Pre-Selection Bracketology Closing Examination

Hot Beef Take

So it’s Thursday. There are a few FCS games that will be played tonight. One has some serious playoff implications. Another could have bearing towards a national seed. The final means nothing.

The general consensus is that a third Southland Conference team will make the playoffs this year and that should hold true, as long as one of those two contenders win their final game. Thursday is game time for Nicholls. It’s been a long time since they’ve been relevant, longer than I can remember. They visit their neighbor and rival, Southeastern Louisiana, who would love nothing more than to ruin their season. There is one school cheering for Southeastern Louisiana, McNeese. McNeese sits with an identical 8-2 record as Nicholls, but lost their first game of the season against their conference brother, on a last second field goal. If general thought holds true and only a third Southland team makes the field, McNeese could be put out tonight before they even play Saturday against a 2-8 Lamar. But as you’ll see below, nothing is guaranteed for either.

The seeding game involves Jacksonville State, who has sat near the top of the rankings all season long. There’s no denying their dominance over the Ohio Valley Conference, but the conference’s perceived overall weakness has called their strength of schedule into question. Although sitting #2 in the rankings, most bracketologists see them as a #3 or #4 seed currently. There’s only a difference in venue for the semifinals that that would matter. However, if they were to lose or have another lackluster performance against Tennessee State tonight, it’s possible they could slip to #5 or lower. Doesn’t sound like much, but that would mean going to the road for the quarterfinals, if they kept advancing. And it’s a lot better to sleep in your own bed before playing a big game like that.

Now, let’s address the rest of the nation. Who’s in, right now, win or lose on Saturday? For this pundit, it looks like there are thirteen locks. Those thirteen are accompanied by seven of the ten automatics bids. Here they are, organized by national seed rank(by this pundit)…

  1. James Madison, 10-0 (Colonial)
  2. North Dakota State, 9-1 (Missouri Valley)
  3. Central Arkansas, 9-1 (Southland)
  4. *Jacksonville State, 9-1 (Ohio Valley)
  5. South Dakota State, 8-2 (Missouri Valley)
  6. *Wofford, 9-1 (Southern)
  7. Sam Houston State, 9-1 (Southland)
  8. Southern Utah, 8-2 (Big Sky)

Next in line…

  1. Weber State, 8-2 (Big Sky)
  2. Stony Brook, 8-2(Colonial)
  3. Elon, 8-2 (Colonial)
  4. Monmouth, 9-1 (Big South)
  5. Kennesaw State, 9-1 (Big South)

* Clinched automatic berth

NOTE: James Madison, North Dakota State, Central Arkansas, Southern Utah and the winner between Monmouth and Kennesaw State will all receive automatic bids with victories this week.

The following teams have clinched their conferences automatic berth or can with a win this weekend.

  1. *Central Connecticut State, 7-3 (Northeast)
  2. *San Diego, 8-2 (Pioneer)
  3. Colgate, 6-4 or Lehigh, 4-6 (Patriot)

NOTE: Lehigh owns the tiebreaker over Colgate and clinches the Patriot automatic with a win over Lafayette. A loss by Lehigh will give the automatic bid to Colgate, regardless of whether they win or lose because they hold the tiebreaker advantage in the possibility of a three-way tie(by losing) or winning the bid outright(by winning). The loser in this scenario will be eliminated.

So that right there takes sixteen bids away and all of the automatics. What remains will be a mad dash for the final seven at-large bids. There’s no trickery or bid poachers here either. The ultimate dilemma would have been North Carolina A&T, who could have taken a bid having lost their MEAC bid to the Celebrations Bowl, but it was announced they are already headed there as the conference’s representative. Fourteen teams jockeying. All these teams will have at least seven or more Division I victories. Sorry, Sacramento State, even with a win, you’re resume will keep you just out.

First, we’re going to list the eight teams who will snag a bid if they win their final game this weekend.

