The FCS season has been an exciting one so far and now that October is in full swing it’s starting to become clear who’s the real deal and who isn’t. The playoffs are a mere six weeks away and the postseason picture already looks drastically different than we thought it did back in August.
What will the bracket look like when the committee convenes next month? Here’s our best guess based on what we’ve seen so far...
1. South Dakota State
As expected, South Dakota State is still the team to beat and, they still haven’t been beat since Week 1 of last year. The Jacks continue to outmuscle their opposition and have set themselves up for another deep playoff run. Mark Gronowski, Isaiah Davis and the Janke twins are picking up right where they left off in 2022 in the first year in what feels like a lifetime without legendary John Stiggelmeier calling the shots. Jimmy Rodgers hasn’t missed a beat and, barring some unforeseen collapse, the road to Frisco runs through Brookings again. Good luck to whoever has to see the Jackrabbits in December because they’ll need it.
2. Montana State
The Bobcats are 4-1 through their first five games and are an inch away from being a perfect 5-0. They are again the top rushing team in the whole country (by a lot). There’s still a huge game with Idaho on deck later this month but as of right now, MSU has prove its worthiness of the #2 seed and that would be a big get for Brent Vigen’s squad. They currently hold the longest Division I home win streak at 23 games. Bozeman is not an easy place to play and if Montana State can be there a lot this winter, that’s bad news for that side of the bracket. Sean Chambers has filled in nicely with fellow QB star Tommy Mellott missing three games with an injury and the defense is playing well on the other side. The ‘Cats are rolling.
The Vandals were a preseason darling by many but few probably expected this level of success for Jason Eck and the boys from Moscow. Idaho has outclassed almost everyone they’ve played this fall with their only loss coming to Cal (and still they held a 17-0 lead at one point in that game). Gevani McCoy and Hayden Hatten are the most electric tandem in the FCS right now and have been the headache of many defenses. Anthony Woods is a pretty solid option at running back as well. There’s legitimate hope for a Big Sky title this season, something that hasn’t happened for the program since the early 90s. Watch out for these guys because it feels like they’re only just getting started.
4. North Dakota State
It’s been a while since we’ve seen the Bison not one of the top spots but alas, things haven’t been all ups in Fargo this season. Losing to then-unranked South Dakota a couple weeks back was a big blow with the other contenders playing like they are (and with a game against SDSU still on the schedule) it’s difficult to give NDSU a Top 3 seed. Still, they’ll come in at #4 right now and should get a few playoff games in the dome which is always helpful. Cam Miller has shown significant improvement this year from last and the team really has something in Cole Payton. It would be folly to count this team out even with the few setbacks they’ve seen and another run to Texas is very much in the cards.
The hype around Furman has been well-founded so far this year and the Paladins are frontrunners for the SoCon championship. With a hard-hitting secondary and a potent rushing attack, the boys in purple are one of the most complete teams in the country. The offense averages 367 yards per game thanks in large part to guys like all-conference running back Dominic Roberto. Travis Blackshear and Hugh Ryan are two of the more electric DBs in the country and they consistently make life tough on opposing quarterbacks. All in all, Furman is right where we thought they’d be at this point in the year.
6. Sacramento State
The Big Sky is once again an absolute slog but so far Sac State has proven it can stay afloat in the upper half of the conference. The Hornets only loss has come at the hands of Idaho (barely) on the road in an excellent game. Andy Thompson, in his first year, already has an FBS win under his belt and currently has the team at four wins. Kaiden Bennett has taken the reins at quarterback proving more and more with each week that he’s the guy for the job. Yet again it seems as though Sacramento State is on the fast track for a seed but there are some big matchups left on the schedule.
The Blue Hens have steadily taken back control of the CAA over the first half of the season and they’re showing no signs of letting up as October presses on. Ryan O’Connor is establishing himself as the guy under center, passing for 1,242 yards and 11 scores already this season. Marcus Yarns is a bruiser while running the ball and to top it off, UD has plenty of talented pass-catchers. The Hens are the favorites to take the CAA this year especially with other contenders slipping recently. If they can keep on the trajectory they’ve been riding then there’s no reason Delaware won’t get the fast track to the second round when the playoffs start.
8. Incarnate Word
The Cardinals don’t quite look like the same offensive juggernaut they were a year ago with Lindsey Scott Jr. but make no mistake, UIW is still likely headed for a Top 8 seed. Zach Calzada transferred in from Auburn and has still put up big time numbers and first-year head coach Clint Killough hasn’t missed a beat since taking over. The Southland is Incarnate Word’s for the taking and, already at 4-1 this year, it seems as though the Cardinals are going to blow through. The fanbase in San Antonio has acquired a recent taste for winning and deep playoff runs and they should be in for more fun times come December.
Predicted First-Round Matchups
Southern Illinois at Eastern Washington (Winner to South Dakota State)
Excluding a poor showing last week, Southern Illinois has been on fire to start the 2023 season and they should be playoff bound barring a collapse. The Salukis have one of the better QBs in the country in Nic Baker and have a pretty stout defense to boot. They’ll hit the road in the first round and face Eastern Washington who will be one of the last teams in. EWU has found something in signal-caller Kekoa Visperas and with guys like Efton Chism III still catching passes, you can’t count them out even in a crowded Big Sky.
UT Martin at Chattanooga (Winner to Incarnate Word)
This could very well be the year the SoCon sends three teams and if it does, count on Chattanooga to be that third team. The Mocs are 4-2 right now and just lost a heartbreaker to Western Carolina but if anything that should only fuel them. Ailym Ford is a again one of the more productive running backs out there and Chase Artopoeus has been tearing it up throught the air. The Mocs will host Big South-OVC winner UT Martin in the first round. The Skyhawks also have a really good back in Sam Franklin who currently is second in the FCS with 839 rush yards. UT Martin has only lost one game so far this year at that was to Georgia. With SEMO ailing in a bad way right now, the Skyhawks should be the top dog in the conference.
