We’ve reached the midway mark of the FCS season and we’ve gleaned a lot over these first six weeks. Some teams have surprised greatly while others have be quite disappointing.
(You can see how much our playoff predictions have changed since the preseason by checking out the August edition of this article.)
1. North Dakota State
No surprises here. North Dakota State is 5-1 right now with their only loss coming to FBS Arizona and even that was a close one. Have the Bison won their games in a way that makes you think they’re absolutely untouchable? Not necessarily. Have the they left any doubt that they’re the tried and true #1 though? No. Until someone can prove between the white lines that NDSU can be dethroned then this is where they’ll stay. Six games in and North Dakota State is your top seed. The road to Frisco likely runs right through Fargo yet again but their enemies from the south are hot on their tails.
2. South Dakota State
The Jacks are living up the hype so far in 2022 and are four points away (against Iowa) from being perfect. For a team that’s so often had a vaunted offense, it’s actually SDSU’s defense that really raising eyebrows right now. They’ve been tremendous in stopping the run with only two rushing touchdowns given up and they’re not to shabby against the pass either. With Adam Bock playing at a high level on the defensive end, Isaiah Davis and Mark Gronowski are doing enough on the other side to keep the wins piling up and if Tucker Kraft returns soon then watch out. We anticipate the Jacks to be a Top 3 seed come playoff time but if they can get the all-important win over NDSU then there’s a real chance they could even be #1.
This is exactly what we expected from Montana this year. The defense has been dominant and ranks near the top of the subdivision and the offense has complimented them nicely under transfer QB Lucas Johnson. Not every game has been coast-to-coast smooth sailing but right now the Griz are one of the few unbeatens left and there’s something to be said for that. The second half will be chock-full of big games for UM but Washington-Grizzly is no walk in the park for opponents. Barring a collapse, these guys are a Top 3 team in the FCS and it’s going to be hard to knock them off.
4. Montana State
There may be no team in the country more resilient right now than Montana State. Last year’s star running back Isaiah Ifanse hasn’t suited up yet this fall and along the way MSU lost several more key pieces. Backup RB Lane Sumner has missed significant time as well and so has signal-caller Tommy Mellott. In the face of all those injuries, though, the Bobcats are still undefeated in FCS play. Their only lass came at the hands of Oregon State back in mid-September. Sean Chambers has this team playing at a great level right now. The latter half of the schedule has some tough games but as it stands MSU is clearly a seed.
5. Sacramento State
The Hornets are sticking true to the “Troy Taylor” formula. They are blowing their way through the regular season thus far and have picked up some impressive wins along the way. Both full years under Taylor, Sac State has not only reached the playoffs with a Big Sky title but has landed a seed. Their only hope this year, though, as that there won’t be just one playoff game and currently they seem well on their way of tossing those demons. The tandem of Asher O’Hara and Jake Dunniway may be the most fun one in the country and they’re putting up a lot of points. They should be a seed when the dust settles.
6. Weber State
The Wildcats have been out to prove that last year was a fluke and they’re doing it in fine form. Weber State is one of the remaining undefeated teams and they’ve taken down some mighty opponents along the way including teams like FBS Utah State and Eastern Washington. Bronson Barron and Josh Davis lead an explosive offense and the special teams is also capable of busting off some game-changers. Jay Hill has WSU looking like more than just a playoff contender right now, this team is on its way to a bye week.
7. Holy Cross
We said it back in August and we’ll say it again now: Holy Cross is worthy of a bye this year. The Crusaders have what is likely their best team in school history and their record shows it; 6-0 with an FBS win in there. Matthew Sluka ranks among the best passers in the FCS in several categories and he’s pretty good running it too. The defense is keeping opponents under wraps thanks to Jacob Dobbs and Walter Reynolds. Right now it only seems like one team in the Patriot League has the chance of stopping them but if Holy Cross can get by Fordham later this month then they’re presumably in the clear for a Top 8 spot and maybe an undefeated season.
8. Incarnate Word
Lindsay Scott Jr. could win the Walter Payton Award this year and when you look at his numbers it’s easy to see why. He’s one of only two FCS quarterbacks with over 2,000 passing yards and he has 27 touchdowns. The Cardinals have one of the best offenses out there thanks to the Nicholls transfer and they should be able to ride it to a Southland championship despite losing to SLU earlier this year. If UIW wins out... and they could with the toughest part of their conference slate behind them... then they should end up getting a bye, even if it’s the last one handed out.
Predicted First-Round Matchups
Campbell at Chattanooga (Winner to North Dakota State)
The Camels are emerging as favorites in the Big South thanks to the dynamic play of Hajj-Malik Williams and Bryant Barr. The duo are pacing a very fluid offense that’s put up some big numbers on opposing teams this season. Campbell’s only two losses have come to FBS East Carolina and a Top 15 William & Mary squad. They’ll meet up with Chattanooga out of the SoCon in the opening round. The Mocs have one of the best defensive lineman in the country in Devonnsha Maxwell and a pretty stout defense behind him.
