With roughly one month to go in the Football Championship Subdivision season, two Illinois schools will make the 24-team FCS tournament field. Well, at least according to the projections of nobowls.com.
The website, which has made its projections for the past 10 seasons, places Illinois State and Western Illinois in its latest brackets. In fact, WIU is projected as the No. 8 seed, which means the Leathernecks would get both a first-round bye and a home game. Meanwhile, ISU is slated for a first-round game at Northern Iowa.
"The process is pretty methodical, and mimics what the selection committee goes through," explained creator and operator Erik Pitzer. "The first step is easy: Take the ten teams that are first place in each auto-bid conference.
"Then I go back through each conference and add the obvious at-large teams. Depending on the point in the season, this will usually take me to about 20 teams. The last few are always tough. Either there are too many deserving teams (like this week), or everyone on the bubble lays an egg and none of those last few feel playoff-caliber."
After all that, Pitzer's work is far from done.
"Once the field is set, I seed the top eight teams. This usually falls in line with the national polls, but I enjoy rewarding teams (like Western Illinois this year) that aren't getting the deserved attention. The national polls hang on to meaningless preseason rankings for far too long. Once the eight seeds are set, I take the remaining sixteen teams, open up Google Maps, and do my best geography puzzle to pair the match-ups."
How accurate is Pitzer's bracketology? Since its inception in 2008, NoBowls has correctly predicted 148 of the 156 teams selected to participate in the FCS postseason.
"I usually make it to about 5-6 games a season," Pitzer said. "My Saturdays in the fall are either spent a) tailgating and watching a live game, b) being glued to regional TV networks and random online streams, or God forbid -- c) attending the dreaded fall wedding."
Pitzer grew up in western Pennsylvania in the shadow of Stambaugh Stadium, home of Youngstown State football. He vividly remembers "the big YSU/Marshall showdowns of the early '90s."
"My uncles from Ohio were never shy to get me Penguins-branded Christmas gifts during that era. I later attended James Madison, re-invigorating my interest in I-AA/FCS during their 2004 championship run. I've followed FCS closely since then, though pride myself in accuracy and leaving any personal bias out of my brackets," Pitzer noted.
Asked why he created his website, Pitzer said, "I've loved college football for as long as I can remember, and I've hated the lack of a fair postseason for even longer. I've also always loved a good underdog story. Following football at the FCS/I-AA level has always seemed a no-brainer. Until the highest level of college football adopts a playoff system that gives every team a chance to win, I don't see my interest changing."
His interest has included the four Land of Lincoln programs.
"Without checking, I can confidently say that every single iteration of NoBowls has included at least one of the Illinois FCS schools--oftentimes more than one, and sometimes all four," Pitzer said. "The three MVFC teams have such a gauntlet of a conference schedule. I swear every year I'm contemplating including either a 5-loss SIU or Illinois State."
Pitzer also recalls some of the former stars who played on Illinois turf.
"Jimmy Garoppolo was the first name that popped in my mind, quickly followed by Deji Karim and Marshaun Coprich. I'm sure I'm missing some huge names, though admittedly I am much better at crunching numbers and comparing strength of schedule and win-loss resumes than I am at name-dropping," he said.
A graphic designer by day in Maryland, Pitzer is constantly thinking about his favorite pastime. He's attended "too many (games) to count since my time as a student in the early-mid 2000s."