Football: The playoff picture

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November 10, 2009

5:22 PM

Midweek Tribe football news and analysis.

Injuries

To start off with a quick injury update, sophomore left guard Chris Sutton, who went down with an injured leg in the fourth quarter against Towson Saturday, will not play this week against New Hampshire. Sutton is, however, expected to return this season and the injury will not require surgery.

Redshirt freshman Robbie Gumbita will slide over from right guard to start for Sutton against UNH

“He understands what to do, and he’s got some experience,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “He’ll be fine.”

On the wide receiver front, senior D.J. McAulay is questionable for UNH after missing the previous two contests with an injured shoulder. Laycock, however, expects him to play.

“D.J. practiced a little bit last night, and he’ll try to practice today,” Laycock said. “Right now I hope he’s going to be able to start, it’s pointing in that direction.”

McAulay caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute in the College’s 2008 defeat of the Wildcats, although it’s too soon to tell how effective he can be on Saturday.

Finally, with the return of McAulay comes the loss of another receiver, as junior Terreon Conyers is out for the season with a torn MCL. Conyers had four catches for 44 yards on the year while also providing valuable depth on special teams. Redshirt freshman Eric Robertson will replace Conyers as the fourth wideout. Robertson had two catches for 48 yards and his first career touchdown against Towson.

Playoff positioning

On to the bigger picture.

With the Tribe easily taking care of business against Towson, the biggest play for the program on Saturday came 45 miles up the road in Richmond. There, Richmond kicker Andrew Howard missed a last-second 33-yard field goal, giving Villanova a dramatic 21-20 upset over the previously undefeated Spiders.

How does this affect the Tribe? Enormously.

If Richmond wins that game, the Spiders remain at no. 1 and hand no. 3 Villanova its second loss of the season. That would keep alive the Tribe’s ability to control its own destiny towards a CAA title and playoff seed. Win out, and a 10-1 record would have given them the conference title and guaranteed home field advantage for the playoffs.

Now? The College is going to need help.

Richmond’s loss means that New Hampshire now has the inside track to the CAA title, meaning that the Wildcats would take home the championship if they win out. But UNH still has to play in Williamsburg, giving the College an opportunity to knock them off and move in front of them. But then, if Villanova won its final two games against Towson and no. 23 Delaware, it would hold the tiebreaker over the College. If the Tribe wins out, they still finish second, if Villanova does as well.

Why does this matter? Because Richmond’s loss might have killed the Tribe’s chances at getting one of four FCS playoff seeds and home field advantage throughout the postseason.

It would be unbelievable for a 10-1 Tribe team to not receive a seed. But the FCS playoff committee in the past has demonstrated a reluctance to award multiple seeds to one conference, and a 10-1 Villanova would almost certainly be seeded first based on the two teams’ head to head result.

Furthermore, the FCS poll voters appear to be extremely undervaluing the CAA. Incredibly, Villanova only moved up one spot, to no. 3, after knocking off Richmond, the defending FCS national champions and owners of a 17-game winning streak, on the road. Instead, no. 3 and 8-1 Southern Illinois went to no. 1 and no. 2 and 9-0 Montana remained in place. This was despite the fact that Montana has beaten no one of consequence this season and needed a last second field goal to beat 0-10 Idaho State on Saturday. Also in the picture is an 8-1 Elon squad ranked at no. 6.

With Richmond dropping to no. 4, the College might not have an opportunity to get the marquee win over a top-ranked squad that it might need to eclipse those other teams. There is no question that a 10-1 Tribe would deserve a playoff seed and, if Richmond had won Saturday, it would have been a guarantee. But now, with games against no. 8 and no. 4 remaining, it is no longer a lock that the College receives a seed and homefield advantage with two more wins.

To be fair, the playoff committee is not the same as the poll voters, and could choose to move in a different direction. The committee strongly emphasizes the GPI, an amalgamation of three human and eight computer polls, to determine the playoff bracket. There, the Tribe is tied for fourth with Montana, while Villanova is first, Southern Illinois second, and Richmond third. In virtually every single computer poll, the three CAA squads rank 1-2-3.

But the possibility definitely exists that, even with a 10-1 record and almost certain top-4 national ranking, the Tribe could be forced to go on the road in the playoffs while weaker teams stay home.

Almost reminds you of the BCS a little bit…

Tribal Fever

The Tribal Fever is at it again, taking 50 students to City Stadium for the Tribe-Richmond game on Nov. 21. For 10 dollars, members will get a ticket to the game and bus transportation, while non-members get the same for 10 dollars extra. This is a great deal from a group that’s been doing fantastic work so far this year.

Please see their website, www.thetribalfever.com, for more information.

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