Wednesday, November 19, 2008

FCS Playoff Watch 2008 #4: Midweek Update and Predictions

FCS Playoff Watch 2008 #1
FCS Playoff Watch 2008 #2
FCS Playoff Watch 2008 #3
FCS Playoff Watch 2008 #4
FCS Afternoon: Countdown to the 2008 Playoffs
FCS Playoffs 2008: Bracket Projection
FCS Bracket Announced: Comment and Predictions
FCS Playoffs 2008: Results and Quarterfinals Predictions
FCS Playoffs 2008: Results and Semifinals Predictions
FCS Playoffs 2008: Results, Final Prediction, and FBS comment

First, a mea culpa. In my haste to get a post up on Saturday night after spending Saturday afternoon and evening doing, well, what football fans do, I erroneously promised one more at-large bid than was available. In other words, some of the teams which I labeled as locks are not, in fact locks, although all would be safe with a win on Saturday. With so many teams moving to a 12 game schedule, the old arithmetic which meant that an 8-3 record for a team in a top conference would likely yeild an at-large bid is obsolete. There will be 8-3 teams left out, and there are some scenarios in which a 9-3 team will be left out. That out of the way, my predictions follow, and please join me on Saturday as I live blog the significant results as they come in.


1. James Madison
2. Appalachian State
3. Weber State
4. Montana

Weber State (Big Sky)
James Madison (CAA)
South Carolina State (MEAC)
Southern Illinois (MVFC)
Tennessee-Martin (OVC)
Colgate (Patriot)
Appalachian State (SOCON)
Texas State (Southland)

At-Large Bids: (in order of comfort)
Montana (Big Sky)
Cal Poly (Great West)
Northern Iowa (MVFC)
Villanova (CAA)
Wofford (SOCON)
New Hampshire (CAA)
Richmond (CAA)
Elon (SOCON)

Seeding Discussion

Why are James Madison and Appalachian State the #1 and #2 seeds (assuming they win on Saturday)? It is simple. Appalachian State is the reigning national champion, and their only FCS loss this season is to James Madison. James Madison, for their part, is undefeated versus the FCS this year, with their only loss coming against an FBS team, and are the champions of the toughest conference in the FCS. Beyond this, the seeding discussion is more difficult. I have placed Weber State #3 (assuming a win on Saturday) because that would make them an undefeated team in one of the top four conferences, with their only losses coming against FBS teams. They did, however, play a softer schedule, including two non-DI teams, than some other seed contenders. Should Montana win on Saturday I would make them the #4 seed on the strength of an 11-1 season, with their only loss coming against Weber State. Would the committee give two seeds to one conference? They have in the past. Just last year, both Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois of the Gateway Conference (now the MVFC) were seeded.

All other teams, with one exception, would require a slip-up by one of those four teams to have a serious shot at a seed:

Cal Poly (8-1; 3-0)
If Cal Poly wins at Wisconsin on Saturday, they will finish at 9-1, with two FBS wins, with their other coming in the first game of the season at San Diego State. Although they do not come from an automatic-qualifying conference, those two FBS wins would be one more than any other FCS team. This would knock either Weber State or Montana (likely Montana) out of one of the seeded spots. Do I think they will do it? NO.

Who else has a chance? A Villanova win at Delaware would leave them at 9-2, with their only losses coming against James Madison and FBS West Virginia. A number of people have projected them as the #3 seed, but in my opinion they need a slip-up by Appalachian State, Weber State, or Montana to move into one of the seeded spots. How about Northern Iowa? A win on Saturday would leave them at 10-2, but without the MVFC auto-bid unless Southern Illinois loses. That scenario would probably give them the #4 seed over Montana, given that they would be a 10-2 conference champion with no bad losses. Southern Illinois? Although I bleed Saluki maroon, I am not going to drink the Kool Aid. If you want a seed, you had best beat teams like North Dakota State on the road. Wofford? 70-24. Enough said.

The At-Large Picture

Ultimately, there are twelve teams with a serious chance to take the eight at-large spots:

Cal Poly: Elon; Liberty; Maine; Montana; New Hampshire; Northern Iowa; Richmond; Southern Illinois; Villanova; William & Mary; Wofford.

