North Dakota State will take the No. 1 seed into the 2012 FCS Playoffs, hoping to gain consecutive bids to the FCS Championship on January 5. Twenty teams have been selected by the NCAA for the annual tournament, including the Bison and the opponent from last season's final—Sam Houston State.
Of the 20 slots, 10 are earned through conference championships and automatic selections while the other 10 are up to the committee in charge of putting the bracket together.
One of the surprise absentees from the list was Towson, co-champion of the Colonial Athletic Association with the playoff-bound New Hampshire. The automatic bid was open because Old Dominion (10-1) is ineligible for the CAA automatic selection due to its move to Conference USA next season.
Towson thrashed New Hampshire in the two's only meeting this year and tied for the best remaining record in the conference, but the selection committee went in another direction.
The 10 conferences that received automatic bids to the FCS tournament were the Big Sky Conference, Big South Conference, Colonial Athletic Association, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Missouri Valley Football Conference, Northeast Conference, Ohio Valley Conference, Patriot League, Southern Conference and Southland Conference.
Here's a look at upcoming schedule for the tournament, including when and where to watch the event and what you should be looking for as this exiting time in college football kicks off.
For a look at the official NCAA bracket for the FCS playoff, click here.
When: Nov. 24 — Jan. 5; Various Fridays and Saturdays
Where: Home teams will host until championship; Championship game in Frisco, Tex.
Watch: ESPN Family of Networks
Colgate (8-3) vs. Wagner (8-3) - Saturday, Nov. 24 at Noon ET
Coastal Carolina (7-4) vs. Bethune-Cookman (9-2) - Saturday, Nov. 24 at 2 p.m. ET
Villanova (8-3) vs. Stony Brook (9-2) - Saturday, Nov. 24 at 3 p.m. ET
Eastern Illinois (7-4) vs. South Dakota State (8-3) - Saturday, Nov. 24 at 3 p.m. ET
Winner of B-C/CC vs. No. 4 Old Dominion (10-1) - Saturday, Dec. 1 at 2 p.m. ET
Central Arkansas (9-2) vs. No. 5 Georgia Southern (8-3) - Saturday, Dec. 1 at 2 p.m. ET
New Hampshire (8-3) vs. Wofford (8-3) - Saturday, Dec. 1 at 2 p.m. ET
Appalachian State (8-3) vs. Illinois State (8-3) - Saturday, Dec. 1 at 2 p.m. ET
Winner of SDS/EU vs. No. 1 North Dakota State (10-1) - Saturday, Dec. 1 at 4 p.m. ET
Cal Poly (9-2) vs. Sam Houston State (8-3) - Saturday, Dec. 1 at 4 p.m. ET
Winner of Wagner/Colgate vs. No. 2 Eastern Washington (9-2) - Saturday, Dec. 1 at 6 p.m. ET
Winner of Nova/SB vs. No. 3 Montana State (10-1) - Saturday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. ET
We could very well see a rematch from last year's national championship game. Both North Dakota State and Sam Houston State are tough outs for any team. Just ask Texas A&M, who saw the Bearkats put up 27 points after Johnny Manziel exited the game.
However, there's some very good teams in the mix. Don't discount Eastern Washington or Montana State, Big Sky conference rivals who have already played to a 27-24 close EWU win earlier this season.
Old Dominion is another squad that won't back down, as is Georgia Southern, which played in-state rival and FBS No. 5 Georgia to a 45-14 loss, not all that bad by FCS standards. The Wofford Terriers also played the SEC's South Carolina well last weekend.
Games to watch include a second-round tilt between South Dakota State and North Dakota State, should the former get past Eastern Illinois in the first round. According to Terry Vandovrec of the school's coverage team, the odds favor the Jackrabbits.
According to the Massey Ratings, SDSU has a 79-percent chance to beat Eastern Illinois in the FCS playoffs. The projected score: 34-24.— Terry Vandrovec (@TerryVandrovec) November 19, 2012
Another is New Hampshire and Wofford in the second round. The 7-4 New Hampshire team is looking to prove it deserved the bid, despite an ugly loss to Towson. Look for them to come out fiery and ready to roll on the road.
It's hard to predict a winner, especially when looking at all the close games these teams have been playing all season. I'll take North Dakota State, though, and its 11.8 points per game allowed to opposing teams. On the other side of the bracket, Montana State is hungry to avenge an earlier loss to Eastern Washington, and a very good football team. But, as they say, defense wins championships.
No. 1 North Dakota State 28, No. 3 Montana State 20
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team, and a syndicated writer on the site.