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SPECIAL REPORT: The CSN Way: Who's In?
By Chuck Burton, The CSN Way Columnist
This weekend saw six FCS teams clinch conference titles, five clinching autobids for the FCS playoffs, and one SWAC team’s clinching of a spot in the SWAC Championship game in December.
Who’s in for all intents and purposes, and who can still get in?
For all the scenarios for the remainder of the conference titles and postseason opportunities, check below the flip.
The Ivy League does not allow any of its teams to participate in postseason play. With their 17-7 win over Harvard, 7-2 Penn has clinched at least a share of the Ivy League championship, and will win the title outright with a win versus Cornell this weekend. 6-3 Harvard can acquire a co-championship with Penn if they beat Yale in the 126th playing of “The Game” and Cornell upsets Penn.
The Gridiron Classic pits the winner of the Pioneer Football league and the NEC (assuming neither team gets invited to the FCS Playoffs). Both conferences’ champions are still in doubt going into the final weekend of the season.
Central Connecticut State (8-2)
Wins the NEC Title if: Have clinched at least a share of the title. If they win on the road at St. Francis this weekend, they win the title outright. If they lose, they would be co-champions with the winner of the Albany/Wagner game.
Postseason Shot:A win this weekend would guarantee them a shot in the “Gridiron Classic". An at-large spot in the FCS playoffs would be extremely unlikely, but possible.
Wins the NEC Title if: Could become co-champions of the NEC if they beat Albany at home this weekend, and Central Connecticut State loses to St. Francis.
Postseason Shot: Cannot become playoff eligible, but could play in the “Gridiron Classic” if they win the NEC or if Central Connecticut State wins the NEC and accepts a playoff bid.
Wins the NEC Title if: Could become co-champions of the NEC if they beat Wagner at home this weekend, and Central Connecticut State loses to St. Francis.
Postseason Shot:Can become playoff eligible if they beat Wagner this weekend, but unlikely to be considered over other teams with seven eligible wins. A win this weekend would also give them a shot in the “Gridiron Classic” if Central Connecticut State wins the NEC and accepts a playoff bid.
Pioneer Football League
Wins the PFL Title if: They beat Drake at home this weekend. If Marist also beats Dayton, Butler would own the PFL title outright.
Postseason: A win this weekend would guarantee them a shot to host the the “Gridiron Classic". An at-large spot in the FCS playoffs would be extremely unlikely, but theoretically possible with seven Division I wins.
Wins the PFL Title if: If they beat Marist at home this weekend, they will share a co-championship with the winner of the Butler/Drake game this weekend.
Postseason:A win this weekend, coupled with a Butler loss, would give them a shot to host the “Gridiron Classic". The Flyers would get to playoff eligibility with a win (getting to 7 D-I wins), but it’s highly unlikely the committee would overlook a loss to D-II Urbana.
Wins the PFL Title if: They beat Butler on the road this weekend. If Marist also beats Dayton, Butler would own the PFL title outright.
Postseason: A win this weekend, coupled with a Dayton loss, would guarantee them a shot to host the “Gridiron Classic". Drake is already technically eligible for postseason consideration with seven D-I wins already, and a win this weekend would put them at eight. An at-large spot in the FCS playoffs would be extremely unlikely, but possible. Working against them is a 51-21 loss to transitional South Dakota (5-5).
7-1 Prairie View A&M has clinched the SWAC West title, and will play in the SWAC championship game in Birmingham, Alabama against the SWAC East champion.
6-4 Alabama A&M will clinch the SWAC East title if they beat Mississippi Valley State at home this weekend or if Jackson State beats Alcorn State.
If 2-6 Alcorn State beats Jackson State on the road and Mississippi Valley State upsets Alabama A&M, the Braves will be SWAC East champions with three conference wins and a tiebreaker against the other three-loss team, Alabama A&M.
Only Prairie View A&M could become playoff eligible if they beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff this weekend. However, since they won SWAC West they are contractually obligated to play in the SWAC championship game and thus are ineligible for the playoffs.
Wins the Big South Title if: They beat 5-5 Stony Brook this weekend.
Postseason: They’re only non-autobid team with a chance at a postseason bid, and a huge X factor. They have to win the Big South title and hope that the playoff subcommittee looks kindly over losses to a solid FBS bowl team (West Virginia) and a former FCS National Champion (James Madison) while looking closely at their win over a Top 25 opponent (Lafayette). Losses by Elon, Eastern Washington, Montana State would definitely help their cause.
