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Two wins likely give EWU first-round bye in playoffs

Bracketology is an inexact science, even more so when you don’t know the exact formula, and especially with two games left until the FCS playoffs.

But even with two losses, Eastern Washington appears to a be a sure bet to earn a bye – and possibly a coveted top-four seed – provided the Eagles win their final two games against UC Davis and Portland State.

For players and coaches, that would mean a Thanksgiving spent carving turkeys instead of dissecting the pass coverage of a first-round playoff opponent.

“I like that we’re in the conversation,” EWU head coach Beau Baldwin said.

The Eagles (7-2 overall, 5-1 Big Sky Conference) are ranked fifth this week in The Sports Network Poll. Twenty teams qualify for the tournament, with eight teams playing in the first round and 12 receiving first-round byes. The top four teams are guaranteed to host through the quarterfinal round. If Eastern were seeded fourth on Nov. 18, the Eagles would host a second-round game on the weekend of Nov. 30-Dec. 1, and if they won that game, would play at home in a quarterfinal game on Dec. 7-8.

The 2010 national championship team was ranked first in the final TSN poll, but was seeded only fifth in the playoffs. The Eagles hosted a quarterfinal game only because higher-seeded Montana State fell in the previous round.

Two years later, the Eagles are still looking up at the Bobcats, who rank second in the TSN poll despite a 27-24 loss to the Eagles three weeks ago. Northern Arizona is ranked 11th but is poised to win the Big Sky Conference’s automatic berth if it wins out.

Throw in the NCAA’s reluctance to seed more than one team per conference while determining who would get those coveted top-four seeds. Top-ranked North Dakota State is a lock for one spot, and No. 4 Old Dominion has the inside track for another, provided it can get past No. 9 James Madison on the road on Nov. 17.

Then there’s Sam Houston State, which is ranked third despite being 7-2, has a loss to No. 15 Central Arkansas and still faces a game against Texas A&M.

No. 7 Georgia Southern is in the same boat: 7-2 with a game left at Georgia. And don’t forget No. 8 Lehigh, which is 9-0.

No. 6 Stony Brook is 9-1 but plays in the less-than-challenging Big South. The Seawolves could easily be a top-four seed with a win in their final game this weekend at Liberty.

All things considered, the Eagles’ best chance of a top-four seed would be a four-way tie for the Big Sky title with MSU, NAU and Cal Poly. If all four teams tie at 7-1, the league’s automatic bid to the playoffs would go to the team with the highest conference Sagarin Rating, as that would be the first criteria in the Big Sky’s tiebreaker that could be met.

All four teams would have played and defeated North Dakota, Portland State and UC Davis in conference games, meaning the Sagarin Ratings would break the tie. If EWU, MSU and NAU all tie at 7-1 with NAU losing to Southern Utah and beating Cal Poly, EWU would win the automatic bid to the playoffs.

Ash ties Holland

Montana State’s Rob Ash earned his 47th victory with the Bobcats last Saturday, tying Sonny Holland for the most wins in school history. Ash has 223 career victories. Ash’s 47 MSU victories rank 14th in Big Sky history.

Sagarin Ratings

The Sagarin Ratings could prove to be important in breaking a tie to determine who gets the Big Sky’s automatic bid to the playoffs. Four Big Sky teams are ranked among the top 12 FCS teams in the Sagarin. Eastern Washington is rated 86th overall and fifth among FCS teams. Montana State is 91st overall and seventh among Sagarin teams. Northern Arizona is eighth, and Cal Poly is 12th. The Big Sky is again ranked second among FCS conferences. The Missouri Valley is first.

Extra points

Montana State’s string of 33 straight games with a touchdown pass came to an end last week against Sacramento State. … Montana needs a win over Montana State on Nov. 17 to keep its streak of winning seasons alive. UM hasn’t had a losing season since 1985. … Cal Poly’s Deonte Williams rushed for 100 yards in a loss to EWU. It was Williams’ eighth 100-yard game this season and 13th of his career. … Idaho State has allowed 482 points through nine games. … UC Davis leads the nation in net punting.