Beware the perils of conference play. Plenty didn’t in Week 5 of the FCS season and paid the price.
The number of unbeaten teams dropped from 14 to four and some conference races took on surprising looks heading into October.
At least No. 1 North Dakota State and No. 2 James Madison can almost always be counted on to bring normalcy to the FCS landscape.
Here’s the Athlon FCS Power Poll for games through Sept. 29:
1. North Dakota State
(4-0, 1-0 Missouri Valley)
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
Last Week’s Result: 21-17 win over South Dakota State
As the final 35 seconds ticked away, many of the Bison players sprinted toward the Dakota Marker trophy to gladly hoist it high. Quarterback Easton Stick had his worst career game against SDSU last season, but had a hand in all three Bison touchdowns in Saturday’s win.
Next Opponent: at Northern Iowa (Oct. 6)
2. James Madison
(4-1, 2-0 CAA)
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
Last Week’s Result: 63-10 win over Richmond
The Dukes posted the largest road win in program history as cornerback Jimmy Moreland went 100 yards for a third pick-six in as many games. A big test against Elon is next.
Next Opponent: Elon (Oct. 6)
3. South Dakota State
(2-1, 0-1 Missouri Valley)
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
Last Week’s Result: 21-17 loss to North Dakota State
Eastern Washington impressed again, but the Jackrabbits hold on to the No. 3 spot after their tight loss to the reigning FCS champion. Third-down efficiency was crucial: SDSU was a mere 3-of-12 compared to NDSU’s 8-of-16.
Next Opponent: Indiana State (Oct. 6)
4. Eastern Washington
(4-1, 2-0 Big Sky)
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
Last Week’s Result: 34-17 win over Montana State
It’s a good sign for the Eagles that they can double up the score on a talented rival even when quarterback Gage Gubrud doesn’t throw for a touchdown. Sam McPherson rushed for two scores for the second straight week.
Next Opponent: Southern Utah (Oct. 6)
5. Kennesaw State
(4-1, 0-0 Big South)
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
Last Week’s Result: 24-10 win over Samford
Head coach Brian Bohannon’s team worked for its 16th win in 18 games, topping Samford in their budding rivalry. Quarterback Chandler Burks rushed for two touchdowns.
Next Opponent: Presbyterian (Oct. 6)
(3-1, 2-0 Southern)
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
Last Week’s Result: 45-14 win over Gardner-Webb
Senior fullback Andre Stoddard made the math easy, rushing for 200 yards on 20 carries, including two touchdowns. The Terriers averaged 8.6 yards while gaining 490 yards on the ground.
Next Opponent: at Chattanooga (Oct. 6)
(3-1, 1-0 CAA)
Last Week’s Ranking: 9
Last Week’s Result: 30-9 win over New Hampshire
It was a pretty methodical win over a wounded UNH squad. Elon allowed only 218 yards (only 46 in the second half) and cornerback Greg Liggs Jr. had a pair of interceptions.
Next Opponent: at James Madison (Oct. 6)
8. Jacksonville State
(3-1, 2-0 Ohio Valley)
Last Week’s Ranking: 10
Last Week’s Result: 48-34 win over Austin Peay
Quarterback Zerrick Cooper accounted for five touchdowns and wide receiver Jamari Hester (7 receptions, 146 yards, 2 TDs) had a breakout game while the Gamecocks stretched their OVC winning streak to 34 games.
Next Opponent: at Eastern Kentucky (Oct. 6)
9. UC Davis
(3-1, 1-0 Big Sky)
Last Week’s Ranking: 11
Last Week’s Result: Bye
With the FBS win over San Jose State on the Aggies’ resume, a first FCS playoff appearance is there for the taking.
Next Opponent: at Northern Colorado (Oct. 6)
10. Weber State
(3-1, 1-0 Big Sky)
Last Week’s Ranking: 13
Last Week’s Result: Bye
The Wildcats have a veteran defense, but they’re so young at the offensive skill positions. Redshirt freshman Josh Davis leads the FCS in rushing yards per game (166.3).
Next Opponent: at Northern Arizona
11. Stony Brook (4-1, 2-0 CAA)
12. Montana (4-1, 2-0 Big Sky)
13. McNeese (4-1, 3-0 Southland)
14. Illinois State(3-1, 0-1 Missouri Valley)
15. Northern Iowa (2-2, 1-0 Missouri Valley)
16. Nicholls (3-2, 2-1 Southland)
17. Towson (3-1, 2-0 CAA)
18. North Carolina A&T (4-1, 1-0 MEAC)
19. Villanova (3-2, 0-2 CAA)
20. Rhode Island (3-1, 2-0 CAA)
21. South Dakota (2-2, 1-0 Missouri Valley)
22. Missouri State (3-1, 1-0 Missouri Valley)
23. Colgate (4-0, 1-0 Patriot)
24. North Dakota (3-2)
25. Sam Houston State(2-2, 1-1 Southland)
FCS Conference Rankings
1. Missouri Valley Football Conference – Suddenly, there’s six teams in the power poll.
2. CAA Football – Villanova has blown 14-0 and 21-0 leads in its two losses.
3. Big Sky Conference – Surprising Idaho State (3-1) next hosts Idaho.
4. Southern Conference – Surprise! ETSU tops the conference race with 3-0 mark.
5. Southland Conference – Sam Houston State rescued its season by beating Central Arkansas in overtime.
6. Ohio Valley Conference – Tennessee State hangs tough in 31-27 loss to Vanderbilt.
7. Ivy League – Knock, knock. Princeton is the first team outside the rankings.
8. Big South Conference – Charleston Southern notches first win in conference’s 5-1 week.
9. Northeast Conference – Defending champ Central Connecticut quite inconsistent.
10. Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference – Florida A&M blasts North Carolina Central to announce contender status.
11. Patriot League – Colgate has blanked opposition in 10 straight quarters.
12. Southwestern Athletic Conference – Alcorn State, Prairie View A&M sit in divisional driver’s seats.
13. FCS Independents – Hampton 0-3 versus its FCS opponents.
14. Pioneer Football League – San Diego, Drake open league schedule with blowout wins.
— 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 Jacksonville State)