Stony Brook (5-5)
Wins the Big South Title if: They would share a Big South championship with 9-2 Liberty if they beat them this weekend.
Postseason: No shot at any postseason play, but it would be a great boost going into next year if they capture their first-ever Big South title.
Has clinched the Great West title.
Postseason: No shot at any postseason play, but have to settle for being the champion of one of the toughest conferences in all of FCS.
Only one independent can make it to playoff eligibility, and that’s first-year program Old Dominion. If they win this weekend against VMI, they will have seven Division I wins, but they have no shot at an at-large bid to the playoffs with losses to 4-6 Fordham and 5-5 Monmouth.
Has clinched the Big Sky title.
Postseason: Already has won the Big Sky autobid. Can all but wrap up a seed and a playoff home game with a win this weekend over Montana State in the “Brawl of the Wild".
Wins the CAA Title If: They win this weekend versus Delaware. This would give the Wildcats only one loss in league play an wins against either Richmond or William & Mary, both of whom Villanova has already beaten.
Postseason: Villanova is guaranteed a spot in the playoffs no matter what happens this weekend. If they beat Delaware, they are in an excellent spot for a seed.
William & Mary (9-1)
Wins the CAA Title If: They win this weekend versus Richmond, and Villanova loses against Delaware. This would mean the Tribe would be the only team with one loss in CAA play.
Postseason: William & Mary is guaranteed a spot in the playoffs no matter what happens this weekend. If they beat Richmond and Villanova loses to Delaware, they are in an excellent spot for a seed.
Wins the CAA Title If: They win this weekend versus William & Mary, and Villanova loses against Delaware. This would mean the Spiders would be the only team with one loss in CAA play.
Postseason: Richmond is guaranteed a spot in the playoffs no matter what happens this weekend. If they beat William & Mary and Villanova loses to Delaware, they are in an excellent spot for a seed.
South Carolina State (9-1)
Has clinched the MEAC title.
Postseason: Already has won the MEAC autobid. Have a real shot at a seed if they beat North Carolina A&T and Montana, Villanova, Southern Illinois or Appalachian State lose this weekend.
Southern Illinois (9-1)
Has clinched the Missouri Valley Football Conference title.
Postseason: Already has won the Missouri Valley autobid. As long as they beat 2-8 Southeast Missouri State this weekend, they are a mortal lock for a seed.
Eastern Illinois (8-2)
Wins the OVC Title if: They beat 3-7 Tennessee State this Thursday. The Panthers win because Jacksonville State is ineligible for the title and Eastern Illinois would be the only eligible team with one conference loss.
Postseason: Simply put: if they win, they’re in. They have an outside shot at a first-round home game thanks to their win against nationally-ranked Jacksonville State.
Eastern Kentucky (5-5)
Wins the OVC Title if: They beat 7-3 Jacksonville State this weekend and Tennessee State upsets Eastern Illinois this Thursday. The Colonels would be co-champions with Eastern Illinois with two conference losses.
Postseason: If they are co-champions with Eastern Illinois, the Colonels would get the autobid by virtue of their 36-31 victory over the Panthers earlier in the year. If they did qualify, they would surely be sent on the road.
Holy Cross (9-1)
Has clinched the Patriot League title.
Postseason: Already has won the Patriot League autobid. If they beat Bucknell this weekend, could host a first-round game or even possibly be a seed with some help around the country. Their loss to 6-3 Brown hurts, but boast two wins over Top 25 teams (Lafayette and Colgate).
Appalachian State (8-2)
Has clinched the SoCon title.
Postseason: Already has won the SoCon autobid. With a win over 2-8 Western Carolina - and with a Montana, Villanova, or Southern Illinois loss - the Mountaineers look like a prime candidate for a seed.
Stephen F. Austin (8-2)
Wins the Southland Title If: They beat 0-10 Northwestern State in the Battle for the “Chief Cadoo Trophy". They win it outright if McNeese State loses to Central Arkansas. If they lose and McNeese State also loses to Central Arkansas, the Lumberjacks win every tiebreaker scenario with two, three, or four two-loss teams, so they would win the autobid.
Postseason: If they win, they will clinch the Southland autobid and may be able to shop a close loss to SMU and wins over McNeese State and Central Arkansas as reasons why they should host a first round playoff game. If they lose and McNeese State loses, they will win the autobid and be guaranteed to be shipped on the road in the first round. If they lose and McNeese State wins, an 8-3 record with a loss to an 0-10 team might be enough to keep them on the outside looking in for an at-large bid.
