Bracketology Bonus

mld-10-15-2016-21-07-43-66-1858

This  going to be long, so be prepared for a deep, deep read.  With four weeks to go, I’m going to peer a little further into what everybody has done and what everybody has left in FCS football.  I’m going to go conference by conference and include only teams who have a chance to win their conference’s automatic bid or the ability to get an at-large bid.  Of the 125 teams in FCS, 59 are still on the track list.  However, teams will whittle away pretty quickly from here on out, as most teams taking a fifth loss or a fourth loss when one of their wins was against a lower division opponent will be wiped from the board.  There are a few conferences where a 6-5 team may sneak in for that last bid(Big Sky, Colonial, Missouri Valley, Southern), but that will also depend on that particular team’s strength of schedule, signature wins and conference record.  Here we go…

 

BIG SKY

  1. North Dakota (6-2, 5-0 Big Sky)
  2. Eastern Washington (6-1, 4-0)
  3. Weber State (5-2, 4-0)
  4. Cal Poly (5-2, 3-1)
  5. Northern Arizona (4-4, 3-2)
  6. Montana (5-2, 2-2)
  7. Northern Colorado (4-3, 2-2)
  8. Southern Utah (3-4, 2-3)

Analysis: Right off the bat, North Dakota is in decent shape.  Another win gets them to that magic 7-win plateau and they had a good non-conference schedule.  Their schedule includes three teams all listed above.  Eastern Washington is probably the safest team here.  They played the toughest non-con in the Big Sky and have a win over FBS Washington State.  Two of their four remaining games should be locks.  Weber State is still in control of themselves being undefeated in conference.  It would be big if they won at North Dakota and/or beat Cal Poly at home.  Cal Poly has a ‘gimme’ game this coming week but the two teams directly in front of them after that.  Having a non-con win over South Dakota State will look really nice if they end up in the 7-4 mess at the end.  Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado and Southern Utah both need to win out to have any chance of getting in.  NAU and UNC would have to go via the automatic route, winning a jumbled tiebreaker at 6-2. SUU could still get an at-large because they would have beaten FBS Brigham Young down the stretch.  Montana is still highly ranked, has two games at home against opponents they should beat and a reputation that always seems to give them the benefit of the doubt for the playoffs.

Projection: Two bids for certain, with a maximum of five.  Likelihood is four.

 

BIG SOUTH

  1. Charleston Southern (4-2, 2-0 Big South)
  2. Liberty (4-3, 2-0)
  3. Kennesaw State (5-2, 1-1)
  4. Monmouth (4-4, 0-3)

Analysis: Charleston Southern has been the favorite since spring.  Their biggest issue is that they have a win over a lower division opponent, meaning if they were to finish conference play and not receive the automatic bid, they’ll likely be stuck at 6-Division I victories, something The Committee does not like rewarding, at least not in a non-power conference.  Liberty hosts CSU on November 12, which should be the game that determines the conference’s automatic berth.  Liberty is an interesting team, in that two of their losses are to FBS opponents and they still play Coastal Carolina, who transitioning to FBS.  If they lost to both CSU and CCU, they are probably sitting at 6-5.  But with that, they would have also lost their last two games, so an at-large is highly unlikely.  Kennesaw State has already beaten two lower division opponents and plays another in two weeks, making any shot at an at-large virtually zero.  They finished with CSU, so they need to be hoping to win the conference tiebreaker to get the automatic, if it came to that.  Monmouth is a real long shot and considering that Coastal Carolina is still on their schedule, it looks even longer.

Projection: This is a one-bid league, going to the champion.

