SEASON PREVIEW: Playoff Predictions and More

February 17, 2021 by Staff

NOTE: This article was updated after the MEAC canceled its spring season. MEAC members Delaware St, Howard and South Carolina State announced they would each play a limited schedule as independents. The new opt-outs that forced this action were Norfolk State,  Morgan State, and North Carolina A&T.

It was updated again after Alcorn State opted out.

The FCS Spring football season kicked off this Saturday and to no one's surprise, North Dakota State is projected to top the nation at the end of the regular season, according to the Congrove Computer Rankings at

The Congrove Computer Rankings have been ranking FBS teams wince 1993 and are a recognized national champion selector by the NCAA. has been serving avid college football enthusiasts on the internet since 1999. This is the first season Congrove has released FCS rankings to the public.

The Bison have won 8 of the last 9 national championships. James Madison won the 2016 title and is projected to finish 2nd this season.

NDSU gets its lofty rankings, despite the need to break-in a new QB after Trey Lance departs for the NFL draft on the heels of a 2019 season in which he threw 28 TD passes and  INT's. He added 1,100 yards rushing and 14 more scores.

As for the No. 2 Dukes, they have even more to replace with just 7 starters returning.

The problem for the teams that are chasing is that North Dakota State and James Madison are perennial powerhouses with plenty of talent waiting in the wings.

Monmouth checks in at No. 3 in the computer rankings with Albany and Northern Iowa rounding out the top 5.

With several conferences playing just 4 or 6 games, a multitude of teams could go undefeated and the computer projects 13 schools accomplishing that feat. Conversely, ten teams are projected to go winless.

Get the Complete Rankings.


A revised 16-team playoff field will be announced on Sunday, April 18. This year’s field will include 10 automatic qualifiers and 6 at-large bids. The first round is scheduled for the weekend April 24 with the FCS National Championship game to be played on either May 14, 15 or 16 in Frisco, Texas.

*-Conference will hold a conference championship game to determine NCAA automatic qualifier.

Big South: Monmouth
Big Sky: Weber State
CAA: James Madison
MVFC: North Dakota State
*-NEC: Sacred Hart (over Duquesne)
OVC: Southeast Missouri
*-Patriot: Holy Cross (over Lafayette)
Pioneer: San Diego
SoCon: Furman
Southland: Sam Houston State

Wofford (SoCon)
Albany (CAA)
Northern Iowa (MVFC)
Nicholls State (Southland)
Kennesaw State (Big South)
Austin Peay (OVC)

SWAC CHAMPIONSHIP (Does not participate in NCAA Playoff): Prairie View A&M over Alabama A&M

Strangely enough, schools that opted to play in the fall will have their performance considered for inclusion in the playoff. This is a moot point as no one will qualify under this consideration. If a school doesn't play in the Spring, it can't possibly be ready for playoffs in April/May. Plus, the schools that played in Fall played an abnormal number of FBS teams and wound up a combined 21-48 overall, and 1-33 vs. FBS.


Both Dixie State and Tarleton State will make their FCS debuts this spring as Independents, and Tarleton State will launch the season with a February 13th home game against McNeese State. However, Dixie State's 7-game slate includes a pair of D-2 schools while Tarleton State's 8-game schedule contains three D2 schools and 1 FBS school (New Mexico State).

In addition to Tarleton State, FBS member New Mexico State is playing Dixie State and New Mexico Highlands (D2) this spring.

FCS schools will combine to play 10 games against D-2 schools, 1 vs. a NAIA school and 2 vs. a FBS school.

Four teams from the Big Sky conference - Montana, Montana State, Northern Colorado and Portland State - have opted out of participating in the league's 6-game schedule and are planning to schedule as many as 4 games each as independents. At the time of this article's publication, Montana had scheduled 1 game and the other three schools mentioned had not scheduled any. Another Big Sky team, Sacramento State, opted out entirely.

NOTE: This article was updated after the MEAC canceled its spring season. MEAC members Delaware St, Howard and South Carolina State announced they would each play a limited schedule as independents.

As of February 19th, 92 schools had scheduled at least 4 games and Montana had scheduled 1 to give us 93 teams that the Congrove Computer Rankings this spring season.

Here is the list of the 31 schools that have opted-out entirely.

Ivy League (8):

Big Sky (1):
Sacramento State

Big South (3):
North Alabama

Colonial Athletic Association (1):

MEAC (6):
Florida A&M
Morgan State
Norfolk State
North Carolina A&T
North Carolina Central

MVFC (1):
Indiana State

NEC (2):
Central Connecticut
St. Francis (PA).

OVC (1):
Eastern Kentucky

Patriot League (1):

Pioneer League (2):

Southland (4):
Abilene Christian
Central Arkansas
Houston Baptist
Stephen F. Austin

SWAC (1):
Alcorn State