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Stony Brook on FCS playoff bubble

Stony Brook's Michael Coulter (10 ) changes the

Stony Brook's Michael Coulter (10 ) changes the play call at the line. (Sept. 24, 2011) (Credit: Alan J Schaefer)

Stony Brook could have clinched its second straight Football Champiosnhip Subdivision playoff bid with a win last week at Liberty. But the Flames scored their 18th straight home win in Big South Conference play, and the resulting three-way title tie gave the automatic bid to unranked Coastal Carolina in a tiebreaker.

So, the Seawolves (9-2, 5-1 Big South), who were ranked No. 13 in the FCS Coaches poll and No. 12 in the Sports Network FCS poll last week, must hope for one of 10 at-large bids to gain entrance to the 20-team FCS playoff field when it is announced Sunday afternoon at 1:30. Their high ranking assures them of nothing, and since they play in a weak seven-team conference that has no political pull, the Seawolves are very much on the bubble.

Unfortunately for Stony Brook, only five teams ranked in the top 20 of last week’s two FCS polls are automatic qualifiers, meaning they are one of 15 top-20 teams vying for 10 open spots. The results of Saturday’s games should have eliminated a few of those contenders and helped the Seawolves, who were idle after playing 11 straight weeks.

Two bracket projections omitted the Seawolves. The Sports Network replaced Stony Brook with Towson for the final spot in its projection, and SBU was the next-to-last team eliminated in the projection by NoBowls.com.

But Newsday’s analysis of the candidates for 10 at-large bids places the Seawolves in the field, and it can’t hurt that SBU is in the New York market. The only other FCS contenders from major markets are Northeast Conference champion Wagner, an automatic qualifier based on Staten Island, and Villanova, a Philadelphia-based school expected to receive an at-large bid.

Here is a list of the 10 conference champions that received automatic bids, including their overall record, conference record and national ranking (Coaches poll-TSN poll):

Missouri Valley – North Dakota State (10-1, 7-1, No. 1)
Colonial Athletic Association – Old Dominion (10-1, 7-1, No. 4)
Big Sky – Eastern Washington (9-2, 7-1, No. 5)
Southern – Georgia Southern (8-3, 6-2, No. 6)
Southland – Central Arkansas (9-2, 6-1, No. 10)
Mid-Eastern Athletic – Bethune-Cookman (9-2, 8-0, No. 22-25)
Ohio Valley – Eastern Illinois (7-4, 6-1, No. 25-24)
Patriot – Colgate (8-3, 5-0, No. 28-26)
Northeast – Wagner (8-3, 7-1, No. 35-34)
Big South – Coastal Carolina (7-4, 5-1, NR-47)

According to the consensus of Sports Network and NoBowls.com, another 14 teams are in the running for the 10 at-large bids. Interestingly, of those 14, NoBowls.com placed five lower-ranked teams ahead of the Seawolves, and Sports Network put four lower-rated teams ahead of SBU. Both entities recognize that Stony Brook is part of a traditional one-bid league that generally is considered the weakest of 10 that get automatic bids, and politically, small schools are more likely to support each other on the selection committee.

Here is Newsday’s analysis of the 14 candidates for 10 at-large bids:

There are four locks – Montana State (10-1, 7-1 Big Sky, No. 2), Sam Houston State (8-3, 6-1 Southland, No. 3), Wofford (8-3, 6-2 Southern, No. 9) and Cal Poly (9-2, 7-1 Big Sky, No. 18-17).

Montana State played no FBS opponents, lost at home to Eastern Washington and didn’t have to play either Cal Poly or Northern Arizona in the Big Sky but is a traditional power that beat all the bottom-feeders. Sam Houston was FCS runnerup last year, and two of its three losses were to FBS teams Texas A&M and Baylor, both of which knocked off No. 1 FBS teams. Wofford played FBS South Carolina tough on Saturday and lost to two ranked FCS teams, and Cal Poly won Saturday at NAU in what amounted to a playoff for an FCS bid.

