If the FCS playoffs began today ...
(STATS) - Warning: What you are about to read will self-destruct with the next kickoff.
But thanks for trying to decipher the unpredictable FCS.
November arrives with hope, and plenty of false promises, for the FCS postseason - a 24-team field that will be announced in three weeks on Nov. 22.
The season is deep into conference schedules, but the dirty little secret is that cannibalism reigns, where the weekly grind of league games devours too many postseason resumes too soon.
Being hit hardest is the best FCS conference, the Missouri Valley, which had seven teams in the STATS FCS Top 25 at the start of play Saturday but likely would have only three qualifiers if the playoff field was announced Sunday.
The 24 best teams don't necessarily appear in the playoffs because of conference attrition. The teams on the bubble better step carefully. In fact, they better win some more games.
If the field were set today, we're saying the NCAA Division I playoff selection committee would install Illinois State as the No. 1 seed over top-ranked Jacksonville State, give an at-large bid to the MEAC, whose champion will play in the Celebration Bowl instead of the playoffs, and hand the final spot to North Dakota over Towson and Central Arkansas.
But a lot will happen to change the picture over the final three weekends of the regular season. Who knows, maybe North Dakota will even get a nickname over that time.
So if the FCS playoffs began today ...
North Dakota/South Dakota State winner at No. 1 seed Illinois State
SECOND AND 10
Ten more observations from the FCS weekend, when nine Top 25 teams suffered losses:
- The team of the week is Charleston Southern (7-1) after it rallied to hand No. 2 Coastal Carolina its first loss 33-25. The Buccaneers' veteran squad can clinch at least a share of the Big South title and its first-ever FCS playoff bid next Saturday at Kennesaw State, which at 6-2 is as much an upstart as it is a start-up program. The Bucs have an impressive 25-8 record in coach Jamey Chadwell's three seasons and are a combined 3-2 against the conference's two traditional powers, Coastal and Liberty, the latter of which visits Charleston on Nov. 14.
- Colgate delivered perhaps the other most noticeable loss among ranked teams, a 31-29 victory over No. 11 Fordham after the Rams' furious fourth-quarter charge fell short in the Patriot League. Colgate is similar to Charleston Southern in that it has a motivated senior class, a solid run game and a physical defense.
- The FCS' three top-ranked teams each played a ranked conference opponent and the results couldn't have been any different. In addition to No. 2 Coastal Carolina losing, No. 3 Illinois State barely got by Indiana State 27-24, while No. 1 Jacksonville State delivered a dominating performance in pounding Eastern Kentucky 34-0. Ohio Valley Conference teams haven't had a strong history in the playoffs, but this veteran Gamecocks team has enough experience to make for the longest postseason run in their FCS history.
- The Montana-Montana State rivalry matchup Nov. 21 may not be for a spot in the playoffs, it might be for determining a winning season. Both teams are 4-4 and may be lucky to be .500 when they square off. Before then, both have a road game at Idaho State and a home game versus one of the Big Sky co-leaders: Montana against Eastern Washington and Montana State against Southern Utah. The reputations of both programs in the Treasure State have come to exceed their results.
- The "classic" matchups involving the historically black schools are such gems for the way they bring out alumni and fans and make the event a festival. Saturday's Magic City Classic again drew the largest crowd of the FCS season with 63,874 in attendance at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama, as Alabama State beat rival Alabama A&M 35-20. Quarterback Daniel Duhart had a hand in all five Alabama State touchdowns.
- The five teams that tied for the MEAC title last season are the top five teams in the standings again. Morgan State, however, isn't a viable contender with two conference losses and North Carolina A&T still unbeaten, and Bethune-Cookman, North Carolina Central and South Carolina State at one loss each heading into the final three weekends. If South Carolina State wins at home against A&T next Saturday, it would likely set up another mad scramble to the finish line.
- Pioneer League leader Dayton continues to show great fortitude as one of only three unbeaten teams in the FCS. The Flyers (8-0), seeking their first title since 2010 and first playoff appearance, are 4-0 since losing 2014 PFL offensive player of the year Connor Kacsor to a career-ending knee injury. They start six offensive players who are freshmen or sophomores, including redshirt freshman Alex Jeske at quarterback. The defense is full of veterans with nine seniors led by fifth-year linebacker Christopher Beaschler.
- Richmond safety David Jones picked off four passes against Albany to help the Spiders win 38-31 and remain unbeaten in CAA action. Patrick Onwuasor had a trio of interceptions in Portland State's 35-16 win over Montana. The two join Morehead State's Justin Grier atop the FCS leaderboard with seven interceptions this season.
- Southern Utah's 54-37 win over Cal Poly in the Big Sky had a few oddities. The Thunderbirds, who figure to join the Top 25 on Monday, scored three touchdowns on fumble returns - Mike Needham with two and All-American defensive end James Cowser one. Also, Cal Poly lost despite having a school-record four 100-yard rushers: fullback Jared Mohamed (124), slot back Kyle Lewis (121), quarterback Chris Brown (109) and slot back D.J. Peluso (111). There also was a milestone as Cowser broke the FCS record for tackles for loss in a career, raising his total to 72.5.
