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FCS Football: 5 Teams that Appear Primed for Top 25 Rankings

FCS Football: 5 Teams that Appear Primed for Top 25 Rankings

FCS Football: 5 Teams that Appear Primed for Top 25 Rankings

Some teams in Athlon Sports' Preseason FCS Top 25 must be replaced because of the growing list of conferences that have decided not to play a fall season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That's OK because teams sitting just outside the Top 25 are always similar in ability as those in the back end of the rankings.

Whether there will be a 2020 season has yet to be fully determined and a bunch of schedules are currently in flux, but here are five teams that will challenge for spots in the Athlon Top 25:

Elon Phoenix

2019 Record: 5-6, 4-4 CAA

What's to Like: A few CAA teams may play as independents after the conference canceled its schedule, and Elon is one of them. There is plenty returning in the offensive skills positions, including quarterback Davis Cheek and running back Jaylan Thomas, who is each a former CAA Offensive Rookie of the Year, and top wide receiver Kortez Weeks. The bigger losses heading into head coach Tony Trisciani's second season are on defense, but the returnees include leading tackler Cole Coleman.

McNeese Cowboys

2019 Record: 7-5, 5-4 Southland

What's to Like: The Cowboys are ineligible for the postseason due to NCAA APR penalties, but they've posted 15 straight winning seasons — the longest active run in the FCS. New head coach Frank Wilson, the first African-American head coach in McNeese history and the second in the Southland, has a veteran quarterback in Cody Orgeron, son of LSU coach Ed Orgeron, and a terrific playmaker in wide receiver Cyron Sutton. The secondary fuels what's usually one of the better Southland defenses.

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Monmouth Hawks

2019 Record: 11-3, 6-0 Big South

What's to Like: Coming off the best season in program history, the Hawks will return 17 starters. The defense is quite deep, led by seniors in safety Anthony Budd, cornerback Justin Terry, and defensive end Erik Massey. Kevin Callahan, the only head coach in the program's now 28-year history, has to replace veteran starting quarterback Kenji Bahar, but Juwon Farri, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2018, returns after missing last season and wide receiver Lonnie Moore IV is coming off a 1,000-yard campaign.

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

2019 Record: 7-5 Independent

What's to Like: A previous stint in the Big Sky has the Fighting Hawks ready for the move into the rugged Missouri Valley Football Conference. Defense leads the way: The secondary boasts cornerbacks Evan Holm and C.J. Siegel and safety Jordan Canady, while linebacker Noah Larson is a standout. Head coach Bubba Schweigert's offense will have a young quarterback, so there will be growing pains.

UT Martin Skyhawks

2019 Record: 7-5, 6-2 Ohio Valley

What's to Like: The schedule is supposed to end with Alabama and Memphis, but the Skyhawks can compete with any of their FCS opponents. Quarterback John Bachus III is coming off OVC Freshman of the Year and has one of the better tight ends in the FCS in Colton Dowell. Head coach Jason Simpson has only one sub-.500 OVC record (2018) in 14 seasons.

— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.

(Photo courtesy of Patrick Tewey/Monmouth Athletics)