to two FBS teams (Louisiana Tech and Arkansas State) and to conference-champion SHSU.  Only six of their current wins are against D1 teams, though; the win against Texas State is needed for them to reach seven wins against D1 teams.

Tallying all conferences, the following teams are classified as “in”: Montana State; Montana; Towson; New Hampshire; Maine; Old Dominion; North Dakota State; Northern Iowa; Lehigh; Georgia Southern; Wofford; Appalachian State; and Sam Houston State.  As many as three conference races could be decided this weekend, leaving a few more at-large spots to be decided.

Next week we’ll revisit this list, with an emphasis on the conferences whose winners were decided and those still open heading into the final weekend of action.

You can follow the author on Twitter at VaBeachRep.