The FCS playoff bubble will grow big with at-large contenders, then pop for many of them
We all wish we could be a fly on the wall when the NCAA Division I FCS selection committee puts together the 24-team playoff field Saturday night/Sunday morning.
Think again about wanting to be a member of the committee. There will be 10-15 teams in serious discussion for, say, the final two at-large bids. Trying to differentiate between them will make eyes blurry.
The situation has become more complicated because teams in the bottom of the Athlon FCS Power Poll keep losing games regularly. So a lot of 7-4, maybe 6-5, teams will be under consideration.
Up top is a different story as the six best teams – no matter how you order them – have a combined four losses.
Here is the Athlon Sports FCS Power Poll through the games of Nov. 12:
1. North Dakota State
(9-1, 6-1 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 1
Last Week’s Result: 41-17 win Indiana State
On Senior Day at the Fargodome, senior linebacker Pierre Gee-Tucker had a career-high 12 tackles, one sack, two tackles for a loss and a pass breakup. The Bison are still hoping for home-field advantage throughout the FCS playoffs.
Next Opponent: at South Dakota (Nov. 19)
2. Eastern Washington
(9-1, 7-0 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 2
Last Week’s Result: 48-17 win over Idaho State
Go figure, Cooper Kupp scored on a carry and a punt return, but not a reception, as he completed the career triple of Division I records for receptions (396), receiving yards (5,994) and touchdown receptions (68).
Next Opponent: at Portland State (Nov. 18)
3. Jacksonville State
(9-1, 6-0 Ohio Valley)
Previous Ranking: 3
Last Week’s Result: 33-15 at Murray State
The Gamecocks clinched at least a share of their third straight OVC title. Roc Thomas came off the bench to rush for 165 yards and three touchdowns in the second half.
Next Opponent: UT Martin (Nov. 19)
4. Sam Houston State
(10-0, 8-0 Southland)
Previous Ranking: 4
Last Week’s Result: 48-16 win over Northwestern State
Jeremiah Briscoe’s five touchdown passes against Northwestern pushed him to 45 this season – three off the Southland Conference record. The Bearkats and Central Arkansas next square off for the conference title and the automatic playoff bid.
Next Opponent: No. 10 Central Arkansas (Nov. 19)
5. James Madison
(9-1, 7-0 CAA Football)
Previous Ranking: 5
Last Week’s Result: 20-7 win at then-No. 11 Villanova
With quarterback Bryan Schor knocked from the game in the second quarter, the Dukes' defense rose up with four interceptions against Villanova to clinch their first outright CAA title since 2008.
Next Opponent: Elon (Nov. 19)
6. The Citadel
(10-0, 8-0 Southern)
Previous Ranking: 6
Last Week’s Result: 30-20 win over VMI
Many FCS teams play their FBS game early in the season, but The Citadel ends the regular season by putting its 10-0 record on the line in Tar Heel Country. The Bulldogs remained unbeaten behind quarterback Dominique Allen (246 yards of total offense, two total touchdowns).
Next Opponent: at North Carolina (Nov. 19)
7. North Dakota
(9-2, 8-0 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 9
Last Week’s Result: 38-31 over Northern Arizona
With a Big Sky title and nine-game winning streak to end their regular season, head coach Bubba Schwiegert’s club figures to have a bye in the first round of the playoffs. The problem with that is the Fighting Hawks will go three weeks between games.
Next Opponent: FCS Playoffs, TBA
(8-2, 5-2 CAA)
Previous Ranking: 8
Last Week’s Result: 31-17 win over Delaware
No player in school history has more than one season with 1,000 receiving yards except senior wide receiver Brian Brown, who’s up to three. With a win over rival William & Mary, the Spiders will nail down a playoff seed.
Next Opponent: at William & Mary (Nov. 19)
9. South Dakota State
(7-3, 6-1 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 10
Last Week’s Result: 28-21 win over South Dakota
Wide receiver Jake Wieneke and tight end Dallas Goedert were held below 100 receiving yards for only the third time each, but the run game responded for 415 yards against USD. Brady Mengarelli had 161 of them.
Next Opponent: at No. 20 Northern Iowa (Nov. 19)
10. Central Arkansas
(9-1, 8-0 Southland)
Previous Ranking: 12
Last Week’s Result: 31-24 win over Nicholls
It wasn’t one of UCA’s better defensive performances as it remained in a tie for the Southland lead, but the Bears still picked off four passes. One of those by Jaylon Lofton resulted in a 79-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Next Opponent: at No. 4 Sam Houston State (Nov. 19)
(8-2, 6-2 Southern)
Previous Ranking: 7
Last Week’s Result: 36-28 loss to Wofford
Tough way to go into a game at Alabama, the Mocs rushed for only 88 yards on 35 carries against Wofford despite the return of senior running back Derrick Craine. The Mocs likely blew a chance to earn a playoff seed.
Next Opponent: at Alabama (Nov. 19)
(7-3, 5-2 CAA Football)
Previous Ranking: 11
Last Week’s Result: 20-7 loss to then-No. 5 James Madison
Junior safety Rob Rolle leads the CAA with six interceptions, but to beat Delaware in head coach Andy Talley’s final Battle of the Blue, the Wildcats will need to stop the run.
