Montana's playoff scenario heading into the final week of the regular season is simple - win against the Bobcats and you're in... More than likely at least.
Montana's 35-17 win against Southern Utah on Saturday puts the Grizzlies at 7-4, 5-2 in the conference. Given Eastern Washington's only conference loss to Northern Arizona, Montana has zero chance of winning the Big Sky's automatic bid into the FCS playoffs (although Montana could still win a share of the title with a win over Montana State and an [unlikely] Eastern Washington loss to Portland State).
As a result, Montana must rely on one of 13 at-large bids into the playoffs. A general (but not absolute) rule is that for a team to be considered as an at-large entry to the playoffs they need to have seven wins against Division I opponents. The Grizzlies currently have seven wins although one was against Division II Central Washington. This means that Montana has to beat Montana State in order to get a seventh Division I win and have a chance at the playoffs.
The 114th Edition of the Brawl of the Wild in Missoula next Saturday is looking to be an exciting one, especially with playoff hopes on the line for both teams. An interesting wrinkle heading into the game is the unknown status of both starting quarterbacks. Montana QB Jordan Johnson dealt with a leg injury in the game against Southern Utah, while Montana State QB Dakota Prukop sat out in last Saturday's win against Idaho State with a knee injury.
Another interesting stat leading up to Griz/Cat is that the visiting team has won five straight in the series, with the last victory for the home team (and last UM victory over MSU in Missoula) back in 2008.
So for the sake all that is right in the world, let's assume Montana defeats the Bobcats this Saturday in Missoula. Montana's 8-4 record should be good enough to get the Grizzlies into the playoffs. As they are competing for one of only 13 at-large spots however, a great deal depends on other FCS games across the nation.
To help Montana's playoff odds, Montana fans should root for the following teams this Saturday (along with the likelihood of each result):
- Southern Utah over Northern Arizona - possible, but not likely
- Coastal Carolina over Liberty - very likely
- Florida A&M over Bethune-Cookman - possible, but not likely
- North Dakota State over Youngstown State - very likely
- South Dakota over South Dakota State - possible, but not likely
- Western Illinois over Indiana State - about 50/50
- Colgate over Bucknell - possible, but not likely
- Central Arkansas over Sam Houston State - about 50/50
- Northwestern State over Stephen F. Austin - possible, but not likely
If everything goes Montana's way and the Grizzlies beat Montana State and make the FCS playoffs, here's what I am projecting the FCS playoffs will look like:
Big Sky: Eastern Washington
Big South: Coastal Carolina
Colonial: New Hampshire
Mid-Eastern: North Carolina A&T
Missouri Valley: North Dakota State
Northeast: Sacred Heart
Ohio Valley: Jacksonville State
Pioneer: San Diego
Southland: Southeastern Louisiana
Big Sky (2): Montana, Montana State
Colonial (3): James Madison, Villanova, *William & Mary/Richmond
Mid-Eastern (1): Bethune-Cookman
Missouri Valley (4): Illinois State, Indiana State, Northern Iowa, South Dakota State
Ohio Valley (1): Eastern Kentucky
Patriot (1): Bucknell
Southland (1): Sam Houston State
Last Four Out: Northern Arizona, Stephen F. Austin, *William & Mary/Richmond, Youngstown State
* - William & Mary and Richmond play in the final week of the regular season. I am projecting the winner of this game will make the FCS playoffs and the loser will not, therefore I am combining the two teams in this projection.
The FCS Postseason is a 24-team playoff. The top eight teams are seeded and receive a bye through to the second round The remaining 16 teams play in the first round (match-ups are generally situated by geography). The seeded teams receive home field advantage in the second round.
#1 North Dakota State
Southeastern Louisiana @ South Dakota State
North Carolina A&T @ James Madison
#4 Eastern Washington
Indiana State @ Montana State
#5 Jacksonville State
Sam Houston State @ Northern Iowa
#6 Illinois State
San Diego @ Montana
#3 Coastal Carolina
Bethune-Cookman @ Chattanooga
Sacred Heart @ Bucknell
#2 New Hampshire
*William & Mary/Richmond @ Eastern Kentucky