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Sam Houston State top seed in wide-open field

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The No. 1-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision lost on three of the final four Saturdays of the regular season.

So let the NCAA Division I playoffs determine the best team in the land.

Sam Houston State, the new top-ranked team and only unbeaten team remaining, gained the No. 1 seed for the playoffs on Sunday, but the 20-team field is considered wide open.

"We're 11-0, but in reality we're zero and zero," sophomore quarterback Brian Bell said after Sam Houston State beat Texas State Saturday night. "It's win or go home now, so we've got to come and play every week. There's no difference between us and any other (playoff) team in the nation right now."

The other seeds were No. 2 North Dakota State (10-1), No. 3 Georgia Southern (9-2), No. 4 Montana (9-2) and No. 5 Northern Iowa (9-2). All five seeds as well as the seven next-best teams according to the 11-member NCAA selection committee earned byes to the second round.

The NCAA Division I playoffs start Saturday, Nov. 26.
The 10 automatic qualifiers were all conference champions: Albany (Northeast); Georgia Southern (Southern); Lehigh (Patriot); Montana (Big Sky); Norfolk State (Mid-Eastern Athletic); North Dakota State (Missouri Valley); Sam Houston State (Southland); Stony Brook (Big South); Tennessee Tech (Ohio Valley); and Towson (CAA Football).

The 10 at-large bids went to Appalachian State (Southern), Central Arkansas (Southland), Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley), James Madison (CAA), Maine (CAA), Montana State (Big Sky), New Hampshire (CAA), Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley), Old Dominion (CAA) and Wofford (Southern).

"It's so hard when you're comparing," selection committee chair Jim O'Day told The Sports Network, "because a lot of teams and leagues don't play each other. So it's hard to compare conferences in many ways. We would certainly like at some point to look at an RPI-type system, but that's not in place at the current time. So you have a lot of schools who have either seven Division I wins or maybe some that have six Division I wins that have some very quality victories in that. So it really makes it tough toward the end as those last couple teams are starting to be put in place."

Four first-round games will kick off the playoffs on Saturday, Nov. 26: Albany at Stony Brook, Central Arkansas at Tennessee Tech, Norfolk State at Old Dominion and James Madison at Eastern Kentucky.

The first-round winners advance to the second round on Saturday, Dec. 3, and play one of the top four seeds.

The quarterfinals will follow on Friday, Dec. 9 and Saturday, Dec. 10. One semifinal will be held on Friday, Dec. 16 and the other will be played Saturday, Dec. 17.

The national championship game will be held on Saturday, Jan. 7 at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.

Teams earning their first-ever FCS bids were Albany, Central Arkansas, Norfolk State, Old Dominion, Stony Brook, Tennessee Tech and Towson.

The CAA had the most qualifiers with five, while the Southern Conference followed with three qualifiers.

Teams whose playoff hopes were dashed included Illinois State, Delaware, Liberty and Jacksonville State, which were all 7-4. O'Day said six teams were under consideration for the final two at-large bids.

"On the three years that I've been on the committee prior to this, it did take us longer," said O'Day, the Montana athletic director. "It seemed like last night we were able to come to a consensus fairly early, which was good, with the different games that had played into it yesterday. It probably went a little bit smoother than it had the last couple years."

2011 NCAA DIVISION I FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP

(Campus sites until the final)

(All times ET)

FIRST ROUND

Saturday, Nov. 26

Albany (8-3) at Stony Brook (8-3), ESPN3

Central Arkansas (8-3) at Tennessee Tech (7-3), ESPN3

Norfolk State (9-2) at Old Dominion (9-2), ESPN3

James Madison (7-4) at Eastern Kentucky (7-4), ESPNU and ESPN3

SECOND ROUND

Saturday, Dec. 3

Albany-Stony Brook winner at No. 1 Sam Houston State (11-0), ESPN3

New Hampshire (8-3) at Montana State (9-2), ESPN3

Wofford (8-3) at No. 5 Northern Iowa (9-2), ESPN3

Central Arkansas-Tennessee Tech winner at No. 4 Montana (9-2), ESPN3

Norfolk State-Old Dominion winner at No. 3 Georgia Southern (9-2), ESPN3

Maine (8-3) at Appalachian State (8-3), ESPN3

Lehigh (10-1) at Towson (9-2), ESPN3

James Madison-Eastern Kentucky winner at No. 2 North Dakota State (10-1), ESPN3

QUARTERFINALS

Friday, Dec. 9

One quarterfinal at 8 p.m., ESPN2 and ESPN3

Saturday, Dec. 10

One quarterfinal at 2:30 p.m., ESPN and ESPN3

Two quarterfinals, TBA (ESPN3)

SEMIFINALS

Friday, Dec. 16

Semifinal, 8 p.m. (ESPN2, ESPN3)

Saturday, Dec. 17

Semifinal, 2:30 p.m. (ESPNU, ESPN3)

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas

1 p.m. (ESPN2, ESPN3)

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


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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