Davidson at Villanova (Winner to Idaho)
It appears as though Davidson should nab the auto bid from the Pioneer League like they did last season. The other frontrunner, St. Thomas, is not postseason eligible yet. The Wildcats are averaging over 45 points per game right now and are holding their opposition to 21. They’ll see the other Wildcats, Villanova, in the opening round. Mark Farrante’s team seems like it’s back to its winning ways after missing the postseason in 2022. ‘Nova has the talents of Connor Watkins at QB and senior wideout Rayjon Pringle who has four touchdowns this year. They should be comfortably in the bracket when all is said and done.
Wagner at William & Mary (Winner to Furman)
The NEC is always a tough conference to peg down but right now Wagner is leading it and the Seahawks have already beaten what could be their stoutest competition in Merrimack. Wagner will square off with last year’s CAA champion William & Mary to open things up. The Tribe won four straight to start this season but have since lost their last two. Star running back Bronson Yoder is out with an injury and that hasn’t helped things. W&M still has arguable the best defensive player in the land, though, with John Pius. Will it be enough for another deep run? Maybe. But the Tribe should still be in the playoffs at the very least.
South Dakota at Central Arkansas (Winner to Montana State)
Central Arkansas currently leads the UAC and right now they look like they come by that first place spot honesty. The Bears have a steady arm in Will McElvain along with one of the FCS’ best running backs in North Alabama-transfer Shunderrick Powell. This team has won games in every way from epic comeback to lopsided blowout meaning the confidence is sky high. They’ll face South Dakota, the surprise out of the Missouri Valley. The ‘Yotes most notable win this year was over NDSU a couple weeks back but it was no fluke. Aidan Bouman has a strong arm and that red zone defense is nothing to laugh about. Don’t be surprised if USD makes some noise down the stretch.
Albany at Holy Cross (Winner to Delaware)
As expected, the Patriot League has been run by Holy Cross once again and, barring a highly unlikely collapse, the league title is theirs for the taking. Matthew Sluka is one of the nation’s best QBs and Jacob Dobbs is an absolute stud at linebacker. The Crusaders are full of playmakers on both sides of the ball. They’ll play host in the opening round and welcome in Albany. The Great Danes have not lost an FCS game yet and even their two FBS defeats were respectable scores. Reese Poffenbarger can light it up passing and Dylan Kelly is a game wrecker on defense.
North Dakota at Montana (Winner to North Dakota State)
The Hawks only have two losses right now and they’re both pretty forgivable (Boise State and South Dakota State). UND has one of the better quarterback-receiver combos in the nation with Tommy Schuster and Bo Belquist. They’ll hit the road in the first round to take on a Montana team that’s currently 5-1. The Griz, though, have been under much scrutiny this season as a lot of their wins haven’t been ultra impressive. Clifton McDowell has replaced Sam Vidlak as the starter and that’s seemed to give the team new life on offense. UM should be back in even with a tough schedule coming up.
Rhode Island at Western Carolina (Winner to Sacramento State)
The surprise team of the year so far has been the Catamounts of Western Carolina. Behind the legs of Desmond Reid and the arm of Cole Gonzalez, WCU has cruised out to a five-win start and taken down teams like Chattanooga and Samford along the way. They may even be a seeded team when the dust settles but that will hinge largely on how their matchup with Furman goes. Rhode Island will be their opponent to start the playoffs. Kasim Hill brings a dual threat attack to the offense that’s putting up nearly 300 passing yards per contest. It’s been a long time since URI has been a postseason team and it seems like this could finally be the year.
Predicted First Four Out
The Penguins are on the cusp of the postseason and a big win over Southern Illinois earlier this month is a huge resume booster. That being said, the upcoming schedule is not going to be easy. Games against North Dakota and South Dakota State are still on deck and it’s realistic that YSU could lose both. Mitch Davidson and Tyshon King, though, give this team a chance. King has eight rushing touchdowns already this fall and Davidson is completing his passes at 73% rate. If YSU does get in, these two will be a big reason why.
Austin Peay is currently playing catch-up in the United Athletic Conference behind a really good Central Arkansas team. The Govs have yet to meet the Bears and that game may very well decide the auto bid but right now the edge goes to UCA. Mike DiLiello is having another solid year as is junior receiver Terry Goodman. Will they have enough quality wins to snag an at-large bid, though, if they don’t win the league? Right now their victories have come over East Tennessee State, Lindenwood and SFA.
The SoCon is really good at the top this year and sneaking in as an at-large won’t be easy, especially with Chattanooga and Western Carolina in the way. Mercer is 4-2 right now but even in some of their wins they haven’t impressed. The defense is giving up well over 300 yards per game and the Bears have struggled in most every contest they’ve played. Carter Peevy is doing a fine job at QB but it’s clear the team is missing Fred Payton. Ty James is still one of the best receivers in the FCS, though, and he’ll need to ball out over the next six weeks if Mercer wants to make it in.
The Aggies were pegged by many (us included) at the beginning of the year to be a playoff team but with two Big Sky losses already, it’s hard to see them getting in right now. Both Eastern Washington and Montana took them down in their own building and that doesn’t exactly build confidence for upcoming games against Sac State and a rising NAU team. Lan Larison also went down with an injury and that certainly hasn’t helped things. It’s going to be some uphill sledding if UC Davis is going to get a playoff spot. A 3-3 start is not a death sentence but there’s little room for error now.
Predicted Final Bracket
Host institutions are pictured on the bottom of each pairing.