By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There's a one-day playoff just to get into the FCS playoffs.
Considering the results get more surprising with each week, we can expect the unexpected next Saturday when the regular season comes to an end. On Sunday, the NCAA selection committee will announce its 20-team playoff field (10 automatic and 10 at-large bids).
This weekend, top-ranked North Dakota State seemingly lost the No. 1 playoff seed and Furman's loss to Elon likely cost the Paladins a playoff bid. Meanwhile, the case for Central Arkansas and others got stronger.
The selection committee has never given an at-large bid to a team with fewer than seven Division I wins. It appears enough teams will reach the benchmark and have strong-enough schedules to dash the hopes of teams like Portland State and, believe it or not, Wofford if it loses at Chattanooga next Saturday.
Following is a conference-by-conference breakdown heading toward Week 12. Ten of the 14 conferences - not the Great West Conference, Ivy League, Pioneer Football League and Southwestern Athletic Conference - have automatic bids for its champion.
Big South - Liberty goes to Stony Brook next Saturday for a fitting title game between two teams which are 7-3 overall and 5-0 in conference play. The winner gets the automatic bid and the loser gets stuck on six Division I wins.
CAA Football - If co-leaders Towson (8-2, 6-1) and Maine (8-2, 6-1) finish in a tie for first place, the automatic bid will go to Towson because of its 40-30 win over the Black Bears. Old Dominion (9-2, 6-2) should be an at-large selection. New Hampshire (7-3, 5-2) is playoff-eligible already, but could play itself out of a berth with a loss against Maine. Still, it probably rates above James Madison (6-4, 4-3) because of a 28-10 win in the head-to-head meeting.
Great West - There's no automatic bid or at-large bids coming. Cal Poly (5-5, 3-1) will share the title with the winner of South Dakota (6-4, 2-1) at North Dakota (7-3, 2-1).
Ivy - Harvard (8-1, 6-0) has won the title and will close its season at Yale in "The Game". Do you think the Crimson coaches and players feel it's about time the league presidents let the champion go to the playoffs?
Mid-Eastern Athletic - Champion Norfolk State (9-2, 7-1) is playoff-bound with its first-ever FCS bid. Next Saturday's winner between rivals Bethune-Cookman (7-3, 5-2) and Florida A&M (7-3, 5-2) will gain its seventh D-I win, but will sweat out an at-large selection because of its porous strength of schedule.
Missouri Valley - Either Northern Iowa (8-2, 7-1) or freshly upset North Dakota State (9-1, 6-1) will earn the automatic bid, with the other one gaining an at-large bid. North Dakota State won the head-to-head meeting, but must win at Western Illinois to gain a share of the title. Illinois State (7-3, 5-2) has seven D-I wins and hosts Northern Iowa next Saturday. A loss could help Indiana State (6-4, 4-3) or Youngstown State (6-4, 4-3), which host Southern Illinois and Missouri State, respectively.
Northeast - Either Albany (7-3, 6-1) or Duquesne (8-2, 6-1) will represent the NEC in the playoffs. Albany won the head-to-head meeting, so it will gain the bid by beating Sacred Heart or having Duquesne lose to Robert Morris.
Ohio Valley - Tennessee Tech (6-3, 5-2) is back in control of the automatic bid, just needing to beat Austin Peay. The Golden Eagles have wins over Eastern Kentucky (6-4, 5-2) and Jacksonville State (6-4, 5-2). EKU hosts UT Martin and JSU goes to Tennessee State, with each seeking a seventh D-I win. Murray State (6-4, 4-3) doesn't seem to have the strength of schedule to be in the picture, even with a win over Southeast Missouri State.
Patriot - Lehigh (9-1, 4-0) has clinched its second straight league title and playoff bid. A win over rival Lafayette would significantly strengthen how the selection committee perceives the Mountain Hawks, whose only loss was to New Hampshire in overtime.
Pioneer - No playoff bid here. Next Saturday's winner between Jacksonville (7-3, 6-1) at San Diego (8-2, 6-1) will share the title with Drake (9-2, 7-1).
