Here is a breakdown of the contenders for seeds and spots in the FCS playoffs. I will post a projected field with pairings at the culmination of the McNeese State-Central Arkansas game on Saturday night. The selection show will air live on Sunday on ESPN
Contending for Seeds
Northern Iowa 10-0 Gateway Auto-Bid
Northern Iowa has already clinched the Gateway auto-bid, with squeakers of victories over Southern Illinois and Youngstown State being the key. They could post a perfect regular season should they dispatch Southern Utah who, at 0-10, have been everyone's whipping boy this year. Given the victory over FBS Iowa State in OOC play, and the near unanimous #1 ranking in both polls and computer rankings, Northern Iowa should take the #1 overall seed with a win on Saturday.
McNeese State 10-0
Although they have posted a perfect season to date, McNeese State must take care of business against Central Arkansas to wrap up the Southland conference auto-bid. Given the win over FBS Louisiana-Lafayette, and solid poll and computer rankings, McNeese State should take the #2 overall seed with a win on Saturday.
Montana 10-0 Big Sky Auto-Bid
Montana has clinched the Big Sky auto-bid, and will perhaps take one of the seeds should they complete a perfect regular season against Montana State on Saturday. Perhaps is the operative word however, considering that its three OOC opponents did not include FBS opposition, but did include DII Fort Lewis, which has posted a 1-9 record, and FCS whipping boy Southern Utah at 0-10. The question is whether Montana's gaudy record and long and proud tradition will overcome a very weak schedule.
Other Contenders for Seeds
There are five teams beyond these who can make a case for a seed. The question is whether the committee will go for whoever emerges with the CAA auto-bid (for which there are still four teams contending), probably with a 9-2 record, or for one of two very strong teams who stumbled in-conference, Southern Illinois (currently 9-1) and Appalachian State (currently 8-2). I will deal with the latter two first.
Appalachian State 8-2
Appalachian State made waves earlier in the season with its stunning upset of Michigan in the Big House. Its conference season did not go entirely smoothly, with 'quality losses' to SOCON champion Wofford and at-large contender Georgia Southern. Appalachian State is a lock for an at-large bid, but will probably be on the outside looking in when the seeds are handed out.
Southern Illinois 9-1
[Readers should note that the author is a Salukis fan, but he will attempt to maintain sober analysis!]
The only thing which separates Southern Illinois from a perfect season to date is a seven yard line tackle on a rugby play with zero seconds on the clock which did not, quite, result in an unlikely victory over Northern Iowa. Given that, and the win over FBS Northern Illinois, the committee may be tempted to give Southern Illinois a seed over a 9-2 CAA champion should they complete their season with a victory at Hampton on Saturday. Whatever happens, an at-large berth looks like a formality.
Richmond needs a win against William and Mary and a Massachusetts loss, or a win and an ADs vote (no joke!) to take the CAA auto-bid. Its only losses came against FBS Vanderbilt, and, bafflingly, to 3-7 Towson. App State and Southern Illinois are objectively stronger, but would that be enough to overcome the kudos of winning the auto-bid from the toughest FCS conference? In any scenario, however, a lock for an at-large bid.
Massachusetts needs a win against a tough Hofstra team and a Richmond loss, or a win and an ADs vote (no joke!) to take the CAA auto-bid. Like Richmond, it has a loss against an FBS school, ranked Boston College, and a baffling loss, in this case to 2-8 Rhode Island. As with Richmond, Massachusetts is not, objectively, as strong as Southern Illinois and App State, and is a lock for an at-large bid.
Delaware needs a win against Villanova, and losses by Richmond, Massachusetts, and James Madison to take the CAA auto-bid. Should this scenario occur, I would predict Delaware as a seed over Southern Illinois and App State, considering that it, as well, has an FBS scalp, Navy, and its two losses came by 5 points at tough New Hampshire, and in overtime on Saturday versus Richmond. Should that not play out, Delaware is a lock for an at-large bid
Wofford 8-3 SOCON Auto-Bid
Wofford's crucial game came on September 22, when they upset Appalachian State. Despite two later conference losses, most recently against Georgia Southern, this means that they take the tiebreaker even should App State share the conference title with a win over Chattanooga on Saturday.
Eastern Kentucky 8-2 OVC Auto-Bid
Given their victory over Eastern Illinois on October 6, Eastern Kentucky will take the OVC auto-bid even should they fall to Tennessee Tech on Saturday. SOS is not sufficient to be in the running for a seed.
Delaware State 9-1 MEAC Auto-Bid
Delaware State clinched the MEAC on Saturday with their win over Norfolk State. SOS is not sufficient to be in the running for a seed.
Fordham 8-2 Patriot Auto-Bid
Fordham clinched the Patriot League on Saturday with their win over Holy Cross, ending years of football futility. SOS is not sufficient to be in the running for a seed.
Still in the Running for an Auto-Bid
Central Arkansas 6-4
Although out of the running for an at-large bid, Central Arkansas could steal an auto-bid with a win against McNeese State on Saturday. This would put McNeese into the at-large pool, with implications for 'bubble' teams.
*CORRECTION* Thursday 9:48 AM
Central Arkansas is in their first season in the Southland Conference, and are not eligible for postseason play this year, so McNeese State takes the auto-bid even with a loss on Saturday.
On the Bubble
There are five schools here for only three or four slots, but each can make an excellent case for inclusion with a win in the final week.
James Madison 7-3
James Madison could still take the CAA auto-bid with a win against Towson on Saturday, and losses by Richmond and Massachusetts. A far more likely scenario is that they will take an at-large bid after defeating a 3-7 team and finishing 8-3. A loss will leave them sweating.
Georgia Southern 7-3
A win against FBS Colorado State on Saturday would certainly garner Georgia Southern an at-large bid. A loss will leave them sweating.
A win against Massachusetts on Saturday, along with a win by James Madison, could mean 5 CAA teams in the playoffs.
Eastern Washington 7-3
A win against Weber State on Saturday will probably mean that Eastern Washington joins Montana as the second Big Sky team in the playoffs.
Both of SWAC champion Grambling's losses came against FBS opponents, so a win against a tough Southern University team should propel them into the playoffs.
On the Outside Looking In
Youngstown State 7-4
Youngstown State is the best four loss team in the FCS, but they need losses by at least three of the six following teams on Saturday if they are to have a chance at a bid: Central Arkansas, James Madison, Georgia Southern, Hofstra, Eastern Washington, Grambling.
The Big South sent a 9-2 Coastal Carolina team to the playoffs last year, but even with a win against Gardner-Webb on Saturday, their resume will not be enough.
The selection committee left a 10-0 San Diego team with better computer numbers out of the playoffs last year, so do not expect any favors to be given to the Pioneer League this year.