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Stan Becton | NCAA.com | November 18, 2022

The case for and against 16 FCS teams for an at-large bid in the 2022 playoffs

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The FCS playoff selection show is days away and with one game left to play, it's time to take a look at the FCS at-large bubble. Let's take a deep dive into all of the cases of teams on the edge of the playoff field.

Guarantee-ish

First, we'll start with the at-larges that have almost a guaranteed shot — in my opinion — to earn an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs regardless of Week 12's results:

  • No. 2 Sacramento State
  • No. 3 Montana State
  • No. 4 North Dakota State
  • No. 7 UIW
  • No. 8 William & Mary
  • No. 10 Weber State
  • No. 11 Richmond
  • No. 13 Furman
  • No. 15 Southeast Missouri State
  • No. 18 Elon

From that group, there are seven at-large bids and potentially nine total, depending on how conference races shake out. Remember, there are only 13 at-large bids available.

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At-Large Impact

Now that those are out of the way, let's break down a few conference races that will impact the at-large race.

CAA

If you're an FCS bubble team, you do not want New Hampshire to win the CAA. William & Mary and Richmond's resumes are too strong to be left out of the FCS playoff picture. New Hampshire's resume, on the other hand, is a bit shakier with two FCS losses. Bubble teams are more comparable to New Hampshire than William & Mary and Richmond.

OVC

If UT Martin and Southeast Missouri State have the same result in Week 12, every bubble team's eyes will be on the OVC's coin flip. If you're on the bubble, you almost need Southeast Missouri State to win the OVC because if not, the Redhawks have a high probability of grabbing an at-large bid.

AUTO-BIDS: We're tracking every FCS automatic qualifying bid and scenario

FCS bubble

Now, let's break down the cases for and against every FCS bubble team.

Sorted by ranking, then alphabetically.

No. 12 Montana

Case for (with win)

If Montana defeats No. 3 Montana State to finish the season 8-3, it's in the playoffs.

Case for (with loss)

If Montana loses, it'll finish the season 7-4. Montana's 47-0 win over Northwestern State will be its best win, if Northwestern State wins the Southland. While the Grizzlies will have lost four of its final six games, it faced injuries to its quarterback in at least two (potentially three) of those games. 

When healthy, Montana looks like a top team in the FCS. The Grizzlies also advanced to the quarterfinals last year, and the committee can factor in recent playoff success.

Case against (with loss)

If Montana loses, it will have lost four games to FCS opponents. If Northwestern State doesn't win the Southland, the Grizzlies won't have any quality wins. Montana's resume with only seven wins isn't enough to surpass other bubble teams.

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No. 14 Fordham

Case for (with win)

Fordham will finish the season 9-2 with a win in Week 12, with just one loss against an FCS opponent. In that loss, the Rams pushed a Holy Cross team that will receive a seed in the FCS playoffs to overtime. Even Fordham's FCS loss was close, losing by a touchdown to Ohio.

Fordham also has a top-two Walter Payton Award candidate. With an at-large bid, the Rams would bring star power to the playoffs.

Case against (with win)

Fordham may finish the season 9-2, but it will not have a win against a team with a winning record. Fordham's defense ranks in the bottom half of the FCS in scoring and total defense. Despite a prolific offense, a leaky defense and a poor strength of schedule keep the Rams out of the playoffs.

Case against (with loss)

It's hard to see Fordham getting an at-large bid to the playoffs with a loss. None of Fordham's wins were over teams with winning records, and a loss to Colgate would be a bad loss.

No. 16 Mercer

Case for (with win)

If Mercer defeats a top-10 Samford team to close the season, it will be THE signature win on Mercer's resume. It will also give the Bears an 8-3 record and an edge over a litany of 7-4 teams. A blowout win that matches Mercer's current 34-point margin of victory may send such a statement that the Bears become a shoo-in for the committee. A close win will still have the Bears on the bubble, but a win over Samford could be the final push Mercer needs to make its first-ever playoff appearance.

