No. 1 North Dakota St. tops FCS playoff bracket as CAA gets in record six teams

CAA Football set an FCS playoff record on Sunday, but North Dakota State's dynasty will be pursuing an even bigger mark in the 24-team field.

The top-ranked Bison (11-0) earned the No. 1 seed when the pairings were announced Sunday. The defending champions are making their ninth consecutive appearance in the playoffs and seeking their seventh FCS championship in eight years, which would break their tie with Georgia Southern for the most titles.

One-quarter of the field comes out of the CAA, whose six qualifiers -- outright champion Maine, Delaware, Elon, James Madison, Stony Brook and Towson -- are a single-season record. The CAA and Missouri Valley Football Conference previously had five qualifiers each.

While North Dakota State is favored to be on the winner's podium Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas, the strength of teams on its side of the bracket stood out from the other side of the bracket. They included unseeded James Madison, the 2016 FCS champion and runner-up last year; fourth-seeded Kennesaw State, which is second-ranked in the two national polls; fifth-seeded South Dakota State, which narrowly lost to the Bison 21-17 on Sept. 29 and beat them in the 2016 and '17 regular seasons; and eighth-seeded Colgate, which is unbeaten against FCS competition.

"No matter what, you're going to face really good teams once you get into the tournament," NDSU coach Chris Klieman said on the ESPNU selection show. "I'm excited that they have to come through the Fargodome. As we've told our guys, it's just one week at a time and one day at a time."

Despite all the CAA teams, Maine was the only one to earn a playoff seed, which allows for a first-round bye. That was particularly surprising to James Madison, whose treacherous path would require wins against Delaware and Colgate just to get to a possible quarterfinal-round matchup against North Dakota State.

"Well, I would say it's fairly disrespectful from our standpoint. I think that we're definitely one of the eight best teams in the country," JMU coach Mike Houston said. "But all that being said, the selection committee, they've got tough choices to make."

The other side of the bracket included Maine with the No. 7 seed and the three teams that shared the Big Sky title -- No. 2 Weber State, No. 3 Eastern Washington and No. 6 UC Davis.

UC Davis and Southland Conference programs Lamar and UIW earned their first playoff bids. The last three teams left out of the field were Indiana State (7-4), Monmouth (8-3) and North Dakota (6-5).


Saturday, Nov. 24
Duquesne (8-3) at Towson (7-4), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)
Elon (6-4) at Wofford (8-3), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)
Stony Brook (7-4) at Southeast Missouri (8-3), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)
Delaware (7-4) at James Madison (8-3), 3 p.m. (ESPN3)
UIW (6-4) at Montana State (7-4), 3 p.m. (ESPN3)
San Diego (9-2) at Nicholls (8-3), 4 p.m. (ESPN3)
Lamar (7-4) at UNI (6-5), 5 p.m. (ESPN3)
ETSU (8-3) at Jacksonville State (8-3), 7:30 p.m. (ESPN3)


Saturday, Dec. 1
ETSU-Jacksonville State winner at No. 7 seed Maine (8-3), noon (ESPN3)
Delaware-James Madison winner at No. 8 seed Colgate (9-1), 1 p.m. (ESPN3)
Elon-Wofford winner at No. 4 seed Kennesaw State (10-1), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)
Duquesne-Towson winner at No. 5 seed South Dakota State (8-2), 3 p.m. (ESPN3)
UIW-Montana State winner at No. 1 seed North Dakota State (11-0), 3 p.m. (ESPN3)
Stony Brook-Southeast Missouri winner at No. 2 Weber State (9-2), 4 p.m. (ESPN3)
San Diego-Nicholls winner at No. 3 seed Eastern Washington (9-2), 5 p.m. (ESPN3)
Lamar-UNI winner at No. 6 seed UC Davis (9-2), 7 p.m. (ESPN3)