Gardner-Webb earned its first FCS playoff bid last season – who’s next in 2023?

There are 38 programs (out of 128 overall) in the NCAA’s Division I subdivision that have yet to participate in the FCS playoffs, although only 24 of them are eligible for a bid this season. Merrimack becomes one of them for the first time following the end of its Division II-to-I transitional period.

Mercer has won seven games in back-to-back seasons and appears to be in the best position to follow up Gardner-Webb’s playoff debut, which began with a road win over Eastern Kentucky before the Runnin’ Bulldogs fell at William & Mary in the second round. The Bears, who finished second in the Southern Conference in 2021 and tied for third last year, return a veteran roster for coach Drew Cronic’s fourth season, including the dominating wide receivers duo of Devron Harper and Ty James, and key defensive players.

St. Thomas topped the Pioneer Football League standings last season with an unbeaten record, but wasn’t eligible for a playoff bid due to being in the second of a five-year reclassification from Division III. Schools that move up from Division II have a four-year period.

Schools That Have Never Participated in FCS Playoffs

Current FCS schools that have never qualified for the playoffs:

ASUN: North Alabama

Big Sky: Northern Colorado

Big South: Bryant

CAA: Campbell

Ivy (schools do not participate in the playoffs): Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, Yale

MEAC: North Carolina Central

Northeast: Merrimack, Long Island, Stonehill (eligible in 2026)

Ohio Valley: Lindenwood (eligible in 2026)

Patriot: Bucknell, Georgetown

Pioneer: Drake, Marist, Morehead State, Presbyterian, Stetson, St. Thomas (eligible in 2026), Valparaiso

Southern: Mercer

Southland: Houston Christian, Texas A&M-Commerce (eligible in 2026)

SWAC: Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Prairie View A&M, Southern, Texas Southern

WAC: Abilene Christian, Tarleton (eligible in 2024), Utah Tech (eligible in 2024)

(Flash back to Frisco: South Dakota State wins the 2022 FCS national championship)