Figuring Out the FCS Playoff Picture

There are 125 FCS football programs. Only 24 of those programs make it to the FCS playoff bracket at the end of the year.

As the season winds down, top seeds for the playoff bracket are beginning to emerge. North Dakota State, UC Davis, South Dakota State, Weber State and Kennesaw State are all likely to receive first-round byes.

As for the teams on the bubble of making the playoffs at all, things get a little murkier.

Three weeks ago, Illinois State was No. 7 in the country and a win against NDSU away from being in the driver’s seat in the Missouri Valley Conference. Not only did the Redbirds lose to NDSU, but they then proceeded to lose their next games to South Dakota State and Northern Iowa in rather uninspiring fashion. Another loss would mean their playoff hopes would be all but gone. It goes to show how fast things change.

The Panthers are the Missouri Valley Conference team on the bubble of sneaking into the playoffs. UNI has the makings of a playoff team. Impressive wins against South Dakota State and Illinois State look great on the Panthers’ resume. They even took a lead into halftime against the Bison. However, a 20-point loss against Western Illinois two weeks ago is rather glaring. 

Out east, the Stony Brook Seawolves had a chance to potentially lock themselves into a playoff spot in their most recent game against James Madison. A pair of JMU field goals in the final quarter gave the Dukes the win, putting Stony Brook squarely on the bubble. Up next for the Seawolves is a huge game at home against the Delaware Blue Hens.

Delaware holds the top spot in the CAA conference and would get an automatic bid into the playoffs if this holds true. The CAA could potentially sneak five teams into the playoffs. The Blue Hens and Elon look like locks. JMU sit on solid if not shaky ground after losing to New Hampshire last weekend. Maine, Towson and Stony Brook all have good cases.

The Big Sky offers up more challenges as well. UC Davis has just one loss this season and is perfect in conference play. Eastern Washington and Weber State are just one game behind in both categories. Those three should get in, as well as a surprise team in Idaho State.

In the FCS Coaches Poll, Kennesaw State sits behind the Bison at No. 2. A weak schedule handicaps the Owls in the playoff committee’s eyes. The Big South has not been very competitive, and Kennesaw State may be the only team to make the playoffs.

One team of note is San Diego. Perfect again in the non-scholarship Pioneer League, another conference title seems within reach. The Toreros have the longest active home winning streak in the FCS and can hope to avoid a second-round trip to Fargo for the third straight year.

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