We’ve seen one month of FCS football as the calendar turns to October. While there’s plenty of season left to play, let’s predict the entire 24-team playoff bracket, from automatic bids to at-larges.
Before diving into the bracket, I’ll explain my process for selecting the predicted field. In this bracket projection, the selected teams are NOT an indication of the FCS playoff selection committee picks, but rather these picks are my opinion, taking into consideration games played data while projecting future play through the regular season.
???? MORE FCS FOOTBALL ????
The predicted bracket follows the format of the FCS playoffs with 24 teams. There are 10 automatic bids this year as the Big South and OVC are sharing a bid for the first time. That leaves 14 at-large bids. Eight of these teams will be seeded and receive a first-round bye.
The first round is just a listing of teams predicted to make the field. The first round of this predicted FCS bracket is not regionalized, nor are teams paired with seeded teams like the actual bracket will be because it’s still early. Similarly, this predicted bracket doesn’t avoid matchups featuring conference teams that have played each other either.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into my 2023 FCS playoff bracket predictions.
RANKINGS: See the latest FCS Rankings
FCS automatic bids
The Ivy, MEAC and SWAC conference champions don’t get automatic bids to the FCS playoffs as their champions don’t participate in the postseason tournament. That said, my predictions for the remaining conference title winners are as follows:
Conference Automatic Qualifier ASUN-WAC Central Arkansas Big Sky Idaho Big South-OVC UT Martin CAA Delaware MVFC South Dakota State NEC Duquesne Patriot Holy Cross Pioneer Butler SoCon Furman Southland UIW
The race for the shared automatic bid in the ASUN-WAC (informally recognized as the United Athletic Conference or UAC) is wide open. Tarleton State is undefeated against FCS competition, but ineligible for the FCS playoffs because of its transitional status. That said, I think the Texans will be a tough out for all teams in the UAC and will shake up the conference title race.
I have Central Arkansas winning the automatic bid ahead of Eastern Kentucky. The Bears benefit from already being 2-0 in conference play and getting Stephen F. Austin, Tarleton State and Eastern Kentucky at home. While EKU has played one of the most difficult schedules in the FCS so far, I give Central Arkansas the advantage in that matchup because of home-field advantage.
The two frontrunners for the Big Sky are CLEARLY Idaho and Montana State. I’ll give the slight edge to Idaho right now when the two schools match up on October 28 because of the performance shown by running backs Anthony Woods and Nick Romano against Eastern Washington. If they can add a dynamic rushing threat to an already elite passing attack, the Vandals can beat anyone. Throw in Idaho as the home team on October 28, and I have the Vandals winning the Big Sky.
I think the Big South-OVC automatic bid will come down to a November 11 game between UT Martin and Southeast Missouri State. That’s way better than a coin flip like last year. That said, I’ll give UT Martin the edge it’ll host the game.
Eastern Illinois, despite a 4-1 start (4-0 against the FCS), will have a challenging path to the auto-bid with matchups against UT Martin, Southeast Missouri State and Tennessee State still on the schedule. I see the Panthers losing at least two of those three down the stretch.
I don’t see where Delaware loses a CAA game during its remaining schedule.
South Dakota State is far and away the best team in the FCS entering October. They’ll win the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
FAVORITES: Why the FCS title is South Dakota State’s to lose
Duquesne gets the early nod for the NEC as the only team in the conference with a .500 record.
Even after a loss to Harvard, Holy Cross remains the best team in the Patriot League by a wide margin.
I think St. Thomas will win the PFL, but the Tommies are ineligible for the playoffs. I can’t put my confidence in a Davidson team that lost to Barton College, so I’ll give Butler the automatic bid with a 2-0 conference record so far.
Furman has been the best team in the SoCon at this point in the season. What I’ve seen from the Paladins so far gives me confidence that they can navigate a road stretch that includes Samford, Western Carolina and Chattanooga with no more than one loss, thus winning them the conference.
Incarnate Word is a step above the rest of the Southland this year, especially with Southeastern Louisiana’s 0-5 start to the season.
UP NEXT: 5 potential first-time FCS champions
Projected FCS at-large bids
North Dakota State
William & Mary
Big Sky at-larges
Montana State‘s only losses are to South Dakota State and Idaho in these projections. It’s in. Sacramento State has only one FCS loss through September while also having an FBS win. That win gives them some wiggle room for up to three FCS losses and they’d still likely make the playoffs.
Eastern Washington’s current losses to projected seeded teams North Dakota State and Idaho are what bracketologists like to call “quality losses.” I have the Eagles getting another quality loss to Montana State, but getting a quality win over Weber State at home to secure a playoff berth. Speaking of Weber StateI have the Wildcats getting the Big Sky’s final at-large bid, thanks to a quality win over Northern Iowa offsetting two future FCS losses.
