You’re in or you’re out, it’s this week’s short and sweet scenario for many FCS teams.
They’re playing for a spot in the 24-team playoff pairings, which will be released by the NCAA Sunday morning. The bubble of playoff candidates is huge, making for many important matchups.
Here are the Week 12 games of the week:
Note: All times ET
Thursday, Nov. 16
Tennessee State (6-4, 2-4 Ohio Valley) at No. 2 Jacksonville State (9-1, 7-0), 7 p.m.
Jacksonville State is one of four teams already in the playoff field, but its seniors want to go in with a perfect record in their OVC careers. The Gamecocks’ conference win streak is 31.
Pick: Jacksonville State
No. 24 Nicholls (8-2, 7-1 Southland) at Southeastern Louisiana (5-5, 5-3), 7 p.m.
The host Lions, who haven’t beaten a team above it in the Southland standings, have one last shot, but Nicholls can see the at-large bid dangling out there with a win. The Colonels’ head-to-head win over McNeese gives them an advantage in the playoff picking order.
Saturday, Nov. 18
No. 1 James Madison (10-0, 7-0 CAA) at No. 13 Elon (8-2, 6-1), noon
Reigning FCS champ James Madison seeks the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage through the playoff semifinals. A two-game losing streak wouldn’t necessarily keep Elon out, but the Phoenix may be losing steam at the wrong time of the season.
Pick: James Madison
Mercer (5-5) at Alabama (10-0), noon
We interrupt the playoff talk to point out Mercer is playing for a winning season. Well, at least the Bears hung tough with Auburn – a 24-10 loss – in September.
Pick: Mercer (ha, ha)
Harvard (5-4, 3-3 Ivy) at Yale (8-1, 5-1), 12:30 p.m.
No playoff game would be bigger for these archrivals than “The Game.” Harvard is tasked with slowing freshman Zane Dudek, who’s averaged more than 200 yards from scrimmage in his last three games. The Bulldogs are a one-point loss at Dartmouth in the last minute away from being perfect.
Lafayette (3-7, 3-2 Patriot) at Lehigh (4-6, 4-1), 12:30 p.m.
In college football’s most-played rivalry (it turns 153), Lehigh seeks a second straight Patriot League title and the automatic bid. If the surging Mountain Hawks, who were once 0-5, get in the field, they’ll be the second qualifier ever with a losing record. The first was Lafayette at 5-6 in 2013.
No. 3 North Dakota State (9-1, 6-1 Missouri Valley) at No. 23 Illinois State (6-4, 4-3), 1 p.m.
After the Bison posted a statement win over South Dakota (49-14) following their first loss two weeks ago, they’re seeking a top-two seed in the playoffs. An upset would boost Illinois State’s resume, but it’s not certain it would be enough for an at-large bid.
Pick: North Dakota State
North Carolina Central (7-3, 5-2 MEAC) at No. 11 North Carolina A&T (10-0, 7-0), 1 p.m.
A&T, already qualified for the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, seeks to end a three-game losing streak to NC Central. In fact, the Aggies want nothing less than a perfect season.
Pick: North Carolina A&T
Monmouth (9-1, 4-0 Big South) at No. 22 Kennesaw State (9-1, 4-0), 2 p.m.
Fifth Third Bank Stadium will be rocking over the Big South’s de facto title game. The winner claims the conference title and its automatic bid. The loser will have to sweat out the playoff committee’s decision making.
Pick: Kennesaw State
Montana (7-3, 5-2 Big Sky) at Montana State (4-6, 4-3), 2 p.m.
Oddly, the visiting team has won seven of the last eight meetings in this most bitter of rivalries. That’s good news for the Griz, who have to win to be in the mix for an at-large playoff bid.
No. 6 South Dakota State (8-2, 5-2 Missouri Valley) at No. 15 South Dakota (7-3, 4-3), 3 p.m.
With three losses in its last four games, South Dakota can’t afford another defeat. To beat the surging Jackrabbits, they’ll have to run the ball and get pressure on SDSU quarterback Taryn Christion.
Pick: South Dakota
No. 14 Furman (7-3, 6-1 Southern) at No. 19 Samford (7-3, 5-2), 3:30 p.m.
The winner is definitely in the playoff field. In fact, Furman can earn a share of the SoCon title with Wofford, which plays South Carolina. But can the Paladins stop Samford’s unflappable quarterback Devlin Hodges?
No. 16 Northern Arizona (7-3, 6-1 Big Sky) at No. 8 Southern Utah (8-2, 6-1), 4:30 p.m.
The winner earns at least a share of the Big Sky title (Weber State also is 6-1 in conference play), but NAU could be out of the playoffs with a loss. There’s likely going to be six Big Sky teams with at least seven wins and several aren’t getting in.
Pick: Southern Utah
Last Week’s Record: 9-2 (.818)
Season Record: 81-36 (.692)
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Photo courtesy University of Montana Athletics)