(STATS) - The FCS postseason picture got a lot clearer in Week 12 … at last.
Six teams clinched automatic bids to the FCS playoffs just eight days prior to the announcement of the 24-team pairings on Nov. 24. Some important steps were even taken on the road to the Celebration Bowl.
Clarity. What a novel concept.
Here are 10 takeaways from Week 12 of the FCS season:
- Central Connecticut State (Northeast Conference), James Madison (CAA Football), Monmouth (Big South Conference), North Dakota State (Missouri Valley Football Conference), San Diego (Pioneer Football League) and Wofford (Southern Conference) were the half-dozen teams to make their way into the playoff field. Four more teams will earn automatic bids next weekend. The battle for 14 at-large bids is realistically down to about 20 teams, and some more should be ousted in their final regular-season game, so the FCS selection committee's job may be easier than once thought.
- The MEAC's bid to the Celebration Bowl on Dec. 21 is still controlled by North Carolina A&T (7-3, 5-2), which eliminated Bethune-Cookman 47-17 behind running back Jah-Maine Martin's 130 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. South Carolina State (7-3, 5-2) is tied for first place and holds out hope as it heads to a final game at Norfolk State, but considering it just shut out North Carolina Central - N.C. A&T's final opponent - it doesn't look good for the Bulldogs. Neither co-leader has a high strength of schedule - OK, a 9-2 Kennesaw State squad doesn't, either - but an at-large bid is a possibility for an 8-3 MEAC runner-up, something N.C. A&T achieved in 2016. In the SWAC, Alcorn State clinched the East Division title for the sixth consecutive season and will play the Grambling State-Southern winner from the West Division in the SWAC championship game on Dec. 7, with the winner advancing to the Celebration Bowl.
- Montana's 250th all-time Big Sky win was basically as impressive as any before it. The No. 5 Griz (9-2, 6-1) hammered No. 3 Weber State (8-3, 6-1) 35-16 to forge a three-way tie for first place along with No. 6 Sacramento State (8-3, 6-1). Samori Toure caught three touchdowns from Dalton Sneed, pushing his outstanding three-game run to 24 receptions for 462 yards and seven touchdowns. The reward for the Griz? A trip to rival Montana State to try to end a three-game losing streak in the "Brawl of the Wild" and clinch at least a share of their first Big Sky title since 2009 (the co-title in 2011 was vacated due to NCAA sanctions).
- Even if two-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State (11-0) loses at surging Southern Illinois next Saturday, the top-ranked Bison surely have done enough to claim home-field advantage that goes to the top two seeds in the playoffs. With a win, the Bison would tie their FCS-record 33-game winning streak from 2012-14, so they're anxious to finish off a perfect regular season. Second-ranked James Madison (10-1) also has built a big cushion for a top-two seed, having lost only to FBS program West Virginia, and like NDSU, beating all but one FCS opponent by more than 10 points. But a loss at Rhode Island (2-9, 0-7 CAA) would be awful if it ever happened. The Dukes could probably get passed only by Montana, which would get a boost if it beat both Weber State and Montana State to end the regular season. Sacramento State beat Montana, but one of its wins is against Division II Southern Oregon, so it likely wouldn't catch the Dukes.
- Southland Conference bedlam. Sam Houston State seemingly had the easiest path to a playoff bid among four Southland teams that entered Saturday's action tied for first place, but the Bearkats are surely the only one out of the mix after being upset by Northwestern State 31-28. Still tied for the lead at 6-2 in conference, Southeastern Louisiana (8-3) will host Nicholls (7-4) Thursday night in perhaps an elimination game for the playoffs and Central Arkansas (8-3), which has an FBS win, heads to UIW next Saturday. The Southland could land three playoff teams for the second straight year.
- One year after setting the FCS single-season record with six playoff teams, CAA Football has a realistic shot at five. James Madison is in as the outright champion and Villanova (8-3), Albany (7-4) and Towson (7-4) appear in good shape for at-large bids. Maine, last year's champ, hopes to win its rivalry game at New Hampshire next Saturday and go from 2-5 to 7-5 and into the field. The Black Bears, who have gotten a lift from freshman quarterback Joe Fagnano, have a win over Albany and two of their losses are against FBS opponents.
- Wofford began the season with surprising losses to South Carolina State and Samford, but the Terriers have made it all the way back. The Terriers (7-3, 6-1) beat Furman 24-7 in the STATS FCS Game of the Week and later clinched at least a share of their third straight Southern Conference title and the automatic bid to the playoffs following Chattanooga's win over The Citadel. Coach Josh Conklin said his team was disappointed by its defensive effort in a loss to Furman last season, but this time the Terriers held an FCS opponent under 300 offensive yards for the sixth time this season.
- Finally, somebody wants to win the Patriot League title. At least it appears that way. Holy Cross took sole possession of first place by scoring 35 unanswered points in the fourth quarter of a 49-27 win over Fordham. Quarterback Connor Degenhardt scored on two short touchdown runs and John Smith had a 42-yard interception return for a score in the big quarter. The Crusaders (6-5, 4-1) have clinched at least a share of their first league title since 2009 and would earn an outright title by beating Georgetown next Saturday. If that happens, it would mean only one Patriot team would finish with a winning record for the third straight season.
- Dartmouth's bid for a perfect season was nixed by one of the more surprising upsets of the FCS season. Cornell, just 2-6 coming into Senior Day at Dartmouth, pulled off the 20-17 win after Richie Kenney threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Owen Peters with 5:32 to play and David Jones picked off a pass in the final two minutes. It was Cornell's first road victory over a ranked Ivy League opponent since 1950. Dartmouth (8-1, 5-1) fell into a first-place tie with Yale (8-1, 5-1). As the Ivy season wraps up next Saturday, Dartmouth travels to Brown and Yale hosts Harvard in "The Game."
- All of the fun in the FCS hasn't extended into games against the FBS. Four more FCS teams suffered losses to upper level of Division I - VMI to Army, Alabama State to Florida State, Idaho State to BYU and UIW to previously winless New Mexico State - dropping the overall record to 3-105 this season with six final matchups next Saturday. The last time there were fewer than three wins was two in 2008.