Everything to Know About the 2021 FCS Spring Playoffs

An event never before dared nor even dreamed – a 16 team College Football Playoff in the Spring! Ok, it is the FCS Playoffs but this is a high-quality football gift wrapped to us sports junkies neatly between March Madness and the NBA playoffs. COVID lingers on like the world’s worst houseguest but having Spring FCS Playoffs is a small silver lining!

I don’t proclaim to be an expert on the FCS, in fact most years I only get a chance to watch a game or 2 due to competition with FBS games. But this is not most years and I have attempted to put together a page that I think should give people like me, new, or casual FCS fans the information they need if they want to get into the playoffs this year. So cheers to more college football!

Who is Playing (FCS Playoff Bracket):

  • The official NCAA FCS Playoff Bracket can be found here.
  • The NCAA only ranks the top 4 seeds, which are:
    1. South Dakota State
    2. Sam Houston State
    3. James Madison
    4. Jacksonville State
  • Due to the pandemic, teams played vastly different schedules. Some teams in the playoffs only played 3 or 4 games, others played games in the Fall as well as the Spring. These games seemingly both count (Jacksonville State) and don’t count (NDSU) as part of their records for some reason .
  • Thus, the unofficial bracket looks something like this with each teams’ record and Sagarin advanced metrics ratings included:
Thanks to Bracket HQ for this free bracket generator!
  • A few thoughts, given these additional details. Looks like the seeding is pretty solid given all of the difficult circumstances this year.
  • It seems like the teams that really got hosed were North Dakota State and Monmouth. NDSU has a tough first round draw in Eastern Washington and then they potentially face the #2 seed Sam Houston State. I suppose the committee wants the Bison to prove themselves as an at-large team.
  • Monmouth’s advanced metric numbers are better than every team “seeded” higher than them until you get to #8 seed Weber State. However, Monmouth only played 3 games so the sample size is small. Tough luck for the Big South Champion Hawks (despite being in NJ, lol).
  • Delaware looks like it might have a favorable path to the Semifinal. Sacred Heart and Davidson are 2 of the lower ranked advanced metric teams in the field and Jacksonville State’s advanced metrics paint them as overrated (not saying this is true per se) I hope we get to see them against likely title favorite South Dakota State.
  • The championship game will be in Frisco, less than a 3 hour drive from Sam Houston State’s campus. If they can make it that far, that’s worth a couple points in the Sam Houston State Bearkats favor.

When are the Games & Where to Watch (ESPN3):

The first round is Saturday, April 24th. All games EDT and on ESPN3, here is the first round schedule:

Who is Not Playing:

  • 43 of 127 FCS teams opted out prior to or during the Spring season including entire conferences like the Ivy League and MEAC (though some teams played modified schedules).
  • This, of course, left 84 teams eligible for the FCS Playoffs.
  • A few FCS contenders opted out of the Spring season, some like Montana played a modified and shortened schedule but were ultimately not selected for the Playoffs.
  • Several top players opted out of the Spring season to focus on the NFL Draft like WR Cade Johnson of South Dakota St, who would be playing in these playoffs otherwise.
  • North Dakota State alone has 3 players expected to be drafted in the top 50 in the 2021 NFL draft who would likely be playing in these playoffs were they to take place in the 2020 Fall: QB Trey Lance, OT Dillon Radunz, & LB Jabril Cox (Cox transferred to LSU for the 2020 fall season in part due to the pandemic).

FCS Playoff Storylines:

  • North Dakota State University – The Bison have been THE dominant team in FCS football for the last decade. They have won 8 of the last 9 FCS championships and put dozens of players in the NFL and on practice squads during that time span. This year, however, they are not in the driver’s seat. As mentioned, 3 of NDSU’s top players are not playing in the playoffs (and haven’t played with them all Spring). There is also a current QB controversy between veteran Zeb Noland and freshman Cam Miller. The presently constituted team went 5-2, with a loss in the MVC championship to rival South Dakota St. If there is any year for NDSU to relinquish control of the FCS this is it.
  • How the contenders got here:
    • South Dakota State went 5-1 and won the MVC. The loss was to North Dakota early in the season 28-17, in which the Jackrabbits outgained the Fighting Hawks. They gutted out close wins in the toughest conference in FCS over UNI and Youngstown St.
    • Delaware went 5-0 and won the CAA. The Blue Hens mostly demolished their competition, their closest game being last week’s 27-20 victory over Villanova. They did not receive a “seed” despite being undefeated and being CAA champs, more on that in the James Madison section.
    • Jacksonville State went 9-2 and won the Ohio Valley Conference. In addition to the FSU loss, they lost to a not super great Austin Peay team in a game which JSU’s starting QB threw 4 INTs and had just 111 passing yds but wasn’t benched. They have mostly dominated otherwise with just 2 of their 7 wins being 1 score games.
    • James Madison went 5-0 and received an at-large bid. There may be some sour grapes for the Dukes as they went undefeated but the CAA championship was awarded to Delaware (as mentioned above). They have the stingiest defense in the FCS playoffs and their only close game was over Elon.
    • North Dakota went 4-1 and received an at-large bid. Their only loss was against NDSU and they boast a win over the #1 seed.
    • Weber State went 5-0 and won the Big Sky Conference. They didn’t play fellow Big Sky playoff participant E Washington this year due to COVID and 4 of their 5 wins were within a score.
    • North Dakota State went 5-2 and received an at-large bid. We mentioned their loss to the Jackrabbits and their other loss was to Southern Illinois by 24. This are some holes in this Bison team that haven’t been around for a decade or more, but like a wounded bison they are still dangerous.
    • Sam Houston State went 6-0 and was the Southland champion. They dismantled competition behind a prolific offense, scoring 43, 71, 62, and 42 points in games this year. Their closest game was strangely to a 1-6 Northwestern State team in which Sam Houston’s offense was held to 24 points.

FCS Stats Leaders in the Playoffs:

  • Sam Houston State QB Eric Schmid leads the FCS in yards per pass attempt with 10.1 and is 8th in passing yards per game with ~337.
  • Other QBs in the Playoffs in the top 10 in yards per pass attempt with roughly 9 ypa each:
    • Tony Muskett, Monmouth (#5)
    • Seth Morgan, VMI (#6)
    • Cole Johnson, JMU (#7)
  • Several WRs in the FCS Playoffs are at the top of the leaderboard, averaging over 100 receiving yards per game:
    • Talolo Limu-Jones, E Washington (#1 – 120 ypg)
    • Jakob Herres, VMI (#3 – 115 ypg)
    • Terrance Greene Jr. (#5 – 110 ypg)
    • Jequez Ezzard (#8 – 101 ypg)
  • Several RBs in the FCS Playoffs are at the top of the leaderboard, averaging over 100 rushing yards per game:
    • Julius Chestnut, Sacred Heart (#1 – 179 ypg)
    • Juwon Farri, Monmouth (#2 – 141 ypg)
    • Otis Weah, North Dakota (#5 – 114 ypg)
  • Teams in the top 10 in scoring defense:
    • James Madison (#2 – 9.8 ppg allowed)
    • Delaware (#3 – 11.6 ppg allowed)
    • Holy Cross (#4 – 12.3 ppg allowed)
    • South Dakota St (#9 – 15.8 ppg allowed)
  • Teams in top 10 in FCS scoring offense:
    • Sam Houston St (#3 – 44.8 ppg)
    • Monmouth (#5 – 41.7 ppg)
    • E Washington (#6 – 40.7 ppg)