Spring 2021 FCS Bracketology Bonus: A Deep Look at the Final Week

Spring 2021 FCS Bracketology Bonus
After a tumultuous season, dozens of postponements and cancellations, we’re finally entering the final week of the 2020-2021 FCS football season. Changes to schedules and changes to playoff format have taken the place of the changing of foliage entering playoff football. And remember, this is the Football CHAMPIONSHIP Subdivision (FCS), our level of football crowns its champion with a real, more inclusive playoff system.
Okay, chest beating aside, which is what only one of the eventual sixteen playoff participants will get to do, we’re going to take the time for this article and really delve into what could happen during this final week. We’ll be looking at each of the ten automatic bid conferences, who’s clinched and what’s left to be decided. We’ll also get into the at-large situation; who’s safe, who’s in trouble and what might need to happen for others to get onto the bracket tree.
AUTOMATIC BIDS (5), clinched...
  • Big Sky: Weber State (5-0)
  • Big South: Monmouth (3-0), at Robert Morris
  • Northeast: Sacred Heart (3-1)
  • Ohio Valley: Jacksonville State (9-2)
  • Southland: Sam Houston State (5-0), at Incarnate Word
  • Colonial: The Colonial split into two divisions for the Spring season, North and South. As the schedules have eventually morphed, we have divisional championship games set-up for this final weekend. In the North, Villanova (2-1) plays at Delaware (4-0). The South match-up has Richmond (3-0) going to James Madison (4-0). The conference’s automatic bid is to go to the team with the best record. If there are two undefeated teams, meaning Delaware beats Villanova, the other conference members are to select the team getting the bid. If Villanova was to beat Delaware, each would have a loss, meaning the Richmond/James Madison winner would get the Colonial’s automatic. It’s generally regarded that each division winner will make the playoffs, regardless of which team is awarded the automatic berth.
  • Missouri Valley: Interesting situation here, as four teams currently have only one conference loss. Ironically, Missouri State (5-1 in MVFC / 5-4 overall) is tied for first, but holds none of the tiebreakers and is likely to be left out of the field because of their three FCS losses (one loss in the fall was to FBS Oklahoma) and completed schedule. The other they’re tied with is North Dakota State (5-1 / 6-1). Just a half game back sits South Dakota State (4-1) and North Dakota (4-1). North Dakota finishes at Youngstown State this week. A win would push them into a tie with Missouri State. The final two teams play each other this week, as South Dakota State goes to North Dakota State. The winner of this game will hold any and all tiebreakers against North Dakota and Missouri State. So, in essence, this game is for the conference’s automatic bid to the playoffs.
  • Patriot: How about a conference where it isn’t confusing? The Patriot League comes to the rescue! This conference has been riddled with scheduling problems and COVID worse than anyone, except for maybe the Colonial. Somehow, they’ve got it figured out and whittled down to two teams. Holy Cross (2-0) travels to Bucknell (2-1), with the winner getting the automatic.
  • Pioneer: On the surface, this looks like it could be a nightmare with up to four teams tying for the automatic berth. More that Presbyterian is not eligible for the conference’s automatic berth. Davidson (4-1 PFL / 4-2 overall) controls their own destiny. Davidson holds the tiebreaker in a 5-1 tie with San Diego (4-1) by virtue of a head-to-head victory. So a home victory against Stetson this week will clinch the automatic, regardless of what else happens. IF they lost AND San Diego (4-1) lost at Valparaiso (3-2) this week, there’d be no less than three teams tied atop the final standings. Davidson owns all tiebreakers in three- and four-team scenarios based on the best Strength of Victory. Morehead State (3-2 / 3-3) could also join the fray beating Butler, but it’s irrelevant. San Diego can only steal the bid back if they beat Valparaiso and Davidson loses to Stetson this week.
  • Southern: This bid is pretty straight forward. If Virginia Military (5-1) wins their final game at home against The Citadel, they take the automatic bid. If they lose, the door is opened for Mercer (5-2 SoCon / 5-5 overall). Mercer finishes at Samford and would need to win, paired with a Virginia Military loss. A loss by Mercer gives the bid to Virginia Military, by default.
AT-LARGE BIDS (3), safe...
Not counting the five teams who have automatic spots, you also have five who will receive them next Saturday. That leaves the six at-large bids. Some of those playing for automatic berths are also to be considered in this category.
  • The Colonial’s second division winner. The Villanova (2-1) at Delaware (4-0) and Richmond (3-0) at James Madison (4-0) games, should slot both winners into the field. Of course, one of those winners gets the auto bid. 100% lock into the field if Delaware wins the North, meaning both winners are undefeated.
