FCS Playoffs projections
WCU quarterback Brody Palhegyi (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

FCS Playoffs Projection: Idaho Leaps To Top Tier

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 Poll Vote

Idaho knocked off Sacramento State just one week after the Hornets beat Stanford (PHOTO CREDIT: Idaho Athletics)

The top three argument for the FCS is a mess. Should the order be NDSU, SDSU, Montana State (my personal take, but I'm in the minority), or should it be the more popular SDSU, Montana State, NDSU based on the fact SDSU won the title last year and returned a lot of starters? Arguments can be made for all of it, even Montana State on top because while it pushed SDSU on the field a few weeks back, it did it on the road without its usual starter (Tommy Mellott) available 100 percent. What would have happened if the Bobcats had all their options available? MSU may have won, and then went on to win by 40 on the road at rankable Weber State.

Those are all ifs, ands and buts at this point — but that group is clearly in the top three.

The new question is this: Does Idaho belong in that top-three mix? The answer: Possibly. The Vandals are having their best season since returning to the FCS ranks from the FBS, and coach Jason Eck has proven to be quite the commodity. Idaho beat a very good Sacramento State team this past weekend, a Hornets team that had just dispatched Power Five Stanford the week prior. The Vandals have also beaten an FBS team, hammering Nevada by 27. And in another contest with P5 California, Idaho led at the half before falling. The Vandals are legit.

The bottom half of the prospective seeding order has some question marks. William & Mary has a chance to run the table in 2023, but is that a good thing for the Tribe not to be tested? Conference schedule rotation has W&M avoid Villanova, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. That's arguably the next best four teams in the Coastal Athletic Association (formerly Colonial AA). The Tribe are solid, but how well do we know this program when rivals ranked all around them have played more challenging schedules?

Furman will be tested more often than William & Mary, and like the Tribe may have its best team in years. Road trips to upstart Western Carolina and Chattanooga in the later stages will be challenges, so at least the Paladins will get tested. Meanwhile, programs like Sacramento State, Southern Illinois, and even the Patriot League's powerhouse in Holy Cross, among others, must be respected when it comes to seeding potential.

The Rest of the Pack

FCS playoff projections

EWU celebrates its win over UC Davis (PHOTO CREDIT: Cody Clements/EWU Athletics)

Right outside of current seeding are Holy Cross, Eastern Washington, and Villanova — and you can throw teams like Delaware and Western Carolina and a myriad of others in there. The Crusaders were within a hair of knocking off P5 Boston College earlier this year, and EWU went to overtime with one of the top Group of Five teams in the land — Fresno State. Fresno State has knocked off P5s Purdue and Arizona State in regulation, but not the FCS' Eagles. EWU has also faced off against NDSU, but it was a mismatch blowout loss — one reason my poll vote and this piece have NDSU No. 1 in the land right now.

It's still a bit early to say teams like UT Martin, Incarnate Word, or maybe one of the next-tier Big Sky programs like UC Davis or Weber State should be considered in this category. We shall see. UC Davis doesn't play Montana State or Idaho this year but suffered a huge injury this past weekend that could change its dynamic some.

Just Missed

FCS playoff projections

Eastern Illinois is playing pretty good football in September (PHOTO CREDIT: EIU Athletics)

There are so many schools that fit this category. Could a school that isn't in the top three conferences (Big Sky, CAA, MVFC) make a big move in the month of October? Well, it seems like that happens every year. With some momentum, maybe an Eastern Illinois, Austin Peay, or Central Arkansas could jump into the national picture.

One thing is for sure: Montana is a lightning rod right now. Love the Griz or hate them, they're a topic of discussion on the fan boards and on Twitter, or X, or whatever Elon calls it this nanosecond. The Griz are just outside the playoff picture right now, and they may not end up being a postseason team. They avoid EWU and Weber State this year thanks to schedule rotation but will face in-state rival Montana State as usual, along with Idaho, Sacramento State, and UC Davis. To get to eight wins and a guaranteed spot, the Griz will have to tighten up. And seven wins won't guarantee anything but could keep them in the picture.

It all just keeps getting crazier (and more fun) every week.

NOTE: Lindenwood (Big South-OVC), Stonehill (NEC), St. Thomas-MN (Pioneer), Texas A&M-Commerce (Southland), Tarleton and Utah Tech (both UAC), and Kennesaw State (independent) are all ineligible for the FCS playoffs because of NCAA transition rules. Also, the Ivy League opts not to participate in the postseason, while the SWAC and MEAC choose to send their champions to the Celebration Bowl — although there are rare scenarios for non-champion HBCUs to qualify for the playoffs as an at-large FCS team.

The FCS Playoff Picture

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

3 Montana St 3-1 Big Sky
4 Idaho (*) 3-1 Big Sky
5 Wm & Mary 4-0 CAA
6 Furman 3-1 SoCon
7 Sac St (*) 3-1 Big Sky
8 SIU (*) 3-0 MVFC
ALMOST 1 Holy Cross 3-1 Patriot
ALMOST 2 East. Wash 2-2 Big Sky
ALMOST 3 Villanova 3-1 CAA
BIG SO-OVC UT Martin 3-1 BigSo-OVC
NEC Wagner 2-2 NEC
PIONEER Butler 3-1 Pioneer
SOUTHLAND UIW 3-1 Southland
UAC Austin Peay 2-2 UAC
AT LARGE Delaware 3-1 CAA
AT LARGE West Carolina 3-1 SoCon
AT LARGE UC Davis 2-2 Big Sky
AT LARGE Weber St. 2-1 Big Sky
LAST 3 New Hamp 2-2 CAA
LAST 3 North Dakota 2-1 MVFC
LAST 3 East. Illinois 3-1 BigSo-OVC
MISSED 1 Cent. Ark. 2-2 UAC
MISSED 2 Montana 3-1 Big Sky
MISSED 3 Illinois St. 3-1 MVFC
MISSED 4 Chattanooga 3-1 SoCon
MISSED 5 Fordham (*) 3-1 Patriot
MISSED 6 Youngstown 2-1 MVFC
ON DECK Rhode Island 2-2 CAA
ON DECK Mercer 2-2 SoCon
ON DECK Campbell 2-2 CAA
ON DECK Elon 2-2 CAA
ON DECK Richmond 2-2 CAA