Eastern Kentucky finished their regular season with a 9–2 record (5–1 in conference); their losses were to East Tennessee State of Division I-A and conference rival Murray State. Tied for third with Lehigh in the final AP Poll for I-AA, the Colonels were the at-large selection to the four-team playoff; they defeated Nevada, the West selection, by a score of 33–30 in double overtime to reach the final. This was the first appearance for Eastern Kentucky in a Division I-AA championship game.
Lehigh also finished their regular season with a 9–2 record; they had lost to Colgate of Division I-A and Delaware of Division II. Tied with Eastern Kentucky for third in the final AP Poll for I-AA, the Engineers were the East selection to the playoff; they defeated Murray State, the South selection, by a 28–9 score to reach the final. This was also the first appearance for Lehigh in a Division I-AA championship game.