FCS Rankings: Final Power Poll

With a second national title, James Madison Dukes are FCS royalty again

James Madison entered November without a win over a top-25 team, but that changed in the money portion of the season as the Dukes won their second FCS national championship.


Behind first-year head coach Mike Houston, James Madison beat nationally ranked teams in six of its final seven games, including a playoff sweep of New Hampshire, previously unbeaten Sam Houston State, five-time defending national champion North Dakota State and then Youngstown State, 28-14, in the FCS title game.


"You're the best team in the nation. At the end of the year, every college football program in the country has this goal,“ Houston said.


So is the NDSU dynasty over and it’s an all-new FCS? Not necessarily, but James Madison and its terrific talent just may be the team to beat again next season.


As far as this season, the Dukes earned their national championship considering who they beat from November on.


Here is the final 2016 Athlon Sports FCS Power Poll:


1. James Madison

(14-1, 8-0 CAA Football)

Preseason Ranking: 14

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 5

The seniors helped lead the way in the championship game win over Youngstown State. Running back Khalid Abdullah rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns while earning the most outstanding player award, and linebacker Gage Steele had six tackles, two sacks and a pass breakup. The Dukes won their final 12 games, losing only to an FBS program (North Carolina) this season. 


2. North Dakota State

(12-2, 7-1 Missouri Valley)

Preseason Ranking: 1

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 1

The Bison played the toughest schedule in the FCS, with their 27-17 loss to James Madison in the national semifinals their 10th game against a ranked opponent. Oddly, their two losses came within the friendly confines of the Fargodome. Consider head coach Chris Klieman’s squad quite motivated this offseason.


3. Youngstown State

(12-4, 6-2 Missouri Valley)

Preseason Ranking: 22

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 14

Bo Pelini helped the former FCS power get back to an elite level in his second season coaching in his hometown. The Missouri Valley Conference squad overcame a lot of adversity and fourth-quarter deficits this season, but the Penguins were fairly non-competitive in the national title game.


4. Eastern Washington

(12-2, 8-0 Big Sky)

Preseason Ranking: 12

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 2

Cooper Kupp is NFL-bound as the most accomplished wide receiver in FCS history and sophomore quarterback Gage Gubrud set the subdivision’s single-season record with 5,160 passing yards. The Eagles were denied a trip to the FCS championship game by a last-second loss to Youngstown State in the national semifinals.


5. Sam Houston State

(12-1, 9-0 Southland)

Preseason Ranking: 2

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 4

The Bearkats were the only FCS team to go unbeaten in the regular season, but they were swamped by James Madison, 65-7, in the national quarterfinals. Head coach K.C. Keeler will welcome back a lot of talented players, including quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe, who threw for an FCS-record 57 touchdowns this season.


6. Wofford

(10-4, 6-2 Southern)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 19

The Terriers won the South Carolina FCS title with wins over Charleston Southern and The Citadel in the playoffs. Their senior-laden team will be hard-pressed to replace fullback Lorenzo Long after he led the Southern Conference with 1,424 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.


7. Richmond

(10-4, 5-3 CAA)

Preseason Ranking: 4

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 11

The Spiders won two playoff games after losing starting quarterback Kyle Lauletta to an ACL tear in the regular-season finale. Shortly after the season, head coach Danny Rocco resigned to move across the CAA to Delaware and the Spiders quickly hired Chattanooga's Russ Huesman, their defensive coordinator on the 2008 national championship team.


8. South Dakota State

(9-4, 7-1 Missouri Valley)

Preseason Ranking: 8

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 7

A win over co-Missouri Valley champ North Dakota State at the Fargodome in mid-October highlighted the Jackrabbits’ season. No opposing team – the Bison included – will be anxious to to deal with the triumvirate of quarterback Taryn Christion, tight end Dallas Goedert and wide reveiver Jake Wieneke next season.


9. Jacksonville State

(10-2, 7-0 Ohio Valley)

Preseason Ranking: 5

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 3

Gamecocks coach John Grass hasn’t lost an OVC game in his three seasons, but sandwiched around his team’s 2015 national runner-up finish are two second-round fizzles at home – this year against Youngstown State. They swept the OVC’s postseason awards: Grass (coach), quarterback Eli Jenkins (offensive), defensive end Darius Jackson (defensive) and safety Marlon Bridges (freshman).


10. The Citadel

(10-2, 8-0 Southern)

Preseason Ranking: 10

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 6

First-year head coach Brent Thompson led the SoCon champion Bulldogs to a perfect conference record for the first time in school history. Behind senior fullback Tyler Renew, they paced the FCS in rushing yards per game (348.2).


11. Villanova

(9-4, 6-2 CAA Football)

Preseason Ranking: 20

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 12

Head coach Andy Talley enjoyed a fitting final season before heading into retirement as the Wildcats won a home playoff game and reached the second round. His defense led the FCS in fewest points (15.0) and yards (259.8) allowed per game.


