CARBONDALE — The first top-10 ranking of the season from the Division I Football Championship Selection Committee Wednesday night had some good news and bad news for SIU's football team.
Using selection criteria and results through Saturday's games, the committee put three teams from the Missouri Valley Football Conference in its top 10. They also rewarded three teams with worse schedules than the Salukis (5-4, 3-2 MVFC), who are banking on their slate to get them into the playoff picture if they keep winning. SIU enters Saturday's home game against Missouri State (1-7, 1-4) with its first three-game winning streak in five years and a strength of schedule of 17 in the latest Massey Ratings.
The Salukis have beaten UMass (1-7), an FBS program, on the road, UT Martin (6-3), Youngstown State (5-4), South Dakota (3-6) on the road and Indiana State (3-6) on the road. SIU's four losses are at Arkansas State, an FBS program that is 5-4, at No. 17/18 Southeast Missouri State (6-3), at No. 4 South Dakota State (7-2) and at home against No. 11/12 Illinois State (6-3). The Salukis are tied for fourth place in the MVFC, the nation's top-ranked FCS league, 16th in the Massey Ratings and 17th in the Sagarin Ratings.
Second-seeded James Madison (8-1), the second-ranked team in the country, No. 7 seed Central Arkansas (7-2), No. 9 seed Furman (6-3) and No. 10 seed New Hampshire (5-3) all had schedules worse than SIU. JMU's strength of schedule was 20th, Central Arkansas' was 27th, Furman's was an eye-opening 40th, and New Hampshire's strength of schedule was 28th. Central Arkansas, along with SIU and The Citadel, own the only FCS wins over an FBS team this season. The Bears beat Western Kentucky 35-28 in their season opener. The Salukis beat UMass 45-20, and The Citadel topped Georgia Tech 27-24 in overtime.
Defending national champion and No. 1-ranked North Dakota State (9-0) was first, followed by No. 2 James Madison, No. 3 Weber State (7-2), No. 4 South Dakota State (7-2) and No. 8 Sacramento State (6-3). Fifth-ranked Northern Iowa was sixth in the rankings, followed by No. 6/7 Central Arkansas, No. 5/6 Montana (7-2), No. 9/10 Furman and No. 23/25 New Hampshire.
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“With three weeks left before Selection Sunday, the committee has released a mid-season top-10 ranking as a way of providing insight and building interest to fans about FCS Football,” said Greg Seitz, chair of the committee and athletic director at Jacksonville State University.
All 10 teams in the first committee rankings except New Hampshire (5-3) had at least six wins, with fifth seed Sacramento State 6-3, sixth seed Northern Iowa 6-3 and Furman at 6-3. New Hampshire was a surprising pick at No. 10, given the Wildcats have one win over a team currently in the two major top-25 polls, No. 18/19 Villanova. New Hampshire beat Villanova 28-20 last weekend and faces No. 2 James Madison Saturday on the road. New Hampshire is also 1-3 on the road, with its only win at 5-4 Stony Brook.
“Our committee looks forward to watching teams compete and play over the final three weeks of the regular-season,” Seitz said. “There is still a great amount of football to be played that will have an impact on individual teams’ résumés, as today’s release of the top 10 is just a snapshot at this point of the season. We’ll continue our dialogue with our regional advisory committees, before we as a national committee reconvene in the coming weeks for our final evaluations and select the teams that will compete in the championship.”
The Division I Football Championship Selection Committee will pick the 24 teams in the playoff field and seed the top eight, which will receive first-round byes and host second-round games. There are 10 automatic qualifiers and 14 at-large spots. The committee is supposed to take overall records, records against Division I opponents, records against opponents from other automatic qualifying conferences, records against FBS opponents, common opponents' records and the FCS coaches poll into account when making their selections. The bracket will be revealed on Sunday, Nov. 24, beginning at 11:30 a.m. on ESPNU as part of the FCS Selection Show.
SIU hasn't reached the playoffs since 2009, the last time it won the MVFC. After hosting Missouri State, the Salukis go to 1-8 Western Illinois before finishing the regular season at home against No. 1 NDSU.