To put it simply, with the countdown to Selection Sunday winding down, the FCS playoff picture is a mess.
Actually, mess doesn’t do it justice.
Six teams from the Colonial? Only two from the Valley? An independent? Three seeds for the Big Sky? All are a possibility, but with a single game for most teams left, here is what the FCS bracket might look like come Sunday.
To make things worse, other than the eight seeded teams, the rest of the bracket gets based more on geographic locations. Those seeded teams get a bye and host second-round games. After the second round, the highest seed hosts.
No. 1 North Dakota State Bison (Idaho State/San Diego)
The Bison are the top seed, and that is the surest lock in the field. Even with a loss against Southern Illinois, NDSU should get the top spot.
A familiar foe would be on the horizon in the Toreros of San Diego. The winners of the Pioneer League have seen their season end in Fargo in the second round the past two seasons.
Potentially the hosts in this one, San Diego would get a visit from one of the last teams in, Idaho State. The Bengals have struggled this season away from Holt Arena in Pocatello, with all four of their losses coming on the road. This week, a home date against Weber State will determine if the Bengals make the field. A narrow loss may do it.
No. 2 Weber State Wildcats (Delaware/Indiana State)
The Wildcats are the class of the Big Sky. Other than a misstep against Northern Arizona, it has been smooth sailing in conference play for Weber State. Three wins against ranked teams (Eastern Washington, South Dakota, North Dakota) have the Wildcats sitting pretty for home-field advantage.
The Blue Hens hit their stride after a beatdown in Fargo. Delaware opened Colonial play with five straight wins. A loss last week against Stony Brook has pumped the brakes on momentum. But the CAA is a mess overall.
Speaking of messes, Indiana State will be the third team out of the Missouri Valley, barely. But putting the Sycamores here comes out of a true play-in game this week against Western Illinois. The winner should get in, but just barely.
No. 3 Eastern Washington (North Dakota/Elon)
The Eagles should be seeded, especially with a win against Portland State this weekend. However, the number is up for debate. A three or four should be in the cards. Despite losing quarterback Gage Gubrud, Eastern Washington crushed UC Davis 59-20 last week.
A matchup between two bubble teams will determine who heads to the red field in Cheney. Elon sits sixth in the Colonial but is a single game back of the five-way tie at the top. A win against conference leaders Maine would secure a spot for the Phoenix. A loss may move them out of the field.
The same stands for the Fighting Hawks. The game at Northern Arizona is a must-win. An early season win against then No. 5 Sam Houston State doesn’t look as good now, but a win over No. 22 Montana and a close loss against Weber State keep the Hawks in the conversation. As much as a UND-NDSU matchup would be nice, it is unlikely.
No 4. Kennesaw State (Incarnate Word/East Tennessee State)
A big win against Monmouth secured Kennesaw a high seed. Another win this weekend against Jacksonville State could see the Owls move into the top three. Other than an early season loss to FBS Georgia State, Kennesaw has been perfect.
Two ranked wins keep Incarnate Word in with a shout of the postseason. The Southland getting a pair of bids should happen, but the Cardinals go to Ames, Iowa to get beat by Iowa State. McNeese State will also push for the second bid, but the Cardinals have the head-to-head win.
East Tennessee State has started to limp out of the Southern Conference. A loss to Wofford and a pair of three-point wins in the last two weeks have the Bucs on the cusp. A win at home to Samford will seal a spot.
No. 5 South Dakota State (UC Davis/Southeast Missouri State)
When the Jackrabbit offense is on, wins will follow. In their two losses, the Jacks averaged 13 points. In wins, that number jumps to 54. That offense will be needed.
UC Davis could be the odd team out of the Big Sky in terms of seeding. The Aggies may still sneak a seed away this weekend, possibly from Jacksonville State. An overtime win against Idaho State may be the best win the Aggies hold currently.
Southeast Missouri State may need a win against Eastern Illinois to get in. A win last week at Murray State would have done it, but the Redhawks came two points short. A win against Jacksonville State midseason beefs up their credentials.
No. 6 Maine (Stony Brook/Duquesne)
Four top-20 wins are the base of the Black Bears’ resume. That being said, an opening weekend win against New Hampshire doesn’t count for much anymore. But in a conference where everyone is beating each other up, Maine sits on top.
And due to some fluky scheduling, another team from that mess could be on tap. Stony Brook sits with the same overall record as the Black Bears but is one game back in conference play. The Seawolves are less consistent, and that might be what drops them.
Duquesne will get the auto-bid from the Northeast Conference and could get a tough draw. The Dukes have not faced a ranked opponent this year.
No. 7 James Madison (North Carolina A&T/Colgate)
Last year’s runners-up have not had smooth sailing this year. The Dukes held on for a while at North Carolina State in Week 1 but ultimately came up short. Two home losses to Elon and New Hampshire have pushed James Madison to the brink. A second top-15 win at Towson will secure a top seed.
It doesn’t happen often, but a loss will secure North Carolina A&T a spot. A win will likely do it as well but could make things complicated, much like the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The winner of the conference goes to the Celebration Bowl, foregoing the FCS playoffs. Currently, a 22-21 loss to Florida A&M has the Aggies in second due to the tiebreak. If Florida A&M win this week, then the Aggies will make the playoffs.
Colgate is the only other top-six team in the Coaches Poll that is undefeated. A trip to West Point may end that. The Raiders have just one win against a ranked team, and that was against New Hampshire. How the committee views their weak schedule is unknown.
No. 8 Jacksonville State (Nicholls/Wofford)
A win against Kennesaw will be the biggest win of the season for the Gamecocks. After an early loss to NC A&T, Jacksonville State has looked the part. Thanks in part to everyone else tripping over each other, JSU get the final seed, despite a loss to SEMO.
Nicholls has been solid from the get-go, taking Kansas to OT in Lawrence and walking away with the win. Two losses followed as well as a loss to Abilene Christian, which keeps Nicholls from achieving more. Convincing wins against Sam Houston State and Incarnate Word help in taking the Southland title.
Wofford needs a loss for East Tennessee State in order to take a share of the Southern Conference crown. The Terriers lost to Furman and Samford in conference play, but eight-win teams are in high demand for this bracket.