  • The loser between South Dakota State (4-1) at North Dakota State (6-1) is a near mortal lock, 99+% in the field.
  • Eastern Washington (5-1) has completed their season and beaten the one team who beat them this season. 99+% lock.
AT-LARGE BIDS(2), win and you’re in…
A short list here. But it’s pretty self explanatory.
  • North Dakota (4-1) finishes at Youngstown State. A win moves them to 5-1 and a first place tie (losing tiebreaker) in the Missouri Valley. This is a 99+% lock. A loss may not kill their bid, but it would be a horrible look, losing their last two games. On top of that, it would be over a month since they had won a game.
  • Southeastern Louisiana (4-2) has lost to only Sam Houston State (43-38) and Incarnate Word (56-45), both on the road. Neither can be seen as a bad loss. In fact, they’d be very close to having a bid right now, but they reached out and agreed to a final game, next week at Southern Illinois. Considering they could be ending the season with back-to-back road wins over Nicholls and Southern Illinois, both solid opponents, that’s impressive. Add their tendency to high-scoring exciting games, a win pushing them to 5-2 is going to be pretty tough to keep them from the playoff field.
Here’s where the bracketology gets tricky. Some of these teams have already completed their seasons and the others would have lost their final game. With this, each team will have listed their record, current ranking in College Sports Madness Top 25, Massey Ranking, Strength of Schedule and a note regarding them. The size of this pool will be dependent on teams losing from above, who’ll also be included. Villanova has been talked about above, but here they’d be considered to have lost this weekend, which would eliminate them from the conversation, which is why they’ll not be mentioned here.
  • James Madison (4-0), CSM: 3, MAS: 4, SoS: 67.
It seems inconceivable that the Dukes not make the playoffs, but look at that Strength of Schedule. That’s bad. Their four opponents have a combined record of 5-13. Three of those wins are supplied by a non-scholarship Pioneer team and another by a head-to-head match-up by two of their opponents. They’re probably safe, but they’d be smart to not allow The Committee to decide for them.
  • Delaware (4-0), CSM: 5, MAS: 8, SoS: 49.
With the small body of work and assuming a loss to land in this group, the Blue Hens would still look to be in decent shape for that last bid or three. Wins over Maine and Rhode Island highlight and the assumed loss to Villanova wouldn’t be seen as hurtful.
  • North Dakota (4-1), CSM: 6, MAS: 6, SoS: 11.
The computer numbers are the best of anyone in this group and having wins over a good Southern Illinois and elite South Dakota State would be helpful. Was beaten convincingly by North Dakota State, not a big deal. But landing here by losing to Youngstown State would be as hurtful as beating SDSU is helpful.
  • Richmond (3-0), CSM: 11, MAS: 13, SoS: 35.
Having only two wins against an injury-ravaged Elon and a subpar William & Mary, who’s lone victory is also against Elon, does not look good for the Spiders. A win over James Madison to clinch the CAA South might be their only way in.
  • Virginia Military (5-1), CSM: 13, MAS: 30, SoS: 58.
Very similar to North Dakota’s note. A loss would mean losing their last two games, the second of which is a team who’s been ragdolled most of the season. The Keydets control their own destiny, they need to take care of business and not take a thumb to the eye or they’ll be thumbing for a ride home before the playoffs.
  • Kennesaw State (4-1), CSM: 15, MAS: 36, SoS: 76.
Despite a history of good playoff runs, this resume has the Owls in real trouble. One of their four wins is against a sub-FCS program and the one solid team they played, Monmouth, dominated them from beginning to end in that game.
  • East Tennessee State (4-2), CSM: 16, MAS: 45, SoS: 57.
The Buccaneers are a true feel good story, trying to get back to relevancy after a playoff run a few years back. Losses to Furman and Mercer don’t look good on the resume. However, a win over Virginia Military is a major plus. They were robbed of an opportunity for another solid win when Chattanooga shut down their season. They would have played this week.
  • Murray State (5-2), CSM: 17, MAS: 27, SoS: 55.
Seems to be a theme in this section, starting hot and finishing cold. The season’s complete but the Racers lost their last two games to Austin Peay and Jacksonville State. A win in either of those games and they’re probably in the field. Their already decent computer numbers and ranking would have been boosted with that one different result.
As you can see, there’s still a few moving parts, but the bubble is much more controlled than most seasons. Which in the craziest of years, it’s surprising this is relatively calm. The final Bracketology before the Playoff pairings are announced will be available on College Sports Madness later Saturday evening. I promise, I won’t go to bed until I get this thing figured out.