Kennesaw State and Weber State are among the teams trying to interrupt North Dakota State's dominance
Considering the need for revised lists heading into the spring season of FCS college football — the Athlon Sports Top 25 and All-America Team are prime examples — a projection of playoff qualifiers has the most change.
The playoffs have eight fewer at-large bids, dropping the field from 24 to 16 teams. The pairings will be announced on April 18, action kicks off the following weekend, and the championship game will be held on May 16 in Frisco, Texas.
Here's a revised list of projected playoff qualifiers for what has unofficially become the North Dakota State Invitational (in alphabetical order):
Duquesne (Northeast champ)
Fast Fact: No NEC program reloads better than the Dukes, and this time around, they're doing it with 13 transfers in their signing class.
Pivotal game: Sacred Heart (March 7)
Eastern Washington (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: The head coach of the Eagles' only FCS national championship-team (Beau Baldwin in 2010) returns to Cheney on March 27 with his new team, Cal Poly.
Pivotal game: at Idaho (Feb. 27)
Furman (Southern champ)
Fast Fact: In the original 2020 schedule, the Paladins were supposed to begin the season by hosting rival Wofford, the SoCon's three-time defending champ. The matchup now caps their spring regular season.
Pivotal game: Wofford (April 17)
Holy Cross (Patriot champ)
Fast Fact: To earn a repeat trip to the playoffs, the Crusaders have to win both the Patriot League's North Division and first-ever conference championship game.
Pivotal game: at Colgate (March 27)
Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley champ)
Fast Fact: The Gamecocks earned the only FCS win over an FBS opponent in the fall (FIU), but the OVC is full of land mines as arguably the most tightly bunched conference.
Pivotal game: Austin Peay (March 28)
James Madison (CAA champ)
Fast Fact: The Dukes, a winner of three of the last four CAA titles, have the fewest returning starters (seven) in the conference.
Pivotal game: Richmond (March 20)
Kennesaw State (Big South champ)
Fast Fact: Behind their triple-option offense, the Owls have finished in the top three of the FCS in rushing each of the past four seasons.
Pivotal game: at Monmouth (April 10)
New Hampshire (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: The Wildcats made 14 straight playoff appearances from 2004-17.
Pivotal game: Albany (March 5)
Nicholls (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: The Colonels have gone 16-2 at home and been a playoff qualifier in three straight seasons.
Pivotal game: Southeastern Louisiana (April 10)
North Dakota State (Missouri Valley champ)
Fast Fact: It's so impressive, it should be stated again: the Bison have won nine consecutive MVFC titles and eight FCS titles in that same span.
Pivotal game: South Dakota State (April 3)
Northern Iowa (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: The Panthers have been below .500 on the road each of the last three seasons — a combined 8-14.
Pivotal game: S.outh Dakota State (Feb. 19)
Sam Houston (Southland champ)
Fast Fact: The Bearkats' 99 wins during the 2010s were the second in the FCS to North Dakota State (137).
Pivotal game: Nicholls (March 13)
San Diego (Pioneer champ)
Fast Fact: With 37 straight PFL wins, the Toreros are two shy of the FCS record in league games (Duquesne with 39 in the MAAC from 1999-2006).
Pivotal game: at Drake (March 13)
South Dakota State (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: The Jackrabbits are the only program to beat North Dakota State more than once (2016 and '17) since the Bison's first FCS championship season in 2011.
Pivotal game: at Northern Iowa (Feb. 19)
Villanova (at-large qualifier)
Fast Fact: Quarterback Daniel Smith led the FCS in points responsible for (288 off 48 total touchdowns) in 2019.
Pivotal game: at Albany (April 10)
Weber State (Big Sky champ)
Fast Fact: The Wildcats have gone 7-1 in Big Sky games each of the last three seasons, sharing the title with a different program each time.
Pivotal game: UC Davis (March 13)
— Compiled 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)