Southern - Georgia Southern (9-1, 7-1) is the champion and will enter the playoffs with the automatic bid. In a surprise, Wofford (7-3, 5-2) has to win at Chattanooga to secure its seventh D-I win. Appalachian State (7-3, 5-2) already has it and will have an at-large bid. If Furman (6-4, 5-3) or Samford (6-4, 4-4) want a bid, they will have to win at SEC opponents - gulp - next Saturday. That's Florida and Auburn, respectively.
Southland - Champion Sam Houston State (10-0, 7-0) is in and will complete the regular season as the only unbeaten FCS squad by beating Texas State. Some of Saturday's results strengthened the case for an at-large bid for Central Arkansas (8-3, 6-1).
SWAC - The division winners go to the SWAC Championship Game, not the playoffs. Next Saturday's winner between Alabama A&M (7-3, 6-2) at Prairie View A&M (5-5, 5-3) will make it to Birmingham, Ala. The team that slips up would open the door for either Alabama State (7-3, 7-2) in the East Division or Grambling State (6-4, 5-3) or Arkansas-Pine Bluff (5-5, 4-4) in the West Division. Grambling doesn't play again until it meets Southern on Nov. 26. If Prairie View and Grambling stumble, Arkansas-Pine Bluff could beat Texas Southern and then represent the West in the title game.
Consider these 12 teams to be locks for the playoff field: Montana State, Montana, Towson, Maine, Old Dominion, Norfolk State, North Dakota State, Northern Iowa, Lehigh, Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and Sam Houston State.
Consider everybody else in scramble mood. As expected in the wacky FCS.
FCS PLAYOFF PROJECTION ...In the FCS Huddle has been projecting the potential FCS playoff field every week since the preseason. The projections are an expectation of next Sunday's field 20-team following Week 12 action, and not based off current records or rankings. The projection is found here.
AROUND THE NATIONWho says Valparaiso is a basketball school? The Crusaders ended a 29-game losing streak, which was the longest in the FCS, by beating Campbell, 34-31, on Saturday. Gabe Ali-El caught a nine-yard touchdown pass from Eric Hoffman with 3:09 remaining for the winning score. The Crusaders hadn't won since beating Concordia (Wis.) on Sept. 12, 2009 ... Bob Spoo's coaching career ended at Eastern Illinois with a 45-28 loss to Southern Illinois. The Panthers finished 2-9 for the second straight season, capping Spoo's career record at 144-131-1 ... Cornell sophomore Jeff Mathews completed 40 of 46 passes for 521 yards and five touchdowns as the Big Red topped winless Columbia, 62-41. He was five yards off the Ivy League record set by Brown's Michael Daugherty in 2008 ... William & Mary senior running back Jonathan Grimes is going out in style even if the Tribe aren't in a 4-6 season. He had a career-high 227 rushing yards and a school-record 331 all-purpose yards, with three touchdowns, in a 35-31 loss to Old Dominion. He has gained at least 289 all- purpose yards in each of his last four games ... As usual, Appalachian State retained the Old Mountain Jug with a 46-14 thrashing of Western Carolina ... Brian Quick became ASU's all-time leading receiver (he's at 3,227 career yards) and Drew Stewart set school records by kicking six field goals (on six attempts) and scoring 22 kicking points ... Samford's Kelsey Pope had the single-game high this season with 17 receptions in a 19-14 victory over The Citadel ... What's a Big Sky season without a 100-point game? Eastern Washington beat future Big Sky member Cal Poly, 53-51, denying the Mustangs' two-point conversion at the end of the third overtime. Eagles quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell passed for 436 yards and five touchdowns to hold off the Mustangs' 405 rushing yards, including 179 by Jake Romanelli ... A winless season ended with an exclamation for Northern Colorado (0-11) and first-year coach Ernest Collins Jr. Quarterback Seth Lobato's touchdown pass to Patrick Walker with 3.6 seconds remaining was negated by an illegal block and then the final pass was deflected to preserve Portland State's 23-17 win ... C.J. Tuckett set Weber State's single-game all-purpose yardage record with 407 while