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Predicting the FCS playoff's field of 24 teams with 1 Saturday to go

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The other part of Division I screams to a close this weekend, and the playoff field is coming into focus.

They're not ranked #1 in the poll anymore, but the Bison are still hoping to claim the top seed in this year's playoff.
They're not ranked #1 in the poll anymore, but the Bison are still hoping to claim the top seed in this year's playoff.
David Purdy/Getty Images

Last week, we broke down the key games in the lower divisions as they prepared for the final week of their regular seasons. Here's how those playoff fields turned out. This week, it's Division I FCS that is wrapping things up, and it's time to check in on them. First, a predicted field of 24 teams, and then a closer look at each conference.

As things stand, the following 24 are probably in. But upsets might shake things up.

Definitely in via autobid (5): Sacred Heart, Jacksonville State, Fordham, San Diego, Chattanooga
Definitely in no matter what (7): Eastern Washington, Coastal Carolina, New Hampshire, Villanova, North Dakota State, Illinois State, Eastern Kentucky
Playing each other, winner in as at-large (1 of 2): Richmond, William & Mary
On the right side of the bubble (11, including MEAC and Southland autobids): Montana, Montana State, Northern Arizona, North Carolina A&T, South Dakota State, Northern Iowa, Indiana State, Bryant, Bucknell, Southeastern Louisiana, San Houston State

Big Sky

It's possible that the Big Sky will end in a nasty five-way tie, but it's unlikely. No. 5 Eastern Washington (9-2) needs to win at Portland State (3-8) Friday night to clinch the automatic bid. No. 12 Montana State (8-3) visits No. 13 Montana(7-4) in the annual Brawl of the Wild, with at-large implications for both. Montana State would share the conference title with a win; if Montana wins and Eastern Washington loses, they'd all be tied, but EWU would still get the autobid because of head-to-head.

Northern Arizona (7-4) hosts Southern Utah (1-10), and Idaho State (7-4) hosts Weber State (2-8). Both are hoping for berths (though Idaho State's resume is probably too thin) and could share in the title as well. Northern Arizona, the only team of the group with a win over Eastern Washington, would get the autobid.

Big South

Liberty (7-4) visits No. 2 Coastal Carolina (11-0); the winner gets the autobid. Coastal is almost certainly getting an at-large in the event it loses. Charleston Southern (8-3) is also possibly in line for an at-large bid, but the Buccaneers have a slight problem: they're visiting Georgia (noon ET, SEC Network) to close out the season, and two of their wins are against lower-division schools -- meaning they pretty much have to beat the Dawgs to get in. Good luck.

Latest FCS top 25


No. 1 New Hampshire (9-1) visits Maine (5-5) at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. New Hampshire would win the CAA outright with a victory. No. 6 Villanova (9-2) visits Delaware (6-5); with a win and a New Hampshire loss, the Wildcats would tie for the conference championship. Because New Hampshire and Villanova didn't play this year, the automatic bid would be determined by Jeff Sagarin's computer ratings. (No, really.) It doesn't matter; both are in even if they lose.

No. 17 James Madison (8-3) hosts Elon (1-10), and a win will get the Dukes in. In a critical game at 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN, No. 21 Richmond (7-4) visits No. 22 William & Mary (7-4). The winner is probably in. The loser's done.


The Ivy League doesn't participate in the FCS playoffs. But there's an epic game to close the season nonetheless. Yale(8-1) visits Harvard (9-0) at 12:30 p.m. on NBCSN. The winner is the Ivy League champion. Even College GameDay is in town.


At 2 p.m. ET on ESPN Classic, No. 25 Bethune-Cookman (8-3) takes on Florida A&M (3-8) at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. Bethune might get an at-large bid with a win, but needs help to claim the automatic bid. No. 24 North Carolina A&T (9-2) will win the MEAC if it can score a road win at North Carolina Central (6-5). Should A&T lose, there's a chance for a messy five-way tie, which would include NC Central. South Carolina State (7-4) and Morgan State (6-5) are also 5-2 in conference play.

A&T and Bethune did not play this year. Because of the MEAC's tiebreakers, which, after head-to-head, consider non-conference wins and wins over FBS competition, BCU has an edge in any multiple-team tiebreak as a result of wins over Grambling and Florida International. If BCU and A&T both lose, Morgan State would win most tiebreaks for the autobid with a win.

Oh, and Savannah State (0-11) travels to Brigham Young to collect a paycheck and get destroyed. That's always fun. At least there's no network with the bad sense to televise it.

