North Dakota State is the unquestioned favorite to win a record seventh FCS national title this season, but the depth behind the Bison may not be so bad.
The 12 teams in the Athlon FCS Power Poll have begun the season with only a combined three losses, and that’s from a 3-3 mark against FBS opponents. South Dakota State, NDSU’s rival, even made an impressive opening statement this past weekend.
Here’s the Athlon FCS Power Poll for games through Sept. 9:
1. North Dakota State
(1-0, 0-0 Missouri Valley)
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
Last Week’s Result: Bye
The defending FCS champion is playing nine of its 11 regular-season games inside domes, including seven at the Fargodome. The outdoors games are at Western Illinois (Oct. 13) and Missouri State (Nov. 10).
Next Opponent: North Alabama (Sept. 15)
2. James Madison
(1-1, 0-0 CAA)
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
Last Week’s Result: 17-0 win over Norfolk State
After several lengthy weather delays, James Madison and Norfolk State agreed to end the game after one quarter and give the Dukes the win. D’Angelo Amos scored on a 76-yard punt return.
Next Opponent: Robert Morris (Sept. 15)
3. South Dakota State
(1-0, 0-0 Missouri Valley)
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
Last Week’s Result: 45-14 win over Montana State
It had to come from a script: With the Jackrabbits needing to answer how they would replace the losses of Dallas Goedert and Jake Wieneke in the receiving game, Cade Johnson opened his sophomore season by catching four touchdowns from Taryn Christion.
Next Opponent: Arkansas Pine-Bluff (Sept. 15)
4. Eastern Washington
(2-0, 0-0 Big Sky)
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
Last Week’s Result: 31-26 win over Northern Arizona
If the Eagles keep getting anything close to their 288-yard rushing average, senior quarterback Gage Gubrud will be even more dangerous in the passing game.
Next Opponent: at Washington State (Sept. 15)
5. Kennesaw State
(1-1, 0-0 Big South)
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
Last Week’s Result: 49-10 win over Tennessee Tech
Behind QB Chandler Burks, Owls set the school record with 507 rushing yards to cruise past Tennessee Tech. The defense forced a turnover for the 16th straight game.
Next Opponent: Alabama State (Sept. 15)
6. North Carolina A&T
(3-0, 0-0 MEAC)
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
Last Week’s Result: 45-6 win over Gardner-Webb
Not surprisingly, the Aggies went back to QB Lamar Raynard, who both ran and threw for a touchdown. The Morgan State game is considered non-conference and won’t count toward their MEAC record.
Next Opponent: Morgan State (Sept. 22)
(2-0, 0-0 CAA)
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
Last Week’s Result: 31-9 win over Lehigh
Second-year head coach Mark Ferrante is getting a reminder of what his team missed last season — fifth-year senior quarterback Zach Bednarczyk has thrown for three touchdowns in each of Villanova’s wins.
Next Opponent: Towson (Sept. 15)
(1-1, 0-0 Southern)
Last Week’s Ranking: 9
Last Week’s Result: 36-26 loss to Florida State
The Bulldogs move up a spot despite a loss. They led the Seminoles for much of the game before a bad final five minutes. QB Devlin Hodges threw for 475 yards and two touchdowns, but also four interceptions.
Next Opponent: Mercer (Sept. 15)
9. Sam Houston State
(1-0, 0-0 Southland)
Last Week’s Ranking: 8
Last Week’s Result: 41-32 win over Prairie View A&M
In an unfamiliar scenario, the Bearkats opened their season with more yards and touchdowns on the ground than through the air. Remus Bulmer ran for three scores.
Next Opponent: North Dakota (Sept. 15)
(2-0, 2-0 Southern)
Last Week’s Ranking: 11
Last Week’s Result: 59-14 win over VMI
The triple-option Terriers’ 450 rushing yards weren’t the eye-catching part of the SoCon win over VMI. They completed 15 of 17 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns.
Next Opponent: Wyoming (Sept. 15)
(2-0, 1-0 CAA)
Last Week’s Ranking: NR
Last Week’s Result: 31-28 win over Western Kentucky
The Black Bears get a much-deserved bye before their second straight FBS game. In beating Western Kentucky, they overcame a 21-0 deficit behind QB Chris Ferguson’s three TD passes.
Next Opponent: at Central Michigan (Sept. 22)
(2-0, 0-0 Big Sky)
Last Week’s Ranking: 12
Last Week’s Result: 48-16 win over Drake
With much of the focus on NFL prospect Josh Buss, redshirt junior linebacker Dante Olson has begun his season with 29 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, one interception, two pass breakups, one quarterback hurry and one forced fumble.
Next Opponent: Western Illinois (Sept. 15)
FCS Conference Rankings
1. CAA Football — Maine, Rhode Island and Villanova are a combined 6-0, which is half of their win total last season.
2. Missouri Valley Football Conference — The Valley is a mere 8-9. Yes, that’s not a misprint.
3. Big Sky Conference — QB injuries a concern with NAU’s Case Cookus and Montana State’s Troy Anderson.
4. Southern Conference — Samford, Wofford impressing. Furman, last year’s other playoff squad, not so much.
5. Southland Conference — This week, it’s Nicholls at McNeese and Central Arkansas at Southeastern Louisiana.
6. Ohio Valley Conference — Jacksonville State, Austin Peay didn’t allow a point against bad opponents.
7. Ivy League — The 10-week season kicks off this weekend.
8. Big South Conference — Make no mistake, this conference is about running the ball and stopping it.
9. Northeast Conference — A particularly tough week of games await the conference.
10. Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference — Savannah State has been outscored 129-0 by two FBS opponents.
11. Patriot League — Colgate had the only win as the league went 1-6 in Week 2.
12. Southwestern Athletic Conference — Defending champ Grambling State going through growing pains.
13. FCS Independents — Week 2 results not nearly as impressive as Week 1.
14. Pioneer Football League — Dayton won’t be the same team without injured QB Alex Jeske.
— 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 James Madison Athletics)