FCS Playoff Picture
The Montana State Bobcats hosted the Portland State Vikings during the annual Homecoming football game at Bobcat Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, in Bozeman, Mont. The Bobcats won 38-22 over the Vikings. (MSU Photo by Colter Peterson)

FCS Playoffs Projection: Big Sky With 6 Teams

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 will reveal the full 24-team bracket — with 10 automatic berths awarded to the 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 Playoff Projections

Western Carolina's Desmond Reid is just one reason the Catamounts are playing so well (PHOTO CREDIT: WCU Athletics)

Let's face it folks, this was pretty cut and dry: North Dakota State lost to a then-unranked team that was undefeated against FCS teams (South Dakota). I had zero issue doing a massive poll correction putting South Dakota ahead of NDSU and dropping the Bison to the point where this correction was logical. William & Mary was a bit trickier. The Tribe lost to Elon, who earlier this year lost to 1-3 Gardner-Webb, and although GWU has opened with a brutal schedule, I can't rank it, so I couldn't justify completely leapfrogging Elon to the top of the poll either.

This is how I usually do things earlier in the year when we don't have a ton of data points — major corrections if needed, but not if you have a W&M/Elon/GWU situation. The truth is though, W&M drew the lucky lot with CAA schedule rotation this year. It's not the Tribe's fault they avoid most of the top CAA teams this year, but a loss hurts them a lot more because they won't have those big matchups to help them claw back up easily. They must be near-perfect the rest of the way to even think of a seed — that's just my take. On the flip side, NDSU can crawl back into a seeding position by winning big MVFC matchups from here until Thanksgiving, easily — and my guess is that's exactly what they'll do.

Western Carolina is the surprise of the year so far, winning four straight by a total of 117 points. The Catamounts look strong under coach Kerwin Bell and his staff.

The Rest of the Pack

FCS Playoff Projections

Albany's Griffin Woodell has been one big reason for the Great Danes success this year (PHOTO CREDIT: Albany Athletics)

The Big Sky is really impressive and currently holds six of the 24 positions in this projection. Three look like seeds in Montana State, Idaho, and despite its loss to Idaho and near loss at NAU — Sacramento State still has the FCS' lone win over a Power Five team this year (Stanford), the NAU win looks better after you consider that NAU is turning out to be a very tough out. Eastern Washington, despite its losses, UC Davis, and Weber State are all potential at-large teams, but of course, it's early. After its brutal schedule last year and non-inclusion in the playoffs as a result, UC Davis avoids Montana State and Idaho this year — the top two teams in the league, currently — and if it can avoid further injuries like the one sustained by star running back Lan Larison against Eastern Washington two weeks ago.

The truth is, there is a soft underbelly to the at-large order, and there are teams in the "just outside" category that may be just one win away from sliding into this situation. We shall see who can hang on and who can't. The newbies are Albany after its big CAA win over Villanova and its solid resume even before that (two near-miss wins over G5s, a win over Fordham - who had a G5 win), and Elon is the other fresh blood after its win over William & Mary, and its Campbell win isn't too shabby, either.

Just Missed

The difference between the "right outside" category below and the "last three in" isn't much, and could change next week even if all of them win. Central Arkansas, Montana, and Chattanooga area combined 11-4 and are just itching to get back into the national picture fray — and they're about a week away with another win, regardless of who it is against. North Dakota's in much the same boat. Losses against FBS Boise State and SDSU are hardly horrific blemishes, and with some momentum, the Fighting Hawks could jump back into this.

The FCS Playoff Picture

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

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