Furthermore, either Northern Iowa or Southern Illinois will take the MVFC auto-bid, which leaves eleven teams chasing eight spots. Are any of those spots truly and entirely locked up? Can any team afford a loss on Saturday and still be comfortable? Only two. A Cal Poly loss at Wisconsin would not do them any harm, and a Montana loss against Montana State would still leave them at ten wins on the season. There are also a number of teams which face opposition which they SHOULD handle on Saturday, but where a loss could still result in them backing into a playoff spot:

Northern Iowa (9-2) at Southern Utah (4-6)
Southern Illinois (8-2) at Illinois State (3-7)
Villanova (8-2) at Delaware (4-7)
Wofford (8-2) vs Furman (7-4)

The other six teams under consideration are playing head-to-head, so, assuming everything else goes to form, there are effectively three play-in games on Saturday.

Richmond (8-3) at William & Mary (7-3)

Both Richmond and William & Mary have lost to James Madison and Villanova, in addition to an FBS team: Richmond lost at Virginia and William & Mary lost at North Carolina State. In other words, both teams lack bad losses, and Richmond would still have a shot at 8-4 if one of the current 8-2 teams lost.

New Hampshire (8-2) at Maine (8-3)

Like Richmond and William and Mary, both these teams lack bad losses. Maine lost to James Madison and at Richmond, and at FBS Iowa. New Hampshire lost to William & Mary and at Villanova, and also picked up one of the rare FBS scalps this year by winning at Army. Consequently, they have a good chance of backing into a playoff spot with a slip-up further up the board. Maine’s weaker computer numbers make this a must-win.

Elon (8-3) at Liberty (9-2)

Elon played Appalachian State tough on the road, but bad losses to Richmond and Wofford make this game a must-win for Elon. A loss would, potentially, open up another at-large spot, which brings us to the case of Liberty, which would finish at 10-2 with a win. This would also make them the undefeated champions of the Big South, with eight wins against DI opponents, and two wins against teams from auto-bid FCS conferences. In other words, they would have satisfied two of the three criteria for automatic inclusion based upon FCS selection criteria. The one which may be lacking is their poll numbers, which are currently in the low 20s, and their computer numbers, which range from the low 20s to the mid 30s. Would a win against Elon move Liberty into the top sixteen? Maybe.

Auto-Bids Still Contested

Eastern Kentucky visits Tennesse-Martin, and the winner takes the auto-bid.

Patriot League
Holy Cross visits Colgate, and the winner takes the auto-bid.

Texas State takes the auto bid with a win at Sam Houston State, McNeese State takes the auto-bid with a win at Central Arkansas and a Texas State loss. A loss by both teams and a win by Northwestern State at Stephen F. Austin will leave us all researching tie-breaking procedures.

Schedule of Games to Follow Saturday (All Times Eastern)

Richmond at William & Mary – one of the three potential play-in games
New Hampshire at Maine – another of the potential play-in games
Furman at Wofford – Wofford needs the win to be entirely comfortable

James Madison at Towson – a win should clinch the #1 seed for James Madison
Eastern Kentucky at Tennessee-Martin – the deciding game for the OVC auto-bid
Holy Cross at Colgate – the deciding game for the Patriot League auto-bid
Elon at Liberty – the third of the potential play-in games

Montana State at Montana – a win by Montana probably locks up a seed
Eastern Washington at Weber State – a win by Weber state probably locks up a seed

Villanova at Delaware – Villanova needs the win to be entirely comfortable, and retain its chance for a seed
Southern Illinois at Illinois St. – a win for Southern Illinois clinches the MVFC auto-bid

Northern Iowa at Southern Utah – Northern Iowa needs the win to be entirely comfortable, and retain its chance for a seed
Appalachian St. at W. Carolina – a win by Appalachian St. should clinch the #2 seed
Texas State at Sam Houston State – a win by Texas State clinches the Southland auto-bid

Cal Poly at Wisconsin – a Cal Poly win probably garners them the #3 or #4 seed

McNeese State at Central Arkansas – McNeese State takes the Southland auto-bid with a win if Texas State loses

Northwestern State at Stephen F. Austin – If Texas State and McNeese State lose, and Northwestern State wins, we will be researching tie-breakers to discover who will win the Southland auto-bid


Anonymous said...

If Northern Iowa does not get a seed, what is the likelyhood of a home game in the first round?

Profane said...

Anonymous 5:00,

Northern Iowa will get a home game - unless they are sent to play a seed. Given that two of the potential seeds are to the west of them, that is a strong possibility.

Once the crucial games pan out tomorrow, the tea leaves will be much easier to read.

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