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FCS Playoffs Projection: Picture Coming Into Focus

The FCS playoffs are beginning to come into focus. Programs are heading into conference play and looking to qualify for the postseason.

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. But why wait to prognosticate?

FCS Playoffs Seeding Picture

South Dakota State's Angel Johnson celebrates a touchdown.

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The big debate early on has been what to do with the top three seeds. NDSU, SDSU or Montana State all have arguments to be at the top of the heap. SDSU defeated Montana State in Brookings, S.D., but it was a nail-biter. The defending national champs were pushed to the limit by the Bobcats and a backup quarterback, forcing the question: Are the Jackrabbits as strong as last year? Well, the truth is, SDSU controls its own destiny, while many FCS programs need help from other programs' struggles to become a high seed. SDSU hosts North Dakota State the first week of November, so we will get our answer then.

NDSU's path to that SDSU matchup is against mostly middle-of-the-pack or lower-third MVFC teams. It won't face what looks like the No. 3 team — Southern Illinois — until after SDSU. One could make an argument for Sacramento State to be in the mix in the top three, as the Hornets have been strong this year — with the big win over Stanford standing out as the biggest FCS victory in the country this year so far.

After that top four, it obviously gets trickier. William & Mary and Furman are very strong. Weber State is one of several Big Sky teams that could fit into the seeding picture (Idaho? Montana? UC Davis?), and Southern Illinois already has an FBS win (Northern Illinois) and two impressive FCS wins over potential playoff teams Austin Peay and SEMO. The top eight are pretty darn strong.

The Rest of the Pack

A Campbell football player runs with the ball.

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The conferences with no team listed as a contender for seeding are listed next, and this is a pile of spaghetti at this point. SEMO, UIW, and Central Arkansas have challenged themselves so far this year, and seem like teams that could win eight games or more if things go right. Merrimack and Butler in the NEC and Pioneer should fare very well in their conferences but likely will be one-and-done teams should they make the playoffs.

When it comes to the at-large berths, there's a lot to consider here. Not surprisingly, each of these programs has something going for it, and something holding it back from being a seed. There are a lot of programs you're used to seeing in this mix if you've paid attention to the FCS before, but you may be surprised to see a team like Campbell — a fresh face within the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA). The Camels played a very strong William & Mary team tough, and have handled their business since then. They have five winnable games ahead of them before running into the ACC's North Carolina in early November.

Just Missed

Western Carolina's quarterback drops back to throw.

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Western Carolina is an intriguing program to keep an eye on. The next three games against Charleston Southern, The Citadel and Chattanooga will tell us a lot about the Catamounts. Much like the "rest of the pack" above, there are probably about another half dozen schools we could put in the mix in this category, but for now, let's see where Austin Peay, UT Martin, Youngstown and Rhody are heading.

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 scenarios for non-champion HBCUs to qualify for the playoffs as an at-large FCS team.

The FCS Playoff Picture

3 Montana St 2-1 Big Sky
4 Sac St 3-0 Big Sky
5 Wm & Mary 3-0 CAA
6 Furman 2-1 SoCon
7 Weber St. 2-1 Big Sky
8 SIU 3-0 MVFC
ALMOST 1 Holy Cross 2-1 Patriot
ALMOST 2 Montana 3-0 Big Sky
ALMOST 3 Idaho 2-1 Big Sky
NEC Merrimack 1-2 NEC
PIONEER Butler 2-1 Pioneer
SOUTHLAND UIW 2-1 Southland
UAC Cent. Arkansas 1-2 UAC
AT LARGE UC Davis 2-1 Big Sky
AT LARGE New Hamp 2-1 CAA
AT LARGE Villanova 2-1 CAA
AT LARGE Mercer 2-1 SoCon
LAST 3 East. Wash 1-2 Big Sky
LAST 3 Delaware 2-1 CAA
LAST 3 Campbell 2-1 CAA
MISSED 1 Western Carolina 2-1 SoCon
MISSED 2 Austin Peay 1-2 UAC
MISSED 3 UT Martin 2-1 BigSo-OVC
MISSED 4 Youngstown 2-1 MVFC
MISSED 5 Rhode Island 2-1 CAA