Well, this is starting to get interesting.

In last week’s first FCS Championship Committee rankings, the balance between record and strength of schedule seemed a little uneven. Undefeated Sam Houston State was held out of the top spot, presumably because of its easy slate of games, but still came in at No. 2. This week, however, things have taken a clear shift to the side of schedule being extremely important.

Rank School Previous
1 Jacksonville State 1
2 Eastern Washington 3
3 North Dakota State 4
4 James Madison 5
5 Sam Houston State 2
6 The Citadel 6
7 Chattanooga 8
8 Richmond 7
9 Central Arkansas 10
10 North Dakota NR

That’s right, Sam Houston State, the team that received 22 of 26 first-place votes in the latest coaches poll and beat McNeese over the weekend to remain one of the two unbeaten FCS schools, is all the way down to No. 5 in the second of three Committee top 10 rankings.

It’s not too difficult to see one part of the justification: the top four teams have all played FBS teams. Jacksonville State and James Madison lost to LSU and North Carolina, respectively, two losses that there is absolutely no shame in. Eastern Washington beat Washington State, a team currently ranked No. 23 in the College Football Playoff rankings, while North Dakota State beat Iowa but did go on to suffer a damaging loss to South Dakota State.

Still, just how much of a cakewalk have things been this season for Sam Houston State? Let’s compare the strengths of schedules of the top six teams, which also includes The Citadel, the other unbeaten.

School DI strength of schedule rank
1. Jacksonville State 172
2. Eastern Washington 124
3. North Dakota State 101
4. James Madison 189
5. Sam Houston State 227
6. The Citadel 166

Rankings via USA TODAY

It’s worth noting that these rankings are out of 253 Division I schools, and it includes both FBS and FCS teams. There are 128 FBS teams and 125 FCS.

So what does this tell us? That schedule is a big thing, but not the only thing.

Clearly Sam Houston State is being punished for its awful strength of schedule, and there’s nothing wrong with that thought process. But it doesn’t qutie explain why the Bearkats were ranked No. 2 last week only to drop three spots, or why James Madison, which is not all that better, sits in front.

The low regard of The Citadel also stands out. As the strength of schedule shows, the Bulldogs have had a slightly tougher schedule than the No. 1 team. So why, with a better record, are they five spots back? Plus, Jacksonville State’s schedule includes that loss to LSU, a team ranked No. 19 in the Playoff poll, so the Gamecocks’ eight wins actually rank quite a bit worse.

All that comes down to the Committee working to strike some balance between the eye test and the numbers, with a particular emphasis on the road a team has had to travel on to get to this point. While questions still linger, the thought process can certainly been seen starting to shine through.

One of the most common criticisms last week was Eastern Washington’s ranking ahead of North Dakota State despite the Bison winning that matchup head-to-head. That remains the case this week despite both teams moving up, as the Committee clearly saw NDSU’s loss to South Dakota State to be a critical blow.

RELATED: Week 11 FCS games to watch

As for the lone new team joining the party, North Dakota benefited from Charleston Southern being stunned by Gardner-Webb. Meanwhile, the only top-10 team in the coaches poll to not make the Committee’s rankings remains North Carolina A&T. How much does strength of schedule come into play there? Quite a bit, it would appear, as the Aggies rank just 226th, only one spot better than Sam Houston State.

The Committee provided an explanation for its weekly rationale which gives some insight into the fluid nature:

“The primary objective of the NCAA Division I Football Championship Committee in releasing the Top 10 teams in rank order three times this year was plain and simple, to bring conversation to the Football Championship Subdivision fan base during the regular season,” said committee chair, Brian A. Hutchinson, Director of Athletics at Morehead State University.

After Week 1, the first release accomplished this mission. However, the committee is doing its due diligence each week. First, gathering the regional advisory committee votes. The committee also spends time on a conference call evaluating each region and the week’s vote among each regional advisory committee. Once each committee member is done vetting his region, the committee goes through each regional vote again to evaluate the top teams in each region. Committee members from each region will once again examine the credentials of the top ranked institutions in his region.

After the weekly call, each committee member has time to deliberate the in-depth conversations during the call based on the selection criteria. Each committee member then proceeds to vote for his Top 25, in which, the Top 10 ranked teams are released each week.

Each week can be very fluid with teams moving up and down, or moving in or dropping out of the Top 10 during the three released rankings leading into selections and ultimately, Selection Sunday, Nov. 20 at 11 a.m. (ET) on ESPNU using the criteria in selecting the 14 at-large participants in the 2016 NCAA Division I Football Championship. The committee is very invested in its time and effort in each weekly ranking.”

It’s pretty clear that the Committee is looking for some signature wins in order to warrant respect. Unfortunately for the two unbeatens that might be feeling under-ranked, it is unlikely much will change next week without some major upsets in front of them. Sam Houston State plays 1-8 Northwestern State while The Citadel battles 3-6 VMI. Of the top teams, James Madison will have the best chance at improving its résumé with a matchup at 7-2 Villanova.


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