The opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author.
After a week of healing, watching and waiting, the Apps now know their road to Frisco. They find themselves on the south side of the NCAA bracket and a second-round matchup with Illinois State.
The obvious notables is that the other two SoCon co-champs are on the other side of the bracket and that the two seeded teams on App’s side are Eastern Washington and Montana State. Last time I looked at a globe, EWU and MSU were on the other side of the country, which would rule out most reasonable road trips for most fans. If you were to poll the more FCS-knowledgable of App fans, they would actually prefer to have Montana State and Eastern Washington over North Dakota State and Old Dominion. ODU’s high-powered offense and NDSU’s defense and Fargo Dome advantage are legit and could pose major problems for ASU on the road. On that side of the bracket, we could see some epic matchups with those two against each other, or any combination of them along with Wofford, Georgia Southern and New Hampshire.
On the Apps’ side of the bracket, you have the two seeded Big Sky teams, the ASU/ISU game and a hard-to-predict Cal Poly/SHSU game. Looking at the other un-seeded teams in that half of the bracket, it seems very unlikely that any of them would out-bid ASU for a game so the only way the Apps hit the road is if it’s to Cheney, Washington or Bozeman, Montana.
This follows a final week of the year that saw some things go as expected, but many other deviate from the norm. ODU knocked out JMU on the road with a second-half comeback, EWU survived, MSU won the Brawl of the Wild in Wa-Griz Stadium, UNH got torched by Towson, the OVC teams faltered and Cal Poly eliminated Northern Arizona.
Rounding out one of the hot topics from the past week, Georgia Southern won the SoCon Autobid. The ultimately pointless autobid came down to a game between El Citadel and Furman. The Lords of Discipline won decisively and consequently, Georgia Southern got the autobid on the last tiebreaker before a lottery pick, which is points allowed (ASU has 218, Wofford had 164 & GSU had 163). All that did was take their chances of making the playoffs from 99% to 100% and I personally doubt it let GSU get a seed over ASU.
Also following a topic of last week, here’s a list of teams from the AQ conferences that either finished with seven Division 1 wins or won their conference’s autobid (those autobid winners are bolded). As you can see, the super-bubble of 2012 didn’t get much smaller in the final week. Green means that team made the playoffs and red means their bubble burst.
Old Dominion – 10 wins (Couldn’t win AQ)
New Hampshire – 8 wins
Villanova – 8 wins
Richmond – 8 wins
James Madison – 7 wins
Towson – 7 wins
Cal Poly – 9 wins
Montana State – 9 wins
Eastern Washington – 8 wins
Northern Arizona – 7 wins
Stony Brook – 8 wins
Coastal Carolina – 6 wins
Bethune-Cookman – 9 wins
North Dakota State – 10 wins
Illinois State – 8 wins
South Dakota State – 7 wins
Youngstown State – 7 wins
Wagner – 8 wins
Albany – 9 wins
Tennessee State – 8 wins
Eastern Kentucky – 8 wins
Eastern Illinois – 7 wins
Tennessee-Martin – 7 wins
Lehigh – 10 wins
Colgate – 8 wins
Georgia Southern – 8 wins
Appalachian State – 8 wins
Wofford – 7 wins
The Citadel – 7 wins
Central Arkansas – 7 wins
Sam Houston State – 7 wins
As you can see, the bare minimum of seven Division 1 wins wasn’t enough this year. Out of the teams with 8+ wins that were snubbed include Lehigh, Tennessee State, Eastern Kentucky, Albany and Richmond. TSU, EKU and Albany were victims of being in a lesser conference that didn’t win many non-conference games so they weren’t that surprised. The two big surprises were 10-1 Lehigh and 8-3 Richmond being left out. Lehigh’s negatives were that they play in a lesser conference that doesn’t offer athletic scholarships (the Patriot League, which did recently vote to start adding football scholarships). Richmond was a victim of circumstance. Villanova snatched the CAA Autobid somehow and without any significant wins due to a weak non-conference and the fate of CAA scheduling, it left the Spiders out.
It wasn’t the most enviable position to be a part of the selection committee (led by ASU’s Charlie Cobb). With the field expanding to 24 teams next season, it might get easier if things go like this year or maybe harder with a smaller bubble. With conferences getting bigger (The Big Sky is at 13, the MVFC is at 10, the MEAC at 12, etc) it does create a bigger top-half of the standings as there’s more lower-half teams to beat up on and inflate your resume.
Since the Apps are off this week, here’s a look at this weekend’s first-round games aka the play-in round.
