Q&A with the playoff selection chair
(STATS) - He would say it didn't change when the FCS playoffs expanded by four teams in 2010 or by another four two years ago, and that it won't change this weekend even though one of the 24 spots will go to an additional at-large selection.
An athletic director himself, Mark Wilson, the chair of the selection committee, knows how passionate people are about their football programs, and he expects there will be a team, maybe more than one, that comes away from Sunday's announcement of the playoff field heavily disappointed over not being included among the 24 teams.
If Wilson had the chance to talk to any of them - presumably the football coach or athletic director - he says he would assure that person how the system in place, with representatives from all 10 conferences which send their champions through automatic bids, delivers the best 14 at-large selections to fill out the field (it's gained an at-large bid with the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference relinquishing its automatic bid).
Wilson, Tennessee Tech's AD since 2004, is part of the selection process for the fourth straight year, this time in the leading capacity. In addition, the selection committee consists of athletic directors Chuck Burch (Gardner-Webb), Troy Dannen (Northern Iowa), Brian Hutchinson (Morehead State), Richard Johnson (Wofford), Nathan Pine (Holy Cross), Marty Scarano (New Hampshire), Paul Schlickmann (Central Connecticut State), Dr. Brad Teague (Central Arkansas) and Jeff Tingey (Idaho State).
With the committee set to meet in Indianapolis to select the 2015 field - the announcement of the pairings will come in an ESPNU selection show Sunday at 11 a.m. ET - Wilson discussed the season-long process with STATS.
STATS: Can you provide an overall description of the selection process?
MW: Well, it's a very intense process. The members of the NCAA football committee have been talking about teams and using our regional committees to analyze work as well as the national committee has been all season long. And as we get into the selection process, we'll follow the established policies and procedures as we work through to determine the 14 at-large selections.
STATS: From past experience, what would you say is the most difficult aspect of the selection process?
MW: The most difficult is to be able to draw correlations between teams because in FCS typically we have three nonconference opponents, and many of us play Bowl Subdivision opponents. So (it's difficult) to draw those correlations between leagues to determine the very best teams to put into the playoffs.
STATS: How much decision making continues into Sunday morning or does that not happen?
MW: We hope there's no decision making that continues into Sunday morning. Our goal is to do everything on Saturday night. … We do sleep on it overnight, and when we come back on Sunday morning, we ask each committee member to confirm the belief that we absolutely think we have it right.
STATS: If you have, say, four or five teams for the final at-large bid or two, do you eliminate them one at a time until you have what you're looking for?
MW: The NCAA utilizes a computerized voting process, so every member of the committee will vote and use that data to help us formulate our decisions. Of course, as we get into those last four or five, we do only put a team or two in at a time depending on the number of spots that are available in the field. So early on, the number of teams that go (are greater), but as less spots become available, then you do only put one team in at a time.
STATS: Will MEAC teams be considered for an at-large bid considering their champion will play in the Celebration Bowl and not in the playoffs this year?
MW: Yes, sir, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is eligible for at-large selection, and we've been receiving information on their teams over the course of the year. We will use that information as we head into the selections.
STATS: Does having one more at-large bid make it easier for the committee or does it open up a list of even more legitimate candidates to consider?
MW: It's always difficult when you get down to the last two, three, four teams that you select into the playoffs, whether adding one more will really make an impact on that, I don't know going into this weekend. I'll be able to tell you after this weekend. But it's always a challenge no matter how many spots there are because there are deserving teams and it's tough to find differentiation between the teams. Certainly if you look at this year, there's been so many good teams that just beat each other. It's going to be tough decision making by the committee to make sure we have the very best teams selected.
STATS: In your role as selection chair this year, how is it going to change for you?
MW: I think my role this year is just to make sure everything goes smoothly, make sure we follow the policies and procedures as set forth in our guidelines, and make sure we do the work that is necessary. Of course, that's been the work of the entire season. We have been tactical watching games and looking at teams and talking about teams all season long, to make sure we are efficient and we as a committee do good work for the membership.
FCS CO-GAMES OF THE WEEK=
Kickoff: Noon ET at Robins Stadium in Richmond, Virginia
Series: William & Mary 68-58-5 (most recent meeting: Richmond won 34-20 at William & Mary on Nov. 22, 2014)
The Skinny: Last year, these rivals squared off for an at-large bid to the playoffs. In the 125th meeting of the "Oldest Rivalry in the South," the CAA's automatic bid is at stake. With a win, William & Mary will secure the bid as well as its first outright conference title since 1996. Richmond would be part of a three-way share of the title and perhaps gain the automatic bid by beating the Tribe. The teams are going in opposite directions with W&M on a six-game winning streak and the Spiders losing two straight close games. The matchup features the two leading rushers in the CAA, W&M's Kendell Anderson (1,171 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Richmond's Jacobi Green (1,068, 14).
