By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There are plenty of intriguing storylines as the Football Championship Subdivision season gets set to kick off the 2010 season week, but the biggest is the expansion of the playoffs from 16 to 20 schools.
It's been a long time coming, considering the playoffs haven't grown since they went from 12 to 16 schools in 1987 and about 30 teams have entered the FCS ranks since then.
Casual fans of college football might be surprised to learn there are more schools playing in the FCS - 124, including five independents making the transition into full membership - than in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
If the FBS sent only 16 or 20 schools to the postseason, people might make the argument that too few, not too many, were involved. This year, a record 70 schools will play in bowl games.
Of course, the FCS does it the right way by using a playoff to determine its national champ. With the playoffs growing by four schools, the Big South and Northeast Conference champions will have automatic bids for the first time and two more schools will go in with at-large bids. It will be a 10-and-10 split between conference champs and at-large qualifiers.
As thrilled as FCS coaches are by the expansion, many still feel there's room for growth, with 24 generally a desired number. The playoff system in NCAA Division II is at 24, while Division III invites 32 teams.
"The comfortable number I would think would be at 24," Southern Illinois coach Dale Lennon said. "You make your adjustments off from that. Playoffs are exciting, it just creates that atmosphere on campus that you want with your football program. It's a fun thing to be a part of, so if you can make more opportunities, I think all the better."
Conference rivals won't meet in the first round, although it can happen beginning in the Round of 16.
The biggest concern with expanding the playoffs involves the potential need for extending the season - something coaches don't want.
"I think the main thing it has to do with is how long your season's gonna be," Robert Morris coach Joe Walton said. "You get too many ... it's not like basketball, where you can play two or three games during a week. Football, you can only play once a week. So that's a factor that I'm sure has to be taken into consideration."
There won't be a need for extending the season if the NCAA continues this year's trial system of playing the national championship three weeks after the semifinals, as opposed to the weekend that follows the semis. This season, the semifinals will be held on Dec. 17 and 18 and the championship on Friday, Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas, with the NCAA hoping that the lead-in to the game will increase attendance and national attention.
In a way, the NCAA isn't taking full advantage of this scenario, with only eight schools playing in first-round games on Nov. 27 and the other 12 getting byes to the second round on Dec. 4. That's too many byes.
If the championship date in January proves successful and the NCAA keeps it, then the season won't be extended by expansion. A 24-school bracket could easily go into place with 16 schools playing in the first round and those eight winners moving on to play another eight schools which had byes. Thus, it will leave 16 schools for the second round, just as it does with this year's 20-school playoff.
"Twenty-four," is the right number, South Carolina State coach Buddy Pough said, "because I think that makes it a way where the playoffs you can get the bracket up in a good systematic manner."
"I've spent 22 years in the FBS programs, I've coached in I think 10 or 11 bowl games," Liberty coach Danny Rocco said. "Let's face it, if you're 6-6 (in the FBS), you're going to a bowl, no questions asked.
"You talk about NCAA basketball, you have a 64-team tournament that's just getting expanded to 68 or whatever it's going to be. You're still talking about 16 or 20 (in the FCS). Just because you say FCS, I think people automatically think there's fewer participants. There's not.
"This is definitely a step in the right direction and I'm excited about that. Hopefully, we can get this thing established here and find a way to have this national championship game continue to take on a national audience and a national spotlight, and then maybe we can expand it to 24 and get more representation. It's really becoming more and more apparent the quality of football that's being played at the FCS level."
FCS VERSUS FBS
OK, the FCS outdoes the FBS by having a playoff system. The question is, can the FCS outdo the FBS in head-to-head action?
Well, that's asking a lot because the FBS is a higher level of competition. But each year, FCS schools pull upsets against FBS opponents, like Villanova jump-starting last year's national-title season with a win over Temple and William & Mary beating Virginia.
This weekend, there are 40 matchups between FCS and FBS programs. As usual, no FCS school is hosting a game.
