Indianapolis, IN (SportsNetwork.com) - The growing parity among FCS conferences was reflected Sunday in the pairings for the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, which kick off next weekend.
As expected, two-time defending national champion and top-ranked North Dakota State (11-0) headlined the 24-team field as the No. 1 seed.
Eastern Illinois (11-1), which hasn't lost to an FCS opponent, was the No. 2 seed topping the other half of the bracket.
The depth across the FCS was reflected by eight different conferences receiving multiple bids, led by the Big Sky Conference with four. Ironically, the Missouri Valley Football Conference, the one many regard as the strongest conference in the FCS, and home to North Dakota State, received only two bids.
Following the Big Sky, CAA Football and the Ohio Valley and Southland conferences had three qualifiers each, while the Mid-Eastern, Missouri Valley and Southern conferences as well as the Patriot League received two qualifiers each. The Pioneer Football League, which received its first-ever bid, and the Big South and Northeast conferences had one qualifier each.
The 11 conference champions to gain automatic qualifying bids were Bethune-Cookman (Mid-Eastern Athletic), Butler (Pioneer), Coastal Carolina (Big South), Eastern Illinois (Ohio Valley), Eastern Washington (Big Sky), Furman (Southern), Lafayette (Patriot), Maine (CAA), North Dakota State (Missouri Valley), Sacred Heart (Northeast) and Southeastern Louisiana (Southland).
The 13 at-large bids were awarded to Fordham (Patriot), Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley), McNeese State (Southland), Montana (Big Sky), New Hampshire (CAA), Northern Arizona (Big Sky), Samford (Southern), Sam Houston State (Southland), South Carolina State (Mid-Eastern Athletic), South Dakota State (Missouri Valley), Southern Utah (Big Sky), Tennessee State (Ohio Valley) and Towson (CAA).
North Dakota State, which has won 20 straight games and is 39-2 since the start of the 2011 season, is trying to become the second program to win three straight FCS titles. Appalachian State won three in a row from 2005-07.
"What has been really special about this group (is) they've been focused every football game," North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl said on the ESPNU playoff selection show. "We've really played very consistently, we're deep, they play as a team and we've got a lot of good weapons, and we've used them this year."
Chattanooga (8-4), William & Mary (7-5) and Lehigh (8-4) were listed on a selection show graphic as being the first teams to fall short of the playoff field. Selection committee chairman Jeff Bourne also said Charleston Southern (10-3), Northern Iowa (7-5) and Youngstown State (8-4) were under consideration.
Eight first-round games will kick off the playoffs on Saturday. The first- round winners will advance to the second round, where the eight seeded teams with byes await for the Dec. 7 games.
The quarterfinals will be held on Dec. 13 and 14. They will be followed by one semifinal on Dec. 20 and the other one on Dec. 21.
The FCS national championship game will be held on Jan. 4 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
2013 NCAA DIVISION I FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
(Campus sites until the final)
(All times ET)
Saturday, Nov. 30
Lafayette (5-6) at New Hampshire (7-4), noon (ESPN3)
Furman (7-5) at South Carolina State (9-3), 1 p.m. (ESPN3)
Bethune-Cookman (10-2) at Coastal Carolina (10-2), 1 p.m. (ESPN3)
Sacred Heart (10-2) at Fordham (11-1), 1 p.m. (ESPN3)
Tennessee State (9-3) at Butler (9-3), 1 p.m. (ESPN3)
Southern Utah (8-4) at Sam Houston State (8-4), 3 p.m. (ESPN3)
South Dakota State (8-4) at Northern Arizona (9-2), 8 p.m. (ESPN3)
Samford (8-4) at Jacksonville State (9-3), 8 p.m. (ESPN3)
Saturday, Dec. 7
Sacred Heart/Fordham winner at No. 7 Towson (10-2), 1 p.m. (ESPN3)
Tennessee State/Butler winner at No. 2 Eastern Illinois (11-1), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)
Bethune-Cookman/Coastal Carolina winner at No. 8 Montana (10-2), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)
Lafayette/New Hampshire winner at No. 5 Maine (10-2), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)
Furman/South Carolina State winner at No. 1 North Dakota State (11-0), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
South Dakota State/Northern Arizona winner at No. 3 Eastern Washington (10-2), 4 p.m. (ESPN3)
Samford/Jacksonville State winner at No. 6 McNeese State (10-2), 7 p.m. (ESPN3)
Southern Utah/Sam Houston State winner at No. 4 Southeastern Louisiana (10-2), 8 p.m. (ESPN3)
Friday, Dec. 13 and Saturday, Dec. 14
Friday, Dec. 20 and Saturday, Dec. 21
Saturday, Jan. 4
Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas
2 p.m. ET (ESPN2, ESPN3)