Part of The Analyst’s FCS series called “By the Numbers,” which analyzes data to help tell the story of FCS college football.

Sometimes we forget there are FCS programs that haven’t been to the national playoffs in a while.

Obviously, the Dakota schools, the Montana schools, the usual blue bloods in general have been to the postseason recently, if not in the past 12 months, but some others have waited a lot longer.

With the 2023 regular season having reached October, FCS programs that have waited a long time, but have a realistic chance of making the playoffs, are coming more into focus.

Keep in mind, the Ivy League, MEAC and SWAC do not send their champions to the playoffs. That leaves 10 other conferences to fight it out for the 24 spots – 10 are automatic berths for each conference championship qualifier and 14 are at-large berths (MEAC and SWAC teams are still eligible for at-large bids).

Also, transitional schools such as recent Division II and III “move up” programs Tarleton (4-1) and St. Thomas (3-2 with tough non-conference schedule) may end up having playoff-caliber resumes, but because of NCAA wait periods will not be part of the bracket this year.

So, who has waited the longest? We spotlight teams that have positioned themselves nicely through September, and have a shot at the playoffs:

Western Carolina (4-1)

Last Playoffs: 1983

U.S. Presidents Since: 7

The Breakdown: The Catamounts have waited since the 1983 FCS (then called Division I-AA) national championship game in Charleston, South Carolina. Ultimately, they lost to Southern Illinois, but won three close playoff games against unseeded Colgate, No. 2 seed Holy Cross, and bitter rival and No. 3 seed Furman to reach the title game with the Salukis.

This year’s WCU team appears to be a serious contender in the Southern Conference, and key matchups like Saturday at Chattanooga and on Oct. 21 at home against Furman will go a long way in determining if it will work out. The magic number to guarantee a playoff berth for the first time in 40 years is eight wins, as there have been examples of seven-win SoCon teams not getting in (case in point, the 2015 and 2017 WCU teams). WCU is halfway there with six games to go.

Rhode Island (3-2)

Last Playoffs: 1985

U.S. Presidents Since:  7

The Breakdown: Rhody already has two CAA Football wins, and thanks to an extremely favorable schedule rotation, it avoids strong league teams like Delaware, Elon and William & Mary. If the Rams can reach the seven-win mark, they may be able to make an argument for their first playoff spot in 38 years – though not playing the above CAA quartet may hurt their case. If they make it to eight wins, they’re a lock to get in.

Rhody knocked off now-FBS Akron in the first round of the 1985 playoffs, but then fell to Furman in a blowout in the year the Paladins made it to the national championship game.

Hampton (3-1)

Last Playoffs: 2006

U.S. Presidents Since: 4

The Breakdown: Some may scoff and say Hampton has no chance to make the playoffs in a packed CAA, but so far, so good for the Pirates. The former MEAC program has beaten Richmond soundly and has played three other HBCUs to start 3-1. The key for the Pirates to get into that consideration discussion is to take care of league games against Campbell, Monmouth, North Carolina A&T and Maine – teams that are a combined 6-13. The games against Delaware, William & Mary and Elon will be steep challenges.

This may be an uphill battle, but as of the first week of October, it is mathematically possible.

Wagner (2-3)

Last Playoffs: 2012

U.S. Presidents Since: 3

The Breakdown: Yes, Wagner is 2-3 overall, but two of those losses are to FBS opponents (Rutgers and Navy) and one is to an FCS program that has an FBS win (Fordham). What really matters is resurgent Wagner is 2-0 in the Northeast Conference, a good position to be in entering October in a league in which teams play seven conference games. Also, the narrow win over Merrimack and a victory over 2020 and ‘21 NEC champ Sacred Heart are key, as those are two of the tougher teams in the circuit.

If the Seahawks want to make the postseason, the NEC matchup at home against Duquesne on Nov. 4 may loom the largest.

Butler (4-1)

Last Playoffs: 2013

U.S. Presidents Since: 3

The Breakdown: Butler has only been to the playoffs one time in 2013, and even dating back to its D-II days, it has never won a postseason playoff bracket game. But this year, the Bulldogs are off to a good start in the Pioneer Football League at 2-0, although the next two games are critical, Saturday at St. Thomas and Oct. 14 at home against Davidson.

If Butler survives the next two weeks, it will be in position to run away with the PFL title (but that is easier said than done). That’s the only realistic way Butler can get into the playoffs – with the league’s automatic bid.

Lafayette (4-1)

Last Playoffs: 2013

U.S. Presidents Since: 3

The Breakdown: Yes, we know 2022 FCS seed Holy Cross is in Lafayette’s same Patriot League, and that likely means the Leopards won’t make the playoffs via an automatic berth, but the Leopards control their destiny.

The win over the CAA’s Monmouth is the biggest one for the Leopards, but the four wins aren’t going to jump off the page when it comes to strength of schedule (note, Lafayette’s players don’t make the schedule, they’re only asked to go take care of business, and they have). The lone loss was to Duke’s best team in years.

The next two games at Princeton and Holy Cross will indicate a lot about whether Lafayette can be a serious contender in the Patriot League, and the home game against Fordham on Nov. 11 would be critical should the Leopards survive the Crusaders on Oct. 21.

Worthy of Note With an Asterisk

Mercer has never made the FCS playoffs, but the Bears only recently came back to playing football. In 2013, they joined the PFL for one year and then were added to the SoCon the next season. This was the first time the school had played football since competing from 1891-1941.

The Bears are 3-2 and have flirted with the playoffs the past two seasons, finishing with seven wins both times and losing absolute heartbreakers in their regular-season finales against ETSU in 2021 (by three points) and Samford last year (in overtime). It is highly likely an eighth win in either season would have given Mercer its first playoff appearance.

Mercer is 1-1 in league play, and if it can somehow win five of its final six games and reach eight wins (not likely, but possible if it can beat Chattanooga at home on Oct. 14), this might be the story of the year.

Hey, it’s October. Why not?

As opposed to FCS programs that are trying to end playoff droughts, here’s a list of the current subdivision programs that have made the most appearances. The NCAA will release this year’s 24-team playoffs on Nov. 19.