The Ohio Valley Conference champions Eastern Illinois knew that were in the playoffs when the selection show started today. 8-win Eastern Kentucky, UT Martin, and Tennessee State were left to hold their breath.
In the end, their bubble burst, with only the Panthers earning a spot in this year’s playoffs.
Eastern Illinois will travel to South Dakota State this Saturday in the tournament’s opening round. The Jackrabbits are in a way the anti-panthers, a defensive powerhouse that finished the season 8-3, and 6-2 in the Missouri Valley.
The game will be televised on ESPN 3 this Saturday, starting at 3 p.m. EST.
The winner will face top overall seed North Dakota State. South Dakota State lost to the overall top seed just 20-17 two weeks ago.
The Panthers and Jackrabbits have a common opponent in Southern Illinois. The Panthers opened the season with a 49-28 win over the Salukis; South Dakota State beat SIU 20-17 three weeks ago.
The Panthers are making their 14th Division I playoff appearance, having also been in the field in 1982, 1983, 1986, 1989, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009. The 14 playoff appearances are the second-most among current OVC teams and the eighth-most in FCS history. Eastern Illinois is 3-13 all-time in the Division I playoffs; the last time EIU was in the playoffs the Panthers lost to No. 1 Southern Illinois (2009). The team has lost 10 playoff games in a row and searching for its first win since beating Idaho 38-31 in the first round of the 1989 playoffs.
South Dakota State (8-3, 6-2 MVFC) capped its regular season by topping rival South Dakota 31-8 to finish in second place in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The Jackrabbits are ranked 19th in this week’s Sports Network Top 25. SDSU, which became postseason eligible in 2008 following its reclassification to Division I, is making its second NCAA Division I playoff appearance; the Jacks lost to Montana in the 2009 playoffs.
The full FCS playoff bracket is attached here.