The day has finally come: The 2017 NCAA Football Championship playoff bracket has been revealed. We're no longer speaking in hypotheticals or discussing how the country's coaches ranked the Top 25 teams. This is the postseason, where your next loss ends your season and a win brings you one step closer to a national championship.
To no surprise of even the casual FCS fan, James Madison earned the No. 1 overall seed after finishing the regular season 11-0. Perhaps the most intrguing part of the bracket is who the FCS Selection Committee awarded the No. 2 seed. There were five one-loss teams ranked in the Top 10 of the last FCS Coaches Poll, so which team would be seeded one spot behind the Dukes?
The committee decided on North Dakota State, which means the two programs responsible for the last six national championships are the top two seeds in the playoffs, placed on opposite sides of the bracket, setting up a potentially massive championship game. The Bison won every championship from 2011 to 2015, beating a handful of FBS teams along the way, cementing their status as an absolute force in college football, regardless of level. James Madison ended North Dakota State's championship streak last December as the Dukes traveled to Fargo, N.D., and handed the top-seeded Bison a 27-17 loss in the semifinals, en route to winning the title.
If they meet again this season, James Madison will be playing for the chance to end the season as an undefeated national champion, while North Dakota State will have as high-stakes of a revenge opportunity as exists in sports.
Here are the rest of the top eight seeds, each of which gets a first-round bye in the playoffs: No. 3 Jacksonville State (10-1), No. 4 Central Arkansas (10-1), No. 5 South Dakota State (9-2), No. 6 Sam Houston State (10-1), No. 7 Wofford (9-2) and No. 8 Southern Utah (9-2).
One point worth noting: As the winner of the MEAC, undefeated North Carolina A&T will play in the Celebration Bowl, where the Aggies will play the winner of the SWAC. That's why the country's only undefeated team besides James Madison is not in the FCS playoffs.
If you're looking for a promising first-round matchup, make sure you're in front of a TV next Saturday, Nov. 25, at 4 p.m. ET. Weber State (9-2) and Western Illinois (8-3) will square off for the chance to play No. 8-seeded Southern Utah. Both schools were ranked in the Top 10 of the latest FCS Coaches Poll, while Southern Utah was ranked No. 18, setting up an important second-round game to see who will play top-seeded James Madison.
The Wildcats finished with the same conference record as Southern Utah in the Big Sky Conference but the Thunderbirds won their head-to-head matchup 32-16 in mid-October, giving them the edge in the committee's eyes. Western Illinois finished fourth in the Missouri Valley, which is like finishing fourth in the SEC West, due to the conference's strength with teams like North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Northern Iowa, South Dakota and Youngstown State.
Kennesaw State (10-1) has the fewest losses of any team that plays in the first round of the playoffs. The Owls have won their last 10 games after losing their season opener against Samford, 28-23. They've shut out two opponents and held two others to just a field goal during their winning streak.
If you're looking for a sleeper who could pull off an upset in the playoffs, take a look at No. 7 seed Wofford. The Terriers competed admirably against South Carolina in Week 12 and their only other loss was a 24-21 defeat against Samford. Wofford will play the winner of Elon and Furman, the latter of which already lost to the Terriers this season.
There will surely be upsets in the FCS playoffs but a championship between No. 1 James Madison and No. 2 North Dakota State is probably the most enticing potential matchup, if the bracket goes "chalk." The Dukes and Bison are two of the most dominant programs in the FCS and a rematch of last season's playoff game would be must-watch television.