November 22, 2015
AP Photo

(STATS) - Just how much CAA Football is back on the national scale will be determined in the FCS playoffs.

At least no conference commanded the spotlight as much as the CAA with the announcement of the 24-team field Sunday.

The only conference that had more than the CAA's four bids was the Missouri Valley Football Conference with five. It was the complexion of the CAA's four that had people talking.

Not surprisingly, Jacksonville State was installed as the No. 1 seed, gaining a first-round bye along with the other seeds, No. 2 Illinois State followed by North Dakota State, McNeese State, James Madison, Portland State, Richmond and Charleston Southern.

The playoffs begin Saturday and will be played at home sites leading up to the FCS championship game Jan. 9 in Frisco, Texas.

From 2003-10, the CAA was easily the top FCS conference with four different national champions and a finalist in seven of those eight seasons. But North Dakota State has captured the last four national championships and helped raise the Missouri Valley's stature to the best in the FCS.

What stood out with the CAA playoff qualifiers was James Madison gaining the No. 5 seed over No. 7 seed Richmond, the conference's automatic qualifier, as well as unseeded William & Mary. JMU has lost to both of those Virginia rivals, although the Dukes are 9-2 with a FBS win over SMU while Richmond and William & Mary are both 8-3.

Also, New Hampshire (7-4), which won its final four regular-season games to overcome a 3-4 start, received an at-large bid for its 12th consecutive appearance, the longest active streak and far ahead of both North Dakota State and Sam Houston State next at five straight appearances. UNH, the top seed in last year's playoffs and a national semifinalist each of the past two seasons, earned one of the last at-large bids, including over fellow CAA team Towson (7-4). UNH and Towson did not play each other in the regular season.

There's a chance for a CAA battle royale in the second round. If UNH beats Patriot League champion Colgate (7-4) in the first round, it would travel to James Madison. If William & Mary beats Northeast Conference champ Duquesne (8-3) in the first round, it would return to Richmond and try to avenge a 20-9 loss this past Saturday.

"Like we tell our players, if a team shows up with 'CAA' on their uniforms, you better be ready for them because they're going to come to play," William & Mary coach Jimmye Laycock said on the ESPNU selection show.

As the No. 1 seed, Jacksonville State (10-1) will try to overcome some shaky postseason history by Ohio Valley Conference teams. The Gamecocks reached the national quarterfinals two years ago, but that's the only season since 2000 in which OVC teams have won games in the playoffs. A year ago, the Gamecocks lost in the second round as the No. 3 seed.

"This bunch has been hungry since last year," coach John Grass said.

"Having home-field advantage I think is a big advantage going into the playoffs and we're excited about it."

If the field holds to form - which is rare - McNeese State (10-0), the Southland Conference champ and the only unbeaten team in the FCS, would visit Jacksonville State in one semifinal, while Missouri Valley co-champs Illinois State and North Dakota State, last year's national finalists, would meet at Illinois State in the other semifinal. The significance in that is NDSU didn't play on the road before the title game in Frisco in any of its four straight national championship seasons.

The Bison won the automatic bid in the Missouri Valley, but Illinois State gained the higher seed because the playoff selection committee believed the Redbirds had a slightly stronger regular season, chair Mark Wilson said.

Ten conferences have automatic bids in the playoffs. After the Missouri Valley and CAA, the breakdown of total bids among conferences was the Big Sky with three bids, the Big South, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern and Southland with two each, and the Northeast and Pioneer with one each.

North Dakota (7-4) from the Big Sky joined Towson as one of the last two teams left out of the field.

2015 NCAA DIVISION I FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP

(Campus sites until the championship game)

(All times ET)

FIRST ROUND

Saturday, Nov. 28

Western Illinois (6-5) at Dayton (10-1), noon (ESPN3)

Fordham (9-2) at Chattanooga (8-3), 1 p.m. (ESPN3)

The Citadel (8-3) at Coastal Carolina (9-2), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

Southern Utah (8-3) at Sam Houston State (8-3), 3 p.m. (ESPN3)

South Dakota State (8-3) at Montana (7-4), 3 p.m. (ESPN3)

Colgate (7-4) at New Hampshire (7-4), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

Duquesne (8-3) at William & Mary (8-3), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

Eastern Illinois (7-4) at Northern Iowa (7-4), 5 p.m. (ESPN3)

SECOND ROUND

Saturday, Dec. 5

The Citadel-Coastal Carolina winner at No. 8 seed Charleston Southern (9-2), 1 p.m. (ESPN3)

Colgate-New Hampshire winner at No. 5 seed James Madison (9-2), 1 p.m. (ESPN3)

Duquesne-William & Mary winner at No. 7 seed Richmond (8-3), 1 p.m. (ESPN3)

Fordham-Chattanooga winner at No. 1 seed Jacksonville State (10-1), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

Western Illinois-Dayton winner at No. 2 seed Illinois State (9-2), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

South Dakota State-Montana winner at No. 3 seed North Dakota State (9-2), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

Southern Utah-Sam Houston State winner at No. 4 seed McNeese State (10-0), 7 p.m. (ESPN3)

Eastern Illinois-Northern Iowa winner at No. 6 seed Portland State (9-2), 10 p.m. (ESPN3)

QUARTERFINALS

Friday, Dec. 11

Second-round winners, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)

Saturday, Dec. 12

Second-round winners, noon (ESPN), 2 p.m. (ESPN3) and 4 p.m. (ESPN3)

SEMIFINALS

Friday, Dec. 18

Quarterfinal winners, 8 p.m. (ESPN3)

Saturday, Dec. 19

Quarterfinal winners, 4 p.m. (ESPNU)

CHAMPIONSHIP

Saturday, Jan. 9

Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas

Semifinal winners, noon (ESPN2)

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