By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - We probably wouldn't be true red-blooded American sports fans if we didn't believe we could do a better job than the people who select our NCAA playoff fields.
It's a natural reaction to think some unknown committee locked in a room somewhere doesn't know our favorite team like we do and is out to harm it.
Brace yourself. The committee of 11 athletic directors who will select the 20- team FCS field this weekend is a knowledgeable group that will be thorough and agonize over every last pick. They're as passionate as us. And, no, they aren't out to harm our favorite team.
If you don't think the committee members are just like us, consider the first year that Jim O'Day, this year's chair for a second straight year, was a member of the committee, in 2008.
An AD isn't allowed to be in the room when the merits of his school's team are being discussed. The Appalachian State AD was sent from the room for, as O'Day remembers, about 20 seconds.
When O'Day, Montana's AD, stepped into the hallway, he was out there for about an hour. He was sweating bullets the way we would.
"I wondered if they had forgotten me," he looks back with a laugh.
The committee will begin building their field late Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis, basically have the bracket put together with 10 automatic bids to conference champions and 10 at-large selections after midnight and then analyze the field again Sunday morning to make certain they are comfortable with the selections.
The final couple at-large selections are always the hardest because for each team that gets in the field, three or four will be left bitterly disappointed by their near miss. Last year's final team in, North Dakota State, validated itself by winning two playoff games and then taking eventual national champion Eastern Washington to overtime in the quarterfinals.
"We get together and then we start going through the teams that are eligible," O'Day explained the process. "First you take out your 10 automatics and we list them up on the board. And then we start to list the others that are potential at-large. And that at-large (list) takes some time.
"We go through that process and then we vote and we vote and we vote and we vote. It's a computerized vote. If your team is one of the contenders, then you're knocked out of the voting. They blank you out so that you don't have that opportunity. There's time in between to talk about the different teams and the different conferences and the different sections of the country.
"We look at everything that's available to us. We look at the polls, we look at the rankings, the ratings, whatever might be available to us. The one valuable thing about sitting together in the room is you have 10 (other) people who are from various parts of the country who might know some things that don't necessarily show on paper. For example, in a certain game, did they miss a key player, did they miss their quarterback, did they miss a running back?"
With the playoffs in its second season at 20 teams, after expanding from 16, and likely heading to 24 teams in the future, one of the issues facing the committee is whether it should start to give at-large bids to teams whose win total is below seven against Division I competition. The committee has never done that before.
But perennially strong programs such as Delaware, Wofford and Liberty and perhaps a surging Portland State squad that could move to 8-3 on Saturday face having playoff-worthy resumes that don't include seven D-I wins.
"We're going to have to look at that this year. There's a number of quality teams out there that that might be the case," O'Day said.
"I think we look at that seven-win plateau as a benchmark. It helps us work the field a little bit. It's not one that we absolutely have to hang out hats on. But it is one we give a great deal of respect for as far as criteria. But there certainly can be instances, especially this year when you've got so many teams that are right in that area."
The committee selects the 20 teams before they determine host sites. The five seeded teams are guaranteed to host games through the semifinals unless they play a higher-seeded team. The games involving two non-seeded teams are based on financial guarantees from potential hosts, quality of facility, attendance history and potential and team performance.
STATS THAT STAND OUT
Where's the blocking in the two conferences for historically black colleges, the MEAC and the SWAC? The top six players in the FCS in tackles for loss are from those two conferences.
The top three rushers in the official NCAA statistics - Indiana State's Shakir Bell, Stony Brook's Miguel Maysonet and Towson's Terrance West - are all averaging at least seven yards per carry. But none of the leaders can match Donovan Johnson's 8.6-yard average at Wofford (88 carries for 756 yards).
Davidson sophomore quarterback Jonathan Carkhuff is averaging 50.1 pass attempts per game.
Morehead State is fourth in the FCS in total offense (459.9 ypg), but has a 2-8 record.
Jonathan Grimes' 7,668 career all-purpose yards at William & Mary is over 2,600 more than any other FCS player.
Jackson State has the fourth-worst turnover margin in the FCS (minus-1.50 per game), but is 8-2.
Of course, Jackson State opponents are completing only 41 percent of their passes (125 of 305).
Bucknell senior cornerback Bryce Robertson has 12 interceptions with one game remaining.
