The playoff field is coming into focus
Preseason favorites have made their way into the FCS playoffs. Some upstarts hope to follow them into the field.
Half of the 10 automatic bids are filled, and Colgate (Patriot), Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley), Kennesaw State (Big South), North Dakota State (Missouri Valley) and San Diego (Pioneer) were all picked to win their respective conference. Yet to be determined are the bids in the Big Sky, CAA, Northeast, Southern and Southland conferences.
With the regular season nearing its conclusion, here is the Athlon FCS Power Poll for games through Nov. 10:
1. North Dakota State
(10-0, 7-0 Missouri Valley)
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
Last Week’s Result: 48-7 win over Missouri State
In what amounted to be the Bison’s final road game of the season (playoffs included), Easton Stick tied a school record with five touchdown passes — all in the first half.
Next Opponent: Southern Illinois (Nov. 17)
2. Kennesaw State
(9-1, 5-0 Big South)
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
Last Week’s Result: 51-14 win over Monmouth
Only in their fourth season, the Owls have won back-to-back outright Big South titles. Darnell Holland needed only nine carries to rush for 195 yards and three touchdowns against Monmouth.
Next Opponent: Jacksonville State in Atlanta (Nov. 17)
3. South Dakota State
(7-2, 5-2 Missouri Valley)
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
Last Week’s Result: 57-38 win over Southern Illinois
The Jackrabbits revved up the running game, gaining 315 yards and accounting for five touchdowns, including Pierre Strong Jr. with career highs of 188 yards and three scores.
Next Opponent: South Dakota (Nov. 17)
4. Weber State
(8-2, 6-1 Big Sky)
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
Last Week’s Result: 31-18 win over Southern Utah
Redshirt freshman Josh Davis raced past the 1,000-yard mark while rushing for 225 yards and two touchdowns. The Wildcats will gain the Big Sky’s automatic bid if they’re involved a three-way tie for first with Eastern Washington and UC Davis.
Next Opponent: at Idaho State (Nov. 17)
5. Eastern Washington
(8-2, 6-1 Big Sky)
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
Last Week’s Result: 59-20 win over UC Davis
The Eagles bulldozed UC Davis with 63 carries and 372 rushing yards. Antoine Custer Jr., Sam McPherson and Tamarick Pierce each rushed for two touchdowns.
Next Opponent: at Portland State (Nov. 16)
(9-0, 6-0 Patriot)
Last Week’s Ranking: 8
Last Week’s Result: 48-6 win over Lehigh
Yikes, the Raiders actually surrendered a touchdown — their first since the season opener. They’ll need an FBS win to post a perfect regular season.
Next Opponent: at Army West Point (Nov. 17)
7. James Madison
(7-3, 5-2 CAA)
Last Week’s Ranking: 10
Last Week’s Result: 48-31 win over Rhode Island
QB Ben DiNucci rebounded from getting pulled out of the New Hampshire loss with five total touchdowns.
Next Opponent: at Towson (Nov. 17)
(7-3, 6-1 CAA)
Last Week’s Ranking: 11
Last Week’s Result: 28-9 win over Richmond
Picked eighth in the CAA’s preseason poll, the Black Bears have clinched at least a share of the title. QB Chris Ferguson threw four touchdown passes to topple Richmond.
Next Opponent: Elon (Nov. 17)
9. UC Davis
(8-2, 6-1 Big Sky)
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
Last Week’s Result: 59-20 loss to Eastern Washington
The Aggies jumped to a 10-0, first-quarter lead before getting overwhelmed and falling to 0-7 all-time against Eastern Washington. Jake Maier was held without a touchdown pass.
Next Opponent: Sacramento State (Nov. 17)
10. Jacksonville State
(8-2, 7-1 Ohio Valley)
Last Week’s Ranking: 13
Last Week’s Result: 41-14 win over Tennessee State
All hail the OVC king for the fifth straight season. QB Zerrick Cooper’s three touchdown passes and two interception returns for scores fueled the Gamecocks past Tennessee State.
Next Opponent: Kennesaw State in Atlanta (Nov. 17)
11. Stony Brook (7-3, 5-2 CAA)
12. Princeton (9-0, 6-0 Ivy)
13. Wofford (7-3, 6-2 Southern)
14. Delaware (7-3, 5-2 CAA)
15. Towson (7-3, 5-2 CAA)
16. Elon (6-3, 4-2 CAA)
17. Nicholls (7-3, 6-2 Southland)
18. ETSU (8-2, 6-1 Southern)
19. North Carolina A&T (8-2, 5-1 MEAC)
20. Southeast Missouri (7-3, 5-2 Ohio Valley)
21. Montana State (6-4, 4-3 Big Sky)
22. UIW (6-4, 6-2 Southland)
23. Dartmouth (8-1, 5-1 Ivy)
24. Indiana State (6-4, 4-3 Missouri Valley)
25. Furman (5-4, 5-2 Southern)
FCS Conference Rankings
1. CAA Football – The CAA is challenging for six playoff bids.
2. Missouri Valley Football Conference – The Indiana State-Western Illinois winner is in mix for an at-large bid.
3. Big Sky Conference – The Montana State-Montana rivalry set to heat up again.
4. Southern Conference – ETSU, Wofford, perhaps Furman are in good shape for playoffs.
5. Ivy League – Princeton hosting Penn for chance to finish 10-0.
6. Southland Conference – UIW has clinched a share of title; Nicholls has shot for auto bid.
7. Ohio Valley Conference – Murray State overcomes 31-0 deficit, wins on kick return versus Southeast Missouri.
8. Big South Conference – Strength of schedule is not in Monmouth’s favor.
9. Northeast Conference – Duquesne, Central Connecticut State and Sacred Heart take it to the final weekend.
10. Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference – Co-leaders Florida A&M and North Carolina A&T have both lost to MEAC opponents in “non-conference” games.
11. Patriot League – Georgetown hosts Holy Cross, seeking winning record.
12. Southwestern Athletic Conference – Alcorn State hosting Jackson State for East Division title.
13. FCS Independents – Hampton and North Alabama have a combined 13 wins, but only four against D-I opponents.
14. Pioneer Football League – San Diego clinches auto bid with incredible 56-52 win over Davidson.
— 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 Eastern Washington Athletics)