Published November 11, 2012
Philadelphia, PA – This is a test. This is only a test.
Had this been an actual emergency, the NCAA Division I football selection committee would be in the middle of all the screaming, cursing and rioting.
It seems the potential FCS playoff field has more certainty than a Florida presidential election. What you thought Saturday morning isn't what you're thinking a day later.
And who knows what to expect next Sunday morning after a final Saturday of the regular season determines the field of 20.
Maybe a recall?
There will be plenty of unhappy candidates after the final at-large teams are determined in a season that is one year ahead of the 24-team bracket.
It's been a crazy final few weeks of the regular season, and many teams have that sinking feeling they will be left on the outside by not getting it done through their conference's automatic qualifying bid.
Lehigh could finish with 10 wins and be left on the sideline. Stony Brook has completed its regular season with nine wins and is about to vomit. It seems any Ohio Valley Conference team that is not named Eastern Illinois is sweating it out.
The playoff bubble, seemingly adding teams each week when it should be decreasing, is begging for an NIT bracket.
Here's a quick conference-by-conference look at the playoff picture heading toward the final Saturday of the regular season:
Big Sky: The conference title race may seem messy with two-time defending champion Montana State, Cal Poly, Eastern Washington and Northern Arizona all tied for first place at 6-1. With all four at least 8-2 (Montana State is 9-1), they all have built playoff resumes. Either Cal Poly or NAU will be knocked from first in the conference standings because they face each other in Flagstaff. Montana State visits Montana, which is trying to salvage a winning season, and EWU goes to Portland State. Sacramento State will fall short even if it gets to 7-4.
Big South: Stony Brook's stumble at Liberty has opened the door to the strong possibility of a three-way championship tie with Coastal Carolina and Liberty for the second time in three years. If it happens, Coastal would claim the automatic playoff bid - as it did in 2010 - this time on the conference's fourth tiebreaker, road conference wins. They would be 3-0 compared to Stony Brook and Liberty at 2-1 each. Stony Brook owns good non-conference wins over Army and Colgate, but the Seawolves are hurt by the fact the Big South isn't particularly strong this season.
CAA: There are still six teams alive for playoff berths. The conference may not get even half that amount, however. Still, the regular season's ending will be terrific. New Hampshire hosts Towson with the chance to win an outright conference title. A win might not be enough for red-hot Towson, which made the mistake of scheduling two FBS losses, er, games. ODU, ineligible for the conference title but playoff-bound, goes to James Madison, which needs to beat the FCS' fourth-ranked team to get a bid. Villanova takes on rival Delaware and Richmond goes to William & Mary. Yeah, just your typical Saturday afternoon in the CAA,
MEAC: Bethune-Cookman (8-2) clinched the conference title and automatic bid. The Wildcats (8-2) hope to build on a six-game winning streak in their finale against rival Florida A&M, whose coach, Joe Taylor, stepped away from the team last week because he felt his impending retirement was a distraction for the team.
Missouri Valley: Conference-leader North Dakota State is playoff-bound, but it doesn't plan to take its foot off the pedal at Illinois State because a win will clinch not only an outright MVFC title, but likely the top overall seed in the playoffs. A nice home run in the playoffs could get the Bison back to Frisco, Texas, where they won their first FCS national title last season. Illinois State also will be in the playoffs and might be in the mix for a seed with a win over NDSU. A South Dakota State win over South Dakota should get the Jackrabbits in the field. OK, so the bubble makes it hard to be confident of that. Indiana State (7-3) has to win at dangerous Youngstown State to become playoff-eligible, but it lost the head-to-head meeting with South Dakota State, so the Sycamores may already know where they stand in the pecking order.
Northeast: Wagner, which has rebounded with seven straight wins after an 0-3 start, only has to beat Duquesne at home to earn the automatic bid. Albany, having lost the head-to-head matchup, will return to the playoffs by beating Central Connecticut State and having Wagner lose its game.
Ohio Valley: After back-to-back 2-9 seasons, Eastern Illinois (7-3) has won the conference title in coach Dino Babers' first season. It's been a terrific season for the conference, but so many of its teams are situated on the bubble. Eastern Kentucky (8-3) has finished its regular season and may come up just short of an at-large bid. The Tennessee State-UT Martin matchup has the feel of a playoff game already, but there's just no guarantee the winner will get into the actual playoffs.