The three CAA at-large entries – Towson (7-4, 6-2, No. 16-19), Richmond (8-3, 6-2, No. 20) and Villanova (8-3, 6-2, No. 21-16) all should make it.

Of those three, Sports Network and NoBowls.com agreed only on Villanova, splitting on the other two, but the CAA had four entries last year and is recognized as a strong league, which is why Stony Brook is joining that multiple-bid league next year. Towson likely ejected New Hampshire (8-3, 6-2, No. 7) by virtue of its emphatic 64-35 win Saturday at UNH.

That leaves seven teams contending for the final three FCS berths, including Appalachian State (8-3, 6-2 Southern, No. 8), Illinois State (8-3, 5-3 Missouri Valley, No. 11), Lehigh (10-1, 4-1 Patriot, No. 12-14), Stony Brook (9-2, 5-1 Big South, No. 13-12), South Dakota State (8-3, 6-2 Missouri Valley, No. 23-21), Eastern Kentucky (8-3, 6-2 Ohio Valley, No. 17-22) and New Hampshire (8-3, 6-2 CAA, No. 7).

Of those seven, New Hampshire is the highest ranked, but its 64-35 loss at home to Towson should knock it out of the running along with the fact that it was blown out by 37 points in its only FBS game at Minnesota.

Of the remaining six contenders for the last three slots in the 20-team FCS field, TSN and NoBowls.com agree Appalachian State, Illinois State and South Dakota State will make it. Newsday agrees on Appalachian State but puts Stony Brook and Lehigh at the top of the final six.

Here’s the breakdown of the final six contenders for three spots:

Stony Brook – The Seawolves have lost only three of their past 21 games over two seasons. They won nine straight last year before losing by seven points at then-No. 1 Sam Houston. This season, they lost by 11 at FBS Syracuse, a bowl-eligible team, after leading 17-14 at halftime, and their 23-3 win over FBS Army was the biggest winning margin by an FCS team over an FBS team this season. Their loss at Liberty was the 18th straight home conference win by the Flames over six seasons. SBU beat Big South champ Coastal Carolina on the road and beat Patriot champ Colgate at home. The fly in the Seawolves’ ointment is that Lehigh won at Liberty this season, 28-26.

Lehigh – The only blemish on the Mountain Hawks’ record is an 11-point home loss to Colgate in the penultimate game of the regular season, and they have the Liberty win. But Lehigh played no FBS opponents, and Stony Brook topped Colgate.

Appalachian State – The Mountaineers blasted Big South champ Coastal Carolina by 41 at home. But they lost to FBS East Carolina by 22 and to Southern Conference opponents Citadel (-24) and Wofford (-10).

South Dakota State – The Jackrabbits’ big win was over 7-4 Youngstown State, but they have losses at FCS No. 1 North Dakota State (-3), at 5-6 Northern Iowa (-21) and at FBS Kansas (-14).

Illinois State – The Redbirds have been highly ranked all season after an early win over FBS Eastern Michigan (+17), but they lost conference games to mediocre Southern Illinois and Missouri State in addition to No. 1 North Dakota State.

Eastern Kentucky – The Colonels also won at Big South champ Coastal Carolina by 18 points, but they were crushed at FBS Purdue by 42 points and lost to two lower-rated teams, Tennessee State and Ohio Valley champ Eastern Illinois.

Newsday’s analysis focused more strongly on this season’s record as opposed to the FCS reputation of each program, resulting in a divergent view of the at-large berths compared to Sports Network and NoBowls.com. Here are Newsday’s picks for 10 at-large FCS berths:

Montana State, Sam Houston State, Wofford, Cal Poly, Towson, Richmond, Villanova, Stony Brook, Lehigh, Appalachian State.

Left on the bubble: South Dakota State, Illinois State, Eastern Kentucky, New Hampshire.