Assessing the FCS Playoff Field

There’s no doubt that the FCS Selection Committee has a tough job. Although choosing 24 teams gives it much more room for error than its FBS counterparts, there were still some difficult decisions that needed to be made regarding who’s in and who’s out of the postseason.

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest surprises and disappointments of the FCS playoff field.

Biggest Surprise – Northern Arizona

Seeing the Lumberjacks make it into the final playoff field was a big enough surprise, but I was floored when the committee announced that they would be hosting a game. Keeping teams in certain regions so as not to stress athletic budgets with cross-country travel is a priority, but not at the expense of putting an undeserving team into the postseason.

Northern Arizona finished the regular season at 7-4 and its best win came against an Illinois State team that finished the year at 6-5. The Lumberjacks got hammered by Southern Utah by 28 points in their last game of the regular season and only beat Montana State by a single point the week prior.

The worst part about this selection is that it told teams that head-to-head doesn’t matter. In early November, Northern Arizona traveled to Missoula and lost to Montana 17-15. The Grizzlies finished the season 7-4, just like the Lumberjacks, but they were left out of the postseason despite having a head-to-head win.

Got a Little Lucky – Monmouth

The Big South was a very weak conference this season, so to see the Hawks get an at-large berth after being hammered by Kennesaw State turned some heads. Monmouth lost to a 4-7 Albany team early in the year and played a lot of cream puffs in its non-conference schedule, feasting on bad Patriot League teams.

Albany’s win over New Hampshire in its season finale probably went a long way to putting Monmouth in the playoffs. The Great Danes haven’t been dreadful this season, hanging in there with teams like Elon and Stony Brook, and beating the Wildcats made Monmouth’s earlier loss look a little better.

Team with the Biggest Gripe – McNeese State

It’s tough to make the case that Monmouth deserved to be in and that McNeese State should have been left out. The Cowboys finished the season at 9-2, just like Monmouth, and played in a much tougher conference than the Hawks. Plus, McNeese State’s two losses were both on the road. The Cowboys outplayed Nicholls State, but they ended up falling by two to the Colonels and were thumped by No. 4 Central Arkansas.

The committee may not have wanted to put four teams in from the top-heavy Southland Conference, but McNeese State has a better resume than Monmouth. Neither team has a quality win to its name, but the Southland was better than the Big South. Additionally, its losses came against better teams and were much closer than the defeats the Hawks suffered. The Cowboys were the first nine-win team from a top-six conference to not make it into the field since it expanded to 24 teams in 2013.

Teams that Would Have Been in With a Win – Delaware and Montana

Fans of the Grizzlies are going to be mad about the committee putting in Northern Arizona ahead of them, but Montana could have locked up a spot if it had defeated Montana State in its season finale. For the second straight season, a loss to the Bobcats was probably the deciding factor in keeping Montana home for the postseason. A win would have made the Grizzlies 8-3 and put them into a tie for third place in the Big Sky. Next season, Montana might want to think about scheduling tougher non-conference opponents, too, as no one was impressed by the Grizzlies crushing Valparaiso and Savannah State.

The Blue Hens are going to miss out on the postseason because of a loss to Villanova in the finale. Delaware’s stingy defense was the key to its success all year and led the school to a win over Stony Brook and kept it close against James Madison. However, it faltered at the wrong time as a bad Villanova team was able to run against it with ease in a 28-7 defeat.

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