Temple gets another shot at Villanova, er, Villanova and Temple square off again in the biggest matchup at 5 p.m. Friday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. When Villanova won 27-24 last year, few could have predicted Temple would come back to finish 9-4 and reach a bowl game for the first time in 30 seasons.
Some of the week's other intriguing FCS-FBS matchups (all times Eastern):
Eastern Washington at Nevada, 9:05 p.m. Friday - The Wolf Pack might tire of chasing EWU's splendid tailback Taiwan Jones.
South Carolina State at Georgia Tech, 1 p.m. Saturday - The Bulldogs' linebacker corps is deep and could exploit Georgia Tech's rebuilt offensive line.
Richmond at Virginia, 6 p.m. Saturday - New Cavaliers head coach Mike London was Richmond's coach the last two seasons, leading the Spiders to the 2008 FCS title.
Elon at Duke, 7 p.m. Saturday - Quarterback Scott Riddle will keep Duke busy. The Blue Devils lost at home to Richmond last season.
Grambling State vs. Louisiana Tech, 7 p.m. Saturday in Shreveport, La. - The two schools are located just five miles apart, but are meeting for the first time.
WELCOME TO THE SHOW
Georgia State doesn't open the season against an FBS opponent, it ends with one - facing defending FBS champion Alabama on Nov. 18.
The fledging Panthers play their first game ever by hosting NAIA program Shorter College at 7:30 p.m. Thursday inside the Georgia Dome.
Georgia State head coach Bill Curry has yet to announce his starting quarterback. Alabama transfer Star Jackson, a sophomore, and redshirt freshmen Kelton Hill, Drew Little and Bo Schlechter have competed for the job.
Georgia State will go from independent status to CAA Football in 2012.
Meanwhile, Lamar is jumping back into action for the first time since the program's cancellation in 1989. The Cardinals will visit McNeese State, a future opponent in the Southland Conference, at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Head coach Ray Woodard's squad will rely on freshmen and transfers, including quarterback Andre Bevil, whom Woodard has brought to Beaumont, Texas, from his former school, Navarro College in Texas.
Lamar and Georgia State will face each other Nov. 6 in Atlanta.
GET YOUR BRACKET HERE
You know the old disclaimer, don't try this at home.
Well, this season we're breaking out the crystal ball and projecting the 20- team FCS playoffs. Beginning this week on www.sportsnetwork.com, we're going to list our first- and second-round pairings.
The projections will be fluid, swaying with every field goal in the wind. Our picks won't necessarily match The Sports Network/Fathead.com Top 25 because we're looking at what will (well, could) happen come the playoff announcement on Nov. 21.
Sure, we'll make changes based on results, but we also will keep the bigger picture in mind.
Cross your fingers for us.
JUST THE PICKS - WEEK 1
Thursday, Sept. 2
Presbyterian at X-Wake Forest, 6:30 p.m.
Cumberland (Tenn.) at X-Austin Peay, 7 p.m.
X-Eastern Kentucky at Missouri State, 7 p.m.
Murray State at X-Kent State, 7 p.m.
SE Missouri State at X-Ball State, 7 p.m.
West Chester at (16) X-Delaware, 7 p.m.
Florida A&M at X-Miami (Fla.), 7:30 p.m.
Albany at X-Maine, 7 p.m.
Rhode Island at X-Buffalo, 7 p.m.
Valparaiso at X-Western Illinois, 7 p.m.
Hampton at X-Central Michigan, 7 p.m.
Johnson C. Smith at X-North Carolina Central, 7 p.m.
Central Missouri at X-Illinois State, 7:30 p.m.
Shorter at X-Georgia State, 7:30 p.m.
Towson at X-Indiana, 7:30 p.m.
Norfolk State at X-Rutgers, 7:30 p.m.
Elizabeth City at X-Central Arkansas, 8 p.m.
Quincy at (5) X-Southern Illinois, 8 p.m.
SE Louisiana at X-Tulane, 8 p.m.
North Dakota at X-Idaho, 9 p.m.
(13) Eastern Washington at X-Nevada, 9:05 p.m.