Fordham at Delaware (Winner to Incarnate Word)
Fordham has come onto the scene in fine fashion this year thanks to QB Tim DeMorat. DeMorat leads the nation in passing yards (2,652) and passing TDs (30). The Rams’ top two receivers Fotis Kokosioulis and MJ Wright just so happen to be top ranked nationally as well. All that makes for a lethal offense that’s plowed its way to a 5-1 record. Fordham will pair up with another high-flying offense in Delaware in the first round. The Blue Hens could end up being a seed but right now they’re not even leading the CAA. Nolan Henderson and company, however, are still playoff bound barring some epic collapse.
Sacred Heart at William & Mary (Winner to Montana State)
Not many people pegged Merrimack as contenders in the NEC this year but here they are at 4-2 and sitting atop the standings. Unfortunately for Merrimack they won’t be playoff eligible until next year so right now Sacred Heart is still the pick for the automatic qualifier. The Pioneers will get together with a very good William & Mary group to kick the postseason off. The Tribe are leading the CAA race right now after a huge win over Delaware and should be firmly in the field when all is said and done.
Davidson at North Dakota (Winner to Sacramento State)
Tommy Schuster and Tyler Hoosman have the Hawks in the playoff conversation and have authored some pretty big wins along the way so far. Taking out Missouri State was huge for their postseason chances but there are a couple big games left still. UND will make it in and play host to Davidson who we expect to receive the AQ from the Pioneer League. The Wildcats are 4-2 and seem well on their way to their second straight playoff berth.
Southeast Missouri State at Mercer (Winner to South Dakota State)
This preseason head coach Drew Cronic said the Bears were determined to use last year’s near playoff miss as fuel and they’ve done just that. Outside of an expected loss to Auburn, Mercer has blown through their schedule so far this season and it really hasn’t been close with anybody. Fred Payton is playing the best ball of his career and has the Bears primed for a run at the SoCon title. They’ll welcome in SEMO in the first round. The Redhawks are winners of five in a row and have a favorable slate the rest of the way.
Southern Illinois at Villanova (Winner to Holy Cross)
What a turnaround its been for Nick Hill and the Salukis. A few weeks ago we would have not had them in this piece at all but now, after winning four in a row, SIU is right back in the postseason mix. Nic Baker has thrown for well over 1,000 yards and has four multi-touchdown games. He will lead his team into a matchup with Villanova in the opening round. The Wildcats aren’t quite having the same level of success they experienced last year but they still should be a playoff team.
Samford at UT Martin (Winner to Montana)
In our August edition we said that the SoCon would send three teams this year. We did not, however, think Samford would be that third team. The Bulldogs have made a habit of proving people wrong this year and are sitting at 5-1 right now. Michael Hiers and Chandler Smith have been a nice pair and their team could see postseason action with just a few more wins. They’ll square up with Dresser Winn and the Skyhawks in the first game. UT Martin should still be the AQ from the Ohio Valley and make their second playoff trip in as many years.
Austin Peay at Elon (Winner to Weber State)
Elon is one of the teams that’s taken the country by storm so far this fall. The Phoenix have found something in Montana State transfer QB Matthew McKay and running back Jalen Hampton. With wins over some high-profile CAA enemies already we expect Elon to be in the playoffs where they will match up with Austin Peay. The Govs too have found great success because of guys like receiver Drae McCray. The AQ7 isn’t going quite how folks thought it would and right now it seems like Austin Peay is the favorite.
Here’s a look at our final bracket (home teams are pictured on the bottom of each matchup)...
Predicted First Four Out
The Spiders seem like a weird one to put on the outside but after a tough loss to Elon a few weeks back, it’s hard to put them in with all the other talent circling around the CAA right now. Reece Udinski is having a great season but with games against Villanova, Delaware and William & Mary still to go its going to be a tough home stretch. We won’t be shocked if Richmond ends up making it but losing even two of those games is likely going to be too much to overcome.
There’s just too much inconsistency at the moment to consider SLU for a playoff spot. Yes, they did upset Incarnate Word but they’ve also dropped games to teams they shouldn’t have like Texas A&M-Commerce. Losing Cole Kelley last year was a big hit and then seeing Cephus Johnson go down only made it worse. This team can make the playoffs but they’ll need an impressive second half to get it done.
Much like Richmond, Rhode Island is becoming a victim of the CAA’s overall talent. The Rams are a talented bunch but right now they’re only 3-2 and have some hard games remaining. Last year seven wins weren’t enough to sway the selection committee and seven likely won’t be enough again this time. Jim Fleming’s group is right on the cusp but won’t quite sneak in.
The Colonels have shown some real grit so far this year but with a loss to Austin Peay already plaguing them, EKU is staring down the barrel of a schedule that gives them SEMO, Central Arkansas and FBS-transitioning Jacksonville State. They’ll probably win at least one of those games but they likely won’t win all of them and it seems like that’s what needs to happen if they want to nab the AQ7’s spot.