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FCS East Wrapup: Tightening Playoff Races

(Photo Credit: AP/Boston Herald)

The Pat Toomey/Joe Sestak race isn't the only race that's too close to call right now.

In the CAA, NEC and Big South - playoff conferences all - there are a number of races for FCS playoff autobids and (potentially) at-large invites that are also hotly contested.

The CAA, with seven teams in the Top 25 of the GPI, are guaranteed their autobid (of course) and also are guaranteed a couple of at-large bids, with the potential of having even more.  But let's take a closer look which teams could be playoff-bound from the East - and, by extension, could be possible opponents of the Patriot League champion. (more)

  • The Northeast Conference's autobid will be one of two teams who are undefeated in league play and who face off against each other this weekend: Robert Morris, who throttled Duquesne 34-11 and Central Connecticut State, who beat Wagner this past weekend 38-20. (Sure, the Blue Devils could beat Robert Morris and lose both of their last two games, but that's real unlikely to happen.) "Connecticut State will be the biggest game ever for us, hands down," Colonial RB Myles Russ said. "That will give us an opportunity to get into the playoffs."

    If Lehigh wins the Patriot League and Central Connecticut State (GPI: 49) survives the NEC against Robert Morris (GPI: 29), it would be an intriguing matchup, especially if it were at Murray Goodman - it would be a rematch of the 2009 season opener, won by the Blue Devils 28-21.
  • Similarly, in the Big South, there are two undefeated teams that also seem on a collision course: Liberty, who survived a scare against 1-7 Presbyterian, 34-24, and Stony Brook, who - despite their loss to 'that school in Easton' - could, after beating Charleston Southern 41-21, be playing for the Big South title on November 20th if they can get past Presbyterian and Gardner-Webb in consecutive weeks.  Wouldn't it be something if 4-4 Stony Brook (GPI: 70) and 2-6 Lafayette (GPI: 103) had a rematch in the first round of the playoffs?  If both teams run the table, they will - incredibly - get that chance.  If Lehigh or Lafayette win the Patriot League and face off against Liberty (GPI: 29), both the Mountain Hawks and Leopards have faced off against the Flames before, going 2-1 against them.
  • Unsurprisingly, the CAA has no shortage of potential champions in their midst.  With the CAA champion guaranteed a seed and a first-round bye, there is a lot of incentive for their champion to win the autobid.  Surprisingly, though, all have at least one conference loss and the team in the drivers' seat at the moment, William & Mary, could actually finish 7-4 and potentially out of a playoff bid if they lose their next three games, all against nationally-ranked teams.  The Tribe played a game that didn't count in the CAA title race last weekend, but took FBS North Carolina to the limit but couldn't hold on as they barely fell to the Tar Heels 21-17.  Injuries to the starting QB and RB could have been big reasons they lost the game - and could also be a factor if they end up falling in the CAA race, too.
  • Delaware, coming off a bye week, stands to benefit the most if William & Mary falls.  If the Tribe fall twice and the Blue Hens run the table, they will be CAA champions and get that precious bye.  But UMass, who rescued their failing playoff prospects by coming from behind to beat James Madison 21-14, and Villanova, who beat Richmond 28-7, might get in the way of the Blue Hens' dreams.  Add New Hampshire to that list, and you have no fewer than five schools who share a dream of a potential first-round bye - or putting themselves at risk of falling out of the playoff picture at 7-4, incredible as that is to believe.  Holy Cross faced off against Villanova last year in the FCS playoffs, and played Delaware in the regular season a few years ago.
  • Did I mention two of these potential CAA champions - Villanova and New Hampshire - were Lehigh opponents this year?  Now I have.  
  • There are two other teams as well - 4-4 James Madison and 4-4 Richmond - who will face off against each other this weekend in an effort to keep their heads above water to possibly become the final at-large playoff spot should they finish with a 7-4 record.  Both played thrilling playoff games in the past against Lehigh: in 1998, Lehigh's 24-23 shocker against Richmond propelled the Mountain Hawks, with a young Andy Coen and Dave Cecchini on their staff, to a second round game against UMass.  And in 2004 - Lehigh's last year in the playoffs - the infamous "7th-and-goal" was a big part of James Madison's 14-13 victory over Lehigh - and their run to the FCS title that year.
  • While it doesn't count for the playoffs, one of the things helping Lehigh's GPI score is that Harvard, who beat Dartmouth 30-14, last Saturday, keeps winning and putting themselves in position to at least share the Ivy League title.  As of now, the only undefeated team in the Ivy League is Penn, who faced off against depleted Brown this weekend and won easily, 24-7.  A showdown in a couple weeks looms - and if Harvard can keep winning, Lehigh's GPI will be helped, too.
  • Those who thought Georgetown might be back after their surprising wins over Lafayette and Holy Cross have seen an awful return to the bad old days as the Hoyas could not come back and fell to Fordham 24-19. "Was it the fumbled interception, the interception in the end zone, the kicking game, the rush defense? As with each of Georgetown's last five losses, it was a team effort, and one that the Hoyas will look back with regret when all is said and done," the inimitable DFW Hoya reported on the game. Georgetown has an extra week to think about their loss before they face off against Lehigh, while Fordham is looking to get some real positive momentum for 2011 as they face off against Bucknell in Lewisburg next weekend.
  • Despite their 2-6 record, Lafayette - with their 33-22 victory over Bucknell - can still win the Patriot League title (and autobid) if they run the table the rest of the way.  QB Marc Quilling, who was brought in after QB Ryan O'Neil came out again with yet another concussion, will be the starter next weekend vs. Colgate.  Lafayette, who has had more injuries than folks can count, may have had another big blow when freshman RB Patrick Mputu went out with a leg injury, putting sophomore RB Alan Elder, who was nowhere on the depth chart in summer practice, is now the starting tailback for the Leopards - who still have everything to play for.


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