Western New Mexico at X-Northern Arizona, 9:05 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 3
(1) Villanova at X-Temple, 5 p.m.
Sacred Heart at X-Marist, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 04
Central Connecticut State at (10) X-New Hampshire, noon
St. Francis (Pa.) at (21) X-Liberty, noon
Samford at X-Florida State, noon
Youngstown State at X-Penn State, noon
(18) Eastern Illinois at X-Iowa, 12:05 p.m.
(11) South Carolina State at X-Georgia Tech, 1:00 PM
X-Butler at Albion, 1 p.m.
(19) Weber State at X-Boston College, 1 p.m.
Robert Morris at X-Dayton, 1 p.m.
Chowan at X-The Citadel, 1 p.m.
Howard at (25) X-Holy Cross, 1 p.m.
Lock Haven at X-VMI, 1:30 p.m.
North Greenville at X-Charleston Southern, 1:30 p.m.
Northwestern State at X-Air Force, 2 p.m.
Langston at X-Alcorn State, 3 p.m.
Western State at (2) X-Montana, 3 p.m.
X-Fordham at Bryant, 3 p.m.
(3) X-Appalachian State at Chattanooga, 3 p.m.
Fort Lewis at (24) X-Montana State, 3:05 p.m.
(17) Jacksonville State at X-Mississippi, 3:30 p.m.
(4) X-William & Mary at Massachusetts, 3:30 p.m.
Coastal Carolina at X-West Virginia, 3:30 p.m.
Adams State at X-Northern Colorado, 3:35 p.m.
Edward Waters at X-Bethune-Cookman, 4 p.m.
UC Davis at X-California, 5 p.m.
Delta State at X-Jackson State, 5 p.m.
Montana-Western at X-Idaho State, 5:35 p.m.
South Dakota at X-UCF, 6 p.m.
Western Carolina at X-North Carolina State, 6 p.m.
Brevard at X-Gardner-Webb, 6 p.m.
UT Martin at X-Tennessee, 6 p.m.
Morehead State at (15) X-James Madison, 6 p.m.
Monmouth at (22) X-Colgate, 6 p.m.
X-Bucknell at Duquesne, 6 p.m.
(6) Richmond at X-Virginia, 6 p.m.
Jacksonville at X-Old Dominion, 6 p.m.
Savannah State at X-Georgia Southern, 6 p.m.
X-Campbell at Virginia-Wise, 6 p.m.
Bowie State at X-Morgan State, 6 p.m.
Winston-Salem State at X-North Carolina A&T, 6 p.m.
X-Georgetown at Davidson, 6 p.m.
Sacramento State at X-Stanford, 6:30 p.m.
(7) Elon at X-Duke, 7 p.m.
Sam Houston State at X-Baylor, 7 p.m.
(8) Stephen F Austin at X-Texas A&M, 7 p.m.
Alabama A&M at X-Tennessee State, 7 p.m.
Lehigh at X-Drake, 7 p.m.
Tennessee Tech at X-Arkansas, 7 p.m.
Wofford at X-Ohio U., 7 p.m.
North Dakota State at X-Kansas, 7 p.m.
Grambling State at X-Louisiana Tech, 7 p.m.
St. Joseph's (Ind.) at X-Indiana State, 7 p.m.
Stony Brook at X-South Florida, 7:05 p.m.
Lamar at (12) X-McNeese State, 8 p.m.
Texas State at X-Houston, 8 p.m.
Nicholls State at X-San Diego State, 8 p.m.
Mississippi Valley State at X-Alabama State, 8 p.m.
Azusa Pacific at X-San Diego, 9 p.m.
Southern Utah at X-Wyoming, 9 p.m.
Humboldt State at X-Cal Poly, 9:05 p.m.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff at X-UTEP, 9:05 p.m.
Portland State at X-Arizona State, 10 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 5
X-Southern at Delaware State (at Orlando, Fla.), noon
Texas Southern at X-Prairie View A&M, 5 p.m.