I looked SIU football coach Nick Hill in the eye Sunday, and asked him everything I could think of.
Why didn't the Salukis' win against UMass, one of only three wins by an FCS program over an FBS team, matter more to the committee? What did you tell the seniors? Does your snub from the playoffs make you reconsider how you'll schedule in the future? I didn't need to ask him how he felt. I could see how he felt.
After three losing seasons, hiring two new coordinators, and rallying from a 2-4 start to win five of the last six games, Hill and the Salukis were on the outside of the 24-team playoff field. With a strength of schedule of 24 and a Massey Rating of 18. With seven Division I wins out of a schedule that put SIU on the road seven times out of 12 games.
"We just need to look at scheduling in the non-conference. It obviously isn't weighted that much, in terms of the teams that you schedule," Hill said. "It's all about the number of wins. (Kennesaw State) played two lower-level opponents. We played two FBS schools. We beat one. We had the other one on the ropes up until the last snap of the game. That's a bowl team."
UMass (1-11) might not win a game in the Missouri Valley Football Conference this year, but an FBS win is an FBS win. Arkansas State (7-4), SIU's other FBS opponent this season, is a bowl team going for its eighth win of the year Friday against South Alabama (1-10).
You have free articles remaining.
When you watch a selection show not sure what you're going to get, you're going to be disappointed if you're left on the outside. Snubs are easier to take if you understand the guidelines and the comparisons. That's what makes Sunday's field so frustrating. Yes, the Salukis would be in if they'd managed to beat Illinois State (lost 21-7), South Dakota State (lost 28-10) or North Dakota State (lost 21-7). Yes, if SIU had safety Jeremy Chinn and running back D.J. Davis for those first two games, the Salukis may have been more competitive.
The committee rewarded South Dakota State for losing to a South Dakota squad the Salukis handled with the seventh seed. The Jackrabbits played without running back Pierre Strong Jr., perhaps the best back in the conference, and without injured quarterback J'Bore Gibbs. Illinois State got into the field after getting smoked by a Youngstown State squad SIU also handled, without its starting quarterback.
When you start comparing resumes with the other at-large bids, it gets more puzzling. The committee chair said SIU didn't get in because its body of work wasn't good enough. Southeastern Louisiana (7-4) got in because it won four of its last five games and lost its only game against a team in the field, Nicholls, 28-27. Nicholls won the Southland Conference's automatic bid with the victory, which was its only win against a member of the playoff field.
Kennesaw State went 10-2 but also had zero wins against the field, just like SIU. The Owls struggled with 1-10 Missouri State, beating the Bears 35-24, and played only one game out of 12 against a team in the field. KSU lost 45-21 at home to Monmouth, the champion of the Big South, and played a schedule 107th in the FCS. The Owls played two non-Division I teams.
Furman also shouldn't have been in. The Paladins (8-4) beat one non-Division team to get to eight wins, lost 24-7 to Wofford, the champion of the Southern Conference, and also had no wins against the field. They had zero wins against teams with a winning record, and got an at-large bid to the playoffs after beating non-Division I Point University 64-7 in its regular-season finale. Furman's strength of schedule, according to the Massey Ratings? No. 59. Then there's Albany (8-4), which played one game against a team in the field, losing 38-35 to Monmouth.
If the Salukis played Monmouth, maybe they would have made the field. Instead, they're on the outside looking in, and determined not to put next season in the hands of the committee.
"Leave no doubt. We can't leave no doubt to anyone else," SIU offensive guard ZeVeyon Furcron said. "We know what we have to do to be a playoff team. We can't leave it up to other people, because we saw how that turned out, so we gotta come back to work and pick right back up where these seniors left off. And that's my job my senior year, to get us back to where we need to be."
TODD HEFFERMAN covers SIU athletics for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at email@example.com, 618-351-5087 or on Twitter at @THefferman.