A Look At The FCS Playoffs Landscape Ahead Of Week 11
A Look At The FCS Playoffs Landscape Ahead Of Week 11
The race for the FCS Playoffs hits the home stretch. The final two weeks of the regular season will provide some clarity.
Just two weeks remain in the FCS regular season, but the playoff picture remains far from clear. A variety of conference championship races will come down to the final score of games on the final day, and assorted t-large bubbles are guaranteed to burst.
Saint Francis secured the first auto-bid back in Week 9, winning the Northeast Conference going away. The Red Flash are on a seven-game winning streak following the past weekend's 44-14 blowout of Sacred Heart.
Their last loss? A 31-21 decision Week 2 at Richmond.
Top-ranked South Dakota State and the Patriot League-dominating Holy Cross joined Saint Francis in securing auto-bids. That leaves eight automatic berths into the postseason still up for grabs, including the six-team race in the Colonial Athletic Association.
The alliance of the ASUN and Western Athletic Conference leaves one auto-bid between the two conferences, which appears likely at this juncture to be the leagues' only entrant into the postseason.
Jacksonville State leads the ASUN, but is ineligible for the postseason with its impending move to Div. I. Central Arkansas sits in second at 3-1, but is just 4-5 overall. In the WAC, Abilene Christian is undefeated at 3-0 and is 6-3 overall, but one of those losses was a non-conference game against WAC counterpart Stephen F. Austin. The 5-4 Lumberjacks are one game behind the Wildcats for the WAC lead, with another head-to-head matchup on Nov. 19.
Both ACU and SFA control their WAC championship fate, but do not necessarily control their playoff future. Because the bid is split between the two games, the champion with the stronger overall resume lands the bid; given the ASUN is collectively stronger, with three teams at 6-3 or 7-2 overall and four members still in the mix for the conference championship, it's in a better position to land the spot.
Eastern Kentucky closes out with Jacksonville State and Kennesaw State, the latter of which resurrected its season with a three-game winning streak that included a Week 10 defeat of a top 15-ranked UT-Martin bunch. The Owls get both Austin Peay and EKU to close out.
Second-ranked Sacramento State outlasted Weber State in a 33-30 classic in Week 10, securing sole possession of the Big Sky lead. The Hornets are firmly in the playoff field regardless if they close out their championship bid; the same is presumably true of both Weber State and 2021 season runner-up Montana State.
Idaho is having its best season since returning to FCS, and with wins over UC Davis and Idaho State to close the regular season, should be a lock for its first playoff appearance since 1995.
Despite a midseason slide, Montana is No. 16 in the FCS STATS Top 25. The Griz face Eastern Washington in a rare down year for the Eagles before the Brawl of the Wild. A win over last year's national runner-up Montana State would guarantee Montana a place in the playoff; a loss could make for some intrigue on selection Sunday with the Griz at 7-4.
Before it joins CAA Football in 2023, North Carolina A&T has business to finish in the Big South. The Aggies are in the driver's seat to win the conference and advance to the Playoffs for the first time since 2016, but must avoid a slip-up in Week 11 to get to a playoff play-in against Gardner-Webb.
The Runnin' Bulldogs — the first opponents Elon beat in establishing its perfect home record — are also undefeated in Big South play.
Before meeting A&T, Gardner-Webb takes on another future CAA member in Campbell. The Camels ride a three-game losing skid into Week 1, dropping a series of one-score decisions to Jackson State, A&T and Bryant. That stretch eliminated Campbell from postseason contention, but it has the potential to spoil the playoff picture.
Top-ranked South Dakota State is in the driver's seat for the playoff's No. 1 overall seed, thanks in no small part to its win over North Dakota State.
But while the Bison are comparatively off the unreal pace set during the most dominant dynastic run in all of major team sports since John Wooden's UCLA basketball teams, North Dakota State remains a likely top eight seed and front-runner for yet another national championship.
NDSU and, to a lesser but still meaningful extent, SDSU have been the proverbial rising tides that elevated the entire MVFC. Last season, the conference sent an incredible six teams to the Playoffs. This year should see significantly less MVFC representation; the Jackrabbits and Bison are the only teams pretty well locked into the postseason ahead of Week 11, though North Dakota isn't far behind.
Otherwise? 6-3 Youngstown State is jockeying for a berth alongside 5-4 Southern Illinois, and the two face off on Nov. 19. 5-5 Northern Iowa has close-call losses to both No. 1 South Dakota State and North Dakota, and a non-conference against No. 2 Sacramento, but the Panthers lack enough marquee wins to make a strong claim at 6-5.
The prospect of the MVFC sending half as many teams to the postseason as a season ago is within the realm of possibility.
An odd wrinkle in the Ohio Valley's scheduling means league-leading Southeast Missouri and UT-Martin will not play. UTM's loss to Kennesaw State in non-conference play in Week 10 dropped the Skyhawks to 5-4 overall and presumably out of the hunt for an at-large bid, but they remain very much alive for an automatic berth.
The OVC bid comes down to a coin flip that impacts not just the conference, but likely an at-large hopeful. Southeastern Missouri owns a marquee win over Southern Illinois and beat ASUN-leading Central Arkansas. With remaining games against Illinois State and Murray State, the Redhawks have a favorable path to an overall 9-2 mark.
Holy Cross last lost in December 2021, falling to Villanova in the Second Round of the FCS Playoffs. The Crusaders have been on a mission since, staying perfect through 2022 with a ledger that includes an instant-classic win over Fordham.
Fordham, which went 3-0 against CAA opponents in non-conference play (Monmouth, UAlbany and Stony Brook), ranks among the more intriguing at-large candidates. The Rams boast a prolific offense at more than 50 points per game, and quarterback Tim DeMorat is a Walter Payton Award candidate. However, it may be an uphill climb for Fordham to secure an at-large bid; the Patriot has been a one-bid league every postseason since 2016.
One of the most dramatic conclusions of Week 10 saw Butler placekicker Luka Zurak boot a 56-yard field goal, completing the Bulldogs' comeback from down two scores in the fourth quarter. With five straight wins, Butler sits at 7-2 and amid a four-team bottleneck at the top of the Pioneer Football League.
Butler, Dayton and Davidson all have one conference loss, with St. Thomas alone at the top undefeated in league competition. Some good scheduling fortune sees the four league leaders play on the final day of the regular season, with Dayton at Davidson and Butler hosting St. Thomas.
Because St. Thomas is transitioning to Div. I from Div. II, however, the Tommies are ineligible for a postseason bid.
Four Southern Conference teams boast conference records of 5-1 or better, and overall marks of at least 7-2, heading into the final two weeks. Top of the four-team pile is Samford at 8-1 and 6-0, thanks in part to a standout season for former Elon running Jaylan Thomas.
The home stretch promises some attrition in the SoCon, with Samford traveling to Chattanooga in Week 11 and hosting Mercer in Week 12. Mercer hosts Furman on Nov. 12.
Any of the quartet can play their way into a playoff berth, but the opposite's true, as well. The SoCon's final two weeks may indeed prove to be a three-seat game of musical chairs between the four teams.
At 9-1 overall and ranked in the top 10 nationally, Incarnate Word looks like a slam dunk for inclusion in the playoff field. However, the Cardinals do not lead the Southland Conference through Week 10; that distinction belongs to Northwestern State, which is just 4-5 overall but undefeated in the SLC at 4-0.
The Demons close out with a nationally ranked Southeastern Louisiana team still in the playoff conversation and UIW to finish, however, so the SLC automatic bid should clear itself up. Should the SELA Lions win out, they will return to the postseason for a third consecutive autumn season.
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