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Could these five teams earn first FCS playoff bids?

By CRAIG HALEY

STATS FCS Senior Editor

(STATS) - Last year, UC Davis, Incarnate Word and Lamar earned their first bids to the FCS playoffs. A year earlier, it was Kennesaw State, Monmouth, Central Connecticut State and South Dakota.

If it happens again in 2019, the first-time qualifiers wouldn't necessarily come from thin air. Some potential candidates have hinted at the possibility in recent years.

Here are five programs seeking to break through with their first FCS playoff bids:

ABILENE CHRISTIAN

2018 Record: 6-5 overall, 5-4 Southland (Tie/4th)

Why it's Possible: The Wildcats made a four-win improvement in coach Adam Dorrel's second season last year. Quarterback Luke Anthony has plenty of weapons and All-Southland first-team linebacker Jeremiah Chambers is one of 10 starters returning on defense, which has a new defensive coordinator in Clint Brown, who moves over from South Dakota State. Dorrel guided Northwest Missouri State to three Division II national titles in a four-year span before arriving at ACU.

AUSTIN PEAY

2018 Record: 5-6 overall, 3-5 Ohio Valley (Tie/6th)

Why it's Possible: This is the post-hype team. The Governors were all the rage in 2017, going 8-1 against FCS opponents as the most-improved team in the FCS, but they disappointed last year after having preseason buzz. Mark Hudspeth, who had successful stints at North Alabama and Louisiana-Lafayette, has taken over with Will Healy off to guide Charlotte. A strong nonconference schedule will prepare the Govs for the OVC. Quarterback Jeremiah Oatsvall and all-purpose running back Kentel Williams will keep the chains moving, but the recent departure of defensive end Jaison Williams is hard to overcome.

DRAKE

2018 Record: 7-4 overall, 6-2 Pioneer (Tie/2nd)

Why it's Possible: The Bulldogs have been one of the more consistent programs in the Pioneer Football League, finishing .500 or better in league play for 11 straight seasons, but they've failed to move on since the league obtained an automatic playoff bid in 2013. Todd Stepsis has been elevated from defensive coordinator to head coach. His team will be hard-pressed to replace three-year quarterback Grant Kraemer, but they still have the league's top defense, led by safety Will Warner. Road dates at North Dakota and South Dakota State are key tests, but the biggest is the Nov. 2 trip to San Diego, which enters the season with a 29-game PFL win streak.

GEORGETOWN

2018 Record: 5-6 overall, 4-2 Patriot (Tie/2nd)

Why it's Possible: The Hoyas' porous history - only one winning season since 1999 - would seem to preclude them from playoff discussion, but they were the surprise of the Patriot League last year, facing eventual champ Colgate in a matchup of 3-0 league teams in late October. There's no shortage of playmakers as coach Rob Sgarlata returns 15 starters, led by third-year quarterback Gunther Johnson on offense and defensive end Kristian Tate, who had a league-high 10 sacks, and linebacker Wes Bowers on defense.

MERCER

2018 Record: 5-6 overall, 4-4 Southern (Tie/5th)

Why it's Possible: Everybody's favorite break-through prediction has to do it some year, right? The Bears have been 4-4 in the SoCon for three straight seasons; now they're a forgotten team in the competitive conference. Coach Bobby Lamb has tried to improve the defense by hiring Mike Adams from Charleston Southern as his new coordinator. They return 15 starters and have two experienced quarterbacks in Robert Riddle and Kaelan Riley. Two of their first three games are SoCon road matchups, so they have an early chance set up a different kind of season.

Updated June 19, 2019

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