Case against (with win)

Is the SoCon a four-bid league in 2022? That'll be the question the playoff committee will face if Mercer defeats a top-10 Samford team to finish the season 8-3. Win or lose in Week 12, Mercer would be the final SoCon team in, as Samford already owns the conference's auto-bid, and the Bears have head-to-head losses to Furman and Chattanooga.

If Chattanooga wins in Week 12, Mercer is likely behind it in the playoff pecking order, regardless of a top-10 win to close the season. If Chattanooga is low on the playoff committee's board, that means Mercer could be stuck waiting and never hear its name selected.

Case against (with loss)

If Mercer loses to Samford, it will have lost three of its last four games to finish the season 7-4. That's a downward spiral that doesn't bode well for a team looking to impress the playoff committee. It has head-to-head losses to every other SoCon bubble team.

Mercer's best non-conference win is against Gardner-Webb, which may not look as good if the Runnin' Bulldogs don't win the Big South. That win won't help prevent a poor end to the season, keeping Mercer out of the playoffs.

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No. 17 Chattanooga

Case for (with win)

With a win, Chattanooga finished the season at 8-3. It'll have two FCS losses, both to ranked playoff teams. The Mocs will have a win over Mercer, who was ranked No. 11 at the time of its defeat. With eight wins, Chattanooga should get a playoff berth, especially after finishing third in an improved SoCon.

Case against (with win)

Could an 8-3 Chattanooga miss the playoffs? It's possible, given the Mocs could go 8-3 and finish third in its own conference. If the at-large bubble shrinks thanks to Saturday's results, anything could happen. Chattanooga's best win against Mercer could look worse if the Bears lose again and the Mocs played an unimpressive non-conference schedule. If an 8-3 Chattanooga is left out of the playoffs, that'll be why.

Case against (with loss)

With a loss, Chattanooga finishes the season 7-4. While the SoCon is improved, a loss to Western Carolina is a bad loss. It'll also mean the Mocs have lost three of their last four games. Chattanooga's best win will be Mercer, a team that may drop out of the FCS Coaches Poll with a loss. If that's the case, zero ranked wins and a lack of momentum to close the season may keep Chattanooga on the outside looking in.

No. 19 Delaware

Case for (with win)

If Delaware beats its rival Villanova in Week 12, it will finish the season 8-3. At worst, the Blue Hens will finish fifth in the CAA with the win. At best, they will finish fourth. All three Delaware losses came to FCS opponents, but all three will be playoff teams. Those are good losses on Delaware's playoff resume, which will feature seven FCS wins and one FBS win. Ultimately, the Blue Hens will have a strong resume to get in the field, even as a fifth-place CAA team.

Case against (with loss)

If Delaware loses to Villanova, it will finish the season 7-4. The Blue Hens will have four FCS losses and zero currently-ranked wins. While Delaware does have an FBS win, those four FCS losses and a lack of a ranked victory hold more weight. That will ultimately keep the Blue Hens from returning to the playoffs.

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No. 20 New Hampshire

Case for (with win)

With a win over Maine, New Hampshire will finish the season at 8-3 with two FCS losses. In the scenario that New Hampshire doesn't win the CAA auto-bid, the Wildcats would be in consideration for an at-large bid.

New Hampshire's two FCS losses came to a conference champion in North Carolina Central and a potential conference champion in Richmond. The Wildcats also hold then-ranked wins over Elon and Rhode Island. That's enough to get New Hampshire into the playoffs.

Case for (with loss)

If New Hampshire loses to Maine, it will finish the season 7-4. Maine will be the worst loss on New Hampshire's resume, but the Wildcats still have head-to-head wins over another potential playoff team in Elon and a bubble team in Rhode Island. With Elon making the playoff field, it'll be hard to keep out New Hampshire. The Wildcats make the playoffs.