Robertson clearly hasn't faced Cal Poly and North Dakota State. Those two teams have thrown one interception each this season.
Jacksonville senior quarterback Josh McGregor heads into his final game with 115 career touchdowns. The next closest has 66 (Eastern Washington's Bo Levi Mitchell, who has done it in only two seasons).
In 10 games, Idaho State has allowed 64 sacks, 22 more than any other team.
At least Idaho State has senior punter David Harrington. He is averaging 48.8 yards on 51 punts.
Illinois State has converted 14 of 17 fourth downs into first downs (82.4 percent).
Watch lists for some of the FCS national awards were updated this week.
FCS PLAYOFF PROJECTION
In the FCS Huddle has been projecting the potential FCS playoff field every week since the preseason. The projections, updated again Wednesday, are an expectation of Sunday's field 20-team following Week 12 action, and not based off current records or rankings. The projection is found here.
ON-LINE CHAT FOR PLAYOFFS
Want to discuss the FCS playoff field that will be announced Sunday?
Join fellow In the FCS Huddle writer Sean Shapiro and I for a live chat starting at 9:45 a.m. We will answer questions, take your comments and serve as the ultimate selection show companion.
Visit the FCS section of www.SportsNetwork.com and stay connected throughout the selection show on ESPNU.
AROUND THE NATION
The last time a conference had five playoff teams was CAA Football in 2008. The CAA (Towson, Maine, Old Dominion, New Hampshire and James Madison, or perhaps Delaware if JMU falls out of the picture) and Missouri Valley Football Conference (North Dakota State, Northern Iowa, Illinois State, Indiana State and Youngstown State) have some hope for five representatives ... If Towson wins at Rhode Island or Maine loses to at New Hampshire on Saturday, then Towson (8-2, 6-1) will earn the CAA's automatic bid to the playoffs. The Tigers own wins over Maine, Old Dominion and New Hampshire, which all remain alive for at least a share of the conference title ... It surely won't happen, but the Ohio Valley Conference could end in a six-way tie for the title between Tennessee Tech, Eastern Kentucky, Jacksonville State, UT Martin, Tennessee State and Murray State, all at 5-3 in conference play. If that happens, the automatic bid to the playoffs would be determined by a blind drawing ... Top-ranked Montana State (9-1) will try to beat No. 7 Montana (8-2) in back-to-back years for the first time since 2002 and '03. The Big Sky Conference believes this is the first-ever meeting when both teams are ranked in the Top 7 ... Ron McBride, 72, will coach his final game when he leads Weber State to Portland State, which hopes to improve its playoff resume ... It can be argued that Week 12's biggest game is Liberty at Stony Brook because the winner will secure the Big South championship and go the FCS playoffs for the first time, while the loser's strong season likely will be over. Both are 7-3 overall and 5-0 in conference play after Stony Brook opened the season 0-3 and Liberty 1-3 ... Charleston Southern's Jay Mills will coach his 100th career game when the Buccaneers head to Presbyterian in Big South action. The Bucs are 43-56 under Mills, but 0-10 this season ... Stephen F. Austin and Northwestern State, both 5-5, aren't just playing for a winning season on Saturday in Natchitoches, La. (as opposed to SFA's Nacogdoches, Texas). The Southland Conference rivals are playing for Chief Caddo, the largest traveling trophy of all the NCAA rivalry games. Standing 7 feet, 6 inches tall and weighing over 320 pounds, the trophy is a wooden carving of the chief of the Native American tribe of the same name, and has been given to the winning team since 1961 ... Harvard has won nine of the last two meetings heading into Saturday's trip to Yale for "The Game". But Yale coach Tom Williams, 0-2 versus Harvard, has done well to shed the mistake of his rookie season in 