Philadelphia, PA – With all the talk about who's in and who's out of the FCS playoffs, there was something else that's quite important being decided across the nation on Saturday.
And winning a conference championship was the easiest way to make the playoffs anyway.
Seven titles were being decided on the final full day of the regular season.
Too often the shouts of "We're going to the playoffs!" overwhelm what's No. 1 for most teams in college football, and that's the conference title race.
The 13 FCS races have been fun:
Big Sky - Montana State (10-1, 7-1) earned a share of its third straight conference title Saturday with Eastern Washington (9-2, 7-1) and Cal Poly (9-2, 7-1), which might have knocked Northern Arizona from a playoff bid with a 42-34 victory. Eastern Washington collected the conference's automatic playoff bid on a tiebreaker.
Big South - The conference title was shared by Coastal Carolina (7-4, 5-1), Liberty (6-5, 5-1) and Stony Brook (9-2, 5-1) for the second time in three years and Coastal hoisted away the automatic bid in a tiebreaker (best conference road record at 3-0). The Chanticleers, who beat Charleston Southern, 41-20, have won five straight games to overcome a 2-4 start in coach Joe Moglia's first season.
CAA - In an incredible final Saturday, the conference had a four-team tie for the title between Villanova (8-3, 6-2), Richmond (8-3, 6-2), New Hampshire (8-3, 6-2) and Towson (7-4, 6-2). Villanova won the tiebreaker for the automatic bid, which puts UNH's eight-year playoff run (currently the longest in the FCS) in jeopardy. Old Dominion (9-1, 6-1), which won at James Madison, 38-28, to improve to 10-1 and 7-1, was ineligible for the title this season - its final one in the CAA before moving up to the FBS.
Ivy - Penn (6-4, 6-1) clinched its 16th league title - the ninth outright for coach Al Bagnoli - with a 35-28 escape at Cornell. Strangely, the Quakers' only loss in league play was to Yale, which didn't beat any other league opponent.
MEAC - Bethune-Cookman was trying to stay healthy in a 21-16 win against Florida A&M, having already secured its second title in three seasons. Coach Brian Jenkins' squad (9-2, 8-0) has a chance to host a first-round game in the playoffs.
Missouri Valley - North Dakota State (10-1, 7-1) stopped Illinois State, 38-20, to capture an outright title and the automatic bid to the playoffs. The defending FCS champion Bison figure to earn the No. 1 playoff seed on Sunday.
Northeast - Wagner (8-3, 7-1) and Albany (9-2, 7-1) finished as co-champions, but Wagner will go to the playoffs for the first time as a result of a head- to-head win. The Seahawks needed to rally in the fourth quarter to beat Duquesne, 23-17, and secure the automatic bid. They head into the playoffs with the longest active winning streak in the FCS (eight).
Ohio Valley - Eastern Illinois won the conference title in coach Dino Babers' first season at the helm. The Panthers (7-4, 6-1) will enter the playoffs off a 48-30 loss at Central Arkansas in a Top 25 non-conference game.
Patriot - Colgate wrapped up a perfect league record last Saturday and ended the regular season with its a 41-39 win over Fordham, which made the Raiders 8-3 heading into the playoffs.
Pioneer - Drake (8-3, 7-1) squeaked by Jacksonville, 32-29, to earn a share of its second straight title with idle Butler (8-3, 7-1). San Diego (7-3, 6-1) can make it a three-way tie with a win at Marist on Dec. 1. If the Toreros pull it off, the league would have only its second three-way share of the title (2000).
Southern - The Big Three of Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Wofford finished as tri-champions with 8-3 overall and 6-2 conference marks, and all three will be in the playoffs. Georgia Southern is going in with the automatic bid.
Southland - Central Arkansas (9-2, 6-1) was the first team to wrap up a playoff bid two weeks ago and then shared the title with Sam Houston State (8-3, 6-1). Both teams will earn playoffs bids.
SWAC - The SWAC Championship Game will be held Dec. 8 in Birmingham, Ala. Jackson State (7-4, 6-2) earned its way in with a 37-11 win over Alcorn State. The East Division champion Tigers, who won the head-to-head tiebreaker with Alabama State, will play Arkansas-Pine Bluff (9-2, 8-1), which won the West Division by an absurd five games.
FCS PLAYOFF BRACKET
Automatic qualifying bids: Bethune-Cookman, Central Arkansas, Coastal Carolina, Colgate, Eastern Illinois, Eastern Washington, Georgia Southern, North Dakota State, Villanova and Wagner
At-large bids: Appalachian State, Cal Poly, Eastern Kentucky, Illinois State, Montana State, Old Dominion, Sam Houston State, South Dakota State, Towson and Wofford
The predicted bracket can be found at http://www.sportsnetwork.com/fcs/FCS_Bracket.pdf.
STOCK RISING, STOCK FALLING
Rising: The biggest regular-season improvement from last season was turned in by playoff-bound Villanova, which went from 2-9 to 8-3. Five-win improvements were turned in by Charleston Southern (0-11 to 5-6), Eastern Illinois (2-9 to 7-4), Fordham (1-10 to 6-5), Northern Colorado (0-11 to 5-6) and Richmond (3-8 to 8-3).
Falling: With losses Saturday, Tennessee State (8-3) and Indiana State (7-4) fell short of realistic playoff consideration. Both had led their respective conference race this season, but Tennessee State lost three of its last four OVC games and Indiana State lost its final two Missouri Valley games.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
A recap of games in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/c7dwq5e.
FCS VS. FBS
Seven FCS teams lost to Southeastern Conference squads on Saturday:
Alabama 49, Western Carolina 0 (it was 42-0 at halftime)
South Carolina 24, Wofford 7
Georgia 45, Georgia Southern 14
Texas A&M 47, Sam Houston State 28
Florida 23, Jacksonville State 0
Auburn 51, Alabama A&M 7
Kentucky 34, Samford 3
Ten FCS teams have defeated FBS opponents this season, including four from the Big Sky and three from the Missouri Valley Conference:
McNeese State 27, Middle Tennessee 21; Eastern Washington 20, Idaho 3; Youngstown State 31, Pittsburgh 17; UT Martin 20, Memphis 17; Illinois State 31, Eastern Michigan 14; North Dakota State 22, Colorado State 7; Sacramento State 30, Colorado 28; Northern Arizona 17, UNLV 14; Cal Poly 24, Wyoming 22; and Stony Brook 23, Army 3
A LOOK AHEAD
The FCS' 20-team playoff field will be announced on an ESPNU selection show at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
Four first-round games will be played next Saturday.
There also are two other games involving SWAC teams. Alabama State will host HBCU rival Tuskegee, from Division II, in the 89th Turkey Day Classic on Thursday, while Grambling State and Southern will play in the XXXIX Bayou Classic at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.