Top-ranked Bison impress again; James Madison rises to No. 3
If you have North Dakota State penciled in as going back to Frisco, Texas, for the FCS championship game, you might start to consider ink.
The Bison are on a mission as they seek a record seventh FCS title this decade. Like last season, they are building a cushion for a top-two playoff seed (which guarantees home games through the semifinals) even if they lose a regular-season game.
With NDSU holding No. 1 all season, here’s the Athlon FCS Power Poll for games through Oct. 13:
1. North Dakota State
(6-0, 3-0 Missouri Valley)
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
Last Week’s Result: 34-7 win over Western Illinois
Defensive coordinator Matt Entz has the nation’s top unit, even if the statistics don’t reflect it. The Bison forced five turnovers, including a pair of interceptions by James Hendricks and Dan Marlette’s 36-yard fumble return for a touchdown, to defeat Western Illinois.
Next Opponent: Illinois State (Oct. 20)
2. South Dakota State
(4-1, 2-1 Missouri Valley)
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
Last Week’s Result: 36-7 win over Youngstown State
The Jackrabbits forced three turnovers and wore down Youngstown State with the run game, including quarterback Taryn Christion’s two fourth-quarter touchdown runs.
Next Opponent: at Northern Iowa (Oct. 20)
3. James Madison
(5-2, 3-1 CAA)
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
Last Week’s Result: 37-0 win over Villanova
The Dukes outgained Villanova in yards 302-157, but the big difference was on special teams, where D’Angelo Amos had 89- and 81-yard punt returns for touchdowns during a 2-minute, 10-second span in the third quarter.
Next Opponent: Stony Brook (Oct. 27)
4. Kennesaw State
(6-1, 2-0 Big South)
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
Last Week’s Result: Beat Gardner-Webb, 56-17
With 490 yards on the ground, the Big South front-runner spread the wealth with five rushers gaining between 72 and 78 yards (yeah, that’s hard to do). Quarterback Chandler Burks scored three rushing touchdowns, giving him 17 this season.
Next Opponent: at Charleston Southern (Oct. 27)
5. Jacksonville State
(5-1, 4-0 Ohio Valley)
Last Week’s Ranking: 8
Last Week’s Result: 49-22 win over Eastern Illinois
Murray State still hovers with a 3-0 OVC record, but the Gamecocks are halfway to a fifth straight perfect conference season. Josh Pearson caught three touchdowns in their 36th straight conference win.
Next Opponent: at Southeast Missouri (Oct. 20)
6. Illinois State
(5-1, 2-1 Missouri Valley)
Last Week’s Ranking: 12
Last Week’s Result: 51-3 win over Southern Illinois
The Redbirds rushed for 409 yards (James Robinson had 202) and limited SIU’s potent offense to one field goal and 202 yards. They’ll need similar production when they visit the Fargodome to face No. 1 North Dakota State.
Next Opponent: at North Dakota State (Oct. 20)
7. Eastern Washington
(5-2, 3-1 Big Sky)
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
Last Week’s Result: 14-6 loss to Weber State
The Eagles need quarterback Gage Gubrud back from a foot injury. They entered the weekend sixth in the FCS in scoring and third in offensive yards, but failed to score a touchdown for the first time in 10 years and had only 247 yards on 78 offensive plays.
Next Opponent: Idaho (Oct. 27)
8. UC Davis
(5-1, 3-0 Big Sky)
Last Week’s Ranking: 9
Last Week’s Result: 44-37 overtime win over Idaho State
The Aggies trailed by 16 points with four minutes left in the third quarter, but rallied to force overtime, where Ulonzo Gilliam’s second touchdown of the game was the difference. Jake Maier finished 40-for-51 for 382 yards and five TDs.
Next Opponent: at Cal Poly (Oct. 20)
(5-1, 3-0 CAA)
Last Week’s Ranking: 10
Last Week’s Result: 29-13 win over William & Mary
Junior Shane Simpson racked up 208 all-purpose yards on rushes, receptions and returns. The Tigers, who last went to the playoffs in their 2013 national runner-up season, are tied for the CAA lead with Maine.
Next Opponent: at Albany (Oct. 20)
(4-2, 2-1 CAA)
Last Week’s Result: 28-16 loss to Delaware
The Phoenix are a top-10 team when healthy, but the knee injury suffered by quarterback Davis Cheek against Delaware is particularly troubling moving forward.
Next Opponent: Richmond (Oct. 20)
11. McNeese (5-1, 4-0 Southland)
12. Weber State (4-2, 2-1 Big Sky)
13. Wofford (4-2, 3-1 Southern)
14. Colgate (6-0, 3-0 Patriot)
15. Northern Iowa (3-3, 2-1 Missouri Valley)
16. Maine (4-2, 3-0 CAA)
17. Stony Brook (5-2, 3-1 CAA)
18. North Dakota (4-2 Independent)
19. Princeton (5-0, 2-0 Ivy)
20. Sam Houston State (4-2, 3-1 Southland)
21. Montana State (4-2, 2-1 Big Sky)
22. Central Arkansas (4-2, 3-1 Southland)
23. Rhode Island (4-2, 2-1 CAA)
24. Delaware (4-2, 2-1 CAA)
25. ETSU (6-1, 4-0 Southern)
FCS Conference Rankings
1. Missouri Valley Football Conference – UNI’s win at South Dakota could become a playoff tie-breaker.
2. CAA Football – With a fifth loss, New Hampshire’s bid for a 15th straight playoff appearance is all but over.
3. Big Sky Conference – Montana didn’t lose back-to-back games in head coach Bobby Hauck’s first seven-year stint. The Griz have done it this month.
4. Southern Conference – Furman thinks it can run the table after an 0-3 start.
5. Ivy League – Dartmouth is 5-0 for the second straight year.
6. Southland Conference – Loss to Abilene Christian quite damaging to Nicholls’ playoff resume.
7. Ohio Valley Conference – Murray State can’t stumble at Eastern Kentucky before it hosts Jacksonville State.
8. Big South Conference – As Kennesaw State rests, Campbell will visit Monmouth in a key conference game.
9. Northeast Conference – Defending champ Central Connecticut State takes the driver’s seat by beating Bryant.
10. Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference – Both of North Carolina A&T’s losses are at home.
11. Patriot League – Two-time defending league champ Lehigh whacked by winless Fordham.
12. Southwestern Athletic Conference – Grambling State, Prairie View A&M and Southern are all 2-1 atop the West Division.
13. FCS Independents – A rare week: North Dakota, Hampton and North Alabama all win games.
14. Pioneer Football League – Stetson hands Drake a surprising loss on game’s final play.
— 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 North Dakota State Athletics)