FCS playoff qualifiers are falling into place quite nicely, so the selection committee may not have a tough task after all.
Half of the 10 automatic bids were clinched this weekend and the three power conferences – Big Sky, CAA and Missouri Valley – should gobble up most of the six at-large selections.
There’s only one more Saturday of action left in the regular season (outside the SWAC), with the NCAA set to announce the 16-team pairings next Sunday (11:30 a.m. ET, ESPNU).
Here are five takeaways from Week 9 of the spring season:
- Jacksonville State played in a de facto conference championship game on Sunday against Murray State, earning the Ohio Valley’s playoff AQ with 28-14 victory at Murray State as quarterback Zion Webb accounted for 304 yards and three touchdowns. Coach John Grass said last week he hopes his school’s future conference, the ASUN, develops a true championship game. It’s something the Northeast Conference and Patriot League added for this unprecedented spring season. Sacred Heart claimed the NEC title and bid, using Marquez McCray’s 29-yard touchdown pass to Naseim Brantley in overtime on 4th-and-14 to gain a 34-27 triumph. They’ll seek similar drama in the Patriot League on Saturday when Bucknell hosts defending champion Holy Cross, also for the right to advance to the playoffs.
- VMI’s unlikely climb atop the standings has been the biggest story in the Southern Conference season, but Mercer is making an 11th-hour bid to upset Cinderella’s cart. Since falling to VMI on March 13, the Bears (5-5, 5-2) have posted their first four-game winning streak since 2013, when they relaunched the program after a 72-year hibernation, and Saturday’s 21-13 victory over No. 21 ETSU was their third straight over a ranked opponent. Sophomore Yahsyn McKee had an 80-yard kickoff return to set up a touchdown and scored on a 63-yard fumble return. First-year coach Drew Cronic’s team will claim the SoCon title and automatic playoff bid next Saturday with a win over Samford combined with a VMI loss to The Citadel.
- Speaking of surprising teams with a Bears nickname, it was hard to anticipate Missouri State would earn a share of the title in the strongest FCS conference – the Missouri Valley – but the No. 15 Bears (5-4, 5-1) did just that under first-year coach Bobby Petrino, also claiming their first four-game winning streak since 2013 by defeating Southern Illinois 21-10. Quarterback Jaden Johnson, who replaced injured starter Matt Stuck in the second quarter, threw a pair of TD passes to Damoriea Vick in the third. The Bears don’t have a game this week and lose out on any tiebreaker to North Dakota State (6-1, 5-1), North Dakota (4-1) and South Dakota State (4-1), who have games, for the Valley’s playoff AQ.
- Kennesaw State and Monmouth haven’t lost a Big South game to any conference opponent other than each other the last four years, but their matchups don’t quite live up to the pregame billing. Monmouth’s 42-17 rout of the Owls on Saturday was good for a second straight conference title and its third playoff bid in the last four seasons, and the offense left no doubt behind quarterback Tony Muskett (19 of 23, 290 yards, four TDs), running back Juwon Farri (22 carries, 179 yards, two TDs) and wide receivers Lonnie Moore (eight receptions, 124 yards, two TDs) and Terrance Greene Jr. (5-119-1). Still, the last five meetings have been decided by 24 or more points, with the average margin of victory nearly 30 points. The closest result was Kennesaw’s 23-13 win in its inaugural 2015 campaign, but the score was 23-7 late in the game.
- Most conferences will be sending only their automatic qualifier to the playoffs, but six at-large bids are in play. The Big Sky figures to have two entrants (Weber State as the AQ and Eastern Washington on an at-large bid). Three or four bids could come out of the Missouri Valley (North Dakota State, South Dakota State and North Dakota have the strongest chance) and the CAA (Delaware, James Madison, Richmond and Villanova have the strongest chance). Southeastern Louisiana (Southland) at Southern Illinois (MVFC), just scheduled last week for next Saturday, could be viewed as a play-in game. The selection committee’s top-four rankings, released on April 1, probably remain the same headed toward the final Saturday of the regular season: 1. James Madison; 2. North Dakota State; 3. South Dakota State; and 4. Sam Houston.