Next Opponent: at Delaware (Nov. 19)
13. Charleston Southern
(6-3, 3-1 Big South)
Previous Ranking: 17
Last Week’s Result: 48-26 win over Liberty
Behind quarterback Shane Bucenell (four total touchdowns), the Buccaneers remained alive for a playoff bid, but they have to beat Kennesaw State to clinch the Big South’s automatic bid. They have only five Division I wins, and that’s not enough for an at-large bid.
Next Opponent: Kennesaw State (Nov. 19)
14. Coastal Carolina
(8-2 FCS Independent)
Previous Ranking: 19
Last Week’s Result: 31-21 win over Bryant
Having returned from injuries, running backs Osharmar Abercrombie (114 yards, two touchdowns) and De’Angelo Henderson (98 yards, two touchdowns) went right back to producing in a big way.
Next Opponent: Liberty (Nov. 17)
15. North Carolina A&T
(9-1, 7-0 MEAC)
Previous Ranking: 16
Last Week’s Result: 45-14 win over Delaware State
So the matchup is set – A&T heading to North Carolina Central for a pseudo-MEAC title game with both at 7-0 in the conference. NC Central has won the last two years, spoiling potential outright titles for A&T.
Next Opponent: at North Carolina Central (Nov. 19)
(7-3, 5-2 Southern)
Previous Ranking: 18
Last Week’s Result: 24-19 win over Mercer
Quarterback Devlin Hodges completed 39 of 43 passes for 401 yards and three first-half touchdowns in the win over Mercer. He has a 71.9 percent completion percentage this season.
Next Opponent: at East Tennessee State (Nov. 19)
17. Youngstown State
(7-3, 5-2 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 21
Last Week’s Result: 21-14 win over Southern Illinois
Limited by injuries, Jody Webb saved his first 100-yard rushing performance of the season for Senior Day – a career-best 167 yards. The Penguins finished the season unbeaten at home (6-0) for the first time since 2005.
Next Opponent: at Missouri State (Nov. 19)
18. Illinois State
(6-5, 4-4 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 25
Last Week’s Result: 37-0 win over Missouri State
After impressive wins over South Dakota State and Western Illinois, head coach Brock Spack’s team ended the regular season with a shutout for the second consecutive season. The Redbirds now wait to see if their three-game winning streak pushed them into the playoffs.
Next Opponent: Regular season complete
(7-3, 5-2 Southern)
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Last Week’s Result: 36-28 win over then-No. 7 Chattanooga
While limiting Chattanooga to 88 rushing yards, the Terriers haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season. They expect to make the playoffs with a win over VMI.
Next Opponent: VMI (Nov. 19)
20. Northern Iowa
(5-5, 4-3 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 23
Last Week’s Result: 30-23 win over then-No. 14 Western Illinois
With a win over South Dakota State, UNI would have the strongest 6-5 resume for any at-large hopeful. The win at Western Illinois was the second-biggest one after Iowa State to open the season.
Next Opponent: No. 9 South Dakota State (Nov. 19)
(8-2, 5-0 Patriot)
Previous Ranking: 22
Last Week’s Result: Idle
The Mountain Hawks have two 1,000-yard passers (Nick Shafnisky and Brad Mayes) and two 1,000-yard receivers (Troy Pelletier and Gatlin Casey). Sophomore Dominick Bragalone needs four rushing yards for his second straight 1,000-yard season.
Next Opponent: at Lafayette (Nov. 19)
22. Western Illinois
(6-4, 3-4 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 14
Last Week’s Result: 30-23 loss to No. 23 Northern Iowa
With losses in three of their last four games, the Leathernecks are reeling. Come to think of it, their last three wins are by a combined five points.
Next Opponent: at Southern Illinois (Nov. 19)
23. Grambling State
(7-1, 7-0 SWAC)
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Last Week’s Result: 21-0 win over Alabama State
Had quarterback DeVante Kincade not been knocked out of a 31-21 loss at Arizona in the season opener, then the Tigers might be unbeaten. Since then, they have defeated seven SWAC opponents by an average of 35 points (the closest margin is 20).
Next Opponent: at Texas Southern (Nov. 19)
24. Cal Poly
(6-4, 4-3 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 13
Last Week’s Result: 22-15 loss to Weber State
Big tumble for the Mustangs, who aren’t the same team since October began as they were in September, when they were 3-1 with only an overtime loss at Nevada. Even head coach Tim Walsh admits a 7-4 record is a precarious spot for playoff positioning.
Next Opponent: Northern Colorado (Nov. 19)
(6-4, 3-4 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 15
Last Week’s Result: 28-25 loss at Northern Colorado
The Griz, who were 5-1 a month ago, may not make the playoffs even if they beat rival Montana State. Count on head coach Bob Stitt’s squad trying to put up a big score in the regular season finale.
Next Opponent: Montana State (Nov. 19)
Power Poll Possibilities: Maine (6-4, 5-2 CAA) and New Hampshire (6-4, 5-2 CAA)
— 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.