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FCS Rankings: Final Power Poll

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Maintaining the high standard of excellence in the North Dakota State carries both a responsibility and pressure, yet the Bison thrive off the challenge.

FCS

Come the day after their record run of FCS championships ended in the 2016 playoff semifinals, they were already pointing toward redeeming themselves – as if that was really needed in a decade of dominance.

Well, the Bison did just that this season, coming back to beat James Madison, 17-13, this past Saturday to win their sixth FCS championship in seven years, which tied Georgia Southern for the most in the 40-year history of the playoffs. Three of the titles have come under head coach Chris Klieman.

“It's almost a good problem to have,” All-America senior linebacker Nick DeLuca said of the legacy, “but it's an expectation to get back to this game and to get back to the national championship. So we take that on as a responsibility, and it's something that we have set as a goal every year. So we're really excited we were able to get it done this year.”

Here is the season-ending Athlon FCS Power Poll:

1. North Dakota State

(14-1, 7-1 Missouri Valley)

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Previous Ranking: 2

Season-Ending Result: 17-13 win over James Madison in FCS championship game

Of Note: Junior quarterback Easton Stick was named the most outstanding player in the national championship game. He will be one of 14 returning starters next season, when the Bison surely will be the preseason No. 1.

2. James Madison

(14-1, 8-0 CAA)

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Previous Ranking: 1

Season-Ending Result: 17-13 loss to North Dakota State in FCS championship game

Of Note: While the Dukes’ 26-game winning streak ended in the title game, the senior class was the first in school history to make four straight FCS playoff appearances. They were 46-9 in the time, but 28-2 over the last two seasons under head coach Mike Houston.

3. South Dakota State

(11-3, 6-2 Missouri Valley)

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Previous Ranking: 5

Season-Ending Result: 51-16 loss to James Madison in FCS semifinals

Of Note: The Jackrabbits reached the semifinals for the first time, although a 10-turnover meltdown at James Madison was a cruel parting shot. Wide receiver Jake Wieneke ended his career among the all-time FCS leaders with 288 receptions, 5,147 receiving yards and 59 touchdown receptions.

4. Weber State

(11-3, 7-1 Big Sky)

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Previous Ranking: 10

Season-Ending Result: 31-28 loss to James Madison in FCS quarterfinals

Of Note: The Wildcats avenged their only bad loss by beating fellow Big Sky champ Southern Utah in the second round of the playoffs. Cornerback Taron Johnson was the conference’s defensive player of the year.

5. Central Arkansas

(10-2, 9-0 Southland)

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Previous Ranking: 4

Season-Ending Result: 21-15 loss to New Hampshire in FCS second round

Of Note: Head coach Steve Campbell might have been distracted by the South Alabama job that he got less than a week after the Southland champ’s surprising playoff loss to UNH. Offensive coordinator Nathan Brown has since been promoted to the top job.

6. Sam Houston State

(12-2, 8-1 Southland)

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Previous Ranking: 6

Season-Ending Result: 55-13 loss to North Dakota State in FCS semifinals

Of Note: In becoming the second two-time winner of the Walter Payton Award, quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe threw for 9,605 yards and 102 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Junior college transfer Mike Dare could very well to be his replacement next season.

7. Wofford

(10-3, 7-1 Southern)

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Previous Ranking: 8

Season-Ending Result: 42-10 loss to North Dakota State in FCS quarterfinals

Of Note: Head coach Mike Ayers retired after 30 seasons, 207 wins and five Southern Conference titles with the Terriers. They reached the quarterfinals in both of his final two campaigns.

8. Kennesaw State

(12-2, 5-0 Big South)

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Previous Ranking: 17

Season-Ending Result: 34-27 loss to Sam Houston State in FCS quarterfinals

Of Note: While almost all aspects of the Owls’ first three seasons have been outstanding, the Big South title, 12 straight wins and two playoff wins were on another level this season.

9. North Carolina A&T

(12-0, 8-0 MEAC)

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Previous Ranking: 11

Season-Ending Result: 21-14 win over Grambling State in Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl

Of Note: The Aggies were the first MEAC team to go undefeated, claiming a second Celebration Bowl and HBCU national title in the last three seasons.

10. Jacksonville State

(10-2, 8-0 Ohio Valley)

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Previous Ranking: 3

Season-Ending Result: 17-7 loss to Kennesaw State in FCS second round

Of Note: The strength of the Gamecocks’ program is called into question after it lost at home in its initial playoff game for the third time in four years. Senior defensive end Darius Jackson claimed the Buck Buchanan Award.

11. Southern Utah

(9-3, 7-1 Big Sky)

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Previous Ranking: 7

Season-Ending Result: 30-13 loss to Weber State in FCS second round

Of Note: Despite the disappointing playoff loss, the Thunderbirds secured the most wins in their Division I history. 

12. Western Illinois

(8-4, 5-3 Missouri Valley)

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Previous Ranking: 9

Season-Ending Result: 21-19 loss to Weber State in FCS first round

Of Note: The Leathernecks drew the strongest first-round matchup (Weber State). Senior linebacker Brett Taylor led the FCS with 162 tackles.

13. Northern Iowa

(8-5, 6-2 Missouri Valley)

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Previous Ranking: 12

Season-Ending Result: 37-22 loss to South Dakota State in FCS second round

Of Note: After a strong rally to make the playoffs, the Panthers thumped Monmouth in the first round, but failed to win at South Dakota State a second time.

14. Stony Brook

(10-3, 7-1 CAA)

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Previous Ranking: 14

Season-Ending Result: 26-7 loss to James Madison in FCS second round

Of Note: A much-improved offense, behind quarterback Joe Carbone, was the difference in the Seawolves’ breakout season in CAA Football.

15. New Hampshire

(9-5, 5-3 CAA)

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Previous Ranking: 25

Season-Ending Result: 56-14 loss to South Dakota State in FCS quarterfinals

Of Note: Many people didn’t feel the Wildcats deserved a 14th straight playoff bid, but head coach Sean McDonnell’s squad won twice, including at No. 4 seed Central Arkansas.