TERRE HAUTE —
Indiana State football coach Trent Miles doesn’t want to hear about the Sycamores being on the Football Championship Subdivision playoff bubble.
At 2 p.m. on Saturday, the 7-3 Sycamores play at Youngstown State. A loss would deep-six ISU’s playoff hopes as it would not have enough Division I wins to qualify. One of ISU’s victories was against Division II Quincy.
If the Sycamores defeat the Penguins – as they’ve done in the last two meetings – the possibility of qualifying for the playoffs becomes a much more realistic proposition … though there’s no guarantee. There are intriguing pros and cons to ISU’s playoff resume.
In ISU’s favor are its win over No. 1 North Dakota State on Oct. 13 – ISU is the only team to beat the Bison in the last calendar year – and the Sycamores’ No. 7 ranking the College Sporting News’ Gridirion Power Index, a measure that weighs into determining at-large bids. No playoff-eligible team in the GPI top 10 has ever been left out of the playoff field.
Those are the things Miles is hanging his hat on when it comes to ISU’s playoff hopes.
“I’m extremely confident. I think our kids have had a tremendous year. We’re one of the best teams in the nation in GPI, we’re ranked in the top 20 and we’re the only team to beat the North Dakota State Bison at North Dakota State,” said Miles during Tuesday’s MVFC teleconference.
“That’s the only game they’ve lost since last year. A win would give us eight victories, seven Division I wins and no bad losses. We haven’t had a bad loss all year,” Miles added.
However, it might not be so simple. ISU also has the wrong combination of losses to the wrong Missouri Valley Football Conference teams and that’s the biggest factor in what might keep the Sycamores out of the field. ISU lost to both South Dakota State and Illinois State at home.
Both the Jackrabbits and Redbirds are fighting for potential at-large bids … Illinois State is still in-line to get the MVFC as it plays host to NDSU in a conference title showdown on Saturday in Normal, Ill.
Those head-to-head wins for SDSU and Illinois State over ISU makes it murky to predict whether the Sycamores did enough on the good side of the ledger to negate the defeats if all three teams have the same records.
ISU would also have a one-win demerit in a three-way head-to-head scenario as the win over Division II Quincy wouldn’t count. All of Illinois State and SDSU’s victories were against Division I teams.
SDSU lost narrowly at NDSU and is in a similar situation to the Sycamores. The Jacks must defeat in-state rival South Dakota at home on Saturday to give themselves a chance.
The Coyotes have struggled, having gone winless in the MVFC, but it’s also the first time the Jackrabbits and Coyotes have played in several years, so emotions will be high. A SDSU loss would do wonders for the Sycamores hopes as the Jackrabbits would fall behind ISU and lose any kind of tiebreaker advantage.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on. We have the disappointing loss to North Dakota State [the Bison won 20-17 in Fargo, N.D.]. We have the rivalry … The rivalry is not the only part of this deal. It’s a chance to be in the playoffs and play more football,” SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier said.
It’s more than just what goes on in the MVFC. There are 10 at-large bids available in the 20-team FCS playoff field. There are 17 two-loss-or-less teams from 10 different conferences and there are seven three-loss teams in the FCS division’s five “power conferences” – the Big Sky, Colonial, MVFC, Southern and Southland Conferences.
ISU feels confident enough about its playoff chances to put in a bid to host a potential playoff game. ISU assistant athletic director John Sherman confirmed that ISU submitted the bid to the NCAA on Monday. It costs $30,000 to host a game on the first and second weekends of the FCS playoffs.
The playoff field is announced on Sunday.
In addition to playoff implications, ISU also has a chance to share the MVFC conference title. NDSU has already clinched a share of the championship. An ISU win and NDSU loss would give the Sycamores a piece of the MVFC prize.
Paradoxically, that scenario could hurt ISU’s playoff hopes as the win over NDSU would take a small bit of resume shine off the victory over the Bison.
There’s a long-shot scenario that ISU could get the MVFC automatic bid, but it’s extremely unlikely. If there’s a multi-team tie, the team with the best GPI gets the auto bid. However, NDSU (1st) and Illinois State (6th) are both ahead of ISU in the GPI and they play each other on Saturday.
FCS at-large bubble
Here are all of the two-loss or less FCS teams and the three-loss teams from FCS “power conferences” that will be fighting for the 10 at-large spots in the Football Subdivision Playoff field. Each conference gets one team in as an automatic qualifier:
Two losses or less
Big Sky — Montana State (9-1), Eastern Washington (8-2), Northern Arizona (8-2), Cal Poly (8-2)
Big South — Stony Brook (9-2)*
Colonial — Old Dominion (9-1)**, New Hampshire (8-2)
MEAC — Bethune-Cookman (8-2)
MVFC — North Dakota State (9-1), Illinois State (8-2)
Northeast — Albany (8-2)
OVC — Tennessee State (8-2)
Patriot — Lehigh (9-1)
Southern — Georgia Southern (8-2), Wofford (8-2).
Southland — Central Arkansas (8-2), Sam Houston State (8-2).
* Stony Brook lost to Liberty last Saturday and is not guaranteed the Big South automatic bid
** Old Dominion is not eligible for Colonial automatic bid, but is eligible for playoffs.
Three-loss teams from power conferences
Colonial — James Madison (7-3), Richmond (7-3), Villanova (7-3)
MVFC — Indiana State (7-3), South Dakota State (7-3)
Southern — Appalachian State (8-3), Samford (7-3)