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Playoff Speculation, T-6 Days

Last week I engaged in some I-AA playoff speculation, and it was so popular I figured I'd revisit this today, 6 days before the selections will be announced on ESPN News.

The full rules for playoff selection were explained in this post, but the basics are: eight conferences (including the Patriot League) have an autobid into the I-AA playoffs, and eight teams will be selected as at-large qualifiers. For Lehigh fans, it's really simple: win, and we win the Patriot League title outright and will be playing the weekend after Thanksgiving. Lose, and the season will be over. The chance of Lehigh getting an at-large bid is super-remote.

Let's run down what we know. First, the autobid qualifiers.

Atlantic 10: With James Madison losing and UMass winning last weekend, the Minutemen wrapped up the autobid, no matter what happens next weekend vs. Hofstra.

Gateway: Youngstown State wrapped this up by beating Western Kentucky in their final regular-season game.

SoCon: Appalachian State clinched this last week, and also made a pretty damn good case for home field throughout the playoffs after thrashing Western Carolina last weekend.

Big Sky: This comes down to the "Brawl of the Wild" as to whether Montana or Montana State takes the autobid. This is a game which will get attention, as a Montana State win would take a precious at-large bid away from another team. For now, I'm still picking Montana.

Ohio Valley: With Tennessee-Martin losing to Eastern Kentucky last week, the race has been thrown into a mess that could come down to a number of combinations of Tennessee-Martin, Eastern Illinois or Tennessee State winning the title. The whole thing has the potential to come down to a random drawing or coin flip.

MEAC: Message read loud and clear: Hampton made it in with an emphatic 59-7 win over Florida A&M.

Patriot: Lehigh, or Lafayette. The winner of the 142nd meeting wins it.

Southland: If 6-4 McNeese State wins over 4-6 Nicholls State, they get the autobid. If they falter, 6-4 Sam Houston State is in with a win over 4-6 Texas State. If somehow both fall, McNeese would take it by virtues of head-to-head tiebreakers with Sam Houston State and 4-7 Stephen F. Austin.

Here's who's defintely in the race for the at-large bid in my estimation:

#1: Illinois State. Even if they lose to Northern Iowa in their Gateway finale., they are a lock to be in the field with an 8-3 record.

#2: Furman. They have finished the year at 8-3 and have wrapped up an at-large bid from the SoCon.

#3: James Madison. Though a loss in the final week to Towson wouldn't look great, I see them as a lock from the A-10 with a 9-2 or 8-3 record in any case.

That leaves five spots up for grabs. Two teams last week killed their chances: Charleston Southern (out of the Big South) and Holy Cross (out of the Patriot) by losing last weekend. That leaves the odds for the final spots as follows:

#4: Southern Illinois (1-4). The third team of the Gateway gets in with a win over 3-7 Southern Utah. At home, they've got to be favored to get this done.

#5: A Second Placed OVC team (1-4). If the dust settles and Tennessee-Martin wins the OVC autobid, I still think Eastern Illinois gets a bid. If Tennessee State or EIU gets the autobid, Tennessee-Martin will absolutely get a bid as long as they beat lowly 1-9 Murray State. I continue to like these odds.

#6: A Third Placed Atlantic 10 team (1-2). This requires either New Hampshire beating Maine OR Towson beating James Madison. Although nothing seems to ever be settled in the wacky world of the A-10, this would seem to have a pretty decent shot at happening.

#7: Montana (3-1). If Montana State beats Montana in the "Brawl of the Wild, Montana then will take up a precious at-large bid from another school.

#8: Coastal Carolina (3-1). All they need to do is win their last game against Charleston Southern, win the Big South, and do a lot of scoreboard watching. If the Chanticleers win, they'll be rooting for Montana, Maine and James Madison - if all three win along with Coastal, you've got to love their chances. If New Hampshire, Towson, and Montana State all win, it will be one nervous Sunday.

#9: Delaware State (4-1). Beating 4-6 Howard needs to be accomplished in their final MEAC game, but if they succeed, they'll be doing some scoreboard watching to see how many spots will be open. A loss by Coastal would help immensely, too.

#10: A Fourth Placed Atlantic 10 Team (6-1). This requires Towson beating James Madison AND New Hampshire beating Maine to happen, putting New Hampshire, James Madison and Towson all at 8-3. If this happens, I think all four make it.

#11: Portland State (8-1). With 7 D-I wins after scheduling 3 I-A teams to start the year, there are a lot of folks who have surprised me by saying that the Vikings have a real chance to qualify. If they do, I think it's due to a lot of things that are out of their control.

#12: Monmouth (12-1). The 10-1 NEC co-champion (who has completed their regular season) could be selected if a lot of things happen on Saturday, but it's just looking awful slim.

#13: San Diego (14-1). The 10-0 Pioneer League champions would only be selected if absolutely everything falls correctly... and even then might not make it. If they don't, they'll probably play UC-Davis during the first round of the playoffs and then play Monmouth or Albany in the inaugural Gridiron Classic.


Anonymous said…
Any chance for Northern Iowa (with a win over Ill St of course)?
Anonymous said…
Great analysis
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the analysis, Chuck. Great job.

Personally, I think San Diego's chances are better than you give them credit for. But if Montana State pulls the upset, Harbaugh's team is out of luck.

Funny - almost every team on the bubble is pulling for Montana to win to open up a wild card spot for them!

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