- After rallying past Dartmouth to take sole possession of first place in the Ivy League, Harvard (7-0) stands three wins away from posting back-to-back perfect seasons. Up next Saturday is a trip to Columbia, which is much improved, but the Lions haven't scored on the Crimson since, oh, 2011 (yes, three straight meetings). The schedule then gets a little trickier for coach Tim Murphy with surging Penn at Cambridge on Nov. 14 and the Crimson wrapping up their season at archrival Yale before a crowd well over 50,000 on Nov. 21. And speaking of perfection, senior quarterback Scott Hosch is 13-0 as a starter.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
No. 1 Jacksonville State (7-1, 5-0 OVC), beat No. 13 Eastern Kentucky (5-3, 4-1), 34-0
No. 2 Coastal Carolina (7-1, 2-1 Big South), lost to No. 24 Charleston Southern (7-1, 4-0), 33-25
No. 3 Illinois State (7-1, 5-0 Missouri Valley), beat No. 21 Indiana State (4-4, 2-3), 27-24
No. 4 Chattanooga (7-1, 5-0 Southern), beat Western Carolina (5-3, 3-2), 41-13
No. 5 Eastern Washington (6-2, 5-0 Big Sky), beat Weber State (4-5, 3-3), 14-13
No. 6 Richmond (7-1, 5-0 CAA), beat Albany (2-6, 1-4), 38-31
No. 7 North Dakota State (6-2, 4-1 Missouri Valley), beat Southern Illinois (3-5, 2-3), 35-29
No. 8 Sam Houston State (6-2), beat Texas A&M-Commerce (7-2), 38-24
No. 9 James Madison (7-2, 4-2 CAA), lost to No. 16 William & Mary (6-2, 4-1), 44-41
No. 10 McNeese State (8-0, 7-0 Southland), beat Abilene Christian (2-6, 2-5), 15-13
No. 11 Fordham (7-2, 3-1 Patriot), lost to Colgate (4-4, 3-0), 31-29
No. 12 Portland State (7-1, 4-1 Big Sky), beat No. 17 Montana (4-4, 3-3), 35-16
No. 13 Eastern Kentucky (5-3, 4-1 OVC), lost to No. 1 Jacksonville State (7-1, 5-0), 34-0
No. 14 South Dakota State (6-2, 3-2 Missouri Valley), beat Missouri State (1-7, 0-5), 39-0
No. 15 Harvard (7-0, 4-0 Ivy), beat No. 22 Dartmouth (6-1, 3-1), 14-13
No. 16 William & Mary (6-2, 4-1 CAA), beat No. 9 James Madison (7-2, 4-2), 44-41
No. 17 Montana (4-4, 3-2 Big Sky), lost to No. 12 Portland State (7-1, 4-1), 35-16
No. 19 Montana State (4-4, 2-3 Big Sky), lost to North Dakota (5-4, 3-3), 44-38
No. 20 North Carolina A&T (7-1, 5-0 MEAC), beat Florida A&M (1-7, 1-4), 28-10
No. 21 Indiana State (4-4, 2-3 Missouri Valley), lost to No. 3 Illinois State (7-1, 5-0), 27-24
No. 22 Dartmouth (6-1, 3-1 Ivy), lost to No. 15 Harvard (7-0, 4-0), 14-13
No. 24 Charleston Southern (7-1, 4-0 Big South), beat No. 2 Coastal Carolina (7-1, 2-1), 33-25
No. 25 Youngstown State (4-4, 2-3 Missouri Valley), beat No. 23 Western Illinois (4-4, 3-2), 23-21
A LOOK AHEAD
Conference title implications are again a big part of next Saturday's action, which features Charleston Southern at Kennesaw State in the Big South; North Carolina A&T at South Carolina State in the MEAC; Illinois State at South Dakota State in the Missouri Valley; Jacksonville State at Eastern Illinois in the OVC; Dayton at Morehead State in the Pioneer League; and Sam Houston State at McNeese State in the Southland.
Other key matchups include: Big Sky, Southern Utah at Montana State, Montana at Idaho State and Northern Arizona at Eastern Washington; Big South, Gardner-Webb at Coastal Carolina; CAA, Richmond at New Hampshire; Ivy, Princeton at Penn; MEAC, Morgan State at Bethune-Cookman; and Missouri Valley, Western Illinois at North Dakota State and Indiana State at Northern Iowa.
Also: NEC, Saint Francis at Central Connecticut State and Duquesne at Sacred Heart; OVC, UT Martin at Eastern Kentucky; Patriot, Bucknell at Fordham and Colgate at Lafayette; Pioneer, Campbell at San Diego; Southern, VMI at The Citadel (The "Military Classic of the South"); and SWAC, Prairie View A&M at Alcorn State and Texas Southern at Grambling State.