I wanted to wait until the tourney bracket was released this morning to do my FCS page this week, and am glad I did. I would have put Jacksonville State (which, by the way, is from Jacksonville, Alabama) at #1, but then they blew a 24-7 lead with under 12 minutes left, giving up 3 80+ yd TD drives in a total of 6:26 to lose to Tennessee Tech 35-24 and almost make me look foolish(er) two weeks running. Instead of just doing my rankings, I'm going to go over the bracket, and weave my rankings and thoughts in.
Four games are featured in the opening round next Saturday. The Contestants:
Western Illinois(7-4)- they rolled Northern Iowa (who already clinched a playoff spot) 30-14 yesterday to get here; they end up15th on my rankings. They lost their big boy game to Purdue by a respectable 31-21 score, and are 2-0 against playoff teams, having also beat North Dakota State 28-16.
Coastal Carolina(6-5) will be their opponent, and they snuck in the hardest way. The Big South bid was between Stony Brook (5-0 in the conference going in), Liberty (my # 9, 4-1) and CC (4-1). With Stony Brook and Liberty playing each other and CC playing sucky Charleston Southern, a three way tie loomed. This would go down to the 4th tie breaker- points allowed in conference games. And here it was Stony Brook (68), Coastal Carolina (103), and Liberty (110). All Stony seemingly had to do is keep Liberty under 39, and hope Charleston So. could manage a couple of field goals. But Liberty won 54-28, and CC won 70-3, and the tiebreaker and the playoff spot went to CC. CC's big boy game was a 31-0 loss to West Virginia, and a 43-26 loss to Georgia Southern was their only match against a playoff team. They had lost to Stony Brook and got whacked by Richmond 41-19- the same Richmond team that William AND Mary beat 41-3 to close out the year. Quite obviously, I never did rank CC.
Robert Morris (8-2) was the automatic qualifier out of another weak Conference (the Northeast); I had them ranked 15th. They are one of 5 playoff teams that did not have a big boy game; they are the only one to play no other playoff teams, although they upset Liberty and lost fairly big to Dayton (10-1, 11th), whose conference (the Pioneer League) got boned by the selection committee.
They face off against North Dakota State (7-4, 21st), whom I thought had no chance of getting in after their season ending 3-0 loss to Missouri State. One thing in their favor was that they are one of only 2 playoff teams to win their big boy game, 6-3 over hapless Kansas. However, they've lost both games against playoff teams (16-9 against Northern Iowa and 28-16 against Western Ill.)
Lehigh (9-2, 24th) is the AQ from another league that doesn't really rate one, the Patriot League. In addition to not having a big boy game, they lost to fellow playoff squads New Hampshire and Villanova by a combined 66-10. They get to meet Northern Iowa (7-4, 19th), who went 1-2 against playoff teams ( the loss to Western Ill., plus the win over North Dakota State and a loss to Stephen F. Austin 22-20). Northern's big boy game was a 27-0 loss to Iowa State.
The final first round tilt features South Carolina State (9-2, 12th) against Georgia Southern (7-4, not currently ranked). SC State lost its BBG to Georgia Tech 41-10, and its only playoff opponent was a 14-0 loss to conference rival Bethune-Cookman. GaSo lost its BBG 13-7 to Navy (which is a darn side better than Notre Dame did) and was 2-1 against playoff teams, winning against Coastal Carolina (43-26) and Appalachian State (21-14) and losing to Wofford (33-31).
The Western Ill./CC winner draws Appalachian State (9-2, #1), the tourney's top seed. The Mountaineers got abbreviated by Florida in their BBG (48-10) yesterday, and split their playoff matchups, losing to GaSo but beating Wofford 43-13. That winner faces the winner of Villanova (7-4, 16th) and Stephen F. Austin (9-2, 10th). 'Nova lost their BBG to MAC powerhouse Temple 31-24; they have played a tourney-highest 4 playoff teams, beating Lehigh and Delaware (yesterday, 28-21 in OT, to get in), and losing to William AND Mary (31-24) and New Hampshire (28-21). SF Austin lost their big boy game to Texas A&M (who by the way, beat #7 Nebraska last night) 48-7, but if not for that collapse for the ages against Texas State a few weeks back, they would have never lost again. Their only playoff team was a 22-20 win over Northern Iowa.
The 5-seed is Eastern Washington (9-2, 13th), and they play SE Missouri State (9-2, 14th) in their second round game. I've always ranked Eastern lower because of the weakness of their schedule, which outside of their BBG ( a 49-24 loss to Nevada and Colin Kapernick) featured only (fellow playoff team) Montana State (who blasted them 30-7) and Montana (who they beat). SEMO, as they're known, lost both their BBG (27-10 to Ball State) and their one playoff team (29-27 to Jacksonville State), although they did manage to rout the same Tennessee Tech team that flattened J-ville State yesterday.
Montana State (9-2, 8th) is the 4-seed and will play the winner of Robert Morris/ ND State. State got nipped in their BBG by Washington State (23-22), and beat rival Montana (7-4, 22nd) to get in, as well as their pasting of Eastern Washington, but like their state rival, got clocked by Northern Arizona 34-7.
Delaware (9-2, 4th) would have been the 1-seed and my number one had they not lost to Villanova yesterday. However, they skipped the BBG and lost to both William AND Mary (17-16) and 'Nova to go 0-2 against playoff competition. They draw the Lehigh/ Northern Iowa winner.
Bethune-Cookman (10-1, 6th) lost their undefeated season yesterday in the Florida Classic to Florida A&M 38-27, but still got the AQ bid. Their conference is problematic; their only playoff match was the 14-0 win over SC State, and they had no BBG. They play New Hampshire (7-4, 2oth) who went 2-1 against playoff teams (the wins against Lehigh and 'Nova and a 13-3 loss to William AND Mary) and had a decent BBG, a 38-16 loss to Pitt. In addition, they had a midseason stretch where they swept Richmond, JMU, and UMass by a combined 84-27, essentially putting all three of them out of the playoffs.
Wofford (9-2, 2nd) faces Jacksonville State (9-2, 7th) in their second round game. Their Terriers split their playoff games, both against conference rivals ( the loss to App State and the win over GaSo), and had no BBG. J-ville State, in addition to the aforementioned meltdown last night, won both their only playoff match (against conference rival SEMO) and their BBG (49-48 in OT against Ole Miss).
Finally, we have the #2 seed, William AND Mary (8-3, 3rd). They played a great BBG against North Carolina which they only lost in the 4th quarter 21-17, and they swept their 3 playoff matches over 'Nova, UNH, and Delaware. They draw the GaSo/SC State winner.
Teams I ranked that don't get a tourney invite include #5 Jacksonville (10-1, 5th) #9 Liberty, #11 Dayton, #17 Penn (whose league doesn't accept invites), #22 Montana, #23 Old Dominion, and #25 UMass (who I thought would get an invite, along with either Jacksonville or Dayton).
My first round picks: Western Illinois will clock CC; I'll give a slight nod to ND State over Robert Morris; Northern Iowa will prove that Lehigh has no business at the table; and GaSo will beat SC Stae in a shootout.
My second round picks: App State cruises over Western; SFA over 'Nova; SEMO upsets Eastern Washington; Montana State blasts ND State; Northern Iowa upsets Delaware; UNH over Bethune-Cookman; J-State over Wofford; W&M over GaSo.
My third round picks: SFA stuns App State; Montana State rolls SEMO; UNH edges Northern Iowa; W&M routs J-State.
My semis picks: SFA over Montana State in a classic shootout; W&M over UNH- again.
Championship: William & Mary in a tight, low scoring game which isn't SFA's forte.