 

COLONIAL

  1. James Madison (6-1, 4-0 Colonial)
  2. Stony Brook (5-2, 4-0)
  3. Richmond (7-1, 4-1)
  4. Villanova (6-2, 4-1)
  5. New Hampshire (5-3, 4-1)
  6. Maine (4-3, 3-1)
  7. Albany (4-3, 1-3)
  8. William & Mary (3-4, 1-3)

Analysis: Despite the conference loss, Richmond is probably closer to clinching than anybody here.  They already have the 7-win plateau and one of those is over FBS Virginia.  James Madison is also sitting very nicely.  With two very winnable games and opportunity against Richmond and Villanova to make big statements without hurting themselves, they’re likely in the field after Thanksgiving.  Stony Brook sits undefeated but plays every team listed above between 5-8.  Holding wins over Richmond and North Dakota already, if they can get to 7 wins, they’re going to be tough to keep out.  Villanova is very close to clinching also.  One more win gets them to 7 overall and five in the CAA, which is almost always a guarantee for the playoffs.  New Hampshire is 4-1 in conference play, but all that damage has been against cellar dwellers.  They still have 2, 6 and 7 from above on the schedule, so the opportunity is there to prove themselves.  Even 2-out-of-3 might be danger, considering one of their non-con losses was to a mid-level Ivy Leaguer, Dartmouth…not good.  Maine is the real surprise here.  If they somehow get to 7 wins, they’ll be in.  That would mean they were 6-2 in conference and two of their non-con losses were to FBS teams.  No way they’d be left out.  Albany started off 4-0 but has fallen badly.  Getting to 7 wins might be enough with one of those wins being against FBS Buffalo.  William & Mary was one of the preseason favorites to get at least an at-large bid.  Now they’re hoping to just finish over .500.  If they did win out and got to 7 wins, they’d be in the conversation.  The hot streak in the end might be enough to just get them in.

Projection: Bare minimum, the Colonial gets three bids, but most likely four or five bids.  And if things went perfectly, especially across the nation, a sixth bid would not be out of the question, but don’t hold your breath.

 

MID-EASTERN

  1. North Carolina Central (6-2, 5-0 Mid-Eastern)
  2. North Carolina A&T (6-1, 4-0)

Analysis: The winner of this conference gets a bid to the Celebrations Bowl to play the Southwestern Champion.  But, a runner-up is still eligible to get an at-large bid to the playoffs.  So in this scenario, we have to assume that each of these teams wins until the final week when they play each other.  The winner gets the Bowl bid, the loser goes into at-large consideration.  For North Carolina Central, they would be 8-3 overall.  Two of those losses would be to FBS teams, but they would only have won against seven, mostly bad MEAC schools and one lower division opponent.  So their at-large seems highly unlikely.  North Carolina A&T would be 9-2.  And right now, they’re closing in on the Top 10 in the national polls.  They would be sitting with the exact same problem as North Carolina Central, but with one glowing difference.  Back in Week 2, they beat FBS Kent State and this is something the Committee really likes to reward.  However, it’s not a Power Five Conference team and it’s a poor one on top of that, so some of that luster might be knocked off.

Projection: It seems highly unlikely that a MEAC team would get an at-large without their conference champion in the tournament.  But they gave an at-large to this conference a handful of seasons back.  More than likely, the champion moves on and the loser stays home.

 

MISSOURI VALLEY

  1. South Dakota State (5-2, 4-0 Missouri Valley)
  2. North Dakota State (6-1, 3-1)
  3. Youngstown State (5-2, 3-1)
  4. South Dakota (4-3, 3-1)
  5. Western Illinois (5-2, 2-2)
  6. Northern Iowa (3-4, 2-2)
  7. Indiana State (4-4, 2-3)
  8. Missouri State (3-4, 1-3)

Analysis: South Dakota State has got it together right now.  Going 1-2 in non-con action, they’ve been flawless since, including wins over North Dakota State and Youngstown State.  Two more wins and their bid is locked, which might happen in the next two weeks with the way they’re playing.  North Dakota State is only one win from clinching a spot, not that they don’t want more than that.  The non-con schedule was very tough and they beat FBS Iowa.  Youngstown State probably has the easiest schedule remaining of all contenders, so you can probably get your ticket puncher ready for them too.  Western Illinois has lost half their conference games, but those are the top two teams here.  They don’t play Youngstown State and they have an FBS win also.  They’re in really good shape.  South Dakota has done wonders putting themselves in a position to cash in.  A win this week against WIU would be huge for them, as they finish with the top two teams above.  7-4 is a lock here, but 6-5 would mean a 6-2 conference record and an above average non-con schedule that includes a win over Weber State.  Northern Iowa was a preseason top 5 team in every poll.  Probably the most dangerous team in the country with a losing record.  Swap out the opponents in two weeks, they play the same teams as South Dakota.  Winning out put UNI in the field, three wins leaves them at 6-5 with possibly the toughest schedule in the country.  Indiana State plays three games against teams listed above them.  Winning all would probably get them in, anything less will not.  Missouri State is the one team where winning out to 7-4 might not be enough.  One of those wins is against a lower division opponent, probably not good enough.

