Citadel vs. Samford

Dondray Copeland and Citadel fans celebrated a dramatic overtime win over Samford on Nov. 5. (Michael Pronzato/Staff)

The FCS playoff field will be announced Sunday, and The Citadel is guaranteed of only one thing at this point – the Bulldogs will be included in the 24-team bracket by virtue of winning the Southern Conference's automatic bid.

All else is speculation until Selection Sunday, but the 10-0 Bulldogs can feel fairly certain of a top-eight seed and first-round bye in the playoffs, which begin Nov. 26. The Citadel is ranked No. 6 in the FCS Coaches Poll released Monday, and was also No. 6 in the FCS selection committee's third and final preliminary rankings released Tuesday night.

But in the FCS playoffs, not all seeds are created equal. The top two seeds are guaranteed home games through the semifinals, as long as they meet the NCAA's minimum bid to host. Seeds No. 3 and 4 get two home games with minimum bids; seeds 5-8 are certain of only one home game with a minimum bid.

Can the Bulldogs, who completed an 8-0 SoCon season with a 30-20 win at VMI last week, make the jump to a top-four seed by Sunday?

Citadel coach Brent Thompson made the Bulldogs' case Tuesday at his weekly news conference.

"We won all of our FCS games, so we know that we've done everything we can to get us into that top four, whether the committee thinks that or not," said Thompson, whose team wraps up the regular season Saturday at FBS foe North Carolina. "We've played three top 25 teams so far, and we're playing a pretty good FBS team (this week).

"So at this point, I think we've made a pretty good case to be in that top four."

The Citadel's 3-0 record against teams currently in the FCS Coaches Top 25 includes wins over No. 11 Chattanooga, No. 18 Wofford and No. 19 Samford. That's better than all five teams ranked ahead of the Bulldogs in the FCS selection committee latest rankings: No. 1 North Dakota State (5-1), No. 2 Eastern Washington (2-1),  No. 3 Jacksonville State (0-0), No. 4 James Madison (2-0) and No. 5 Sam Houston State (0-0).

Among the FCS committee's top six teams, The Citadel has the third-toughest strength of schedule, according to the Sagarin Ratings, behind North Dakota State and Eastern Washington.

The Citadel has played a lot of close games this season, winning seven games by an average of 5.3 points.

"The only thing you could knock us for is that we really haven't blown anybody out," Thompson said. "We've had opportunities to do that, but it's just not in our nature. We've played our second-team quarterback, we've taken knees inside the 5 or 10-yard line, and I think there's a certain amount of sportsmanship I believe in.

"But we've beaten some good teams, and at some point you say, 'What more can we do?"

Of the teams ranked ahead of The Citadel by the committee, Jacksonville State finishes the regular season against Tennessee-Martin (7-4), and Sam Houston State faces 9-1 Central Arkansas, while North Dakota State, Eastern Washington and James Madison finish against teams with losing records.

Meanwhile, the SoCon has a chance to send four teams to the playoffs for the first time in league history. Chattanooga (8-2, 6-2) plays Alabama on Saturday, while Wofford (7-3, 5-2) and Samford (7-3, 5-2) should be able to pad their resumes against VMI and ETSU, respectively. The SoCon is 10-1 against non-conference FCS foes this season, the only loss a 52-42 defeat by Furman to an 8-2 Kennesaw State team ranked No. 22 this week.

A 7-4 Samford team was left out of the playoffs last season while The Citadel and Chattanooga went, and the SoCon has not sent three teams to the playoffs since 2012, when Wofford went along with now-departed Georgia Southern and Appalachian State.

"I think it says the SoCon is back," Thompson said. "That was our whole goal, when we spoke as a league and as coaches back in the fall. We said, we are looking to get three in. With the loss of Georgia Southern and App State, it was tough for us just to get two in.

"I think we've made a great case as a conference. We've got three (other) schools in the top 25, and most of their losses are to each other, really. We've lost only one FCS game out of the conference, so that speaks pretty well for our league right now."

• Citadel coach Brent Thompson and former Citadel coach Mike Houston (now at James Madison) are both finalists for the Eddie Robinson Award for the FCS coach of the year award.

Reach Jeff Hartsell at (843) 937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC