By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - As we say hello to the 2010 FCS playoff field, let's give a sympathetic goodbye to the teams whose bubble burst Sunday morning.
It's not that Jacksonville or Liberty had reason to be overconfident about gaining at-large bids. But the reality of the news was crushing nonetheless.
Jacksonville (10-1) did everything but beat No. 1 playoff seed Appalachian State - an unlikely scenario - so coach Kerwin Bell and the Dolphins have to be especially upset with the NCAA selection committee.
Is the committee taking the non-scholarship schools of the Pioneer Football League seriously? That's probably debatable considering the 10-school league was the only one that was denied an automatic qualifying bid for this season's playoffs.
Jacksonville leads the FCS in scoring and total offense, and with its parade of offensive standouts, seemed to be worthy of a bid.
If North Dakota State (7-4) and South Carolina State (9-2) are in the field as the last qualifiers, then Jacksonville and Liberty believe they should be in, too.
Not that North Dakota State and South Carolina State aren't worthy teams. What it shows is that with the growth of the FCS to 124 teams, and eventually even to a higher total, a 20-team playoff field is too small.
Most FCS coaches favor a 24-team field for the future. Hopefully, the FCS is headed there.
Now some thoughts on who is in the field:
Best First-Round Matchup: South Carolina State (9-2) at Georgia Southern (7-4). Coach Buddy Pough's MEAC power let a first-round win slip away against Appalachian State last year. Now the Bulldogs go on the road to another Southern Conference school with a decided home-field advantage. Georgia Southern, behind nose tackle Brent Russell, is strong against the run - which is uncommon in the SoCon this year - so its defense could shut down the Bulldogs' game plan. But the Bulldogs have built enough momentum with a five- game winning streak that it's hard to believe this game will not come down to the fourth quarter.
Best Second-Round Matchup: Oh, yes, Villanova (7-4) at Stephen F. Austin (9-2). The defending FCS champion Wildcats hope this isn't their first trip to Texas this postseason (but the championship on Jan. 7 in Frisco is a long way off). Still, this matchup has the feel of an old-time title fight because the defending champ is hobbled by injuries and on enemy soil. SFA senior quarterback Jeremy Moses' record-setting career has seemingly built up to this big spot. Villanova coach Andy Talley doesn't like being in track meets, but this just might be one.
Best Potential Quarterfinal-Round Matchup: With apologies to Villanova at top- seeded Appalachian State (9-2) - should that matchup come off - Eastern Washington (9-2) at Montana State (9-2). All that would be missing from this battle of Big Sky Conference co-champions is EWU's red turf. Considering Montana State won the regular-season meeting, 30-7, the selection committee did what's right by giving the Bobcats a higher seed than EWU - 5 to 4. However, EWU, now No. 1-ranked in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25, hasn't lost since that Sept. 25 game, and tailback Taiwan Jones and linebacker J.C. Sherritt are playing at a high level at the right time of the season.
Best Potential Semifinal-Round Matchup: Delaware (9-2) at William & Mary (8-3). Just another day in CAA Football, eh? These two powers were both ranked No. 1 earlier this month, and they were separated by one point - 17-16 - in the regular-season meeting that William & Mary won at home on Oct. 23. This would be a chance for Blue Hens' quarterback Pat Devlin to win over doubters - everybody wants the next Joe Flacco at UD - and raise his NFL stock. This game also would be played in Williamsburg, Va., again - where William & Mary has won all 11 games over the past two seasons. The Tribe fell one game shy of the national title game last season. They now have their highest seed ever to take the next step.
Best Potential Final: OK, take a pick of any matchup between Appalachian State or Villanova and William & Mary or Delaware. Villanova? Well, it would likely have to win three straight road games to get to the final. But a star-studded defending champion can't be overlooked. App State and William & Mary have home-field advantage through the semifinals and warrant the favorite's role in their respective halves of the bracket. Delaware is a one-point loss to William & Mary and an overtime loss to Villanova away from a perfect regular season.
No matter how it ends up, the right team will emerge in Frisco. Who needs a computer to decide which teams will play for the national title.
FCS PLAYOFF PROJECTION ...In the FCS Huddle's playoff projection can be found here.
Good luck to all 20 teams.