Unblemished record be darned; the FCS Championship Committee gave one-loss Jacksonville State the edge over 8-0 Sam Houston State for the top spot in its first of three top 10 rankings this month, which was revealed on ESPNU this afternoon.
In the coaches poll, it’s really not close, with the Bearkats of Sam Houston State receiving a commanding 22 of 26 first-place votes. But the Committee saw things differently, overlooking the Gamecocks’ Week 2 loss to LSU.
And that certainly seems fair to not hold a loss against a team ranked in the top 15 of the College Football Playoff rankings against them.
|2||Sam Houston State|
|4||North Dakota State|
Granted, Jacksonville State has not exactly had a fearsome FCS slate of games, with just one team on its schedule currently showing up in the coaches poll: No. 24 Eastern Illinois, which has four losses. But it still has to play the games it has, and it has looked very impressive doing so.
The battle for No. 1 between the Bearkats and Gamecocks continues to ripen what could be an extremely compelling championship game should both teams prove their mettle in the postseason. Jacksonville State boasts the best FCS defense in terms of yards allowed, while Sam Houston State has the best offense. A clear difference in philosophies about what makes the best team is at play here, and it would appear the Committee leans toward defense.
Sam Houston State’s schedule could also be a major factor in the decision to keep it from the top spot in the rankings. While Jacksonville State just had the one ranked opponent on its schedule, the Bearkats do not have a single one — or even one receiving a vote in the coaches poll.
Fortunately for them, a showdown at home against Central Arkansas sits on the docket for the end of the regular season. The Bears were arguably the biggest surprise in the Committee’s rankings, as their No. 17 placement in the coaches poll did not deter the Committee from rounding out the rankings with the Bears at No. 10.
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The elephant in the room, of course, is five-time defending champion North Dakota State, which came in at No. 4 in the rankings, the same as the coaches poll. It’s highly doubtful that anyone thinks the Bison’s loss to South Dakota State three weeks ago means they’re not an extremely deadly team come playoff time — and if they do, that’s probably a big mistake.
Regardless, it ultimately doesn’t make a difference where a team is ranked as long as it’s in the top eight in order to receive a first-round bye. For the teams at the top, these rankings are a mere formality, as they know if they take care of business they will be in the position they want come playoff time.
But for Nos. 6-8 The Citadel, Richmond and Chattanooga, being in position for a bye could provide a huge motivation to finish strong down the stretch. And the same could be said about Charleston Southern and Central Arkansas at Nos. 9 and 10, respectively, which are right there on the cusp.
The next rankings come out Nov. 10, and at least one major shakeup can be expected from the fallout of No. 5 James Madison at No. 7 Richmond. Teams like Charleston Southern should be licking their lips at that matchup, knowing that they likely slide up a spot regardless of who comes out on top.
The 2016 championship field consists of 10 automatic qualifiers and 14 at-large qualifiers. The top eight teams will be seeded, receive first-round byes and host second-round games providing they satisfy the hosting criteria. The 16 other teams will bid to host first-round games. First-round games will take place Saturday, Nov. 26, and the championship will conclude with the national championship game in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 7 at noon (ET) on ESPN2.