We are less than a week away from knowing exactly who’s going where in the 2021 FCS playoffs and with only one more slate of games left to decide everything, there’s bound to be some major implications on the line come Saturday. The playoff landscape will be shaped greatly by the outcomes of the five following contests.
5. #16 South Dakota at #4 North Dakota State
Normally a Coyotes-Bison matchup to end the season wouldn’t catch much attention, but thanks to last weekend’s wild ending in Vermillion over in-state rival South Dakota State, the Coyotes (7-3) have newfound life entering the final week and suddenly this contest is a lot more interesting. They may still very well need a victory to get in and you’d have to believe a road win over NDSU would be enough to sway the committee. The Bison (9-1) will still make the playoffs but an upset at the hands of South Dakota here could have catastrophic effects on seeding, a bye week and a potential conference title.
A win could propel the Coyotes to a share of the Missouri Valley crown as both them and NDSU would sit at 6-2 in conference play in the event of an NDSU loss with South Dakota possessing the head-to-head tiebreaker. Depending on what happens in Missouri State’s own season finale with Dixie State, we could see some crazy movement at the top of the conference on Saturday if the Coyotes can come out of Fargo victorious.
Keep In Mind: South Dakota has not lost a game by more than eight points all season and North Dakota State’s lone defeat was at the hands of the very same Jackrabbits that just lost to the Coyotes.
4. #11 Sacramento State at #10 UC Davis
The Big Sky championship, or at least a share of it, will be on the line Saturday night when Sacramento State hits the road to play UC Davis. The Hornets (8-2) are undefeated in conference play as are Big Sky foes Montana State whom they do not meet this season. That means that if Sac State can win against the Aggies (8-2) then they’ll lock up at least part of the conference title and, if Montana State loses against Montana, they’ll win it outright.
UC Davis, of course, will not be an easy opponent. The Aggies are coming off a loss to Eastern Washington and will be looking to bounce back. Both teams here know that they will probably be in the postseason regardless of the outcome but playing spoiler to the Hornets would still be significant for UC Davis. The Aggies will undoubtedly need a win to have any hope of a first-round bye and Sac State knows that a loss on their part would more than likely cost them the chance at one as well.
Home playoff games will be at stake in this one and that’s important for two programs that have been really good in their own buildings this year.
Keep in Mind: Sacramento State has won seven consecutive games and has not lost to UC Davis since 2018.
3. #3 Montana State at #7 Montana
This game always has a lot riding on it but there will be much more than pride to play for in this year’s edition of the Brawl of the Wild. Montana State and Montana have not met since 2019 after both schools opted out of the 2020 season and that means the disdain has had an extra year to build up. What’s more, is that both the ‘Cats and the Griz are Top 10 teams fighting for first-round byes in the playoffs. Montana State (9-1) may already have one even with a loss in Missoula but Montana (8-2) will likely need a win if they don’t want to be playing the last weekend of November.
The Bobcats are undefeated in the Big Sky like the aforementioned Sac State Hornets. If MSU can take down Montana then they’ll clinch at least a share of the Big Sky championship but would need to wait and see what happens with the Hornets to know if they win it outright or not. The Griz have suffered two conference losses and have no shot at claiming a Big Sky title but would still relish thwarting their in-state rivals from doing so.
Keep In Mind: Montana State has won nine games in a row and have defeated Montana in their last four meetings. The Griz, though, have only lost one home game all season.
2. #21 Mercer at #8 East Tennessee State
The Buccaneers and the Bears will meet up this weekend in what might as well be called the SoCon Championship. Mercer and ETSU are both tied at the top of the conference standings with one loss in SoCon play each. Both teams look to be playoff-worthy but the Bears (7-2) will probably need a win here if they want to avoid hitting the road in the opening round. The Buccaneers (9-1) are in but if they want any hope of landing a bye week they’ll need to take care of business.
The winner will of course win the SoCon title outright and whoever claims it will have their first in program history. ETSU did snag a share of the conference championship in 2018 along with Wofford and Furman but Mercer has never won it. In fact, the Bears have never even appeared in the postseason before so its safe to say they’ll have a lot to play for come Saturday.
Keep In Mind: ETSU’s only loss this season was a 21-16 defeat to Chattanooga and the Bears just beat the Mocs last weekend.
1. Monmouth at #9 Kennesaw State
Much like the SoCon, the Big South championship will be decided in a head-to-head matchup this weekend. The Owls will play host to the Hawks with each having a similar 6-0 record in conference play. Whoever wins will hoist the Big South trophy and stand alone at the top. Kennesaw State (9-1) has beaten every FCS foe they’ve faced this season and has all but punched another trip to the playoffs. Monmouth (7-3), though, is not necessarily a shoe-in yet. A win over the Owls this weekend would guarantee them a spot as an auto-bid and most likely give them a home game.
Kennesaw State is playing for more than just a conference crown on Saturday, however. They have an outside shot at earning a first-round bye and will need a victory to help them achieve it. The Owls, despite only starting their football program in 2015, have made the playoffs three times and has gone as deep as the quarterfinals twice.
Keep In Mind: Kennesaw State has not beaten Monmouth since 2018 but did win all four of their prior matchups up to that point.