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Projected FCS Playoff Qualifiers for 2018

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It isn't surprising that the most projected 2018 playoff qualifiers out of FCS college football come out of CAA Football and the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

FCS

They led the way last season. Basically any season recently.

Nine of the last 10 national champs, and 12 of the last 16, have come out of one of the two conferences. Also, there's been at least one national finalist from the two conference powers since 2012.

But 10 FCS conferences have automatic bids, and the Big Sky, Southern and Southland are particularly strong as well this season, so a lot of good teams will challenge for the 24 spots.

Here is Athlon Sports' projected 2018 FCS playoff field (in alphabetical order):

Austin Peay (at-large bid)

The most improved team in the FCS last year still has the bad taste of a playoff snub from Selection Sunday.

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Colgate (Patriot champ)

The Raiders have the most complete team in the Patriot League), but key November games against Fordham and Lehigh are on the road.

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Delaware (at-large bid)

Head coach Danny Rocco has the Blue Hens back on track. A national runner-up finish in 2010 is their last playoff appearance.

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Duquesne (Northeast champ)

A November meltdown (three season-ending losses) has the Dukes motivated in the always hotly contested NEC title race.

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Eastern Washington (Big Sky champ)

With losses only to Texas Tech, FCS champ North Dakota State and Big Sky co-champs Southern Utah and Weber State, the Eagles were upset to be left out of the 2017 playoffs.

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Elon (at-large bid)

All the young players have grown up, and the Phoenix already arrived a year ahead of schedule with a playoff appearance last season.

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Illinois State (at-large bid)

The Redbirds may wind up lamenting a season-opening game against in-state NAIA member St. Xavier, which won't help their playoff resume.

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Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley champ)

With 32 straight OVC wins, the Gamecocks haven't lost to a conference foe since Jimmy Garoppolo was slinging passes for Eastern Illinois in 2013.

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James Madison (CAA champ)

Third-year head coach Mike Houston has yet to lose to a CAA opponent, including a pair of playoff wins en route to back-to-back national championship game appearances.

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Kennesaw State (Big South champ)

The Owls' schedule is tougher with their first FBS opponent, Georgia State, and two playoff victims seeking revenge, Samford and Jacksonville State.

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McNeese (at-large bid)

The Cowboys' nine wins were the most of any eligible team that was left out of the playoffs.

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Montana (at-large bid)

Returning head coach Bobby Hauck was a perfect 7-for-7 with Big Sky titles and playoff appearances in his first stint from 2003-09.

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New Hampshire (at-large bid)

Ho hum, head coach Sean McDonnell and the Wildcats are seeking a 15th straight playoff appearance.

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Nicholls (at-large bid)

A September to remember or forget? The Colonels open against Kansas, Tulane, McNeese and Sam Houston State.

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North Dakota State (Missouri Valley champ)

The Bison are tied with Georgia Southern for the most FCS national titles, and their six have come in the last seven years.

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Northern Iowa (at-large bid)

Head coach Mark Farley has gotten to the playoffs 10 times in 17 seasons because he's recorded 53 wins after the start of November.

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Samford (Southern champ)

Samford's lone SoCon title was a three-way share in 2013. The Bulldogs are playing a particularly strong road schedule.

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Sam Houston State (Southland champ)

Only North Dakota State has more wins than the Bearkats (86) during this decade.

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San Diego (Pioneer champ)

The only Pioneer Football League wins in the playoffs belong to the Toreros in each of the past two seasons.

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South Dakota State (at-large bid)

The Jackrabbits are coming off their two deepest playoff runs (quarterfinals in 2016 and semifinals last season) in their FCS history.

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Villanova (at-large bid)

Disregard last year's 5-6 record because the Wildcats were injury-riddled. They have top-10 potential in head coach Mark Ferrante's second season.

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Weber State (at-large bid)

Coming off a program-record 11 wins, the Wildcats are plugging some big holes in their lineup.

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Wofford (at-large bid)

First-time head coach Josh Conklin is replacing legendary Mike Ayers, who won 207 games over 30 seasons leading the Terriers.

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Youngstown State (at-large bid)

Head coach Bo Pelini and the Penguins might have to get it done early. They face North Dakota State, Northern Iowa and Illinois State in November.

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-- 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 Montana Athletics)