I may have to pull from every example, reference and technique used in all the Law and Order and L.A. Law shows ever watched. But in the end, I will make a case for the McNeese Cowboys securing an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs.
I will state for the record that a critical piece of evidence must be entered in this case before McNeese can have any sway with the FCS Playoff Selection committee in the next several weeks. The smoking gun, if you will, must be Southeastern Louisiana defeating Nicholls State Thursday night, Nov. 16, in Hammond.
A Colonels loss coupled with a Cowboys regular season-ending victory at Lamar would put McNeese in a virtual tie with Nicholls in the final Southland Conference standings, with both teams having 7-2 league records and 9-2 overall.
This is a must if the FCS Selection Committee has any inclination of going four deep in the SLC with the automatic conference champs and three at-large invites.
What the Cowboys fear is how much weight the playoff committee puts on the fact Nicholls beat McNeese head to head in the season opener in its deliberations about both teams.
I realize some would argue that the head-to-head edge should end all debate and any at-large invite would go to the Colonels. In most normal cases, I might agree. But there are a few extenuating facts to consider before you put the Cowboys out to pasture and out of the playoffs.
First off, McNeese’s loss to Nicholls was way back at the start of the season on Aug. 31 on a Thursday night, and on the road at that. Who the heck opens conference play on the first game of the year on an odd Thursday night?
The Cowboys led most of the game before the Colonels rallied to win on a late field goal.
And let it be known that selection committees usually forget early-season missteps and follow the “what have you done lately?” approach.
Strength of schedule tips the Colonels’ way because of Texas A&M. That 24-14 loss at College Station will win them brownie points no doubt. McNeese played Division II Florida Tech the same weekend, and the committee doesn’t factor in games below the FCS level, so that hurts the Cowboys.
Nicholls was crushed by Sam Houston and didn’t face Central Arkansas.
McNeese was crushed by Central Arkansas and didn’t play Sam Houston. So, it’s a toss up there.
If we go to the national polls to help judge the two clubs, then it appears the coaches poll, which ranked Nicholls State anywhere between 17 and 21, and McNeese between 18 and 22 at various times, put the strength of schedules too close to call.
The FCS STATS media poll has the Cowboys at No. 19 and Nicholls at No. 25..
This part of my argument centers on the choice between McNeese and Nicholls securing post-season invites.
The Cowboys’ playoff bid selection hopes will hinge on the other top FCS conference races and where the other ranked teams stack up.
At least four of the other power FCS leagues have their top four teams ranked in the Top 25.
That’s hard to ignore and will be a difficult challenge for the playoff committee to wade through. If by chance Nicholls State defeats Southeastern Louisiana on the road to finish at 9-2, the Colonels will no doubt find themselves ranked on both FCS polls, as will the Cowboys if they beat Lamar and match at 9-2 overall.
There will be log jams across the country in the top FCS conference races. But know that the Top 2 are assured playoff entry, while the mighty Missouri Valley might see four teams awarded bids because of the winning histories of North Dakota State, Northern Iowa, South Dakota State, and now South Dakota.
The Colonial Athletic Assoc. Conference is another with four leading teams all ranked, beginning with No. 1 and defending FCS national champion James Madison, Stoney Brook, Elon and New Hampshire — all with records no worse than 7-3.
The Southern Conference has No. 8 Wofford atop the league, followed by Furman, Samford and Western Carolina.
The Big Sky’s top four teams are all ranked in the Top 20 with Weber State, Southern Utah, Northern Arizona (6-3) and Eastern Washington (6-4).
And then there is the Southland, with No. 3 Central Arkansas on top, followed by No. 4 Sam Houston, Nicholls and McNeese State, all ranked.
Based on these positions and rankings, I contend the Southland, Colonial and Missouri Valley, with the highest ranked teams among its top four, are the three leagues the selection committee should go at least three deep with bids, and even four.
This gives McNeese a better than 50-50 chance of an at-large post-season invite.
My case depends heavily on national rankings and how the Cowboys have held on to pollsters’ positive opinions.
After the recent victory over Southeastern Louisiana, I asked McNeese head coach Lance Guidry if he would start politicking and lobbying for his Cowboys receiving at-large consideration. Guidry said that was not up to him, but was something McNeese’s athletic director and university president could do on the FCS national level. Guidry said he’s just a football coach and paid to win games.
I posed the same lobbying question to A.D. Bruce Hemphill, who said it’s “not protocol” to politic for your program through back channels or phone calls. “The selection committee, much like the NCAA basketball tournament committee, has been keeping up with who we played, where we played, who we beat, through the whole season. So it all hinges on that.”
Hemphill emphasized the FCS committee adheres to a selection formula “as close to the NCAA basketball tournament” as you can get. Outside of that, McNeese will need the committee to break away from the norm and consider the strength of the Southland and the Cowboys’ history.
“There has never been a history of the Southland having four in the playoffs. We are hoping for at least three, and would love to have four, knowing that UCA and Sam Houston are certain to go in. I think it will come down to if we can get three in, then it will be between us and Nicholls,” Hemphill concluded.
The SLC is represented on the playoff committee by UCA athletic director Dr. Brad Teague, who admittedly will have an uphill fight to gain support for four SLC bids. But that’s not impossible, seeing that two of the country’s top four-ranked teams are from the SLC.
“The good thing is the Southland Conference has traditionally had a great reputation for great football. So we have to pin our hopes on that, and the great name and tradition of McNeese,” said a hopeful Hemphill.
When pressed after the Northwestern State victory, in which the Cowboys held the Demons to a season-low 50 yards in rushing, McNeese coach Guidry did admit that the playoff committee should look favorably at his defense being No. 1 against the run in all of college football (FBS Power Five included), and one of the top-ranked defenses in the country.
Guidry said he would not lobby for votes. But that won’t stop him from stating what he feels is the obvious. He’s leaving the heavy politicking and PR work up to Hemphill. “It would be very disappointing: the fact that we are 9-2 and not get it,” said Hemphill. “We’ve had some big wins, too. So it would be very disappointing to go 9-2 (he is assuming McNeese will defeat Lamar) in a very competitive Southland Conference and not be a part of the NCAA playoffs.”
In summation, the evidence supporting McNeese’s worthy claim for a playoff bid is compelling based on its year-long national rankings, a 9-2 record in one of the strongest conferences in the FCS and a nationally ranked defense.
I would humbly ask the selection committee not to view the Cowboys’ two-point loss to Nicholls State harshly for the reason it was the season opener, on the road, with practice schedules disrupted due to Hurricane Harvey.
The facts are clear. You’ve heard from our expert witnesses. Our claim is undeniable.
My position leaves no reasonable doubt that McNeese deserves entry into the FCS playoff tournament
I rest my case.