Week 12 FCS Football Final Bracketology Breakdown

Bracketology Breakdown
Last Four In: Southern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Mercer, Stephen F. Austin
First Eight Out: Maine, Rhode Island, Eastern Kentucky, Elon, Austin Peay, Weber State, Chattanooga, Nicholls
Well, this was a pretty easy exercise to end the season - for the first twenty-one teams. Southern Illinois’ loss to Youngstown State was a very bad look going into the playoffs. But their previous win over South Dakota State and a 5-3 record in the best FCS conference should be enough to keep them safe. The final three spots? Let’s take a look.
Northern Iowa won big over Western Illinois to finish. Probably looking for some style points to go along with wins over Southern Illinois, South Dakota State and Sacramento State; the last two on the road. Add the #3 rated Strength of Schedule and still finishing 4-4 in the MVFC, better than anyone on the bubble. The fact that so many of the bubble contenders lost on Saturday probably makes the Panthers about as safe as a 6-5 team could feel.
Mercer finished in second place in the Southern Conference, alone. Only playing a ten game schedule may end up hurting them when The Selection Committee finishes their business, but they were 7-3 overall. One win was Division-II, so it doesn’t count and one loss was to FBS Alabama. So they really look 6-2. The fact they beat third place Chattanooga just last week, this week’s loss to East Tennessee State shouldn’t hurt that much.
Stephen F. Austin has been on a tear, winning five straight and finishing tied for second in the ASUN/WAC/AQ7 mixture. Their win over another playoff hopeful, Eastern Kentucky, gets them the tiebreaker for second place. Yes, their schedule strength is softer than the top of a newborn’s head, but they’ve taken care of business. And, like Mercer, they have a sub-FCS win and an FBS loss, so their 8-3 looks like 7-2.7-2 and one of those being to Sam Houston? They’re getting the nod.
For those just missing, Rhode Island has the best record of the bunch, including a win over FBS Massachusetts. But the SoS is poor and they’ve lost four or six to end the season. Maine also beat Massachusetts, and probably has the best gripe to make the field of those I have listed out. But they finished tied for fourth in the CAA, behind Elon, who beat them head-to-head. Elon has a pretty good gripe also. Their problem, along with every team that finished 6-5, will be compared to Northern Iowa, also 6-5, who has superior computer numbers, SoS and signature victories. Eastern Kentucky’s loss to Stephen F. Austin is probably their demise.
Onto the seeds. The top four are completely separated from the others, in my mind. Likewise, there are definitely five teams in the mix for the last four seeds. Let’s look.
#1 North Dakota State. The Bison finished 10-1, all FCS. They won the Missouri Valley at 7-1 and finished about 50 spots ahead of the next team in Strength of Schedule. That has to count for something.
#2 Sam Houston State. The Bearkats finished as the only undefeated team in the entire subdivision at 10-0. In the end, they just don’t have the number of big wins that NDSU does, but they fact they haven’t lost also has to count for something. And honestly, #1 and #2 would both have home field advantage until Frisco, so it really is just esthetics.
#3 Villanova. The Wildcats finished 9-2 and won the Colonial automatic bid by virtue of a one point road victory against James Madison back on October 9. Throw in a slightly better SoS, and we’ll give the nod to ‘Nova.
#4 James Madison. The Dukes finished 10-1 and that was all FCS also. The computer numbers are awesome and like the #1-#2 debate, the difference in #3 and #4 is just the venue destination if chalk holds to the semifinals.
#5 Sacramento State. The Hornets will get the nod as the Big Sky champion and automatic qualifier. The top four teams in the conference all finished 9-2 overall, one of those losses coming to FBS California. These guys finished 8-0 in conference, that should be enough.
#6 Montana State. Sure, the Bobcats just lost the Brawl of the Wild to Montana, but they finished second in the Big Sky at 7-1. With the next three teams all beating one of the others, it seems the fairest way to split them. They also only had one FCS loss, as one of their two losses was to FBS Wyoming.
#7 Eastern Washington. The Eagles finished tied for third in the Big Sky, but they have a head-to-head victory for that spot. This spot could be flipped considering one of EWU’s wins was a Division-II. But they did beat FBS UNLV. I’m sticking with it.
#8 Montana. The fourth Big Sky team, the Grizzlies, take the spot. How are they more qualified? It’s very close. They have a win over FBS Washington and their huge finale win over Montana State. That and their SoS (27th) was significantly better than anybody else considered.
The others being considered, were all left off the seed lines because of weaker SoS numbers; East Tennessee State (74th), Incarnate Word (50th) and Holy Cross (90th). All three of those teams also had FBS wins. Seems to be a theme. Kennesaw State (87th) did not have that bonus win, so they were out of consideration pretty quickly.
You can see the rest of the field below. The map and bracket will also be linked. Now we’ll wait until Sunday afternoon and see if I am in tune with what ten other human minds were collectively thinking.
Bids By Conference
AQ7 (2): *Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin
Big Sky (5): *Sacramento State, Eastern Washington, Montana, Montana State, UC-Davis
Big South (1): *Kennesaw State
Colonial (2): *Villanova, James Madison
Missouri Valley (6): *North Dakota State, Missouri State, South Dakota State, South Dakota, Southern Illinois, Northern Iowa
Northeast (1): *Sacred Heart
Ohio Valley (1): *Tennessee-Martin
Patriot (1): *Holy Cross
Pioneer (1): *Davidson
Southern (2): *East Tennessee State, Mercer
Southland (2): *Incarnate Word, Southeastern Louisiana
* denotes a conference’s automatic qualifier