Last week we brought you up to speed on all the need-to-know storylines thus far at the FCS level and now, heading into the final weekend of the regular season, it’s time to examine how the bracket may shake out ahead of Selection Sunday.
How many teams make the playoffs? 24.
How are those teams seeded? The top eight teams get byes, while the remaining 16 square off in the first round. Those 16 teams must win five games to win the national championship, while the top eight only need to win four.
Has any team actually won five straight to win the title? No. In fact, since the FCS expanded its playoff field to 20 in 2010, only one team — Youngstown State in 2016 — that played on the opening weekend of the playoffs reached the title game.
How are the bids awarded? Ten conference champions receive automatic bids. The other 14 are at-large bids chosen by the selection committee.
Who has clinched an at-large bid so far? Colgate (Patriot League), Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley), Kennesaw State (Big South), North Dakota State (Missouri Valley) and San Diego (Pioneer) have already punched their tickets regardless of what happens this weekend.
And what of the other five conferences? It’s complicated. Let’s break it down by conference:
Big Sky: Weber State, Eastern Washington and UC Davis — top 10 teams, all — are each tied atop the standings at 6-1. None of the three plays each other this weekend, and if all three win Weber State would take the league. If Weber State loses to Idaho State, Eastern Washington wins the league. UC Davis needs Weber State and EWU to lose to claim the automatic bid. If Idaho State (5-2 in conference) beats Weber State and Eastern Washington and UC Davis both lose, that creates a four-way tie that Eastern Washington wins.
CAA: There are six teams clustered atop the standings — and all of them are ranked in the top 20. The simplest path would be for Maine to beat Elon and claim the league title outright. With James Madison, Stony Brook, Towson, Delaware and Elon all lurking with two losses, the possibilities that arise with a Maine loss are almost endless. (Towson hosts James Madison on Saturday, so one of those two is bound to be knocked out.) Suffice to say, there are scenarios where Maine, JMU, Delaware and Stony Brook win the tiebreaker, but may depend on the final set of Sagarin ratings. Bottom line, wins this weekend should have the entire group feeling good about their chances.
Northeast: It’s a three-horse race between Duquesne, Sacred Heart and Central Connecticut, all 4-1 in NEC play. Central Connecticut hosts Duquesne on Saturday, but only Duquesne can start making playoff plans with a victory. Central Connecticut needs win over Duquesne and a Sacred Heart loss to Saint Francis.
SoCon: East Tennessee State controls its fate at 6-1. Wofford (5-2) can win the league with losses by ETSU and Furman (also 5-2). If all three teams finish 6-2, the tiebreaker would go to how each team finished against the fourth-place team, which would be 5-3 Samford in this scenario. But ETSU, Wofford and Furman all would have losses to Samford in this scenario, which would take the tiebreaker to whoever allowed the fewest points in conference play. ETSU has allowed 179 points through seven games, Wofford has allowed 175 and Furman has surrendered 159.
Southland: Incarnate Word, 1-10 a year ago and under first-year head coach Eric Morris, has clinched at least a share of the Southland title at 6-2 and is off this weekend. Nicholls is also 6-2 and holds the tiebreaker, so a Nicholls win over Southeastern Louisiana on Thursday night hands the Colonels the conference title.
Who’s going to get these 14 automatic bids? I’ll defer to the great Craig Haley, who covers FCS football year-round. Haley projects Eastern Washington, UC Davis, Montana State, Delaware, Elon, James Madison, Stony Brook, Towson, South Dakota State, Southeast Missouri State, Wofford and Incarnate Word in as at-large bids from the conferences mentioned, plus independent North Dakota and MEAC champion North Carolina A&T.
This means only the three Northeast teams — Duquesne, Sacred Heart and Central Connecticut — are jostling for their postseason lives this weekend.
Haley lists Idaho State, Illinois State, Montana and Western Illinois as bubble teams looking for last minute tickets to the dance.
How does the seeding work? The eight byes go to the eight best teams in the committee’s eyes. Like the College Football Playoff, consideration is given to conference champions but the committee is free to elevate a non-conference champion it deems deserving of a higher seed.
And who’s in line to get those byes? Haley sees the seeds shaking out as follows:
1. North Dakota State
2. Weber State
3. Kennesaw State
4. South Dakota State
5. Eastern Washington
7. James Madison
8. UC Davis
My team is on the bubble. Can you tell me who’s on the selection committee so I know which palms I need to grease? The FCS selection committee is unique in that it’s the only NCAA selection committee comprised only of acting athletics directors, one from each of the 10 automatic qualifying leagues. Central Arkansas’s Brad Teague chairs the committee as the Southland’s representative. He’s joined by Rhode Island’s Thorr Bjorn (CAA), Western Carolina’s Randy Eaton (SoCon), Montana’s Kent Haslam (Big Sky), Missouri State’s Kyle Moats (Missouri Valley), Marist’s Tim Murray (Pioneer), Campbell’s Robert Roller (Big South), Jacksonville State’s Greg Seitz (Ohio Valley), Bryant’s Bill Smith (Northeast) and Bucknell’s Jermaine Truax (Patriot League).
When and where can I watch the selection show? Sunday at 12:30 p.m. CT on ESPNU.
When and where is the championship game again? Jan. 5 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
Who’s the favorite to win the title? Come on, man.
North Dakota State is the heavy favorite to win its seventh national championship in eight years, but the Bison will have to earn it. Twenty-three strong, capable teams will be nipping at their heels, and the action begins next weekend.