For Eastern Washington football fans, this was a real head-scratcher: Why didn’t the Eagles make the field for the FCS playoffs?
The selection committee will never say, but apparently the little things added up: The Eagles lacked a signature win, two of its nonconference opponents (Texas Tech and Fordham) underperformed and the Big Sky Conference was down this year.
That will be the company line, though don’t expect the committee to explain its decisions.
The only sign of transparency was even more galling to Eastern fans: The Eagles weren’t even among the last four teams in the discussion.
On its website, the NCAA stated that the last two teams to make the field were Nicholls State and South Dakota, and the first two out were Austin Peay and Delaware.
Like the Eagles, all four teams finished 7-4, which begs the question: How did the Eagles miss out?
Using the NCAA’s own Simple Ratings System, here’s how those five teams rank: South Dakota 16th, Delaware 21st, EWU 24th, Nicholls State 28th and Austin Peay 36th.
New Hampshire, another 7-4 team that made the field, checks in at 31st.
Another 7-4 team, Big Sky rival Northern Arizona, finished 22nd in the SRS. However, the Lumberjacks lost two of their last three games and in Week 10 barely held on for a one-point home win against Montana State.
Another metric, the Massey strength-of-schedule rating, has EWU seventh, New Hampshire 38th and Nicholls State 28th. Eastern’s FCS losses (to North Dakota State, Southern Utah and Weber State) come against three teams with a combined record of 28-5.
After the selection show, social media was full of theories: that the committee succumbed to East Coast bias, that Eastern paid the price for geographic isolation, and, above all, that an ambitious nonconference schedule wasn’t appreciated.
No one will ever know for sure.
“We’re all surprised, I think that’s an understatement,” said coach Aaron Best.