  1. South Dakota, 7-3. Might be the most intriguing team on the fence. A month ago, these guys looked like national title contenders, even beating an FBS  team (Bowling Green). Then the schedule got tougher and they did not. Still, an eighth win and they’re a lock. Would be in contention for a final national seed, but would probably come up just a little short. Finish with: vs. South Dakota State.
  2. New Hampshire, 7-3. Carrying an FBS win (Georgia Southern) helps. A horrific loss to Holy Cross early on makes them a potential win or go home entity. And this final road trip is against a team who better than the record shows. Finish with: at Albany.
  3. Western Illinois, 7-3. Like the two above, they hold an FBS win in their pocket (Coastal Carolina). Really, the perfect barometer team here as they’ve lost to those above them and beaten those below them. Finish with: vs. Southern Illinois.
  4. Montana, 7-3. They have two less than impressive non-conference opponent wins (Valparaiso and Savannah State), but they’re hot. Only having lost at Weber State since the end of September, they’re rolling at the right time. However, their biggest rival stands in their way. And it happened just a couple years ago this situation became realized. Finish with: at Montana State.
  5. Northern Arizona, 7-3. There’s no bad losses on this resume (only Western Illinois and Montana from FCS), but only two decent wins (Sacramento State and Illinois State). Adding a quality win here at the end will lock them in. A loss probably leaves them out. Finish with: at Southern Utah.
  6. Samford, 7-3. These guys would be locked right now, if not for a total flop at home against Chattanooga. Having lost to other playoff hopeful, Western Carolina, makes their finale a win or go home, just based on available space in the tournament. They do have the distinction of beating two one-loss teams already locked in (Wofford and Kennesaw State). If mayhem happens this final week and a 7-4 is in position for the last bid, it should be theirs for the taking. Finish with: vs. Furman.
  7. Illinois State, 6-4. Almost unfairly, this team could jump from totally out of the conversation to in the field with a victory this week. But when you’re close and have the opportunity to knock off one of the FCS’ Mount Rushmore, you become entitled. Save for an ugly loss to Southern Illinois, this would potentially be a playoff team now. A classic win or go home. Finish with: vs. North Dakota State.
  8. Northern Iowa, 6-4. It’s almost impossible to imagine the Selection Committee keeping this team from the field with the schedule they have played. Of course, a monumental loss would end it all, but they would be riding a three game win streak into the playoffs and a 3-1 record against teams who were ranked top ten at the time. Two of their four losses came in the final minute. Finish with: vs. Indiana State.

Who expects all these teams to win? Not me. And if this season has been any indication, turmoil is right around the corner. So here are a list of the other seven teams just waiting for a slip up. In alphabetical order…

  • Austin Peay, 7-4. Easily the hardest team left in contention to judge. They’ve beaten nobody of real clout, but their four losses are to three FBS teams and Jacksonville State. Hard to fault them for those. Finish with: vs. Eastern Illinois.
  • Delaware, 7-3. Many would think these guys are a win and in. But if you look at the schedule, you see a few things. Other than an FBS loss, they have two very lowly non-conference wins over Delaware State and Cornell. They’ve won five of six since losing to James Madison, but that one was a real stinker to Towson. They’ll need some help, but there’s no lock in sight. Finish with: at Villanova.
  • Eastern Washington, 6-4. It’s almost impossible to believe that these guys are sitting in this position, but here they are. As it stands, they’re probably fifth in the Big Sky pecking order and barring losses from both Montana and Northern Arizona, a bid is unlikely. If it does, these guys will probably be playing the end of next week. Finish with: vs. Portland State.
  • Furman, 7-3. After starting 0-3, this team has rolled off seven in a row. Those losses read like a who’s who (Wofford, Elon and FBS North Carolina State). They have road wins at Colgate and Western Carolina, which are decent. Unfortunately, that early hole left their best opportunities at signature wins and an eighth consecutive is probably their only way in. Finish with: at Samford.
  • McNeese, 8-2. It’s crazy to think a team could finish 9-2 and miss the playoffs as an at-large candidate, but that’s the situation we have here. Their season opening loss to Nicholls might have been the biggest and most important of the season. The two non-conference wins were sub-Division I and a good SWAC Alcorn State. But Alcorn State is still a SWAC team. The only other team they played with a winning record was Central Arkansas and that was an abysmal loss. Hope and pray for mayhem. Finish with: at Lamar.
  • Nicholls, 8-2. Thankfully these guys won that season opener with McNeese, or they’d be in even more trouble. Other than an FBS loss, they lost at Sam Houston State, and that was almost two months ago. The feeling is if one or two teams above lose, these guys should be first or second in line for an at-large. But their final game isn’t a cinch to clinch. Finish with: at Southeastern Louisiana.
  • Western Carolina, 7-4. Here’s an interesting situation. A win gets them to 8-4, but the non-conference wins aren’t very appetizing. And other than Samford, they lost to all the other contenders in the Southern Conference. Here comes the FBS to save the day. A final week tilt at 2-8 North Carolina awaits. And a win over a Power Five team will look good to the Selection Committee, regardless of who it is. Finish with: at North Carolina.