Eastern Illinois @ South Dakota State – The surprising OVC Autobid winner take one of the last teams to get in for the right to play #1 North Dakota State in the Fargo Dome. SDSU should be a heavy favorite though as they’re coming from probably the strongest FCS conference and will be at home. A SDSU game would set up a Dakota Marker rematch in the quarterfinals, which NDSU fans are not happy about.
Coastal Carolina @ Bethune-Cookman – Big South Co-Champs and Autobid winner against MEAC Champs for the right to travel to #4 Old Dominion in Norfolk. After a rocky start that included the 55-14 thumping at the hands of ASU, Coastal went on to win their final five games, getting some help from Liberty to win the Big South Autobid on a tiebreaker. B-CU ran through the MEAC this year, only losing to Miami and a close game to Tennessee State. Bit of a toss-up here. The MEAC hasn’t won a playoff game in over a decade and this is their best chance yet to finally win one.
Villanova @ Stony Brook – The CAA Co-Champs and Autobid winner against Big South Co-Champs and At-Large selection. Winner travels cross-country to #3 Montana State in Bozeman. Stony Brook joins the CAA next season so this game will happen again. Logic favors a hot Villanova team from the better conference, but Stony Brook has an FBS scalp (Army) on their resume.
Colgate @ Wagner – Outright Patriot League champs against NEC Co-Champs and Autobid winner. Two teams that knocked off the clear favorites in their league (Lehigh and Albany, respectively) to claim a shock playoff bid. Winner gets a cross-country trip to play #2 Eastern Washington in Cheney on the red abomination. Two teams that are just happy to be playing makes this game another coin-flip. Really can’t pick a winner here.
The Wagner/Colgate game is seemingly the weakest of the first-round matchups and logic says the winner wouldn’t give EWU much of a fight. The Stony Brook/Villanova winner would seem more likely to pull an upset in their second round game, as Montana State does have a history of losing playoff games at home.
But as we all know, none of this means anything if the Apps can’t take care of business. Said business resumes at 2 pm EST in Boone on Saturday, December 1st, which is better than those stupid noon playoff games. For the first time ever, Appalachian State will take on the Illinois State Redbirds.
Know Your Enemy – The Illinois State Redbirds Part 1
T-Note: Yes, I will write a Part 2 next week on this team I knew nothing about before the Selection Show. I really thought we would play New Hampshire.
So this is the time of the year we deviate from the familiar and we play teams from exotic lands. This year, the ASU Mountaineers will host a team from….Normal, Illinois? Really. Over four-hundred thousand words in the English language plus the ones you could make up and the city is named “Normal”?
Illinois State University (in some fonts it looks like either three l’s or three capital I’s) was founded in 1857 and lays claim to being the first public university in the state of Illinois. It has an impressive academic resume in that they graduate a high number of teachers and rank as a top doctoral research institute along with a thousand other colleges and/or universities these days. Their Wikipedia page also credits them as highly successful in competitive forensic events, co-ed cheerleading, club baseball and mock trial team competition, which are code words for there’s nothing else to do in middle-of-nowhere Illinois.
The biggest sport at ISU (or as fellow Missouri Valley teams call them, ISUr (red), to differentiate them form Indiana State aka ISUb (blue)) is men’s basketball. Back in the 1970’s, they figured that as a middle-of-nowhere school in the greater Midwest, they were entitled to a basketball team. Their most famous alum is former player, Olympian, journeyman coach and longtime basketball camp instructor Doug Collins.
Being in the powerful Missouri Valley Conference (Missouri Valley Football Conference is technically a separate entity), the Redbirds enjoyed brief periods of success in their hoops era. However the team hasn’t been to the Big Dance since 1999, being overshadowed by rivals like Wichita State and Northern Iowa. ISUr has been somewhat of a fixture in the NIT, going to four of the last five. They’re basically a mid-major version of Virginia Tech.
So that brings us to ISUr football, which is enjoying their first playoff appearance since 2006. Judging by their reaction video, they are super-duper stoked about making the playoffs, saying it was their big goal while their nerdy announcer ensured the wrath of Yosef by saying “ap-puh-lay-shun”.
The coach who returned them to the playoffs for only the fourth time in their history is former Purdue defensive coordinator and Movember Hall of Famer Brock Spack.
ISUr has the competitive disadvantages of being in the middle of everything. An hour’s drive from the University of Illinois and three hours from Northwestern, Purude & Iowa not to mention the cities of Chicago and St Louis. And unlike App St where we have geographical attractions to lure people from around, Normal stays true to its namesake and doesn’t offer much besides being close proximity to the corporate headquarters of State Farm and Country Financial. Great place to get monetary advice and proper insurance, but not exactly something you can put on a billboard.
So now I will study up a lot more on Illinois State and give a more in-depth recap for next week, which more than likely means I will forget about this til next Sunday and hurriedly do a recap again.