Will YSU make the playoffs?: An assesment of the Penguins’ resume

YOUNGSTOWN — Count Doug Phillips among those who believes Youngstown State has done enough to earn a playoff bid.

“We’re playing in the toughest FCS in the country, and we won our last five out of six games,” YSU’s head coach said. “It doesn’t matter how you win — we found a way to win the last five out of six games. We have the best running back in the country and in FCS history.”

But, he lamented, there were a couple games this season that could’ve given the Penguins much more breathing room going into today’s selection, which will air on ESPNU at 12:30 p.m.

“You put your record out there, and you always reflect back,” he said. “North Dakota was the game we had the ball at the 29 with under two minutes, but we can’t change that they’re a very good football team. …So again, control what we can control, and those are games we can’t get back (in addition to last week’s loss at Missouri State).”

Then, too, YSU inserted Mitch Davidson as its starting quarterback, and under him, the Penguins went 5-2 through the last seven weeks, and won five of their final six games, all in the vaunted Missouri Valley.

“He’s won five of his last six starts. I think that’s pretty impressive. I hope that the committee looks at this quarterback (and sees) he had six starts to finish the season, and we won five of those,” Phillips said.

Certainly, momentum is on YSU’s side. But the one deadweight to this Penguin push for the postseason remains the lack of a signature victory. That could hurt, but with so many 7-win FCS teams with similar resumes, it may not matter. YSU also has a strength of schedule rating of No. 22, which is something the committee may well consider.

The FCS takes 11 auto bids from conference champions, leaving 13 at-large bids to get scooped up by the remaining programs.

The auto-bids are: South Dakota State (MVFC), Sacramento State (Big Sky), Gardner Webb (Big South), William and Mary (Colonial), St. Francis (NEC), Samford (SoCon), Holy Cross (Patriot), Davidson (Pioneer), Eastern Kentucky from the ASun-WAC hybrid (the conferences have an auto-bid together), Southeast Missouri (OVC) and Southeastern Louisiana (Southland).

Of the 13 at-large bids, consensus is you can bank on the following teams being in: North Dakota State, Montana State, Incarnate Word, Elon, North Dakota, Furman, Richmond, New Hampshire and Weber State. NDSU and Montana State likely will earn first-round byes as seeded teams, and UIW has a shot at that, too.

That leaves four at-large bids for a crowded field. Among those in contention: Youngstown State, Montana, Idaho, Chattanooga, Rhode Island, Delaware, UC Davis, Mercer and Florida A&M.

Idaho (7-4, 6-2 Big Sky) features a win over Montana and a top 15 strength of schedule. Two of the Vandals’ losses are to Power 5 teams, and one was to Sacramento State, who may end up being the No. 1 seed when this is decided. As such, Idaho probably has the best claim of the remaining teams.

Montana (7-4, 4-4 Big Sky) at one point was a top five team in the FCS, but cratered after a 5-0 start to the year. After the fifth straight win, the Grizzlies lost three in a row. Their fourth loss came Saturday to Montana State, a 55-21 drubbing that may have sealed their fate. Montana’s other two losses are to Weber State and Sacramento State.

Chattanooga (7-4, 5-3 SoCon) seemed like a safe bet until the last couple weeks. The Mocs lost three of their last four games, though two of those were to Samford and Furman, an auto-bid team and safe lock for an at-large bid, respectively. Saturday, however, Chattanooga was knocked off by Western Carolina, which could really hurt. Still, the Mocs feature a win over Mercer, who was a playoff bubble team until losing three of its last four, too.

On the note of Mercer (7-4, 5-3 SoCon), the Bears are almost certainly out, because the SoCon shouldn’t get four teams in. Still, they’re at least in the conversation.

Delaware (7-4, 4-4 CAA) potentially played itself out of a bid by losing three of its last four. The worst of it came Saturday, as the Blue Hens were defeated by unranked Villanova, 29-26. Delaware’s best win came over Rhode Island (also 7-4, but 5-3 in the CAA) back on Sept. 17. To that end, it’s tough to see Rhody getting in if Delaware doesn’t.

UC Davis (6-5, 5-3 Big Sky) is the lone six-win team that I believe realistically has a shot, though Northern Iowa certainly would disagree. UC Davis has four FCS losses, all to teams that were in the top 10 of this week’s Stats Perform FCS Top 25. The fifth loss was a Power 5 loss to Cal. Also, the Aggies feature a 44-26 win over Idaho that came Nov. 12 and the No. 6 strength of schedule rating according to Massey ratings.

UNI ended its season by winning four of its last five, including wins over Missouri State and Southern Illinois. But a 2-4 start that included losses to North Dakota and Illinois State may be too much for the Panthers to have come back from.

Finally, Florida A&M is an interesting case because the Rattlers are 9-2, but have an atrocious strength of schedule rating of 108 according to Massey ratings. FAMU’s only losses were to Power 5 North Carolina and SWAC champion Jackson State, the latter a 59-3 drubbing.

Put it all together, and it’s clear the committee has its work cut out for it as it decides this year’s field. Simply put, teams left out will have pretty reasonable gripes they deserved in, no matter who the field ends up holding.

We’ll find out at 12:30 p.m. if the committee smiles favorably upon the Penguins.


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