North Dakota State has won eight of the last nine national titles
The FCS playoffs have come to be the unofficial North Dakota State Invitational, but it won't change how on Selection Sunday, Nov. 22, 24 teams will jump on the Road to Frisco (Texas) — a bunch even harboring championship dreams.
We're looking into the crystal ball early to see which teams can be expected to qualify for the field. Ten will go in as conference champs and automatic qualifiers, while the other 14 are at-large selections.
Based on a full regular season, here is Athlon's projected 2020 FCS playoff field (in alphabetical order):
Austin Peay (Ohio Valley champ)
Fast Fact: Entering the 2017 season, the Governors had lost 18 of 19 home games. Since then, they're 14-3 at Fortera Stadium.
Pivotal game: UT Martin (Sept. 12)
Central Arkansas (Southland champ)
Fast Fact: The 2019 co-Southland champ was the only playoff team to average under 100 rushing yards per game (88.8, ranking 118th nationally).
Pivotal game: Nicholls (Sept. 26)
Central Connecticut State (Northeast champ)
Fast Fact: In winning a second NEC title in three years, the Blue Devils led the conference in total offense and defense and scoring offense and defense last season.
Pivotal game: Duquesne (Oct. 3)
Eastern Washington (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: The Eagles enter the season with a school-record 14 consecutive wins at Roos Field.
Pivotal game: Montana (Oct. 3)
Furman (Southern champ)
Fast Fact: The SoCon has had four different programs combine for eight national titles, but only Furman — the conference's first champ in 1988 — remains.
Pivotal game: Wofford (Sept. 5)
Holy Cross (Patriot champ)
Fast Fact: The Crusaders are 0-4 all-time in the postseason (three playoff games, one bowl).
Pivotal game: at Lafayette (Nov. 7)
Illinois State (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: In running back James Robinson's senior season, he averaged 44.2 percent of the Redbirds' scrimmage yards — the highest among FCS players.
Pivotal game: Southern Illinois (Oct. 10)
James Madison (CAA champ)
Fast Fact: Since the start of their 2016 FCS championship season, the Dukes' defense has an FCS-best 83 interceptions.
Pivotal game: at Villanova (Oct. 24)
Kennesaw State (Big South champ)
Fast Fact: Using a triple-option offense, the Owls have finished in the top three in the FCS in rushing each of the past four seasons.
Pivotal game: at Monmouth (Nov. 21)
Montana (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: Griz 10th-year head coach Bobby Hauck enters the season just four wins shy of 100 with the program (96-26).
Pivotal game: Montana State (Nov. 21)
Montana State (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: The Bobcats hold a four-year win streak over rival Montana. They won only five times in the prior 30 meetings from 1986-2015.
Pivotal game: at Montana (Nov. 21)
New Hampshire (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: The Wildcats are 60-10 at home since 2008, including 5-0 last season.
Pivotal game: at Maine (Nov. 21)
Nicholls (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: As a sophomore last year, Julien Gums set program records for rushing yards (1,232) and rushing touchdowns (16).
Pivotal game: at Central Arkansas (Sept. 26)
North Dakota State (Missouri Valley champ)
Fast Fact: The first thought is always the eight FCS championships in the last nine seasons, but the Bison also are working on nine consecutive MVFC titles.
Pivotal game: at Northern Iowa (Sept. 26)
Northern Iowa (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: Will McElvain set the MVFC's freshman record for passing yards (2,778) before being passed by North Dakota State's Trey Lance on his final completion of the FCS championship game.
Pivotal game: North Dakota State (Sept. 26)
Sacramento State (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: The Hornets were the most-improved team in the FCS while going from 2-8 in 2018 to 9-4 last season.
Pivotal game: at Montana (Oct. 17)
Sam Houston State (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: The Bearkats' 99 wins during the 2010s were the second in the FCS to North Dakota State (137).
Pivotal game: Central Arkansas (Nov. 7)
San Diego (Pioneer champ)
Fast Fact: With 37 straight PFL wins, the Toreros are two shy of the FCS record in league games.
Pivotal game: at Drake (Oct. 31)
South Dakota State (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: The Jackrabbits' active run of eight straight playoff appearances is topped only by North Dakota State's 10 in a row.
Pivotal game: at North Dakota State (Oct. 17)
Southeastern Louisiana (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: The Lions were the only FCS team to have five 500-yard receivers a year ago.
Pivotal game: Central Arkansas (Nov. 14)
Southern Illinois (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: The Salukis have not made the playoffs since their seven straight appearances between 2003-09.
Pivotal game: South Dakota State (Oct. 24)
The Citadel (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: With a 27-24 overtime win at Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs were the only FCS program to defeat a Power 5 Conference opponent last season.
Pivotal game: at Wofford (Sept. 12)
Villanova (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: Quarterback Daniel Smith led the FCS in points responsible for (288 off 48 total touchdowns) last season.
Pivotal game: James Madison (Oct. 24)
Weber State (Big Sky champ)
Fast Fact: With 61 career field goals, senior place-kicker Trey Tuttle is within striking range of Dan Carpenter's 75 at Montana from 2004-07.
Pivotal game: Montana State (Oct. 17)
— 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 of Kennesaw State Athletics)