scoring three touchdowns in a 34-31 win Northern Arizona. The junior rushed for 254 yards, had 144 on kick returns and caught two passes for nine yards ... With 20 tackles in a 24-9 loss to Sacramento State, Idaho State linebacker A.J. Storms became the top tackler in Bengals history with 417. Sac State defensive end Zack Nash had five sacks to fuel his defense, which had 10 sacks ... Sam Houston State completed an unbeaten season in Southland Conference play by beating Northwestern State, 43-17. Richard Sincere scored three touchdowns and Tim Flanders added a pair ... As Central Arkansas seemingly kicked down the door to the FCS playoffs, Nathan Dick threw for 457 yards and three touchdowns in a 23-22 win over Texas State. The game-winner was Eddie Camara's 19-yard field goal with 1:02 remaining to play ... Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore calls it a "one-game approach." His Seawolves have won seven straight games after opening the season with three straight losses. Saturday's 76-28 wrecking of Gardner-Webb set a Big South record for points. Brock Jackolski also set a conference record with five touchdowns ... Just another day in the SoCon: One week after Furman stunned Appalachian State, its playoff hopes probably were dashed by Elon, which used Thomas Wilson's four touchdown passes to stop the Paladins, 41-34. Joshua Jones made 13 tackles and his touchdown off an interception proved to be the game-winner ... Quarterback Tirrell Rennie returned from injuries to help Northern Iowa stop Southern Utah, 34-21. He rushed for 86 yards and two touchdowns and completed 10 of 16 passes for 126 yards, with one interception ... Shakir Bell's 206 rushing yards in Indiana State's 28-20 win over Missouri State gave him a school- record 1,533 this season ... In South Dakota State's 27-7 win over Western Illinois, Austin Sumner ended his season with a Missouri Valley freshman- record 2,382 passing yards ... Wagner coach Walt Hameline earned his 203rd career win with the Seahawks' 38-17 triumph over Robert Morris. Sophomore running back Dominique Williams ran for a career-high 216 yards and scored four touchdowns.
A LOOK AHEADSouthland champ Sam Houston State (10-0) can complete a perfect regular season with a win at Texas State next season.
But more eyes will be on the conference match-ups. The biggest is in the Big Sky, where Montana visits Montana State for the Brawl of the Wild. Montana State could be the No. 1 playoff seed if it wins, although the case also can be made for Sam Houston State or Georgia Southern if it stuns Alabama next Saturday.
In another super match-up, Liberty visits Stony Brook in the Big South. The winner will reach the playoffs for the first time.
In the final Great West game before the football conference disbands, South Dakota goes to North Dakota, with the winner sharing the title with Cal Poly.
Other key conference games: Big Sky - Weber State (with retiring coach Ron McBride) at Portland State; CAA - Maine at New Hampshire, Towson at Rhode Island and James Madison at Massachusetts; Missouri Valley - North Dakota State at Western Illinois, Northern Iowa at Illinois State, Missouri State at Youngstown State and Southern Illinois at Indiana State; NEC - Sacred Heart at Albany and Robert Morris at Duquesne; OVC - UT Martin at Eastern Kentucky, Austin Peay at Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville State at Tennessee State; Pioneer - Jacksonville at San Diego; SoCon - Wofford at Chattanooga; and SWAC - Alabama A&M at Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern at Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
In other rivalry games, it's Harvard at Yale in the Ivy League; Delaware versus Villanova at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., and William & Mary at Richmond in the CAA; Florida A&M versus Bethune-Cookman at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando in the MEAC; Lafayette at Lehigh in the Patriot League; and Stephen F. Austin at Northwestern State in the Southland Conference
It's also SoCon-SEC Day - yikes! - with Georgia Southern at Alabama, Samford at Auburn, Furman at Florida and The Citadel at South Carolina.