Projection: The Missouri Valley is a lock to get four bids and probably a 75% lock to get five.  Where it was thought that six bids were possible earlier in the year, it seems a lot less likely now, but not completely out of the realm of possibility.

 

NORTHEAST

  1. St. Francis, PA (5-3, 3-0 Northeast)
  2. Wagner (4-3, 2-1)
  3. Bryant (3-4, 2-1)
  4. Sacred Heart (6-1, 1-1)
  5. Duquesne (4-3, 1-1)

Analysis: The Northeast Conference has a longstanding tradition of their conference champion having at least one loss and that’s in a league where there’s only seven teams.  That speaks to the parity that’s displayed here.  St. Francis, PA stands as the only team left without a loss in conference.  Which would lend  the thought that they are the team to beat.  And if they win this week at Sacred Heart, the conference championship is almost certainly theirs.  Wagner holds a victory over Sacred Heart from a few weeks ago.  Which is a result that’s still hard to believe.  And that’s not to say that Wagner is not deserving.  Sacred Heart holds the conference’s best non-con win, the week before the Wagner loss, at Stony Brook.  If they can get by St. Francis, PA, the money should be on them.  Duquesne plays Sacred Heart the second to last week of the season though.  They have the conference’s best talent, winning the title last year and almost upsetting William & Nary in the First Round of the 2015 FCS Playoffs.  Bryant continues to hang around, but they play road games against the other strongest contenders.

Projection: The Northeast will get only an automatic bid for their conference champion.  Who that is, is something you need to go to a gypsy medicine man to figure out.

 

OHIO VALLEY

  1. Jacksonville State (6-1, 3-0 Ohio Valley)
  2. Tennessee-Martin (4-4, 3-1)
  3. Tennessee State (5-2, 2-1)
  4. Eastern Illinois (5-3, 3-2)

Analysis: Jacksonville State is the lone undefeated team remaining in the Ohio Valley and it’s likely to stay that way.  Even though they haven’t been destroying teams like they did last year, this team is leaps and bounds better than everyone else here.  Eastern Illinois may be the one exception, but their game this week is at Jacksonville State.  EIU played a good non-con schedule and beat FBS Miami, OH, but losing inexplicable conference games to Southeast Missouri State and Murray State have made the game this weekend, a must win.  Winning their final two might be enough, but the OVC’s average non-con record against the other leagues isn’t going to help EIU’s cause.  Tennessee-Martin probably needs to win out to get to 8-4, since one of those wins is against a lower division opponent.  Unfortunately, they play at Eastern Illinois and Jacksonville State still.  Tennessee State has a nice, shiny record at 5-2.  And one of those losses is to FBS Vanderbilt.  It’s very yin-yang with Tennessee State.  They have four winnable games remaining, but three of their earlier non-con wins are against the SWAC.

Projection: Usually, you can count on the Ohio Valley to get two or three bids and that seems the case again.  Two bids seems the most likely.  Eastern Illinois has a head-to-head victory over Tennessee State and a better schedule, but Tennessee State will probably have the better overall record at the end.  If there isn’t space in the field for both, this is going to be a brutally tough decision for the Committee.

 

PATRIOT

  1. Lehigh (6-2, 3-0 Patriot)
  2. Fordham (5-2, 2-0)
  3. Bucknell (3-4, 2-1)
  4. Colgate (2-4, 1-1)

Analysis: Lehigh has come off the radar, having won six straight games and taking the lead in the Patriot League.  How much that means as far as an at-large is dicey.  Three of those wins are non-cons over Ivy League teams, none of which are Harvard, so they’re not impressive.  Fordham visits Lehigh this week.  The winner will have the inside track towards the automatic bid.  Fordham would still have a home game with Colgate in two weeks to worry about, but that would be about it.  Colgate, needs Fordham to beat Lehigh and lose to them to create a three-way tiebreak scenario.  Bucknell still has games against both Lehigh and Fordham, but already lost to Colgate.  Like Colgate, their best route to the playoffs is the automatic via multiple tiebreaker scenarios.  None of these teams have impressive non-con wins not dazzling records, when considering at-large chances.

