The season has all boiled down to this Saturday for the UNH football team. If they lose, there is absolutely no chance for the Wildcats to make the playoffs. If they win… well that’s where it gets confusing. Could they be in with a win? Yes, but a lot of things would have to happen for that to be the case. Here’s what we know:
1) The FCS playoff contains 24 teams from around Division I-AA football.
2) 11 teams get automatic bids for winning their conference.
3) 13 other bids are given out by a committee of athletic directors.
4) Top 8 teams, in the committee’s eyes, get a first round bye and home-field advantage.
Here’s what we know about where UNH is:
1) The Wildcats are fifth in the CAA, so the automatic bid is out of the question.
2) The CAA conference has three teams ranked in the top 25. (No. 7 William & Mary, No. 12 James Madison, and No. 14 Richmond).
3) UNH is currently the eleventh vote getter outside of the Top 25 with just 24 votes.
4) Villanova is currently the fifth vote getter with 83.
What looks good on UNH’s resume:
1) A 30-25 win over then-No. 5 ranked Richmond.
2) Three straight wins, possibly four, to close the season.
3) A solid win against Elon, which has improved immensely since last season and is the No. 7 team in the CAA.
4) A streak of 11 straight playoff appearances. This is important; I’ll tell you why later.
What looks bad:
1) 31-6 loss to Stony Brook, who is currently ranked ninth in the CAA.
2) 31-14 loss at Delaware, who is currently ranked 11th in the CAA.
3) A 2-4 record on the road this season.
Now, I have been pretty critical of the UNH football team this season. I am impressed with the performance of the team in its last three wins, especially the play of senior quarterback Sean Goldrich. But when you look at the playoff format and the teams ahead of UNH, it doesn’t look good.
First thing’s first, though. The Wildcats CANNOT lose to UMaine this weekend. The Black Bears are ranked eighth in the CAA with a 3-7 overall record and 3-4 in conference. If UNH loses, count them out completely and don’t even watch the selection show. The question then is: Will this win be enough to propel us into the playoffs? Absolutely not. The Wildcats need a lot to happen to get a bid into the playoffs, the most important being a Villanova loss at James Madison.
Villanova has a 5-2 record in the CAA. UNH is 4-3. If Villanova loses to the CAA’s No. 2-ranked James Madison, which can definitely happen, then they are tied with UNH in terms of a conference record. The issue becomes this: Villanova has beaten Albany, Rhode Island, and Richmond, just as the Wildcats have. The one difference is, Villanova beat Delaware. UNH didn’t. Will this matter significantly if Villanova loses? I don’t know. It will be up to the committee to decide. But that 31-14 loss at Delaware might loom large for the Wildcats’ playoff hopes.
Next, the Wildcats could use some teams ahead of them in the FCS rankings to lose. You look at Eastern Illinois out of the Ohio Valley conference, who takes on Eastern Kentucky. Or, North Dakota out of the Big Sky conference, who will probably get six or seven teams into the playoff, takes on Cal Poly. If teams like Eastern Illinois or North Dakota, who both received more votes to be in the top 25 than UNH did, lose significantly, that opens up more space for the Wildcats to move up.
If all of what I said goes right, it still doesn’t guarantee the Wildcats a spot in the playoffs. BUT, as I specified earlier in the article (look it up if you need to) the Wildcats have been in the playoffs for 11 years in a row, the longest streak of any program in the FCS. The committee looks at strength of schedule, record, good wins and bad losses. They also look at national coaches and media polls. Now, UNH isn’t Alabama, but the Wildcats draw a crowd and national/regional media attention every game. Coach McDonnell isn’t Nick Saban, but people throughout FCS football know him and what he’s done for the UNH program. I don’t like to say this, because I don’t think it’s fair, but UNH will have to rely on their reputation a significant amount to get into the playoffs.
That irritates me for two reasons. One, it’s shaky at best. Two, putting a team in the playoff because of its name means you are leaving some team with a better record and a slightly weaker schedule out. It would be a shame for that to happen because it happens too often in college sports.
My feelings about reputation aside, the question still remains: if all this happens…do the Wildcats make the playoffs? To be transparent and authentic, I have no idea. I don’t know what the committee of athletic directors will decide. What will they weigh as more important, a win at home against Richmond or a loss on the road at lowly Delaware? Ultimately a lot needs to happen. For now, the Wildcats must take care of business against Maine and then hope for the best. So here is my answer. Is there a chance they make the playoff? Yes. Is it a slim chance? Definitely.
The question the FCS committee must face is this. Was it too little, too late for UNH?

Executive Editor