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FCS playoff field comes into focus

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The tickets are punched for 20 FCS playoff teams.

Saturday's action seemingly made the selection process too easy for the NCAA Division I Football Championship Committee, which met in Indianapolis in advance of Sunday morning's announcement of the 20-team field (10 a.m., ESPNU).

Losses by Indiana State and Youngstown State denied the Missouri Valley Football Conference the chance for five teams in the playoffs, opening the door for James Madison to become a fifth team out of CAA Football and likely solidifying Central Arkansas as an at-large selection out of the Southland Conference.

The first team out of the mix might be Delaware, a finalist in three of the last eight seasons. The Blue Hens improved to 7-4 with a win Saturday, but only six victories were against Division I teams. The selection committee has never given an at-large selection to a team with fewer than seven D-I wins and the Blue Hens would appear to be behind Towson, Old Dominion, New Hampshire, Maine and James Madison in the CAA's pecking order for berths.

Montana coach Robin Pflugrad hopes his team earned an FCS playoff seed after it thrashed top-ranked Montana State on Saturday.
The NCAA gives seeds to five teams. North Dakota State and unbeaten Sam Houston State should vie for the No. 1 seed, with the other team getting the No. 2 seed. Northern Iowa and Georgia Southern should earn seeds as well.

The fifth and final seed could very well go to Montana after it thrashed top- ranked Montana State on Saturday.

Here's a look at the conference races:

Conferences With an Automatic Playoff Bid

Big Sky - Montana might have played itself into the fifth playoff seed by beating No. 1 Montana State, 36-10, on Saturday for a share of the conference title with the Bobcats. Both teams finished 9-2 overall and 7-1 in conference play, but Montana claimed the automatic bid to the playoffs. Both teams expect to play at home in the second round. Portland State (7-4) blew a chance to be considered for an at-large bid by losing to Weber State, 48-33, in retiring Wildcats coach Ron McBride's final game. Projected bids (2): Montana and Montana State.

Big South - Stony Brook earned its first outright Big South title and first playoff bid by outscoring Liberty, 41-31, keeping the Flames the most frustrated team in the FCS the last five seasons (a 41-14 record, but no playoff bids). Stony Brook (8-3) enters the playoffs with an eight-game winning streak. Projected bid (1): Stony Brook.

CAA Football - Towson completed a storybook regular season by winning its first CAA title. Coach Rob Ambrose's Tigers, who won at Rhode Island, 28-17, on Saturday, finished 9-2 overall and 7-1 in the CAA one year after going 1-10 and 0-8. Old Dominion (9-2), New Hampshire (8-3) and Maine (8-3) will secure at-large bids on Sunday and James Madison (7-4) has seemingly played itself into a fifth one for the conference. Projected bids (5): Towson, Old Dominion, New Hampshire, Maine and James Madison.

MEAC - Norfolk State (9-2) rested on Saturday, having already locked up its first FCS playoff bid as the conference champion. A MEAC team hasn't won in the playoffs since 1999 (a span of 15 games). Bethune-Cookman, a playoff team last year, improved to 8-3 on Saturday, but likely didn't play a strong enough schedule to earn an at-large bid. Projected bid (1): Norfolk State.

Missouri Valley - The two conference co-champions, North Dakota State (10-1) and Northern Iowa (9-2), will earn seeds. North Dakota State's surely will be higher, having won the regular-season match-up, 27-19, to earn the automatic bid. It might even be the No. 1 seed. Illinois State (7-4) surely will receive an at-large bid after Indiana State (6-5) and Youngstown State (6-5) both lost at home on Saturday while trying to secure a seventh win against Division I competition. Projected bids (3): North Dakota State, Northern Iowa and Illinois State.

Northeast Conference - Albany (8-3) certainly earned the automatic bid, having ripped Duquesne, 38-10, in the regular-season meeting between the conference co-champions. The Dukes went 9-2, but won't be headed to the playoffs. Projected bid (1): Albany.