Patriot: Colgate has roared into the playoffs with seven straight wins and the Patriot League championship. Lehigh is feeling sucker-punched after becoming the last unbeaten team to fall, and the Mountain Hawks hope a 10-1 record (with a win over Lafayette) will be enough for an at-large bid. It probably won't be, though, considering their strength of schedule.
Southern: Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Wofford are sharing the conference title after each went 1-1 in their little round-robin tournament. The tiebreaker for the automatic bid will be determined after the battle for fourth place in the final standings. Each seems secure for a playoff berth.
Southland: Central Arkansas and Sam Houston State will represent the conference in the playoffs as co-champions, although UCA won the automatic bid because of a win in a head-to-head meeting. Sam Houston State (8-2) has been outstanding in winning seven straight games and may still get one of the five playoff seeds even if it loses at Texas A&M next Saturday.
THE OTHER THREE
The three FCS conferences that won't have teams in the FCS playoffs:
Ivy - Oddly, Penn sits alone in first place and its only league loss is to last-place Yale, which hasn't beaten any other league team. The Quakers (5-4) have clinched a share of the title and can win an outright crown by winning at Cornell or having both Harvard, which hosts Yale, and Princeton, which hosts Dartmouth, lose their games. What a job by Quakers coach Al Bagnoli again.
Pioneer - Butler (8-3, 7-1) still sits in first place, but after losing to Drake on Saturday, it can be caught for a share of the title. Drake must win a difficult finale at Jacksonville, while San Diego must win two more cross- country games at Davidson (next Saturday) and Marist (Dec. 1 in the Hurricane Sandy makeup game).
SWAC - Arkansas-Pine Bluff has a four-game lead in the West Division, which is an absurd amount. The Golden Lions will face either Alabama State or Jackson State in the SWAC Championship Game on Dec. 8 in Birmingham, Ala. The East Division champion will be Jackson State if it beats Alcorn State next Saturday. Otherwise, Alabama State, which lost the head-to-head meeting, will be the representative.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
A recap of games in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/a3c83av.
STOCK RISING, STOCK FALLING
Rising: The story's been new coach Joe Moglia all season, but now it's a potential FCS playoff berth with Coastal Carolina. For most of the season, the Chanticleers (6-4) weren't in anybody's playoff conversation - maybe not even in Conway, S.C. But with a four-game winning streak, they need to beat Charleston Southern and have Liberty top VMI - both likely scenarios next Saturday - to earn a share of the Big South title between those two teams and Stony Brook, and win the tie-breaker for the automatic playoff berth.
Falling: The FCS rushing title is starting to elude South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner the way he was eluding tacklers earlier this season. He was on pace for over 2,000 yards, but has only 179 yards in his last three games. He has 1,539 yards heading into the Jackrabbits' final game of the regular season.
A LOOK AHEAD
The final Saturday of the regular season is littered with important games.
Among the bigger rivalry games are No. 2 Montana State at Montana, Yale at Harvard and Lehigh at Lafayette (in the 148th meeting).
Other rivalries or key conference games: Big Sky, Cal Poly at Northern Arizona and Sacramento State at UC Davis in coach Bob Biggs' final game at UC Davis; Big South, Liberty at VMI and Charleston Southern at Coastal Carolina; CAA, Towson at New Hampshire, Richmond at William & Mary, Villanova at Delaware and Old Dominion at James Madison; Ivy, Penn at Cornell; Missouri Valley, No. 1 North Dakota State at Illinois State, Indiana State at Youngstown State and South Dakota at South Dakota State; NEC, Duquesne at Wagner and Central Connecticut State at Albany; OVC, Tennessee State at UT Martin; PFL, Drake at Jacksonville; and SWAC, Alcorn State at Jackson State.
Eastern Illinois visits Central Arkansas in a potential high-scoring non- conference game between playoff-bound squads.
Also, plenty of FCS teams are playing FBS opponents, which is an odd way for a team to either end a season or go into the playoffs. Among SoCon teams, the matchups are Western Carolina at Alabama (huh?), Wofford at South Carolina, Georgia Southern at Georgia and Samford at Kentucky.
Also, Sam Houston State from the Southland goes to Texas A&M, Jacksonville State from the OVC wraps up its season at Florida and Alabama A&M from the SWAC visits Auburn.