12. Coastal Carolina

(10-2 FCS Independent)

Preseason Ranking: 9

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 13

Injuries led to a merry-go-round at quarterback in the Chanticleers’ final season on the FCS level. When they move to the Sun Belt next season, they won’t get to lean on departing running back De’Angelo Henderson.


13. Chattanooga

(9-4, 6-2 Southern)

Preseason Ranking: 7

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 9

With Russ Huesman off to Richmond, the Mocs hired up-and-coming head coach Tom Arth from Division III semifinalist John Carroll. He inherits a team that won a playoff game for the third straight season, but it will lose a dominant senior trio in defensive end Keionta Davis, offensive lineman Corey Levin and running back Derrick Craine.


14. North Dakota

(9-3, 8-0 Big Sky)

Preseason Ranking: 15

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 8

Third-year head coach Bubba Schweigert was rewarded with a contract extension through 2021 after leading the Fighting Hawks to a perfect season and co-championship in the Big Sky as well as their first FCS playoff appearance. Safety Cole Reyes was named the conference’s defensive player of the year.


15. Charleston Southern

(7-4, 4-1 Big South)

Preseason Ranking: 6

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 10

A difficult season of quarterback injuries and player and coach suspensions ended with a first-round playoff loss to Wofford. Still, the Buccaneers rallied to win a share of their second straight Big South championship. Coach Jamey Chadwell has stepped down to become the associate head coach and offensive coordinator at Coastal Carolina.


16. Central Arkansas

(10-3, 8-1 Southland)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 15

The loss of a strong senior class a year ago didn’t hold back the Bears from an outstanding season under head coach Steve Campbell. Often overlooked, wide receiver and return specialist Jatavious Wilson ended his career with 5,649 all-purpose yards, which was fifth among active FCS players this season.


17. New Hampshire

(8-5, 6-2 CAA)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 24

Don’t call it a lucky 13 because the Wildcats earned their way into playoffs for the 13th straight season. Once there, head coach Sean McDonnell’s squad pounded Lehigh in the first round. Cornerback Casey DeAndrade concluded a standout four-year career with 62 passes defended.


18. Lehigh

(9-3, 6-0 Patriot)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 16

The Patriot League champion Mountain Hawks rolled off nine straight wins before falling to New Hampshire in the playoffs. Quarterback Nick Shafnisky, the league’s offensive player of the year, was surrounded by 1,000-yard rusher Dom Bragalone and two 1,000-yard receivers, Troy Pelletier and Gaitlin Casey.


19. Grambling State

(11-1, 9-0 SWAC)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 21

The Tigers won only one SWAC game in the two seasons before Broderick Fobbs took over as head coach, but they’ve captured 25 in his three regular seasons. It got better in the postseason as they beat Alcorn State in the SWAC championship game and North Carolina Central in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl.


20. North Carolina Central

(9-3, 8-0 MEAC)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 17

A late celebration penalty and blocked extra point helped cause the MEAC champion’s 10-9 loss in the Celebration Bowl. But like Grambling State and Fobbs, all the Eagles know is success in conference play under third-year head coach Jerry Mack, having gone 21-3 with three titles.


21. San Diego

(10-2, 8-0 Pioneer)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: Unranked

The non-scholarship Toreros earned the Pioneer Football League’s first-ever win in the playoffs by avenging a September loss to Cal Poly. Senior running back Jonah Hodges had a spectacular final season with 2,104 all-purpose yards and 20 touchdowns.


22. Illinois State

(6-6, 4-4 Missouri Valley)

Preseason Ranking: 11

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 18

The Redbirds were the second team to earn an at-large playoff bid with a mere 6-5 record (after Western Illinois last year), but they blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of their first-round loss to Central Arkansas. Still, they had wins over Northwestern and South Dakota State this season.


23. Cal Poly

(7-5, 5-3 Big Sky)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 20

After a big first half of the season, the Mustangs failed to beat the better teams in the second half, ultimately falling to San Diego in their playoff rematch. Fullback Joe Protheroe will look to build on a banner junior campaign next season.


24. Princeton

(8-2, 6-1 Ivy)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 25

The Tigers shared the Ivy League title for the second time in the last four years under head coach Bob Surace. They handled rival Penn, the other co-champion, in the head-to-head meeting. All-around threat John Lovett was named the league’s offensive player of the year.


25. Albany

(7-4, 4-4 CAA)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: Unranked

The Great Danes and Fordham (8-3) were the last two teams left out of the playoff field. With wins over Buffalo, Northeast Conference champ Saint Francis and New Hampshire, and the return of 1,400-yard running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, head coach Greg Gattuso’s squad is trending upward. 


— 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.


(Top photo by James Madison Athletics)

Event Date: 
Saturday, January 7, 2017 - 19:55

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