Projection: This is more than likely a one bid league.  If there’s mayhem elsewhere on the FCS landscape, a second bid is possible, but still a low probability.

 

PIONEER

  1. San Diego (6-1, 5-0 Pioneer)
  2. Marist (4-3, 4-0)
  3. Dayton (6-2, 4-1)
  4. Jacksonville (3-3, 2-1)

Analysis: San Diego is in total control of the Pioneer.  In fact, a win this week at Marist would all but insure them of the automatic bid.  Dayton is probably the second best team in the conference, but having lost head-to-head to San Diego already leaves them at the mercy of everyone else to help them, twice.  Jacksonville is in much the same boat as Dayton, only they don’t play the leaders this season.  Having lost a game already, they’re in need of help, just to get into a tiebreaker and that loss was to Marist.  Which limits potential helpers.  Marist is the only other team who controls their own destiny.  They do get to host San Diego, so a long flight a couple days before the game might help wear them out early, but it’s going to take a lot to pull the upset.

Projection: Only the champion will get a bid here and that’s almost sewn up.

 

SOUTHERN

  1. The Citadel (7-0, 5-0 Southern)
  2. Chattanooga (7-1, 5-1)
  3. Samford (6-1, 4-1)
  4. Mercer (4-3, 2-2)
  5. Wofford (4-3, 2-2)
  6. Virginia Military (3-4, 1-3)

Analysis: The Citadel is in excellent shape.  Last year was obviously NOT a fluke.  They do have a lower division win, so a couple more wins would bring them comfort.  In two weeks, they host Samford, which will be their final real test.  Chattanooga has been the mainstay in the SoCon for many years now.  Even having lost to The Citadel, you figure they’ll win all their other conference games and glide into the playoffs with ease.  Samford, has probably exceeded even their expectations this year and save for a loss to Chattanooga, this team might be THE story in this conference.  All three of these teams at the top have games against FBS opponents on the schedules; Samford, this week and the other two, the final week.  Mercer could make a playoff bid claim by winning out, but they have road games at Wofford and Samford left, a tall task.  Speaking of Wofford, winning out might be their only playoff hope with a non-con win against a low division team.  Too bad a road trip to Chattanooga is left for them.  Virginia Military is probably of a shot as there is.  They have to win out also, but have a home date with The Citadel left, on top of a road game at Wofford.  VMI is probably SOL.

Projection: The Southern is almost assuredly getting three teams, no more, no less.  It’s possible a team could play themselves out, but wouldn’t put a lot of weight into it.

 

SOUTHLAND

  1. Sam Houston State (7-0, 6-0 Southland)
  2. Central Arkansas (6-1, 5-0)
  3. Southeastern Louisiana (4-3, 4-1)
  4. Lamar (3-4, 3-2)
  5. Nicholls State (3-4, 3-2)
  6. McNeese State (4-4, 3-3)

Analysis: Sam Houston State is as safe as anybody to make the playoffs.  One of their wins is against a lower division opponent, but they’re not losing to anybody in the Southland, unless it’s their finale against Central Arkansas.  And that game’s at home.  Central Arkansas lost a non-con game to Samford, that’s their only slip up.  Having a win against FBS Arkansas State, these guys are in great shape.  Southeastern Louisiana has been on a tear.  If they wouldn’t have lost their game to Lamar, they might be nationally ranked right now.  Lamar, Nicholls State and McNeese State all need to win out for any chance at an at-large bid.  Lamar has the easiest schedule left but as road games against the other two group of three.  Even then, it might not be enough.

Projection: Two bids are coming to the Southland no matter what.  A third bid is possible, but only if that team gets to 8 wins. The Southland’s lack of games against other FCS conferences really hurts them.  And the games they have had resulted mostly in losses.  It makes it hard to look strong, when most everybody is considered weak.