North Dakota State leaves no doubt with record seventh title
The numbers never lie with North Dakota State football:
Five straight FCS titles from 2011-15, a record seven in the last eight years and a jaw-dropping 112-8 record during that span.
“This has been an absolute dynasty. No ifs, ends or buts, I think this has been the greatest run in college football,” head coach Chris Klieman said after his final game — NDSU’s 38-24 win over Eastern Washington in the 2018 national championship game.
Klieman will be off to coach Kansas State and the Bison will lose a program-record 24 seniors, but their amazing run of success just may continue in 2019. Matt Entz, the defensive coordinator, will be taking over a program that was 15-0 and hardly threatened this season and still has many talented underclassmen.
Following is the final 2018 Athlon FCS Power Poll:
1. North Dakota State
(15-0, 8-0 Missouri Valley)
In their final game, quarterback Easton Stick (five total touchdowns), wide receiver Darrius Sheppard (voted the game’s most outstanding player) and defensive end Greg Menard helped point the way to the title game win. Their senior class was 54-5 the last four seasons.
Previous Ranking: 1
2. Eastern Washington
(12-3, 7-1 Big Sky)
Sophomore Eric Barriere passed for a playoff-record seven touchdowns in the semifinal round, but was held in check by North Dakota State in the title game. Head coach Aaron Best’s squad will get back a handful of key injured players in addition to the underclassmen.
Previous Ranking: 5
3. South Dakota State
(10-3, 6-2 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 3
The Jackrabbits advanced to the national semifinals for a second consecutive season and have 30 wins in the last three seasons. They’ve been eliminated by North Dakota State in four of their seven straight playoff appearances.
(10-4, 7-1 CAA)
Previous Ranking: 7
The fruits of winning a CAA title and making a first-ever trip to the national semifinals led to head coach Joe Harasymiak landing an assistant’s position at Minnesota.
5. Kennesaw State
(11-2, 5-0 Big South)
Previous Ranking: 2
The first recruiting class in school history — the 18 “OGs,” or “Original Gangsters” — won a Big South title and reached the national quarterfinals in each of their final two seasons.
6. Weber State
(10-3, 7-1 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 4
A win over national finalist Eastern Washington highlighted the Wildcats’ share of a second straight Big Sky title.
7. UC Davis
(10-3, 7-1 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 8
All-America wide receiver Keelan Doss departs for the NFL, but Big Sky offensive player of the year Jake Maier returns behind center. Head coach Dan Hawkins won the Eddie Robinson Award.
(10-2, 6-1 Patriot)
Previous Ranking: 10
In a season-opening nine-game winning streak, the Raiders allowed only 29 points and tied the FCS single-season record with five shutouts.
(10-0, 7-0 Ivy)
Previous Ranking: 9
Behind two-time Ivy League offensive player of the year John Lovett, the Tigers went undefeated for the first time since 1964.
10. James Madison
(9-4, 6-2 CAA)
Previous Ranking: 6
A second-round playoff loss to Colgate prevented a playoff matchup with North Dakota State for the third straight season. Head coach Mike Houston was hired at East Carolina and replaced by Elon had coach Curt Cignetti.
11. Nicholls (9-4, 7-2 Southland)
12. North Carolina A&T (10-2, 6-1 MEAC)
13. Wofford (9-4, 6-2 Southern)
14. Jacksonville State (9-4, 7-1 Ohio Valley)
15. Southeast Missouri (9-4, 6-2 Ohio Valley)
16. Montana State (8-5, 5-3 Big Sky)
17. UNI (7-6, 5-3 Missouri Valley)
18. Dartmouth (9-1, 6-1 Ivy)
19. Indiana State (7-4, 5-3 Missouri Valley)
20. Towson (7-5, 5-3 CAA)
21. Stony Brook (7-5, 5-3 CAA)
22. Delaware (7-5, 5-3 CAA)
23. Elon (6-5, 4-3 CAA)
24. ETSU (8-4, 6-2 Southern)
25. Lamar (7-5, 6-3 Southland)
FCS Conference Rankings
1. Missouri Valley Football Conference – The brutal depth in the conference led to only three playoff teams, but the Valley proved it’s still best.
2. Big Sky Conference – Tri-champs Eastern Washington, Weber State and UC Davis all reached the final eight of the playoffs.
3. CAA Football – Despite Maine reaching the semifinals, the playoffs were disappointing for a conference that collected a record six qualifiers.
4. Southern Conference – In a tight race, seven of the nine teams were at least .500 in conference games.
5. Southland Conference – It was a fun, unpredictable, wacky, fill-in-the-adjective season in conference play.
6. Ivy League – Do the Ivy League presidents get together and watch the playoffs?
7. Ohio Valley Conference – Jacksonville State’s 36-game conference winning streak ended against Southeast Missouri, but the Gamecocks went on to win a fifth straight title.
8. Big South Conference – Monmouth has to get over the Kennesaw State hump, and it might happen in 2019.
9. Northeast Conference – Duquesne earned the second playoff win in conference history.
10. Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference – The Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl is only four years old, but North Carolina A&T has won it three times.
11. Patriot League – Colgate was the only team with a winning record for a second consecutive season.
12. FCS Independents – OK, the competition level factored in, but Hampton, North Alabama and North Dakota went a combined 20-11.
13. Southwestern Athletic Conference – Seven of the 10 programs have had a head coaching change in the last 15 months.
14. Pioneer Football League – The weather isn’t the only thing that’s perfect in San Diego. The Toreros have gone 8-0 in league games in each of the last three 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 Tim Sanger/NDSU Athletics)