FCS playoffs appear wide-open; South Dakota State earns No. 1 seed

NCAA Football

(Stats Perform) – Keep the seat belt tight, this wild ride of an FCS spring season promises many more turns and thrills in the upcoming playoffs.

The NCAA Division I playoff selection committee readied the playoff whistle on Sunday with the announcement of a 16-team field that appears more wide-open than in recent seasons. South Dakota State earned the No. 1 seed as one of a whopping five selections from the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

An unprecedented regular season with many starts and stops as well as surprising results has created an intriguing, if not different-looking bracket. North Dakota State (6-2), the three-time defending champion and a winner of eight of the last nine titles, wasn’t one of the four seeds after falling to South Dakota State (5-1) on Saturday.

The other pre-eminent national power, James Madison, has been top-ranked for most of the season, but the 5-0 Dukes slid to the No. 3 seed behind SDSU and No. 2 Sam Houston (6-0), with Jacksonville State (9-2) seeded fourth. JMU is the only program to beat North Dakota State during the Bison’s 34-1 playoff run since their first championship season in 2011.

South Dakota State, whose ninth straight playoff appearances under coach John Stiegelmeier is the second-longest active streak to the Bison’s 11, will host Holy Cross in Saturday’s first round. Since the championship game shifted to Frisco, Texas, in 2010, two of the 20 finalists are represented on the Jackrabbits’ half of the bracket. The other half of the bracket has a combined 15 finalists, including 10 represented by the incredible first-round pairing of Eastern Washington at North Dakota State.

Ten conference champions earned automatic qualifying bids, including Davidson (Pioneer) and VMI (Southern) reaching the playoffs for the first time. The others: Delaware (CAA); Holy Cross (Patriot); Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley); Monmouth (Big South); Sacred Heart (Northeast); Sam Houston (Southland); South Dakota State (Missouri Valley); and Weber State (Big Sky).

The six at-large selections: Eastern Washington (Big Sky); James Madison (CAA); Missouri State (Missouri Valley); North Dakota (Missouri Valley); North Dakota State (Missouri Valley); and Southern Illinois (Missouri Valley)

The last four teams left out of the field, announced in alphabetical order, were ETSU, Murray State, Samford and Southeastern Louisiana, surely to the dismay of Richmond and Kennesaw State.

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2020-21 NCAA DIVISION I FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP

(Campus sites until championship game)

(All times ET)

(All Games on ESPN3 unless noted)

FIRST ROUND

Saturday, April 24

Monmouth (3-0) at No. 2 seed Sam Houston (6-0), noon

Monmouth (3-0 Big South) – Bid: Automatic qualifier; Key Wins: Charleston Southern (35-17), Kennesaw State (42-17). Sam Houston (6-0 Southland) – Bid: Automatic qualifier; Key Wins: Southeastern Louisiana (43-38), Nicholls (71-17).

VMI (6-1) at No. 3 seed James Madison (5-0), 2 p.m.

VMI (6-1 Southern) – Bid: Automatic qualifier; Key Wins: Mercer (41-14), at Samford (38-37 OT). James Madison (5-0, 3-0 CAA) – Bid: At-large; Key Wins: at Elon (20-17), Richmond (23-6)

Davidson (4-2) at No. 4 seed Jacksonville State (9-2), 2 p.m.

Davidson (4-2, 4-1 Pioneer) – Bid: Automatic qualifier; Key Wins: Presbyterian (41-24), at San Diego (31-25). Jacksonville State (9-2, 6-1 OVC) – Bid: Automatic qualifier; Key Wins: at FIU (19-10), at Murray State (28-14).

Holy Cross (3-0) at No. 1 seed South Dakota State (5-1), 3 p.m.

Holy Cross (3-0 Patriot) – Bid: Automatic qualifier; Key Wins: Fordham (34-24), at Bucknell (33-10). South Dakota State (5-1 MVFC) – Bid: Automatic qualifier; Key Wins: at Southern Illinois (44-3), at North Dakota State (27-17).

Eastern Washington (5-1) at North Dakota State (6-2), 3:30 p.m.

Eastern Washington (5-1 Big Sky) – Bid: At-large; Key Wins: at UC Davis (32-22), Idaho (38-31). North Dakota State (6-2, 5-2 MVFC) – Bid: At-large; Key Wins: at Missouri State (25-0), North Dakota (34-13).

Missouri State (5-4) at North Dakota (4-1), 4 p.m.

Missouri State (5-4, 5-1 MVFC) – Bid: At-large; Key Wins: at Northern Iowa (13-6), Southern Illinois (30-27). North Dakota (4-1 MVFC) – Bid: At-large; Key Wins: Southern Illinois (44-21), South Dakota State (28-17)

Southern Illinois (5-3) at Weber State (5-0), 4 p.m.

Southern Illinois (5-3, 3-3 MVFC) – Bid: At-large; Bid: North Dakota State (38-14), Southeastern Louisiana (55-48). Weber State (5-0 Big Sky) – Bid: Automatic qualifier; Key Wins: UC Davis (18-13), Idaho State (20-15).

Sacred Heart (3-1) at Delaware (5-0), 7 p.m.

Sacred Heart (3-1 Northeast) – Bid: Automatic qualifier; Key Wins: LIU (35-7), at Duquesne (34-27 OT). Delaware (5-0, 4-0 CAA) – Bid: Automatic qualifier; Key Wins: at Rhode Island (35-21), at Villanova (27-20).

QUARTERFINALS

Saturday, May 1/Sunday May 2

Holy Cross-South Dakota State winner vs. Southern Illinois-Weber State winner

Sacred Heart-Delaware winner vs. Davidson-Jacksonville State winner

VMI-James Madison winner vs. Missouri State-North Dakota winner

Eastern Washington-North Dakota State winner vs. Monmouth-Sam Houston winner

SEMIFINALS

Saturday, May 8

Quarterfinal winners, noon (ESPN)

Quarterfinal winners, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)

CHAMPIONSHIP

Sunday, May 16

Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas

Semifinal winners, 2 p.m. (ABC)

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