With major discrepancies in number of football games played, little to no nonconference sample to reference, and a playoff field reduced from 24 to 16 teams, the spring 2021 FCS playoff bracket was sure to feel different.
After going 5-0 and winning the Big Sky outright in a shortened season postponed from fall 2020, Weber State learned its postseason fate Sunday morning.
The Wildcats will host Southern Illinois (5-3) in the first round, a game scheduled to kick off at 2 p.m. Saturday that will stream on ESPN3/WatchESPN.
It’s the fifth straight season Weber State has qualified for the playoffs and fourth straight to host at least one game at Stewart Stadium.
“Playing a playoff game in front of a home atmosphere is always an advantage. They’ve got to come to us, and that’s always a good thing,” senior receiver Rashid Shaheed said. “We’re going to take advantage of it and prepare the right way so we can be ready for these guys.”
Tickets will be available at weberstatesports.com or by calling the ticket office at 801-626-8500. In a release, Weber State said capacity will be limited based on protocols from the NCAA.
As an undefeated champ of one of the subdivision’s top conferences, it seemed WSU might secure one of the four seeded spots, which would assure at least two home games with a first-round win. But the Wildcats were not seeded, perhaps due to their slim margins of victory and a lacking sample even within the Big Sky.
“It was a bit quiet. We were kind of surprised to see some teams we feel like we should’ve been ahead of ... in the top four. It was definitely a surprise, but we know we can’t dwell on it,” Shaheed said.
“That’s a good thing,” WSU head coach Jay Hill added. “That means the players are excited, they have a high expectation of where we should be. I promise you this, when the ball gets kicked off on Saturday, it doesn’t matter who’s across from us. We’ve got to go play our best game because anybody in this top 16 is a good football team.”
Southern Illinois went 3-3 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and was the last team in the field, according to the selection show that aired on ESPNU. The Salukis played two nonconference home games, defeating Southeast Missouri (4-4) in the season opener, 20-17, and Saturday defeated Southeast Louisiana (4-3) in a 55-48 shootout.
The Salukis went 4-1 at home. On the road, they were 1-2 with a 30-22 win over Youngstown State (1-6), while losing to playoff teams North Dakota (by a score of 44-21) and Missouri State (30-27).
SIU defeated North Dakota State 38-14 in late February.
“They beat North Dakota State, and did it handily, a couple weeks ago. So we’ve got our work cut out for us,” Hill said.
It will be the first all-time meeting between Weber State and Southern Illinois.
South Dakota State (5-1) secured the No. 1 seed and will host Holy Cross (3-0). The Weber State/Southern Illinois winner draws the winner of that matchup.
Sam Houston State (6-0), James Madison (5-0) and Jacksonville State (9-2) were the other seeded teams, in that order.
Automatic bids were given to 10 conference champions. The MVFC was given four of the total six at-large spots in the field. Eastern Washington (5-1) earned a fifth out of the Big Sky, and will travel to face North Dakota State in the first round.
James Madison was the sixth at-large selection, as the Colonial Athletic Association voted Delaware (5-0) as its automatic bid earner.
Davidson (4-2) is making its first playoff appearance after winning the Pioneer Football League, as is Virginia Military Institute (6-1) out of the Southern Conference.
Hill spoke about the strength of the Big Sky after winning it two weeks ago but Sunday, he didn’t spend much time on the perceived slights the league was given in the bracket. He pointed to UCLA men’s basketball as an example that nothing else matters once you’re in the field. The Bruins advanced to the Final Four this season after entering as an 11-seed in a play-in game.
“In a 16-team field, where they’re only seeding four, and how they went about everything that went on, it really doesn’t matter,” Hill said. “The only thing that matters is you get in. Once you’re in, now you’ve got to go win games.”
The full playoff bracket can be viewed online at ncaa.com/brackets/football/fcs/2021.