Even after a loss to Elon, William & Mary will still make the playoffs thanks to a favorable schedule to close the season. Meanwhile, Rhode Island has scored fewer than 34 points only once this season. Their season will come down to the play of quarterback Kasim Hill, and I think the experienced veteran can get the Rams into the postseason without losing another game after a wake-up call against Villanova.
The battle for the final CAA at-large bid will be competitive, but I have Albany prevailing. The Great Danes are undefeated against the FCS through September, giving them room for losses down the stretch. In its most competitive games, I have Albany beating New Hampshire but losing to Rhode Island and William & Mary. With just two FCS losses, the Great Danes will make the playoffs.
Southern Illinois is one of three undefeated FCS teams entering October. The Salukis have an FBS win and two great nonconference wins. That’s a playoff-worthy resume one month into the season.
After losing to South Dakota, I have North Dakota State losing the Dakota Marker to finish with two FCS losses on the year. Moreover, few at-large teams will have a better win than South Dakota after the Coyotes knocked off North Dakota State on the road. South Dakota can make the playoffs even if they lose up to three games down the stretch.
The final MVFC at-large spot comes down to the final week of the season when Illinois State heads to North Dakota. I have North Dakota winning this game at home, securing the final at-large from the conference.
MVFC: South Dakota spoils No. 2 North Dakota State’s Homecoming with upset
After Week 5’s upsets, the SoCon is in a better position to get two at-large bids to the playoffs. The next two best teams after Furman have been Western Carolina and Mercerso those two teams get the nod after each navigates a tricky conference schedule.
Eastern Kentucky gets an at-large after finishing the season with just two FCS losses to Central Arkansas and Western Carolina. Key nonconference wins over Southeast Missouri State and Gardner-Webb will give the Colonels the edge needed for a playoff spot.
Conferences with multiple teams in the projected bracket
No. of Teams
Teams (Auto-Bid BOld)
Idaho, Montana State, Sacramento State, Eastern Washington, Weber State
South Dakota State, North Dakota State, Southern Illinois, South Dakota, North Dakota
Delaware, William & Mary, Rhode Island, Albany
Furman, Mercer, Western Carolina 2 ASUN-WAC
Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky
MORE FCS: How Week 4’s wild weekend will impact these conferences’ postseason hopes
First four out
Chattanooga’s season-opening loss to a North Alabama team that hasn’t been super impressive this season will come back to bite the Mocs. Chattanooga looks like the fourth-best team in the SoCon, which is likely only a three-bid league.
Elon misses the FCS playoffs because unless it beats North Carolina Central, it won’t have a notable nonconference win. I don’t have the Phoenix beating NCCU nor do I have them beating Delaware at home so they miss the cut.
Southeast Missouri State
If Southeast Missouri State doesn’t win the Big South-OVC bid, it’ll be difficult for the Redhawks to make the playoffs with three or more FCS losses. We’ve already seen them lose to two other at-large candidates Southern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky, hurting any at-large case.
UC Davis doesn’t have a nonconference win that holds much weight and with a road trip to Weber State still on the schedule, I don’t think the Aggies get in.
Can an HBCU make the playoffs this year as at-larges?
Hampton and Tennessee State
These two HBCUs each have favorable schedules that could have them in the playoff hunt come November. However, neither team has shown the consistency needed for me to believe they can make a playoff push yet.
Jackson State has only two losses this year, but how they lost will keep them from making the FCS playoffs even if they win out. The Tigers got dominated by FCS opponent Florida A&M on national television and got blasted by FBS opponent Texas State.
UPSETS: See every FCS-over-FBS upset | Here’s the FCS blueprint to beating a ranked FBS team
South Dakota State
William & Mary
In these projections, South Dakota State will get the No. 1 seed as the undefeated defending champion. Idaho gets No. 2 and Delaware gets No. 3 after both go undefeated against FCS competition. Idaho has a slight edge because of its win over Montana State, who slots in at No. 4 after losing to only the top two seeds.
Based on these projections UIW should get No. 5 if it runs the table as expected. The Cardinals’ only loss will have come to FBS opponent UTEP, and an argument could be made that they are worthy of the fourth seed after going undefeated against FCS competition. However, I think UIW’s strength of schedule will keep UIW from a top four spot.
William & Mary plays FBS opponent Virginia this week, and I think the Tribe will win that game. If so, one FCS loss plus an FBS win gets them the No. 6 seed. I have Sacramento State finishing with losses to Idaho and Montana State, but its FBS win against a Pac-12 school gets it the No. 7 seed over other candidates for seeds. If William & Mary loses to Virginia, Sacramento State and the Tribe will swap seeds.
Furman gets No. 8 as the final seeded team because I don’t see the Paladins finishing with more than one FCS loss.
Notable teams to not get a seed include North Dakota State, Rhode Island and Southern Illinois. I have the Bison finishing with two FCS losses, and the Salukis will have lost to the Bison in the regular season. I have Rhode Island winning out, but without a conference championship like Furman, it doesn’t get a seed.
#FCS #playoff #bracket #predictions #full #month #season