FCS football playoff preview -- Ranking every team's chance to win the title

Can Sam Houston hold off traditional power North Dakota State and others to defend its FCS crown? Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports

Every time the topic of FBS playoff expansion comes up for argument -- and at this time of year, that's just about every day -- someone inevitably breaks out talking points like "Expansion would ruin the integrity of the regular season!" Or "A three-loss team could win the national title!"

Can you imagine what it would be like to follow the twists and turns of the regular season and watch a bunch of teams clinch playoff spots with thrilling conference title wins, then invite a ton of teams to the playoff party?

Of course you can! It happens at every other level of the sport! And it's the most wonderful, chaotic mess!

The Division II and Division III playoffs began last weekend, and now FCS joins the party. The 24-team FCS playoff begins on Saturday in Worcester, Massachusetts, and wraps up on Jan. 8 in Frisco, Texas. The early pairings, all on ESPN+, are as follows:

  • Stephen F. Austin at Incarnate Word (3 p.m. ET). SP+ projection: UIW 31.2, SFA 24.8. Winner faces No. 1 Sam Houston next Saturday.

  • UT Martin at Missouri State (4 p.m. ET). SP+ projection: MSU 36.7, UT Martin 22.4. Winner faces No. 8 Montana State.

  • Sacred Heart at Holy Cross (noon ET). SP+ projection: Holy Cross 23.6, SHU 13.9. Winner faces No. 5 Villanova.

  • UC Davis at South Dakota State (3 p.m. ET). SP+ projection: SDSU 30.9, UC Davis 17.2. Winner faces No. 4 Sacramento State.

  • Florida A&M at Southeastern Louisiana (7 p.m. ET). SP+ projection: SELA 42.8, FAMU 29.6. Winner faces No. 3 James Madison.

  • Northern Iowa at Eastern Washington (4 p.m. ET). SP+ projection: EWU 29.7, UNI 29.4. Winner faces No. 6 Montana.

  • Davidson at Kennesaw State (2 p.m. ET). KSU 37.9, Davidson 18.4. Winner faces No. 7 ETSU.

  • Southern Illinois at South Dakota (6 p.m. ET). USD 27.1, SIU 24.6. Winner faces No. 2 North Dakota State.

Only three teams have won national titles in the past decade, and they happen to occupy the top three seeds. The first-round action is well-distributed, starting at noon ET and lasting until about 11 p.m., and the headliner falls right in the middle -- Northern Iowa-Eastern Washington pits one of the best defenses in FCS against one of the best offenses.

Using my FCS SP+ rankings, let's rank the field from least likely to most likely to take home the crown.

24. Davidson (8-2)

SP+ rank: 72nd (32nd offense, 102nd defense)
Advancement odds: 8% to reach the quarterfinals, 0.4% to win the title

The Wildcats have one of the most fun, run-heavy offenses at the FCS level -- they average 349 rushing yards and 112 passing yards per game -- and have scored at least 28 in nine straight games. But the defense is usually what holds them back against good teams.