NDSU, power conferences head FCS playoff field

AP Photo

Having led his team to the NCAA Division I FCS Championship Game last season, Jacksonville State coach John Grass summed up the national playoffs best on Sunday:

A team must keep the focus high because it will keep facing great opponents throughout a deep playoff run.

A lot of those teams will come from the power conferences as the Big Sky, CAA Football, Missouri Valley and Southern Conference collected four qualifiers each while combining for two-thirds of the 24-team field announced Sunday. Leading the way was No. 1 seed North Dakota State, which seeks to add to its NCAA-record five straight national titles.

"Through the playoffs, it's all (about) how your team plays," Grass said on the ESPNU selection show. "I think our guys have some experience there. It's an interesting deal that everybody raises their level of play up and you've got to be ready for that."

The single-elimination playoffs begin at campus sites next Saturday and culminate with the FCS championship game Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas.

As long as North Dakota State (10-1), the Missouri Valley co-champ, and No. 2 seed Eastern Washington (10-1), the Big Sky co-champ, remain alive, they are guaranteed home games through the semifinals.

That's particularly noteworthy to North Dakota State - and the Bison competition, for that matter - as their dynasty has only had home games at the Fargodome prior to the past five championship games.

"Our fan base really amps it up when we get to the playoffs," coach Chris Klieman said. "I know they're excited (that) as long as we're playing, it's going to be at Gate City Bank Field. We look forward to a great playoff."

Jacksonville State (10-1), the Ohio Valley Conference champ, earned the No. 3 seed and CAA champ James Madison (10-1) was seeded fourth. Southland Conference champ Sam Houston State (11-0), which enters the playoffs as the only unbeaten FCS team, was the No. 5 seed, followed by SoCon champ The Citadel (10-1), Big Sky co-champ North Dakota (9-2) and Missouri Valley co-champ South Dakota State (8-3). The eighth-seeded Jackrabbits earned the Valley's automatic bid because of a 19-17 win over North Dakota State at the Fargodome.

Ten conferences have automatic bids in the playoffs. While the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference relinquished its bid last year to begin sending its champion to the Celebration Bowl, its runner-up, North Carolina A&T (9-2), earned one of the 14 at-large bids.

The last teams to miss on at-large bids were Albany (7-4) and Fordham (8-3), selection committee chair Brian Hutchinson said.

Interestingly, the last eight FCS champions are in the field with NDSU (2011-15), Eastern Washington (2010), Villanova (2009) and Richmond (2008). Four-time champ Youngstown State (1991, 1993-94, 1997) and James Madison (2004) help combine on 13 past champions.

Yup, as Grass said, there are plenty of great teams in the FCS playoffs.

2016 NCAA DIVISION I FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP

(Campus sites until the championship game)

(All times ET)

FIRST ROUND

Saturday, Nov. 26

Saint Francis (7-4) at Villanova (8-3), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

Weber State (7-4) at Chattanooga (8-3), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

Lehigh (9-2) at New Hampshire (7-4), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

Charleston Southern (7-3) at Wofford (8-3), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

North Carolina A&T (9-2) at Richmond (8-3), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

Illinois State (6-5) at Central Arkansas (9-2), 3 p.m. (ESPN3)

Samford (7-4) at Youngstown State (8-3), 5 p.m. (ESPN3)

San Diego (9-1) at Cal Poly (7-4), 7 p.m. (ESPN3)

SECOND ROUND

Saturday, Dec. 3

Lehigh/New Hampshire winner at No. 4 seed James Madison (10-1), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

Samford/Youngstown State winner at No. 3 seed Jacksonville State (10-1), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

Saint Francis/Villanova winner at No. 8 seed South Dakota State (8-3), 3 p.m. (ESPN3)

Weber State/Chattanooga winner at No. 5 seed Sam Houston State (11-0), 3 p.m. (ESPN3)

San Diego/Cal Poly winner at No. 1 seed North Dakota State (10-1), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

Illinois State/Central Arkansas winner at No. 2 seed Eastern Washington (10-1), 4 p.m. (ESPN3)

Charleston Southern/Wofford winner at No. 6 seed The Citadel (10-1), 6 p.m. (ESPN3)

North Carolina A&T/Richmond winner at No. 7 seed North Dakota (9-2), 6 p.m. (ESPN3)

QUARTERFINALS

Friday, Dec. 9 and Saturday, Dec. 10

Second-round winners, TBA (ESPN Networks)

SEMIFINALS

Friday, Dec. 16

Quarterfinal winners, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)

Saturday, Dec. 17

Quarterfinal winners, 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

CHAMPIONSHIP

Saturday, Jan. 7

Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas

Semifinal winners, noon (ESPN2)

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.