South Carolina State's goal is different from New Hampshire, Southern Illinois, Towson
While the NCAA announced its 2019 FCS playoff field last November, four programs stood on the porch when the front door was slammed shut.
The NCAA said New Hampshire, South Carolina State, Southern Illinois, and Towson were the last four teams left out of the 24-team playoff field.
A year later, each snubbed team is in the conversation for a postseason bid in 2020. Here is how they shape up:
2019 Record: 6-5, 5-3 CAA (Tie/3rd)
Projected Returning Starters: 15 (8 offense/7 defense)
The Skinny: The Wildcats appear to be a young team on the rise behind veteran head coach Sean McDonnell, who has returned from a medical leave of absence. It's an emotional boost for a program that made 14 straight playoff appearances from 2004-17. The 'Cats don't have defending CAA champ James Madison or Villanova on their conference schedule, which is an advantage not shared by any other team in the conference.
3 Key Games: Richmond (Sept. 12), at Elon (Oct. 24), Albany (Nov. 14)
South Carolina State
2019 Record: 8-3, 6-2 MEAC (Tie/1st)
Projected Returning Starters: 15 (7 offense/8 defense)
The Skinny: Last year, head coach Buddy Pough and his MEAC co-champ wanted to be in the playoffs after losing the conference tie-breaker for the Celebration Bowl to North Carolina A&T. This year's postseason goal is to be bowling in Atlanta, which would mean they bookend their schedule with the Sept. 6 opener against Grambling State in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge. Despite losing NFL prospect Alex Taylor, the Bulldogs always have bite on both lines of scrimmage.
3 Key Games: at Florida A&M (Sept. 19), Bethune-Cookman (Oct. 24), at North Carolina A&T (Oct. 31)
2019 Record: 7-5, 5-3 Missouri Valley (Tie/3rd)
Projected Returning Starters: 16 (8 offense/8 defense)
The Skinny: Head coach Nick Hill played for the Salukis when the program made seven straight playoff appearances from 2003-09, but there have been none since then. This year's rugged schedule lightens over the final four weeks, so the Salukis have to get there in relatively good shape. Rising sophomore running back Javon Williams Jr. scored 19 touchdowns and threw for two more last season, but the defense has to overcome the loss of All-America safety and NFL draft prospect Jeremy Chinn.
3 Key Games: at UT Martin (Sept. 3), Northern Iowa (Oct. 3), at North Dakota (Nov. 21)
2019 Record: 7-5, 4-4 CAA (Tie/5th)
Projected Returning Starters: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)
The Skinny: Head coach Rob Ambrose has to replace two-year starting quarterback Tom Flacco, perhaps going back to 2017 starter Ryan Stover. The Tigers get back a few key starters from injury, including all-purpose back Shane Simpson with a sixth season of eligibility. They've gone 3-3 at home in each of the past two seasons and have to do better than that.
3 Key Games: James Madison (Oct. 17), New Hampshire (Oct. 31), at Delaware (Nov. 7)
— 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 Southern Illinois Athletics)