Ohio Valley Conference - An OVC team has not won a playoff game since 2000, but Tennessee Tech hopes to end that 15-game run after earning the automatic bid. The Golden Eagles (7-3) shared the title with Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State, but beat them in head-to-head meetings. The strength of schedule probably will deny both EKU and JSU of at-large bids. Projected bid (1): Tennessee Tech.

Patriot League - Lehigh (10-1) completed its second straight perfect run through the league, beating rival Lafayette, 37-13, in the 147th meeting of college football's most-played rivalry. The Mountain Hawks will have a first- round bye and hope to earn a home game in the second round. Projected bid (1): Lehigh.

Southern Conference - As expected, conference champion Georgia Southern fell to Alabama on Saturday, but that likely won't prevent the Eagles (9-2) from receiving a seed. Wofford (8-3) played its way into the field and a first- round bye by rallying past Chattanooga. Big draw Appalachian State (8-3) seemingly will have a home game in the second round. Projected bids (3): Georgia Southern, Wofford and Appalachian State.

Southland Conference - Not only did Sam Houston State complete the only unbeaten regular season in the FCS by beating Texas State, 36-14, but the Bearkats (11-0) might have secured the top overall seed by virtue of top- ranked Montana State's defeat. The Bearkats surely will be ranked No. 1 when The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25 is released Sunday morning before the playoff announcement, but it doesn't mean they will receive the No. 1 playoff seed. Central Arkansas (8-3), idle on Saturday, believes it will be back in action as an at-large selection. Saturday's losses by Indiana State and Youngstown State helped the Bears immensely. Projected bids (2): Sam Houston State and Central Arkansas.

Conferences Without an Automatic Playoff Bid

Great West - The eight-year run of the conference ended Saturday, but not before the final game provided a dramatic comeback. North Dakota scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to rally past South Dakota, 38-37, and earn a share of the title with Cal Poly. As South Dakota let its foot off the pedal, the Fighting Sioux (8-3, 3-1) surged to their first and only Great West title. With the football conference breaking apart, Cal Poly, North Dakota, Southern Utah and UC Davis will join the Big Sky Conference and South Dakota will join the Missouri Valley Conference next year.

Ivy League - Harvard (9-1, 7-0) already had the league title sewed up before it ripped Yale, 45-7, in "The Game." By the end of Saturday's action, the Crimson enjoyed a three-game margin over the second-place teams, which hadn't happened since Penn went unbeaten in 2003. The Ivy title was the sixth in 18 seasons for Crimson coach Tim Murphy, who reportedly has interest in the Penn State job.

Pioneer Football League - Drake and San Diego shared the title with 9-2 overall and 7-1 league records. San Diego won the head-to-head meeting, 31-24, but it was crowned co-champion. The non-scholarship PFL is the only one of 11 conferences to apply for an automatic bid to the playoffs but not receive one.

SWAC - The team with the best record, No. 21 Jackson State (9-2), is ineligible for the SWAC Championship Game because of Academic Progress Rate penalties. Alabama A&M earned the title berth out of the East Division by beating Prairie View A&M, 17-15. With its loss, Prairie View (5-6) opened the door for surging Grambling State (6-4) to be the West Division representative if the Tigers beat Southern next Saturday. If Grambling falls, then Arkansas- Pine Bluff (6-5) will play in the Dec. 10 championship game. Alabama State (7-3), which plays Tuskegee on Thanksgiving Day, is eligible for the playoffs, but doesn't have a strong enough resume to warrant an at-large bid.

FCS PLAYOFF PROJECTION

In the FCS Huddle has been projecting the potential FCS playoff field every week since the preseason. The latest projections are found at: Bracket Projection

ON-LINE CHAT

Want to discuss the FCS playoff field that will be announced Sunday? Join fellow In the FCS Huddle writers Craig Haley and Sean Shapiro for a live chat starting at 9:45 a.m. They will answer questions, take your comments and serve as the ultimate selection show companion. Visit the FCS section of www.sportsnetwork.com and stay connected throughout the selection show on ESPNU.

Dari Nowkhah will host the ESPNU selection show and Craig Haubert and Tom Luginbill will serve as analysts.

Sacks or scores, contact Craig Haley at
chaley@sportsnetwork.com.


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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