The importance of a top seed in the FCS playoffs, explained

Twenty-four teams make the FCS playoffs every year, but only eight teams receive a seed and a first-round bye. While getting a seed is an advantage by itself, there’s a bigger advantage that comes with the seeds. Here’s why getting a top-two seed in the FCS playoffs is important.

Why a top-two seed?

Every seed in the FCS playoffs is guaranteed to host a second-round game, thanks to a first-round bye. After the second round, the team with the best seed hosts every game until a neutral site contest for the FCS championship.

With four seeded teams split on each side of the bracket, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

More than home-field advantage

Home-field advantage alone is nice, but a top-two seed getting home-field advantage means nothing if the team doesn’t win at home.

Yet, in the case of the FCS playoffs, home-field advantage just means more. The No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the FCS playoffs have had immense success at home in recent years.

Nine of the last 10 FCS championship game participants have only played home games through the FCS semifinal round. If you stretch that number out to 2015, it still becomes 11 out of 14. Only one year during that span, 2016, had two teams that didn’t play only home games during the playoffs.

No. 1 and No. 2 seeds made up nine of the possible 14 national championship participants over the last seven years. Two No. 3 seeds — 2018 Eastern Washington and 2015 North Dakota State — had home-field advantage and advanced to the FCS semifinals.

Year Team Seed FCS playoff finish
2021 North Dakota State No. 2 National Champion
Sam Houston No. 1 Quarterfinals
2020-21 Sam Houston No. 2 National Champion
South Dakota State No. 1 Runner-up
2019 North Dakota State No. 1 National Champion
James Madison No. 2 Runner-up
2018 North Dakota State No. 1 National Champion
Weber State No. 2 Quarterfinals
Eastern Washington* No. 3 Runner-up
2017 North Dakota State No. 2 National Champion
James Madison No. 1 Runner-up
2016 North Dakota State No. 1 Semifinals
Eastern Washington No. 2 Semifinals
2015 North Dakota State* No. 3 National Champion
Jacksonville State No. 1 Runner-up
Illinois State No. 2 Quarterfinals

*Eastern Washington and North Dakota State played only home games as a No. 3 seed thanks to quarterfinal losses from the No. 2 seeds.

Top-two seed = Championship?

Since the FCS playoffs expanded in 2013, adding eight seeds, a team that only played on its home field in the playoffs has won eight of nine FCS Championships. Seven of those eight were No. 1 or No. 2 seeds.

While the games must be played out on the field, there’s no denying the correlation between a top-two seed and FCS playoff success.

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