I'm going to pat myself on the back and say that my deriding of the coaches poll last time had a positive result- the only votes that went to non-winning teams this week went to my William AND Mary (4-5, 16 votes) and Chattanooga (5-5, 1 vote). We are getting near the end of the season, and it will soon be time to look at the playoff bracket. Right now, the only team to have clinched a spot in the dance is Sam Houston State (9-0), who has clinched the automatic bid from the Southland Conference. There are 12 conferences that get automatic bids- however, the Ivy League plays a straight ten-game schedule and declines them. The Great West, Pioneer, and SWAC do not get auto bids; the SWAC traditionally plays later in the season and declines invitations (not surprisingly, since they're 0-19 in the tourney) and the Pioneer gets short shrift at invite time since they are one of three leagues (the Ivy and Patriot are the others) that do not offer football scholarships. The Northeast Conference used to be that way, but got an auto bid once it started scholarship football. And, as I learned today, the rules require 7 wins against FCS/FBS teams to make the playoffs, a requirement the schools are trying to get the NCAA to "soften", especially with the prospect of a 24-team tourney on the horizon.
Given the proximity to the playoffs, I decided to look ahead and figure out this week's top 25 based on how I think they will finish.I believe that North Dakota State and Sam Houston will win out and finish 11-0, 1st and 3rd respectively. Montana State will beat Montana for the Big Sky title yet again to end up 10-1 and 2nd. I expect Lehigh will avoid the upset against Georgetown to win the Patriot at 10-1 and place 4th; Georgia Southern will win the one they can (against Wofford for the Southern title) and lose the one they can't (the season ender against Alabama) to finish 9-2 and 5th. Wofford will recover to knock off Chattanooga and finish 8-3 and 6th; Old Dominion will cap off an amazing season by beating W&M at their place to finish 9-2 and 7th. Towson will sweep UNH and URI to go 9-2 and 8th; Appalachian St. will also take their last two to finish 8-3 and 9th; and Montana's loss will slip them to 8-3 and 10th.
New Hampshire comes back from the loss at Towson to win at home against Maine, ending up 8-3 and 11th. Maine, having split their last two (beating UMass this weekend) to go 8-3 and 12th. Northern Iowa will split two tough games, winning over S. Utah and losing to Illinois St. to finish 8-3 and 13th; Liberty, in the game I'm most unsure of, will top Stony Brook for the Big South championship and end at 8-3 and 14th. I have Harvard doing the difficult task of sweeping Penn and Yale to go 9-1, winning the Ivy because they handed Brown their only loss. That puts them at 15th; Brown will take out Dartmouth and Columbia to also finish 9-1 and 19th.
Delaware gets the easy end of their schedule at the end, beating Richmond and Villanova to finish 7-4 and 16th; Drake will top Dayton this weekend to win the Pioneer at 9-2 and place 17th. Illinois St.'s win over Northern Iowa puts them 8-3 and 18th; I bring Bethune-Cookman back after wins against Savannah St. and (more importantly) Florida A&M to go 8-3 and 20th. Former top ten team Jacksonville St. gets 2 easy wins to limp back in at 7-4 and 21; Indiana St. also wins a pair to go 7-4 and 22nd. I've got North Dakota winning a tough road game at UC-Davis this week and topping rival South Dakota next to go 8-3 and 23rd; San Diego will top my boys of Jacksonville to end up 9-2 and 24th; and Central Arkansas (or Cark, as I call'em) will top Texas State to go 8-3 and 25th.
With those picks, that means I've given auto bid picks for Montana St., Liberty, Towson, Norfolk St. (who beats out slow-starters Bethune-Cookman), North Dakota St., Albany (by virtue of their earlier win over Duquesne), Eastern Kentucky, Lehigh, GaSo, and Sam Houston. I would guess that UNH, Maine, and ODU from the Colonial, Northern Iowa and Illinois St. from the MVC, Wofford and App State from the Southern are pretty much invite locks. That leaves me three more to go. If it were my call, it would be Drake, San Diego, and Indiana St.; knowing the prejudices of the bid committee, let's say Delaware, Furman (who's beat both App State and Wofford), and the Sycamores. Tune in in a couple of weeks to see how well I did.