In the FCS Huddle: The curious case of Eastern Kentucky
By Sean Shapiro, FCS Assistant
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - First Eastern Kentucky pulled off the great escape, then it made waves on Selection Sunday.
Unranked in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25, the Colonels received an at-large bid and will host James Madison in the first round.
Three weeks ago, Eastern Kentucky trailed Jacksonville State, 48-24, with 7:25 remaining, but miraculously came back to win, 52-48, by scoring 28 straight points, a victory that helped the Colonels gain a share the Ohio Valley Conference title.
While the Colonels deserved the nod over Jacksonville State (which also was hoping for an-large bid), it's surprising that Illinois State was left at home, even after taking Northern Iowa into double overtime Saturday.
Even though Illinois State (7-4) had a bad loss, losing to Eastern Illinois in the first week of the season, Eastern Kentucky had a loss just as poor, losing to Austin Peay in Week 4.
However, the most puzzling aspect about Eastern Kentucky, even more so than the 28-point comeback against Jacksonville State, is the fact the Colonels are hosting James Madison.
Playoff bids are based on quality of facility, revenue plus potential estimated net receipts, attendance history and potential, and a team's performance. With that criteria, it's surprising James Madison, which recently expanded Bridgeforth Stadium and averages more than three times Eastern Kentucky's attendance (25,002 to 7,267) isn't the host.
The Dukes had put in a bid to host every round, so they must be stunned to be traveling to Eastern Kentucky.
PERFECT SEASON WITHIN REACH
Sam Houston State is hoping to carry its top seed to a national championship, and if it reaches the goal it would be the first FCS champion to finish undefeated this century.
Marshall was the last champion to finish undefeated, going 15-0 during the 1996 season. During that perfect season, the Thundering Heard never fell from the top spot in the poll and defeated Montana, 49-29, in the championship game.
When the bracket was announced, the selection committee laid the path for a potential rematch of two of the biggest games of the season.
After losing to Appalachian State, 27-24, on Oct. 29, and dropping from No. 1, Georgia Southern could get revenge against its Southern Conference rival in the quarterfinals.
The third-seeded Eagles will host either Old Dominion or Norfolk State in the second round, while the Mountaineers host Maine. If both teams take care of business, there would be a rematch in Statesboro, Ga.
The "Brawl of the Wild" also could be replayed, as the two Montana-based schools could be on a collision course to meet in the semifinals. Saturday, Montana knocked off then-No. 1 Montana State, 36-10, a game that granted the Griz the No. 4 seed.
Montana State hosts New Hampshire and then will likely head to top-seeded Sam Houston State in the quarterfinals. The Bobcats could end up in Missoula if Montana defeats Tennessee Tech or Central Arkansas, and then the winner of the Northern Iowa-Wofford game.
There also could be a rematch of the Northern Iowa-North Dakota State game from earlier this season, but that would have to come in the championship game.
BATTLE FOR NORFOLK
Norfolk State didn't put in a bid to host a playoff game, but the Spartans won't have to travel far when they cross town to visit Old Dominion.
In what could be the largest crowd of the four first-round games, both schools will be making FCS playoff debuts. Norfolk State won its first MEAC championship this season, while Old Dominion (in just its third year as a program) finished 9-2 and earned a Top 10 ranking.
Located just five miles apart, the schools were supposed to begin an intra- city series in 2013. Perhaps someone should come up with a catchy name for the rivalry before Saturday?
MEETING HIS MENTOR
After leading Stony Brook to its first playoff berth in program history, coach Chuck Priore will be matched up with his former school and mentor when Albany visits Long Island in the first round.
Priore played and coached under current Albany coach Bob Ford, who is making his first appearance in the FCS playoffs. Priore was a starting fullback and captain at Albany and coached under Ford from 1983 to 1986.
Priore defeated his mentor, 33-21, back in 2006, but Ford then evened the series in 2007 with a 24-23 victory. The two programs haven't met since.
AIR VS. GROUND
Completing the most impressive turnaround in college football, at any level, CAA Football champion Towson will host Lehigh in the second round in a game between two of the top offensive threats in the FCS.
Towson running back Terrance West (124 ypg) leads the nation in rushing touchdowns (27), while Lehigh quarterback Chris Lum is second in the passing touchdowns (31). Both are finalists for the Walter Payton Award (sponsored by Fathead.com) and likely will turn this into one of the highest-scoring games of the playoffs.
TERRIERS WILL HIT THE ROAD - OFTEN
Back in October, it looked like Wofford would be playing at home, even as a seed, when it came to the playoffs. However, losses to Furman and Georgia Southern slowed the Terriers, and they'll be visiting No. 5 seed Northern Iowa in the second round.
If Wofford can pull off the upset it will likely stay on the road for the rest of the season. Seeded teams Montana, Sam Houston State and even unseeded Montana State would get home games against Wofford.
CENTRAL ARKANSAS FIELD WON'T BE ON DISPLAY
Last season, Eastern Washington took advantage of its red turf, going 3-0 on the new surface in the playoffs. Central Arkansas was hoping to channel some of that magic on its new purple and gray field, but instead will visit Tennessee Tech in the first round.
What would have been the more unique sites for nationally televised playoff games, Central Arkansas will likely spend its playoff run (no matter how long) on the road.
11/20 14:09:27 ET