Case against (with loss)

At 7-4, New Hampshire could miss the playoffs. Entering Week 12, only one of New Hampshire's wins is over a ranked opponent. If elsewhere in the FCS there are upsets, leading to more eight-plus-win teams, the Wildcats could get bumped out after closing the season with a bad loss to Maine.

No. 23 North Dakota

Case for (with win)

If North Dakota defeats defending FCS national champion and fourth-ranked North Dakota State in the final week of the regular season, the Fighting Hawks are in the playoffs with an 8-3 record.

Case for (with loss)

At 7-4, North Dakota would have a playoff shot. Of North Dakota's three FCS losses, all will have come to then-ranked teams, and two will have come to the current top four FCS teams. North Dakota's non-conference schedule features a win over a potential playoff team in Abilene Christian, a victory that could hold weight come selections. The third-best team in the Missouri Valley Football Conference typically makes the playoffs. The Fighting Hawks get in this year.

Case against (with loss)

A loss to North Dakota State knocks North Dakota to a 7-4 record. While the Fighting Hawks will finish third in the MVFC, the conference could have as many as five teams with losing records. 2022 is not your typical MVFC conference. North Dakota could have zero wins over playoff or ranked teams (depending on Abilene Christian) come selections. Without a quality win, North Dakota's playoff resume lacks the oomph to get into the field.

No. 24 Florida A&M

Case for (with win)

A win in Week 12 will give Florida A&M a 9-2 record and a nine-game win streak to close the season. It's a strikingly similar season to last year's, where the Rattlers closed the season on an eight-game win streak to make the playoffs. The precedent is there. With Florida A&M's only losses coming to an FBS divisional champion and a top-five Jackson State team, the Rattlers get in the playoffs.

Case against (with loss)

A loss puts Florida A&M at 8-3. Florida A&M's best win is either Alabama State or Southern, two teams that probably don't move the committee's needle. Florida A&M also has a DII win, so it'll only have seven FCS wins with a poor strength of schedule. Unlike last year's one-point defeat to Jackson State, 2022 saw a blowout loss.

If the Rattlers lose their eight-game winning streak in the Florida Classic, they also lose their playoff hopes.

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Abilene Christian (unranked)

Case for (with win)

With a win, Abilene Christian will be the WAC champion. If it misses out on auto-bid consideration due to the ASUN-WAC power rankings, Abilene Christian still has a resume worthy of an at-large bid.

The Wildcats will be a conference champion with 8 wins, two coming against an FBS transitioning team in Sam Houston and the likely SWAC West Division champion in Prairie View A&M. Abilene Christian also will have redeemed one of its three losses by defeating Stephen F. Austin in the final week. 

Case against (with loss)

If Abilene Christian loses in Week 12, it will finish the season 7-4. Yet, only six of those wins are DI. The Wildcats will have a loss to North Dakota, another team on the FCS playoff bubble. With that head-to-head loss factoring in, Abilene Christian misses the playoffs.

Austin Peay (unranked)

Case for (with win)

If Austin Peay pulls off arguably the greatest FCS-over-FBS upset in history by defeating Alabama, it is in the FCS playoffs.

Case for (with loss)

A loss in Week 12 doesn't impact Austin Peay's playoff resume with few, if any, expecting the Governors to win that game. That said, Austin Peay will finish the season 7-4 with two FCS losses. Austin Peay will have lost to a potential playoff team in Central Arkansas and an FBS transitioning team in Jacksonville State. With only one true FCS loss, Austin Peay deserves an at-large bid.

Case against (with loss)

At 7-4, Austin Peay's best win will be over Eastern Kentucky. Yet, Austin Peay's non-conference schedule is weak, with wins over Presbyterian, Mississippi Valley State, Murray State and Alabama A&M. None of those teams have a winning record, and none of those teams move the needle for Austin Peay to get an at-large bid.