2009 when he called a fourth-and-22 fake punt from his team's 26-yard line with 2:25 left and it led to the Bulldogs blowing their fourth-quarter lead against the Crimson ... Winner take all: A ticket to the SWAC Championship Game will go to the winner of the Alabama A&M at Prairie View A&M inter-division match- up. Prairie View has won the last six meetings ... There's a terrific battle to be leading tackler in the MEAC. South Carolina State linebacker Donovan Richard has 110, just two more than Howard All-American linebacker Keith Pough ... Lehigh (9-1, 4-0) will shoot for its second straight unbeaten season in the Patriot League when it hosts Lafayette (4-6) in the 147th meeting of college football's most played rivalry ... Holy Cross (5-5) needs a win at Fordham (1-9) to secure a seventh straight winning season ... Bryant's Jordan, with 1,706 rushing yards, is 147 away from surpassing David McCarty's Northeast Conference single-season record of 1,852 in 2008. Bryant will wrap up its season against Central Connecticut State ... The NEC's automatic bid to the playoff will go to Albany (7-3, 6-1) with a win over Sacred Heart (5-5). The Great Danes surely need it because co-leader Duquesne (8-2, 6-1) should beat rival Robert Morris ... How about a winning streak? Valparaiso (1-9), fresh off ending a 29-game losing streak, heads to Davidson (3-7) in its season finale. But the big game in the Pioneer Football League sends Jacksonville (7-3) from one coast to the other to take on San Diego (8-2). The winner will share the league title with Drake (9-2) ... Massachusetts, Texas State, UTSA and South Alabama play their final games on the FCS level on Saturday. Next fall, UMass will join the Mid-American Conference, Texas State and UTSA will be Western Athletic Conference members and South Alabama will play a FBS independent schedule a year before entering the Sun Belt Conference ... Four Southern Conference teams play Southeastern Conference teams on Saturday. The last SoCon win over an SEC team was The Citadel beating Arkansas, 10-3, in 1992. That game helped cost Arkansas coach Jack Crowe, now the Jacksonville State mentor, his job ... Third-ranked SoCon champion Georgia Southern (9-1) received a 25th-place vote in this week's Associated Press FBS Top 25. Yeah, bring on Alabama ... Lastly, get set for the last Great West Conference game. South Dakota (6-4) will visit North Dakota (7-3), with the winner earning a share of the conference crown with Cal Poly.
JUST THE PICKS
Last Week's Record: 43-16 (.729)
Season Record: 530-183 (.743)
All Times EST
Thursday, Nov. 17
Nicholls State (1-9, 0-6 Southland) at X-Southeastern Louisiana (2-8, 0-6), 8 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 19
X-No. 11 Maine (8-2, 6-1 CAA) at No. 12 New Hampshire (7-3, 5-2), noon
X-No. 18 Harvard (8-1, 6-0 Ivy) at Yale (5-4, 4-2), noon
X-William & Mary (4-6, 2-5 CAA) at Richmond (3-7, 0-7), noon
Robert Morris (2-8, 2-5 NEC) at X-Duquesne (8-2, 6-1), noon
Central Connecticut State (3-7, 2-5 NEC) at X-Bryant (7-3, 5-2), noon
Wagner (3-7, 3-4 NEC) at X-Monmouth (5-5, 4-3), noon
X-No. 4 Northern Iowa (8-2, 6-1 MVFC) at No. 14 Illinois State (9-1, 6-1), noon
The Citadel (4-6) at X-South Carolina (8-2), noon
Lafayette (4-6, 2-3 Patriot) at X-No. 6 Lehigh (9-1, 5-0), 12:30 p.m.
X-No. 8 Towson (8-2, 6-1 CAA) at Rhode Island (3-7, 2-5), 12:30 p.m.
X-Brown (7-2, 4-2 Ivy) at Columbia (0-9, 0-6), 12:30 p.m.
Samford (6-4) at X-Auburn (6-4), 1 p.m.
X-Cornell (4-5, 2-4 Ivy) at Penn (5-4, 4-2), 1 p.m.
No. 24 Furman (6-4) at X-Florida (5-5), 1 p.m.
Charleston Southern (0-10, 0-5 Big South) at X-Presbyterian (3-7, 2-3), 1 p.m.
X-No. 19 James Madison (6-4, 4-3 CAA) at Massachusetts (5-5, 3-4), 1 p.m.
Morgan State (5-5, 4-3 MEAC) at X-Hampton (6-4, 4-3), 1 p.m.
X-Holy Cross (5-5) at Fordham (1-9), 1 p.m.
X-Butler (5-5, 3-4 Pioneer) at Morehead State (2-8, 1-6), 1 p.m.
Valparaiso (1-9, 1-6 Pioneer) at X-Davidson (3-7, 1-6), 1 p.m.