McNeese State (8-2)
Wins the Southland Title If: They win no worse than a co-championship if they beat 5-5 Central Arkansas 0-10. They win it outright if Stephen F. Austin loses to Northwestern State.
Postseason: If they win, and Stephen F. Austin loses, they will win the autobid and be a strong candidate to host a first round game with a close loss against Tulane and a big win against Appalachian State on their resume. If they win and Stephen F. Austin wins, they won’t get the autobid but will be a very strong at-large candidate thanks to their win over Appalachian State. If they lose, it’s going to be a very tense Sunday morning in Lake Charles as they see if a loss to 5-5 Central Arkansas is enough to eliminate them from at-large consideration.
OTHER POSSIBLE AT-LARGE
Postseason: Their regular season is finished. They have to watch the other teams around the nation and hope that enough of them fall to seven D-I wins in order for them to slip into the field. Of particular note they have to watch 8-2 Lafayette against Lehigh this weekend - a loss by the Leopards might really help their cause, putting them at second place in the Patriot League. If they make it, they are a mortal lock for travelling on Thanksgiving.
Postseason: If they beat 5-5 Samford this weekend, their resume - with their only two losses coming to Appalachian State and FBS Wake Forest - is probably enough to make the field as an at-large. If they lose, Phoenix fans won’t sleep well at all Saturday night having lost their last two games, including one to an unranked team.
Eastern Washington (8-2)
Postseason: If they win at Northern Arizona this weekend, they will become part of the 8/7 club (8 wins, 7 Division I wins) and put themselves into contention for an at-large bid. Their only quality win, however, would have come against Montana State at home. If Montana State upsets Montana, the Eagles are probably out, but if the Bobcats lose and the Eagles win, they’ll at least have a fighters’ chance next Sunday.
Florida A&M (7-3)
Postseason: Their postseason chances took a terrible dive with their 25-0 loss to 5-5 Hampton this past weekend, but still could find themselves with eight Division I wins if they beat Bethune Cookman in the “Florida Classic” this weekend. They’d need some serious help, but they’re still in the conversation if they win this weekend.
Postseason: They have a strong at-large resume, with wins over the Ivy League Champion (Penn) and a Top 25 team (Colgate) with their only losses coming to one conference champion (Holy Cross) and a potential conference champion (Liberty). If they beat 3-7 Lehigh in the 144th meeting of “The Rivalry", they have an excellent shot at an at-large bid; lose, and they are probably on the outside looking in. If they make it, they are probably going to be sent on the road.
Montana State (7-3)
Postseason: Still alive, they can get to the 8/7 club with a win over their huge Treasure State rival Montana in the “Brawl of the Wild". If they do indeed win that game, they are a mortal lock for an at-large playoff spot, since that win could be the biggest of any at-large team left in contention.
New Hampshire (8-2)
Postseason: As long as they beat 5-5 Maine in the “Battle for the Brice-Cowell Musket” this weekend, the Wildcats are a mortal lock for an at-large spot. If they lose, they are probably in the field anyway - but it won’t be an easy night’s sleep with two losses (William & Mary) in their last two games.
Northern Iowa (7-3)
Postseason: With their history in the playoffs, as long as they take care of business against 5-5 Illinois State this weekend, they seem to be a near-certain lock for one of the at-large bids to the playoffs. Some might question a padded schedule (South Dakota, St. Francis) and the lack of a quality wins (only three “quality losses” against FBS Iowa, Southern Illinois, and South Dakota State), but it’s still probably “win and they’re in".
South Dakota State (7-3)
Postseason: If the Jackrabbits simply beat 1-9 Western Illinois, they are a lock for their first-ever FCS playoff appearance thanks to their 24-14 win over Northern Iowa (though there might be whispers about their 21-14 loss to 4-6 Cal Poly). If they lose, they would still have seven Division I wins, but losing their last three games would most likely mean they’re on the outside looking in.
Weber State (6-4)
Postseason: A win over 4-6 Cal Poly would barely put them into playoff eligibility with seven, but a brutal schedule with two oh-so-close FBS losses (Colorado State and Wyoming) may give them some leniency. Most likely they need both Eastern Washington and Montana State to lose - and maybe even some more help on top of that - to make the field, but stranger things have happened.