The South Dakota State Invitational, er, FCS playoff field was announced on Sunday, and no matter how the 24-team pairings were sliced, there was going to be considerable talk about the seeds, matchups and the fiinal teams left on each side of the at-large bubble.

Here are five reactions to the pairings followed by the 2023 playoff schedule:

Jackrabbits a Clear Favorite

Defending national defending champion South Dakota State (11-0) is riding a 25-game winning streak that ranks as the fourth-longest in FCS history, and the Jackrabbits have won 18 straight at home since 2021. The top half of the bracket sets up nicely for first-year coach Jimmy Rogers’ highly experienced team with two of the other three seeds from CAA Football, No. 5 UAlbany and No. 8 Villanova – a rival conference the Jackrabbits are 5-1 against in the playoffs – and No. 4 Idaho, which would have to leave the Kibbie Dome and play in the mid-December elements of Brookings if that semifinal-round matchup occurs.

Bobcats Gain Benefit of the Doubt

It’s easy for Montana State (8-3) to be highly regarded after finishing as the national runner-up in 2021 and reaching the semifinals in 2019 and last year, but its No. 6 seed may live off the Bobcats giving South Dakota State its toughest game, with the Jackrabbits holding on for a 20-16 win on Sept. 9 after replay overturned what was first ruled a game-ending Bobcats’ TD. Coach Brent Vigen’s squad also lost to Idaho and badly to Montana – 37-7 bad – as part of a 1-3 record against playoff qualifiers (the win was Sacramento State). The ‘Cats have won 26 straight home games and expect to welcome in North Dakota State in a monster second-round matchup on Dec. 2.

(How teams in the FCS Top 25 fared in Week 12)

Let’s Hear It for the Newbies

Three teams earned their first bids to the FCS playoffs. Drake (8-3) was an automatic qualifier out of the Pioneer Football League, its reward being a trip to NDSU’s Fargodome in the first round. Southern Conference member Mercer (8-3) earned an at-large bid and a first-round home game against Gardner-Webb, sweating out a bye this past week while knowing it had been denied on Selection Sunday the last two years. North Carolina Central (9-2), whose goal was returning to the Celebration Bowl and not the playoffs, gained an at-large bid and a first-round trip to Richmond. Their MEAC is only 6-31 all-time in the playoffs, with the conference’s most-recent qualifier, North Carolina A&T, falling at Richmond in 2016.

MVFC Flexes Its Muscles

On the ESPNU selection show, playoff committee chair Kent Haslam called the Missouri Valley Football Conference the deepest in the FCS – not necessarily untrue, but noticeable since he’s also the athletic director at No. 2 seed Montana from the always-strong Big Sky. The MVFC had six qualifiers, matching its 2021 haul and the 2018 CAA contingent for the most in a single playoff. In addition to South Dakota State, South Dakota is seeded at No. 3, and then there’s North Dakota, North Dakota State, Southern Illinois and Youngstown State all hosting first-round games.  

New Conference, Same Old Problem

No conference had a worse Selection Sunday than the first-year Big South-OVC Football Association. It’s been a solid season for the 10-member conference, including a 20-14 non-conference record against FCS opponents (4-0 against sub-FCS). Not only were two of the first four teams left out of the field Eastern Illinois and UT Martin – both 8-3 as OVC members of the conference – but Gardner-Webb (7-4), the automatic qualifier out of the Big South, is playing on the road in the first round. It marked the second consecutive year UTM tied for a conference title, but failed to win the AQ and then didn’t receive an at-large bid.

The Pairings  


(Campus sites until championship game)

(All times EST; games on ESPN+ unless noted)


Saturday, Nov. 25

Sacramento State (7-4) at North Dakota (7-4), 1 p.m.

North Carolina Central (9-2) at Richmond (8-3), 2 p.m.

Lafayette (9-2) at Delaware (8-3), 2 p.m.

Nicholls (6-4) at Southern Illinois (7-4), 3 p.m.

Gardner-Webb (7-4) at Mercer (8-3), 3 p.m.

Chattanooga (7-4) at Austin Peay (9-2), 3 p.m.

Drake (8-3) at North Dakota State (8-3), 3:30 p.m.

Duquesne (7-4) at Youngtown State (7-4), 5 p.m.


Saturday, Dec. 2

Duquesne-Youngtown State first-round winner at No. 8 seed Villanova (9-2), noon

North Carolina Central-Richmond first-round winner at No. 5 seed UAlbany (9-3), noon

Chattanooga-Austin Peay first-round winner at No. 7 seed Furman (9-2), 1 p.m.

Gardner-Webb/Mercer first-round winner at No. 1 seed South Dakota State (11-0), 2 p.m.

Sacramento State-North Dakota first-round winner at No. 3 seed South Dakota (9-2), 2 p.m.

Drake-North Dakota State first-round winner at No. 6 seed Montana State (8-3), 3 p.m.

Lafayette-Delaware first-round winner at No. 2 seed Montana (10-1), 9 p.m.

Nicholls-Southern Illinois first-round winner at No. 4 seed Idaho (8-3), 10 p.m.


Friday, Dec. 8/Saturday, Dec. 9

Second-round winners, TBA


Friday, Dec. 15/Saturday, Dec. 16

Quarterfinal winners, TBA


Sunday, Jan. 7

Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas

Semifinal winners, 2 p.m. (ABC)