Eastern Kentucky (unranked)

Case for (with win)

A Week 12 win will give Eastern Kentucky a 7-4 record. Eastern Kentucky not only has an FBS win, but it's also the only FCS school with a win over a bowl-eligible FBS opponent, beating Bowling Green in a seven-overtime thriller. Eastern Kentucky also has wins over Southeast Missouri State and Central Arkansas, two playoff teams in this scenario. 

While the Colonels have four losses, one loss came to an FBS opponent and two losses came to FBS transitioning teams. Against true FCS opponents, Eastern Kentucky has a 6-1 record. Throw in the FBS win, and you have a playoff-worthy team.

Case against (with win)

At 7-4, Eastern Kentucky may still miss the playoffs. The Colonels have a head-to-head loss with Austin Peay, another at-large contender, and the Governors may get the nod over the Colonels. 

MOVEMENT: How the 2022 ASUN-WAC bid works and more from FCS conference realignment

Idaho (unranked)

Case for (with win)

A Week 12 win puts Idaho at 7-4 with only two FCS losses. The Vandals only lost by three points to potentially the top overall seed in the FCS in Sacramento State. Idaho's biggest win of the season is a victory over Montana, a fellow at-large bubble team. That head-to-head result should get the Vandals in over the Grizzlies if they are the last two teams in consideration.

Case against (with win)

Idaho's best win is against a Montana team that might also finish the season 7-4. Its worst loss was a blowout to a UC Davis team that might also finish the season 7-4. That margin of defeat places Idaho behind UC Davis for at-large consideration. If UC Davis is one of the last teams in, there might not be room for Idaho.

Rhode Island (unranked)

Case for (with win)

With a Week 12 win, Rhode Island will finish the season 7-4. Yet, the Rams should be 8-3. Rhode Island should have beaten New Hampshire if not for a missed call on New Hampshire's game-winning touchdown catch on fourth down where the ball hit the ground and moved.

However, the playoff committee won't look at what could've been, and that loss will still show up as a loss. Rhode Island's resume will still have a ranked win over Elon, and all of its losses will have come to ranked opponents, two of which by one possession. The CAA has been one of the deepest conferences in the nation and with seven wins, Rhode Island can get into the playoffs.

Case against (with win)

At 7-4, Rhode Island will have lost three FCS games, losing two games out of the last four. The Rams needed seven overtimes to beat a Monmouth team with a losing record, and their non-conference schedule doesn't jump off the page. Rhode Island may finish sixth in its own conference; the five other teams will get the playoff nod before the Rams.

HBCU POWER RANKINGS: See Week 12's HBCU football power rankings

UC Davis (unranked)

Case for (with win)

If UC Davis beats a second-ranked Sacramento State team, it deserves to get into the playoffs. UC Davis will have beat a ranked opponent in back-to-back weeks to close the season and its only three FCS losses will have come to teams that are likely to receive a playoff seed.

Case against (with loss)

At 6-5, UC Davis likely misses the playoffs. Despite a tough schedule, six wins traditionally have not been enough for an at-large bid.

UT Martin (unranked)

Case for (with win)

With a win, UT Martin would be a potential at-large bid that was a coin flip away from a conference championship. The Skyhawks would finish the season 7-4 with only two FCS losses. A team that finished undefeated in its own conference should not be left out of the playoffs.

Case against (with win)

If UT Martin misses out on a coin-flip conference championship, it may also miss out on the playoffs. While the Skyhawks would be 7-4, their two FCS losses came to Missouri State and Kennesaw State, teams that have disappointed throughout the year. 

Youngstown State (unranked)

Case for (with win)

With a win, Youngstown State will finish fourth in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, a conference that traditionally is one of the best in the FCS. The Penguins will be 7-4, with three FCS losses. Two of the FCS losses will have come against likely FCS playoff teams in North Dakota State and North Dakota. 

While Youngstown State's loss to Missouri State is bad, it was only by three points. With seven wins against a tough schedule, the Penguins are a playoff-caliber team.

Case against (with loss)

With a loss, Youngstown State will finish the season 6-5. That record pales in comparison to other at-large candidates.

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