FCS football
During an NCAA FCS football game between the North Dakota State Bison and the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, ND on Saturday, October 14, 2023. (By Russell Hons/UND Athletics)

FCS Playoffs Projection: Dakota Schools Rule Seeding Picture

The Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) provides the only full playoff bracket in Division I football. It's part of the charm of this brand of gridiron action. On Sunday, Nov. 19, the FCS Playoffs bracket will be revealed via the full 24-team bracket — with 10 automatic berths awarded to the participating conference champions and 14 at-large spots for the next best programs. In some ways, it is similar to March Madness in college basketball in the spring.

Why wait to prognosticate?

WHAT IS THE FCS?: The answer, with current standings

FCS Playoffs Seeding Picture

FCS Playoffs

Delaware's football program hasn't lost in more than a month (PHOTO CREDIT: Mikey Reeves/Delaware football)


THE OBVIOUS: The top two schools — South Dakota State and Montana State — have played each other, and it was down to the wire in Brookings, S.D. It's easy to see a rematch in the future, it's just a matter of when and where it will take place. Maybe a suburb of Dallas in the early weeks of 2024? Time will tell.

THE DEBATE: Sacramento State here, Montana there. How good are the SoCon teams? Is Delaware the CAA team that belongs, or does the CAA even have a seedable team? These are all the questions that have come pouring in in the past week or so. There are valid points abound. The knock on Sacramento State is the Hornets have won by narrow margins since losing at Idaho on Sept. 23. But you could make that same argument for say, Western Carolina — whose last result before this past week's open date was by a narrow margin at rankable Chattanooga and a few weeks prior to that the Catamounts barely escaped a surging Eastern Kentucky team.

But that's just the point, isn't it? Both programs mentioned above won, slight margins or not. They weathered that storm, and that's why they're here in this picture. My take with the Hornets is that the Stanford win looms large, and I'll continue to stand by that. Sacramento State knocked off the Pac 12's Cardinal. Coach Prime's hype machine at Colorado — even with son Shedeur Sanders at quarterback — could not beat Stanford. Just sayin' — that's why Sacramento State is at No. 3 in this playoff picture.

The "other" Dakota schools, South Dakota and North Dakota are proving they aren't the "other" Dakota schools anymore. It's refreshing, to be honest. Furman gets a big opportunity this week at Western Carolina, in a game that clearly matters most in the national picture, with Montana State at Sacramento State being a close second.

NEXT WEEK?: With Furman at Western Carolina and Montana State at Sacramento State, obviously, we will have movement this week. South Dakota State travels to Carbondale to take on Southern Illinois, and North Dakota goes to Northern Iowa — and those games aren't exactly afterthoughts. It's one hell of a week for the seeds.

The Rest of the Pack

FCS Playoffs

UIW has won five games in a row and looks like it could make the FCS playoffs as Southland Champs (PHOTO CREDIT: UIW Athletics)

JUST MISSED SEEDS: I have to admit, it's strange having North Dakota State and Montana on the outside looking in at the seeding picture, but I'm not so sure that's going to hold up for long. Obviously, NDSU's trip to No. 1 SDSU looms large in the coming weeks, and Montana plays host to Sacramento State and Montana State in November. Keep an eye on these two traditional FCS powers, though maybe not as much the next few weeks (with the Griz off this week and hosting No. Colorado next, and NDSU playing host to winless Western Illinois and Murray State the next two).

Idaho is also open this week, but preparing for its home battle against Montana State on Oct. 28. Two weeks to prep for the Bobcats at home is obviously more ideal than just a few days, so that should make that matchup a biggie — and the Vandals could very easily be back in the seeding picture by November. That's the glory of the Big Sky that you won't get in most FCS conferences — it's not one strike and you're out. Idaho has Montana State left, Weber State, Northern Colorado, and Idaho State left on the schedule — and the blowout FBS win over Nevada will help the Vandals' case too.