Prediction: Saturday is a day to win and control playoff fate. The Tribe have been great at holding on to the ball (seven turnovers), but they may lose rhythm if the Spiders defense (21 turnovers forced) is on its game. Richmond, 22-21.
And because the Big Sky race could get wackier than the CAA ...
Kickoff: 5 p.m. ET Saturday at Eccles Coliseum in Cedar City, Utah
Series: Northern Arizona leads 12-6 (most recent meeting: Southern Utah won 22-14 in Flagstaff on Nov. 22, 2014)
The Skinny: During FCS rivalry week, the first game to come to mind isn't usually the "Grand Canyon Rivalry" matchup. But it's the fourth year since a trophy was brought to the series, and the importance is at its height this year. SUU will win an outright Big Sky title and the conference's automatic bid with a win yet could miss the playoffs with a loss. NAU, whose red-hot quarterback Case Cookus has set an FCS freshman record with 33 touchdowns passes, needs a win to get into the playoffs, and would be in a three- or four-way share of the conference title.
Prediction: After falling by one point at Portland State, SUU is back home, where it is 4-0. The Thunderbirds were stronger during the first half of the Big Sky season, and NAU has been scoring plenty in a four-game winning streak. But James Cowser, Miles Killebrew and Co. are on a different level than what the Lumberjacks have been facing. Southern Utah, 31-21.
ALL THE PICKS=
Last Week's Record: 44-15 (.746)
Overall Record: 555-143 (.795)
(All Times ET; X-Predicted Winner)
THURSDAY, NOV. 19
X-No. 4 Coastal Carolina (9-1, 4-1 Big South) at Liberty (5-5, 2-3), 7 p.m. - The craziness of the 2015 FCS season is centered in the Big South, where for only the second time since 2003 either Coastal or Liberty doesn't have a hand in the conference title. In kicker John Lunsford's final game, Liberty should let him attempt a field goal beyond 60 yards.
FRIDAY, NOV. 20
SATURDAY, NOV. 20
Princeton (5-4, 2-4 Ivy) at X-No. 21 Dartmouth (8-1, 5-1), noon - A win gives Dartmouth at least a share of its first Ivy League title since 1996. Tied with Harvard and Penn atop the standings, the Big Green's 18th all-time title would keep them ahead of the other two, who are one behind. There hasn't been a three-way tie for the Ivy title since the three shared it in 1982.
Saint Francis (6-3, 4-1 Northeast) at X-Duquesne (7-3, 4-1), Noon
No. 7 William & Mary (8-2, 6-1 CAA) at X-No. 14 Richmond (7-3, 5-2), Noon - The FCS Co-Game of the Week.
Villanova (6-4, 5-2 CAA) at X-No. 12 James Madison (8-2, 5-2), Noon - Even with a loss, the SMU win probably gets JMU into the playoff field. What would be really interesting is Villanova pulling an upset and having Towson, which beat the Wildcats, also get to 7-4. There's not enough room for five CAA qualifiers.
No. 25 The Citadel (7-3) at X-South Carolina (3-7), noon - Election Day has passed, but they're still politicking at The Citadel for what would be the Bulldogs' first playoff bid since 1992. Unlike last year, the Southern Conference is strong enough for an at-large bid, and the co-champs would be the pick, having only lost to two teams in the top 10 (Charleston Southern and Chattanooga) and two FBS opponents after they fall to the Gamecocks (Georgia Southern would be the other one).
Georgetown (4-6, 2-3 Patriot) at X-Holy Cross (5-5, 2-3), 12:05 p.m.
South Dakota (5-5, 3-4 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 6 Illinois State (8-2, 6-1), 1 p.m. - He's fourth now, but Redbirds back Marshaun Coprich (4,697 yards) needs only 50 yards to take over second place in Missouri Valley history. That's like a quarter's work for him.
Morehead State (6-4, 5-2 Pioneer) at X-Marist (5-5, 4-3), 1 p.m.
Maine (3-7, 3-4 CAA) at X-New Hampshire (6-4, 4-3), 1 p.m.
North Carolina Central (7-3, 6-1 MEAC) at X-No. 16 North Carolina A&T (9-1, 7-0), 1 p.m. - The winner earns the MEAC's bid to the inaugural Celebration Bowl, and these two teams value that more than going to the playoffs. They're right because the MEAC hasn't won in the playoffs since 1999.
Cornell (1-8, 1-5 Ivy) at X-Penn (6-3, 5-1), 1 p.m.
X-Monmouth (4-6, 2-3 Big South) at Gardner-Webb (4-6, 2-3), 1:30 p.m.
Dayton (10-0, 7-0 Pioneer) at X-Drake (4-6, 3-4), 2 p.m. - Dayton, the Pioneer League's all-time winningest program and headed to the FCS playoffs for the first time, goes for its first unbeaten regular season since 1996. Drake, which has won the last two meetings, goes for its 600th all-time win.
