With a decidedly East-Coast feel, the Football Championship Subdivision playoff brackets are out, but, Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh said, this might have been a year that convention could have been altered.
If only those out west had taken care of business.
“It’s typical,” Walsh said of the 20-team bracket, which features only two from west of the Dakotas. “But from an overall perspective, what they did this year was probably fair.”
Walsh has been snubbed by the selection committee while he was coaching at Portland State in the past. The Mustangs have had a couple seasons where they came away griping.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
This year, however, in a subdivision where 90 percent of the teams are located east of the Rocky Mountains, losing had more to do with the selection process than perceived geographic bias.
“None of us did what we had to do,” said Walsh, whose team finished 7-4 and one shy of the seven Division I victories required to earn an at-large berth. “There’s about three or four of us — with one more win — then we begin to change that dynamic.”
No. 22 Cal Poly and No. 15 Montana (7-4) were both bubble teams that needed to win their final games of the season to improve their resumes.
Both lost, and the Grizzlies were left out for the first time in 18 years.
Cal Poly fell 22-21 to rival UC Davis (6-5), which also bumped Sacramento State (6-5) off the bubble with a second straight one-point win on Saturday.
Montana lost 21-16 to No. 6 Montana State (9-2), which probably did not need the win to make the playoffs.
Unranked Weber State might have also jumped into the discussion with a win over Football Bowl Subdivision opponent Texas Tech in the finale. The Wildcats (6-5) lost 64-21 to the Red Raiders.
The Big Sky Conference champion Bobcats were awarded one of five national seeds in the playoff bracket and are one of 12 teams to receive a first-round bye.
Eastern Washington (9-2), which finished the season ranked No. 1 overall in The Sports Network media poll, was given the No. 5 playoff seed after finishing second to Montana State in Big Sky play.
No. 2 Appalachian State (9-2) was awarded the top overall seed. First-round games are scheduled for Saturday.
The only other “western” team in the bracket is No. 25 North Dakota State (7-4), which received a controversial at-large berth out of the Missouri Valley Conference after the Bison lost their final regular-season game 3-0 to Missouri State (5-6).
The difference between North Dakota and many of the other seven-win teams who were left out is that all seven of the Bison victories came over Division I opponents.
Cal Poly had a 23-17 home victory over Humboldt State, which finished 8-3 but was left out of the Division II playoffs. Montana throttled one-win Western State 73-2.
The NCAA playoff selection committee, chaired by Montana athletic director Jim O’Day, was unwilling to bend on the seven-win rule, which leaves some room for interpretation as written.
The Division I-FCS Handbook reads: “The won-lost record of a team will be scrutinized to determine a team’s strength of schedule; however, less than seven Division I wins may place a team in jeopardy of not being selected.”
The word “may” is bolded in the text, but none of the at-large teams selected had fewer than seven Division I victories.
With a week to think back on the season as a whole — including a brutal five-game road trip and a myriad of injuries at quarterback, offensive line and in the defensive secondary — Walsh called flip-flopping from a 4-7 record the prior year a success.
“The wear of tear, the injuries, the emotion,” Walsh said, “there’s s a lot of reasons why we’re 7-4, but 7-4 considering, we had a good season, and it could have been a great season. If there’s any frustration, I guess that’s the frustration.”