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Seven takeaways from the FCS playoff field

By CRAIG HALEY

STATS FCS Senior Editor

(STATS) - It's Thanksgiving week, but it felt like Christmas morning for many FCS teams on Sunday because of the announcement of the 24-team playoff field.

OK, some schools didn't like what Scrooge left in the stocking.

The opinions are always strong on Selection Sunday, but the play is about to get fiercer.

Here are seven takeaways from the 2019 field:

BIG SKY, BIG DAY

The playoff field moved to 24 teams and eight seeds in 2013. On Sunday, the Big Sky gained a record four seeds by filling No. 3 through 6 with Weber State, Sacramento State, Montana State and Montana, respectively.

There's potential for two all-Big Sky quarterfinals with Montana at Weber State - Montana won 35-16 at home in a regular-season matchup - and Montana State at Sacramento State - Sac State won 34-21 on the road in the regular season.

MORE BALANCE

While the Missouri Valley, Big Sky and CAA have been on a higher tier of FCS conferences, the selection committee brought balance to the field with the Southland gaining three bids and the Big South, Ohio Valley and Southern conferences two each.

A year ago, the CAA set the single-season record with six playoff qualifiers, but the number was cut in half this year.

BANNER FIRST ROUND

Attendance in the first round is often squelched by the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, but it deserves better this year. The matchups are quite competitive with Northern Iowa, the Missouri Valley runner-up, likely the only decided favorite over Pioneer champ San Diego, which won first-round games in 2016 and '17.

The matchup with the most combined wins is Northeast Conference champ Central Connecticut State (11-1) at CAA runner-up Albany (8-4).

DIFFERENCE IN THE TWO BRACKETS

The prevailing thought is No. 1 seed North Dakota State and No. 2 seed James Madison are on a collision course for the championship game Jan. 11 in Frisco, Texas. Their seeds reflect the way they've been nationally ranked since the preseason.

Both are guaranteed home games through the semifinals, but if there are stumbling blocks along the way, James Madison's side of the bracket appears to be stronger, including Weber State and South Dakota State programs that played in Harrisonburg, Virginia, in the 2017 playoffs. Add in the likes of Montana, Northern Iowa, Villanova and Wofford and it's a deeper group than North Dakota State's side, where the second-highest seed, No. 4 Sacramento State, is making its first playoff appearance.

TEAMS LEFT ON THE OUTSIDE

The last four teams left out of the field, announced in alphabetical order, were New Hampshire (6-5), South Carolina State (8-3), Southern Illinois (7-5) and Towson (7-5). Out of the group, Southern Illinois and Towson were higher than the other two in the Simple Rating System, which is used by the selection committee. They were a combined 0-7 against teams in the field.

One positive is the SRS rankings were much more in line with at-large selections than in past years.

LET'S GO POLLING

The FBS has its bowls. We present the poll.

The final regular-season STATS FCS Top 25 was released Sunday morning. If you took out the teams from the Ivy League, which doesn't participate in the postseason, and the MEAC and SWAC, whose champions meet in the Celebration Bowl, the descending order of teams reflected all 24 automatic and at-large bids.

This will conclude the shameless self-promotion portion of the story.

AND THE WINNER IS …

Hey, the preseason pick was North Dakota State beating James Madison in Frisco. There's little reason to change from another potential epic matchup, when has long been acknowledged as a tossup. They have the two longest active win streaks in the FCS: NDSU at 33 since 2017 (tying the Bison's FCS record from 2012-14) and JMU at 11 (since a seven-point, season-opening loss at West Virginia).

Updated November 24, 2019

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