In the small world of Football Championship Subdivision hardcores, the committee that puts together the playoff field and brackets gets pilloried every year because of its decisions. Much of this angst is unfair, considering the committee is under certain criteria in choosing the field.
Much of the criticism over the last decade has come from Fargo, where followers of dynastic North Dakota State bend themselves into pretzels wondering why the NCAA and its committee seem to stack the Bison's side of the bracket with other Missouri Valley Football Conference teams -- particularly South Dakota State.
The fear from Bison followers going into Sunday's playoff selection reveal show was that NDSU, despite a dominant 12-0 regular season and a clear No. 1 seed, was going to be stuck with a bracket that featured SDSU, North Dakota and Northern Iowa. That would've birthed the potential for the Bison to play SDSU or UND in the second round (NDSU's first playoff game with its first-round bye) and Northern Iowa in the quarterfinals.
The consternation from fans was equal parts repetition from already playing those teams during the regular season and dismay that the Jackrabbits and Panthers, particularly, would be tougher early matchups than a No. 1 seed deserved. NDSU fans don't want to admit it, but UND, too, would be a much tougher second-round game than say, a Monmouth or San Diego or Central Connecticut State.
Such is the drawback of the NCAA regionalizing the FCS playoffs in an effort to save a few thousand bucks from those multi-billion dollar television deals it has with the men's basketball tournament and College Football Playoffs.
From a media perspective, my problem with the Bison potentially playing SDSU or Northern Iowa in an early-round game is strictly selfish. I am bored stiff watching the Bison and Jackrabbits play. What's it been, about 34 times in the last decade? And NDSU plays Northern Iowa every year and has played the Panthers in the playoffs. Been there, done that.
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So let's give the playoff committee a deserved round of applause for jumbling their seeds and the brackets this year. Curveballs are good sometimes. The road to Frisco, Texas, and the FCS title game still goes through Fargo, but at least the potential is there for some different teams to take their shots at the Fargodome.
When most FCS bracketologists, including the dynamic duo of Dom Izzo and Jeff Kolpack from Forum Communications Co., had SDSU unseeded and traveling to Grand Forks for a first-round game against UND, the committee surprisingly seeded the Jackrabbits, putting them in the opposite bracket from the Bison. The only way NDSU and SDSU can play would be in Frisco.
When the bracketologists mostly had Northern Iowa seeded and on the Bison's side of the bracket, the committee has the Panthers playing a first-round game in the opposite bracket. UNI, too, could only meet the Bison in the title game.
Instead, NDSU will play the winner of a first-round game between UND and Nicholls in the second round on Saturday, Dec. 7. Either way, the Bison will get a new playoff opponent and in the case of UND, it would make for an epic first-time rivalry matchup as FCS teams. Nothing is going to return that rivalry to its former white-hot stature faster than a postseason game.
Other than that, the Bison have the potential of hosting Southeast Missouri State, Central Arkansas, Albany, Central Connecticut State, Sacramento State, Austin Peay or Furman in later rounds. Those opponents would freshen up things.
It's true familiar faces Illinois State and Montana State, the fifth seed, are also on NDSU's side of the bracket. But the Redbirds lost their starting quarterback to injury a couple of weeks ago and showed little ability to generate offense in an ugly loss to Youngstown State on Saturday. There's little chance Illinois State advances very far in the postseason. And a game against Montana State, far from guaranteed, wouldn't come until the semifinals.
Given what the committee did, there's a chance NDSU gets all new opponents on the road to Texas if the Bison keep winning.
How do playoff games against Nicholls, Central Arkansas and Sacramento State at the dome sound?
It sounds a heckuva lot fresher than Wofford, SDSU and Northern Iowa.
Good job, committee.