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Assessing the FCS Playoff Picture

With three weeks left in the regular season, who is in and who has work to do

NCAA Football: FCS Championship-Jacksonville State vs North Dakota State Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

If you want to get all hipster with your college football buddies, let them know that long before the FBS had a playoff, the FCS had a playoff and a selection committee. The small schools have been once again overshadowed by the big boys though. The first rankings from the College Football Playoff Selection Committee dominated coverage on Halloween, while the first rankings from the FCS will debut at halftime of the Idaho-Troy game on Thursday night.

Let’s take a look at what teams can feel safe right now, and what teams are in trouble.

THE LOCKS

James Madison - The Dukes could lose out at this point and would still comfortably make it. The reigning national champions have only been tested slightly this year winning every game by double digits. A season-ending trip to Elon looks much tougher than it did last year though.

North Dakota State - Although the Bison are 8-0, it’s not inconceivable for them to lose two of their last three. They face two top ten teams and an Illinois State team ranked No. 13 in their final three games and will probably stumble once during that stretch. Still, there’s no doubt they are in.

Jacksonville State - One more win seals the Ohio Valley Conference’s automatic bid for the Gamecocks. None of their remaining opponents have a winning record and this team looks like a lock to get one of the top four seeds at this point.

Central Arkansas - The Bears have the easiest remaining schedule of any playoff contender and are a virtual lock to go 10-1. Their last three opponents have a combined record of 4-20.

Sam Houston State - Like their Southland rivals Central Arkansas, the Bearkats also have a walk in the park over their last three games and should finish 10-1 as well. A head-to-head loss to the Bears means they will likely finish second in the conference though.

THE NEAR CERTAINTIES

South Dakota - Another victory punches the Coyotes’ ticket, but this team will probably still get in even if they lose out. Chris Streveler is the favorite for the Walter Payton Award and this team has some very good wins on its resume.

Wofford - The Terriers have already played all the tough teams in the SoCon and have gritted out victories in most of their games. Wofford just has a two-win Chattanooga team and a winless VMI team left on its FCS slate before the season finale against South Carolina. One win and the Terriers are in.

PROBABLY IN

Northern Arizona - The Lumberjacks are the lone undefeated team left in the Big Sky and have a big win over Illinois State, but have not played a good team in conference yet. That changes at the end of the season with road trips to Montana and Southern Utah. They need to win one of those two and take care of Montana State to feel good about their chances.

Elon - Some would bump Elon up into the next category, but there’s still a chance the Phoenix lose out and that would have them sweating. All seven of Elon’s wins have been by one score and only one of its victories came against a team that currently has a winning record. A win against Towson this week should erase all doubt.

WORK LEFT TO DO

Illinois State

South Dakota State

Eastern Washington

Weber State

Nicholls State

Western Illinois

Samford

Villanova

McNeese State

Stony Brook

Southern Utah

Monmouth

Kennesaw State

Colgate

Delaware

Richmond

Western Carolina

Northern Iowa

Furman

Montana