Missouri Valley

Despite a stumble a couple of weeks ago, No. 3 North Dakota State (10-1) still wins the Missouri Valley automatic bid with a win at home over (20) Youngstown State (7-4). No. 6 Illinois State (9-1) stands ready to capitalize; the Redbirds host Southern Illinois (6-5), and with a win and a Bison loss, would seal the championship outright. Both the Bison and Redbirds are in regardless.

The Penguins of Youngstown are probably playing for their lives, as are the other three 7-4 teams in the league. No. 16 South Dakota State hosts South Dakota (2-9), No. 11 Northern Iowa hosts Missouri State (4-7), and No. 18 Indiana State visits Western Illinois (4-6). As you can tell by a look at the FCS in the Massey Ratings, the Valley is the FCS version of the SEC West; the top four and five of the top six teams are Valley squads. Why? Because only one of the 10 teams in the conference lost a single non-conference game to an FCS team all year, and that was a respectable 28-20 loss to Montana by South Dakota ... the worst team in the league.

Yeah. The Valley might be getting five or six bids. And you're worried about the SEC getting two teams in the FBS Playoff.


Sacred Heart (9-2) is idle and has already clinched the automatic bid thanks to last week's 14-7 win over Bryant (8-2). Bryant hosts Wagner (6-4), and a win might warrant an at-large berth unless upsets crowd the Bulldogs out. Two bids would be a first in the conference's history.

Ohio Valley

No. 4 Jacksonville State (9-1), the lone team to break up the Missouri Valley hegemony atop the Massey Ratings, has already won the conference title. The Gamecocks visit Southeast Missouri State (5-6) to tune up for the playoffs. No. 14 Eastern Kentucky (9-2) is also probably in, regardless of what happens when the Colonels visit Florida (noon ET, SEC Network).


No. 7 Fordham (10-1) has already claimed the automatic bid. The Rams visit Army at noon on CBS Sports Network, looking to hand the Cadets their second FCS loss of the year. Bucknell (8-2) hosts Colgate (4-7), and the Bison hope for an at-large bid if they win.

There's one other important game in the Patriot League: at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network, Lehigh (3-7) meetsLafayette (4-6) at Yankee Stadium in the 150th edition of the most-played rivalry in college football.


Last year, two days before the season finale, San Diego withdrew from consideration for the PFL title because an internal investigation determined the Toreros might have used ineligible players. That's a good trick for a league that doesn't allow scholarships to begin with. It led to Butler receiving the league's autobid.

This year, two days before a win that would have clinched the autobid, Jacksonville (9-2) withdrew from contention for the same reason. San Diego's win over Valparaiso earned the Toreros the playoff spot they missed out on last season. Go figure. San Diego (9-1) hosts Cal Poly-SLO (5-6) to wrap up the regular season. Should the Toreros lose, the PFL team with the best conference record will stay home; a win would at least create a tie for the title.


No. 9 Tennessee-Chattanooga (8-3) has already won the SoCon. The Mocs visit Furman (3-8) to end the year. Two SoCon teams end their seasons on television Saturday; Western Carolina (7-4) visits Alabama at 4 p.m. ET on the SEC Network, and at 7 p.m. on ESPNU, Auburn hosts Samford (7-3). If either happen to spring an improbable upset, they'd get into the playoff field.


Oh, what a mess. No. 10 Southeastern Louisiana (8-3) and No. 23 Sam Houston State (7-4) are atop the standings at 6-1 in conference. If one wins and the other loses, things are settled. That's bad news for Sam Houston, as the Bearkats host Central Arkansas (6-5) Saturday while SLU visits Nicholls State on Thursday night. That would be 0-11 Nicholls State, so you can see the Bearkats are fighting an uphill battle.

If both win, the result of Northwestern State (6-5) at Stephen F. Austin (7-4) is key. SLU wants Northwestern State to win; Sam Houston wants SFA. That game is also important if both SLU and Sam Houston lose, but since there's no way Nicholls is going to beat the Lions, we won't get into it. The result of every game on the schedule would impact the title at that point, and it would open the door to Central Arkansas claiming the automatic bid.

The more important thing here is that if both SLU and Sam Houston win, they're probably both in. Either that loses is out unless it emerges from the scrum with the autobid.


The SWAC doesn't participate in the playoffs, and nothing that happens this week is of larger import. Next week is another matter. While the first round is going on, Grambling State (8-3) takes on Southern (7-4) in the annual Bayou Classic, and that game has extra meaning this year. The winner also wins the SWAC Western Division and will take onAlcorn State in the SWAC Championship on December 8 in Houston. (Alcorn, 9-2, hosts 4-7 Jackson State to end its regular season.)


UNC-Charlotte (4-6) hosts Morehead State (4-7). Charlotte moves to Conference USA next year, and due to NCAA rules requiring a conference invitation to move to Division I, it may be a long time before we see another independent take the field on the FCS level.