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Without a top seed, Weber State football will host North Dakota to open FCS playoffs

By Brett Hein - Standard-Examiner | Nov 20, 2022

BRETT HEIN, Standard-Examiner

Weber State football players and coaches watch the FCS Playoffs selection show Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in the Youngberg Football Center in Ogden.

OGDEN — Samford. Incarnate Word. Holy Cross.

The announcement of the final seeded teams for the FCS playoffs — and their associated first-round byes — came and went Sunday morning, and Weber State football was not among them.

WSU players and coaches watched the televised proceedings from the team auditorium inside the Youngberg Football Center at Stewart Stadium, and seemed to take the news with a mix of surprise and resolve.

Instead, the Wildcats (9-2) will host a first-round game against North Dakota (7-4). Those teams will kick off at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26, at Stewart Stadium, in a game that will be streamed on ESPN+.

And though WSU would be universally regarded as the No. 9 team in the field, or the best team without a seed, regionalization means the winner of the first-round game travels to Bozeman, Montana, to take on No. 4 seed Montana State.

BRETT HEIN, Standard-Examiner

Weber State football players and coaches watch the FCS Playoffs selection show Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in the Youngberg Football Center in Ogden.

“The ultimate goal is the playoffs and we’ve got a chance to play for a championship. That’s where our focus and attention will go,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said.

South Dakota State was given the No. 1 seed. No. 2 Sacramento State, undefeated with an FBS win, joined MSU in the top half of the seeding. North Dakota State was placed at No. 3. Behind No. 4 MSU came No. 5 William & Mary, No. 6 Samford, No. 7 Incarnate Word and No. 8 Holy Cross.

“There were some really, really good teams. A lot of those guys who got the seeds were conference champions and most of them had 10 wins. So we get that,” Hill said. “The reality is get in, and now we’re all in the same boat. Win and advance, and you’re going to have to beat really good teams to advance.”

Weber State has clearly the best FBS win in all of FCS: a 28-point beatdown of Utah State, who moved to 6-5 and became bowl-eligible Saturday night with a win over San Jose State. The only other FCS team with a win over an FBS team with a winning record is Eastern Kentucky, who also made the playoffs.

But it seemed to be a perfect storm this season of factors that would keep Weber State, 9-2 with the best FBS win in the subdivision, from getting a national seed. Though against less impressive teams and by smaller margins, William & Mary (10-1), Incarnate Word (10-1) and Holy Cross (11-0) also carry FBS wins.

Samford (10-1) and Holy Cross also went undefeated against FCS opponents and were unbeaten conference champions.

So though Weber State was 9-2 in the toughest conference in the country, its record did carry a non-Division I win and everyone else had at least 10 wins. That was the break.

But after missing the playoffs entirely in 2021, the Wildcats are back in the field for the sixth time in seven seasons. It’s an unprecedented run of success in Ogden.

“These are big deals,” Hill said. “What the program’s grown into and the expectations, those are exactly what we wanted when we first took this thing over a long time ago — to have a national contender every year, and we are, and to have a Big Sky contender every year, which we are. Now we’ve got to go make it work.”

As expected, Idaho (7-2 against FCS teams) also made the field and will travel to play Southeastern Louisiana. An on-the-bubble Montana (7-4) team did make the playoffs and will host a home game to boot, welcoming Southeast Missouri State to Missoula.

North Dakota went 5-3 in the Missouri Valley this season, with losses to No. 1 South Dakota State (by 14) and No. 3 North Dakota State (by 21). The Fighting Hawks also took a 17-point road loss to Southern Illinois, who finished 5-6, and a 21-point loss at Nebraska.

UND is the least-penalized team in the country.

“I think coach (Bubba) Schweigert does a phenomenal job with his teams. They’re always disciplined, they’re always tougher than nails,” Hill said. “They’re good in all three phases of the game.”

Though Weber State is disappointed to not get a bye and a top seed, the Wildcats do have a chance to repeat some history.

In 2017, WSU beat Western Illinois in the first round and got a chance to avenge a regular-season loss to Southern Utah in the second round, which it did. In 2019, a second-round win got Weber State a rematch with Montana in the quarterfinals, where the Wildcats avenged a regular-season loss to the Griz.

The same opportunity awaits WSU here, having lost 43-38 at Montana State earlier this season, but it requires defeating a solid North Dakota team first.

The goal is to play the best football in November. Hill says he’s seen some signs his team is doing so — such as being No. 1 in the country in kick returns and punt returns.

“I know we’re battle-tested, for sure. We’ve seen some great leadership step forward in the last couple weeks,” he said. “That’s been huge to watch those guys continue to develop and rally the team.”

PLAYOFF MATCHUPS

FIRST ROUND

Saint Francis (PA) at Delaware

Fordham at New Hampshire

Gardner-Webb at Eastern Kentucky

North Dakota at Weber State

Southeast Missouri State at Montana

Idaho at Southeastern Louisiana

Elon at Furman

Davidson at Richmond

SECOND ROUND

No. 1 South Dakota State hosts Saint Francis/Delaware

No. 2 Sacramento State hosts Davidson/Richmond

No. 3 North Dakota State hosts SEMO/Montana

No. 4 Montana State hosts North Dakota/Weber State

No. 5 William & Mary hosts Gardner-Webb/Eastern Kentucky

No. 6 Samford hosts Idaho/SELA

No. 7 Incarnate Word hosts Elon/Furman

No. 8 Holy Cross hosts Fordham/New Hampshire

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