Sacred Heart (5-5, 3-4 NEC) at X-Albany (7-3, 6-1), 1 p.m.
Missouri State (1-9, 1-6 MVFC) at X-Youngstown State (6-4, 4-3), 1 p.m.
X-Bucknell (6-4, 3-2 Patriot) at Colgate (4-6, 1-4), 1 p.m.
X-Howard (5-5, 4-3 MEAC) at Delaware State (2-8, 0-7), 1 p.m.
UT Martin (5-5, 4-3 OVC) at X-Eastern Kentucky (6-4, 5-2), 1 p.m.
Princeton (1-8, 1-5 Ivy) at X-Dartmouth (4-5, 3-3), 1:30 p.m.
X-Gardner-Webb (4-6, 2-3 Big South) at VMI (1-9, 1-4), 1:30 p.m.
North Carolina Central (2-8, 1-6 MEAC) at X-North Carolina A&T (4-6, 3-4), 1:30 p.m.
X-Murray State (6-4, 4-3 OVC) at Southeast Missouri State (3-7, 2-5), 2 p.m.
X-Coastal Carolina (6-4) at Western Carolina (1-9), 2 p.m.
No. 22 South Dakota (6-4, 2-1 Great West) at X-North Dakota (7-3, 2-1), 2 p.m.
X-No. 13 Wofford (7-3, 5-2 SoCon) at Chattanooga (5-5, 3-4), 2 p.m.
Alcorn State (2-7, 1-7 SWAC) at X-No. 21 Jackson State (8-2, 6-2), 2 p.m.
Campbell (6-4) at X-Georgia State (2-8), 2 p.m.
Minot State (2-7) at X-UTSA (3-6), 2 p.m.
X-South Carolina State (6-4, 5-2 MEAC) at Savannah State (1-9, 1-6), 2 p.m.
X-No. 5 North Dakota State (9-1, 6-1 MEAC) at Western Illinois (2-8, 1-6), 2 p.m.
No. 3 Georgia Southern (9-1) at X-Alabama (9-1), 2 p.m.
No. 7 Montana (8-2, 6-1 Big Sky) at X-No. 1 Montana State (9-1, 7-0), 2:05 p.m.
Southern Illinois (3-7, 1-6 MVFC) at X-Indiana State (6-4, 4-3), 2:05 p.m.
Austin Peay (3-7, 2-5 OVC) at X-No. 23 Tennessee Tech (6-3, 5-2), 2:30 p.m.
Florida A&M (7-3, 5-2 MEAC) vs. X-Bethune-Cookman (7-3, 5-2) at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, 2:30 p.m.
X-Cal Poly (5-5) at South Alabama (6-3), 3 p.m.
X-No. 9 Appalachian State (7-3, 5-2 SoCon) at Elon (5-5, 3-4), 3 p.m.
X-Jacksonville State (6-4, 5-2 OVC) at Tennessee State (5-5, 4-3), 3 p.m.
X-Alabama A&M (7-3, 6-2 SWAC) at Prairie View A&M (5-5, 5-3), 3 p.m.
Stephen F. Austin (5-5, 4-2 Southland) at X-Northwestern State (5-5, 3-3), 3 p.m.
X-No. 16 Liberty (7-3, 5-0 Big South) at Stony Brook (7-3, 5-0), 3:30 p.m.
X-No. 15 Delaware (6-4, 4-3 CAA) vs. Villanova (2-8, 1-6) at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., 3:30 p.m.
Texas Southern (4-6, 2-6 SWAC) at X-Arkansas-Pine Bluff (5-5, 4-4), 3:30 p.m.
Jacksonville (7-3, 6-1 Pioneer) at X-San Diego (8-2, 6-1), 4 p.m.
X-No. 2 Sam Houston State (10-0) at Texas State (6-5), 4 p.m.
Weber State (4-6, 4-3 Big Sky) at X-No. 25 Portland State (7-3, 5-2), 4:05 p.m.
UC Davis (3-7) at X-Sacramento State (4-6), 5:05 p.m.
X-Eastern Washington (5-5, 4-3 Big Sky) at Idaho State (2-8, 1-6), 6 p.m.
Southern Utah (5-5) at X-Northern Arizona (4-6), 6:05 p.m.
X-McNeese State (5-5, 3-3 Southland) at Lamar (4-6, 2-4), 7 p.m.