AUTO BIDS: UT Martin, Holy Cross, Incarnate Word, and Austin Peay look rock solid for their conference's auto bids — and if they continue to win, they will be in the seeding discussion, too. I do have to admit that the situation with Central Arkansas (four straight wins) and Eastern Kentucky (three straight with a brutal schedule early) might be threatening to the Govs in the UAC. The real question marks come in the NEC and Pioneer League, as they look like true battles. This week, Duquesne plays St. Francis (PA) in a game that may ultimately settle that league's automatic playoff berth come Nov. 19, and Davidson and Drake are atop the Pioneer, but unfortunately don't play each other because of schedule rotation (Davidson's path seems a tad clearer to snag the auto bid, with its five future opponents a combined 9-16 overall).

AT-LARGES/LAST THREE IN: This area of the picture is an absolute crapshoot and it's getting to the point where you could mix and match 15-to-20 schools in the argument each week, but must come up with seven or eight finalists. William & Mary and Youngstown State have the strongest arguments but have blemishes on the resume against teams not currently in the picture (Elon and UNI respectively). Southern Illinois has an ugly loss to Youngstown but an FBS win (NIU), and a very convincing win over the UAC's Austin Peay (4-1 vs. FCS). Chattanooga, Villanova, UC Davis, and Central Arkansas all have positives and knocks against them.

Just Missed

FCS Playoffs

Eastern Kentucky has won three games in a row and has played a very tough schedule. How long will it take for EKU to enter the playoff picture? It may not be long (PHOTO CREDIT: EKU Athletics)

I've already mentioned Eastern Kentucky above, and the Colonels top the chart of teams to keep an eye on after their overtime win this past weekend — and don't be surprised when they're in this picture next week. They haven't fallen since a three-point loss against seedable Western Carolina on Sept. 16, and they played the SEC's Kentucky in Lexington to a closer margin (lost by 11) than the Florida Gators (19 points). One interesting team to keep an eye on, though they don't have a playoff-caliber resume just yet, is Fordham. Should the Rams upset the apple cart and somehow knock off Patriot League power Holy Cross at home on Nov. 4, they could pick up an automatic berth and also have an FBS win over Buffalo — always a bonus poker chip, status-wise, come Selection Sunday.

The FCS Playoff Picture

(*) — Have beaten an FBS opponent in 2023.

1 SDSU 6-0 6-0
2 Montana St 5-1 5-1
3 Sac St (*) 5-1 4-1
4 Furman 5-1 5-0
5 West Carolina 5-1 5-0
6 South Dakota 5-1 5-0
7 North Dakota 4-2 4-1
8 Delaware 5-1 5-0
ALMOST 1 NDSU 4-2 4-2
ALMOST 2 Montana 6-1 4-1
ALMOST 3 Idaho (*) 5-2 4-1
BIG SO-OVC UT Martin 5-1 5-0
NEC Duquesne 3-3 2-1
PATRIOT Holy Cross 4-2 4-1
PIONEER(&) Davidson 4-2 3-1
UAC Austin Peay 4-2 4-1
AT LARGE Wm & Mary 4-2 4-1
AT LARGE Youngstown 3-3 3-2
AT LARGE SIU (*) 5-1 4-1
AT LARGE Chattanooga 5-2 5-2
LAST 1 Villanova 5-2 5-1
LAST 2 UC Davis 4-3 4-2
LAST 3 Cent. Ark. 5-2 4-1
MISSED 1 East Ky 3-3 3-1
MISSED 2 New Hamp 3-3 3-2
MISSED 3 Illinois St. 4-2 4-2
MISSED 4 Fordham (*) 5-2 4-2
MISSED 5 Albany 4-3 4-1

(&) - In the Pioneer League, St. Thomas-MN is having a strong season and is eligible to win the regular season title, but is ineligible for the FCS playoffs because of NCAA transitioning rules (up from D-III).