No. 23 Eastern Kentucky (6-4, 5-2 OVC) at X-Eastern Illinois (6-4, 6-1), 2 p.m. - It's likely a playoff to get into the playoffs for two programs that have combined on 36 appearances (EKU at 21 and EIU 15). EKU quarterback Bennie Coney is on a roll, but he'll face resistance from the Panthers' strong pass defense.
Murray State (3-7, 2-5 OVC) at X-No. 1 Jacksonville State (9-1, 7-0), 2 p.m. - The top-ranked Gamecocks don't plan to let Murray State quarterback KD Humphries, who leads the FCS in passing yards (3,492), stand in their way of the No. 1 playoff seed.
Rhode Island (1-9, 1-6 CAA) at X-Towson (6-4, 4-3), 2 p.m.
X-No. 5 South Dakota State (8-2, 5-2 Missouri Valley) at Western Illinois (5-5, 4-3), 2 p.m. - It's a matchup of freshman QBs, SDSU's Tayrn Christion and WIU's Sean McGuire. SDSU is one of only four FCS teams to be unbeaten on the road (the Jackrabbits are 4-0, like Dayton, Harvard and McNeese State).
X-No. 17 Montana (6-4, 5-2 Big Sky) at Montana State (5-5, 3-4), 2:10 p.m. - There's no better name for a rivalry than "Brawl of the Wild." The Grizzlies hope to knock down the door to a record 23rd appearance in the playoffs. It's not just the rivalry that is motivating the Bobcats - the Big Sky's preseason co-favorites are trying to avoid a losing season.
X-No. 19 Harvard (8-1, 5-1 Ivy) at Yale (6-3, 3-3), 2:30 p.m. - The importance of "The Game" mandates that Harvard move on from its loss to Penn, which ended a 22-game winning streak. The Crimson are seeking what would be a series-record ninth straight win over Yale, and if they gain it, they would earn at least a share of a third straight Ivy League title for the first time.
No. 8 Chattanooga (8-2) at X-Florida State (8-2), 3 p.m. - Mocs quarterback Jacob Huesman has been the SoCon's offensive player of the week four times as he goes for its third straight offensive player of the year honor.
Idaho State (2-8, 1-6 Big Sky) at X-Weber State (5-5, 4-3), 3 p.m.
Missouri State (1-9, 0-7 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 2 North Dakota State (8-2, 6-1), 3:30 p.m. - News of quarterback Carson Wentz playing in the 2016 Senior Bowl may have Bison fans thinking of him possibly returning during a playoff run. The four-time defending FCS champs will clinch the Missouri Valley's automatic bid with a win.
Tennessee State (4-5, 1-5 OVC) at X-Tennessee Tech (3-7, 2-5), 3:30 p.m.
Furman (4-6, 2-4 Southern) at X-Wofford (4-6, 2-4), 3:30 p.m.
No. 9 Charleston Southern (9-1) X-at Alabama (9-1), 5 p.m. - Ditch the visor, Jamey Chadwell. The Buccaneers' coach should come out sporting a 'Bama Bangs haircut.
No. 24 Northern Arizona (7-3, 5-2 Big Sky) at X-No. 20 Southern Utah (7-3, 6-1), 5 p.m. - The FCS Co-Game of the Week.
Southern Illinois (3-7, 2-5 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 15 Northern Iowa (6-4, 4-3), 5 p.m. - Ask three people and you might get three different answers about UNI's defensive MVP. Free safety Deiondre' Hall, linebacker Brett McMakin and defensive end Karter Schult have been outstanding.
No. 11 Portland State (8-2, 5-2 Big Sky) at X-No. 18 Eastern Washington (6-4, 5-2), 5:05 p.m. - Portland State appears to be the only Big Sky team among six playoff candidates (we hear you, North Dakota Fighting Hawks) to be guaranteed a spot even with a loss on Saturday. Little reason to pick the slumping Eagles, who will start quarterback Reilly Hennessey again, but their backs are to the wall.
X-No. 10 Sam Houston State (7-3, 6-2 Southland) at Central Arkansas (7-3, 7-1), 7 p.m. - The winner is headed to the playoffs. The host Bears, while battling some key injuries, have been flying under the radar. All Sam Houston seems to do is command the spotlight and that probably doesn't sit well at UCA.
X-No. 3 McNeese State (9-0, 8-0 Southland) at Lamar (5-5, 4-4), 7 p.m. - Lamar junior Kade Harrington has surpassed 2,000 rushing yards in 10 games, but he's facing a McNeese defense that has allowed only three teams, yet along just one rusher, to surpass 100 yards in a game. Cowboys coach Matt Viator has led an unbeaten regular season before in 2007.
North Dakota (6-4, 4-3 Big Sky) at X-Cal Poly (4-6, 3-4), 9:05 p.m.