Let’s get it on, FCS nation.
Jacksonville State got a “Week Zero” jump on the national powers with a Top 25 win over Chattanooga this past weekend, and now the rest of the Athlon FCS Power Poll is looking to impress during an extended first full week of action.
Here is the Athlon Sports FCS Power Poll heading into Week 1 of the regular season:
1. North Dakota State
(2016: 12-2, 7-1 Missouri Valley)
Of Note: In-season injuries have plagued the Bison in recent seasons, but this year’s big one occurred in the preseason with All-America defensive end Greg Menard, who was lost to a season-ending knee injury. It won’t matter in the opener against an overmatched SWAC opponent.
Next Opponent: Mississippi Valley State (Sept. 2)
2. James Madison
(2016: 14-1, 8-0 CAA)
Of Note: The defending FCS champion Dukes are minus some suspended players, including tight end Jonathan Kloosterman, wide receiver Terrance Alls and linebacker Brandon Hereford, for one of the big chances of an FCS team beating an FBS opponent.
Next Opponent: at East Carolina (Sept. 2)
3. South Dakota State
(2016: 9-4, 7-1 Missouri Valley)
Of Note: Not to be lost in the passing trio of quarterback Taryn Christion, tight end Dallas Goedert and Jake Wieneke is the Jackrabbits can run the ball with Brady Mengarelli (754 yards, 4 TDs) and Isaac Wallace (519 yards, 4 TDs).
Next Opponent: Duquesne (Aug. 31)
4. Sam Houston State
(2016: 12-1, 9-1 Southland)
Of Note: After the Bearkats' Week Zero showdown against Richmond was postponed by Hurricane Harvey, it's been rescheduled for Friday at Baylor University in Waco. The Bearkats faced an offseason of criticism after getting blown out of the playoffs for the third straight season.
Next Opponent: vs. No. 7 Richmond (Sept. 1 at Baylor)
5. North Dakota
(2016: 9-3, 8-0 Big Sky)
Of Note: Season-ending injuries in the preseason always leave a taste of “what if,” and the Fighting Hawks suffered a big one with cornerback Deion Harris, an NFL prospect. Their secondary is still stocked with safety Cole Reyes and cornerback Torrey Hunt.
Next Opponent: at Utah (Aug. 31)
6. Eastern Washington
(2016: 12-2, 8-0 Big Sky)
Of Note: No doubt the Eagles are talented, but can first-year head coach Aaron Best and Co. handle the September schedule of Texas Tech, North Dakota State, Fordham and Montana? The NDSU game is the only one on the red carpet of Roos Field.
Next Opponent: at Texas Tech (Sept. 2)
(2016: 10-4, 6-2 CAA)
Of Note: With standouts on the defensive line and in the secondary, it’s the right year for new head coach Russ Huesman to be switching the Spiders’ base defensive alignment from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5. Branden Waller made the CAA preseason team.
Next Opponent: at No. 4 Sam Houston State (Sept. 1 at Baylor)
(2016: 9-4, 6-2 CAA)
Of Note: Mark Ferrante makes his ‘Nova head coaching debut after 30 years as assistant under Andy Talley. The Wildcats were No. 1 in the FCS in scoring defense (15 ppg) and total defense (259.8 ypg) last season, which they hope translates to their opener at high-powered Lehigh.
Next Opponent: at No. 12 Lehigh (Sept. 2)
9. Jacksonville State
(1-0, 0-0 Ohio Valley)
Last Week: 27-13 win over then-No. 15 Chattanooga
Of Note: The Gamecocks pulled away to an impressive victory in the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff behind their defense (three forced turnovers) and senior running back Roc Thomas (190 yards from scrimmage, 76-yard touchdown run).
Next Opponent: at Georgia Tech (Sept. 9)
(2016: 10-4, 6-2 Southern)
Of Note: The Terriers, coming off a run to the FCS quarterfinals, are opening head coach Mike Ayers’ 30th season with a Southern Conference game for the first time since 1999. Ayers needs three more wins to reach 200 at Wofford.
Next Opponent: Furman (Sept. 2)
11. New Hampshire
(2016: 8-5, 6-2 CAA)
Of Note: Usually regular season-ending opponents, UNH and rival Maine are squaring off in the opener for the first time in 25 years. The Wildcats have made 13 straight appearances in the playoffs – six more than the next-best team (North Dakota State).
Next Opponent: Maine (Aug. 31)
(2016: 9-3, 6-0 Patriot)
Of Note: The defending Patriot League champ returns a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, Dom Bragalone, and two 1,000-yard receivers in Troy Pelletier and Gatlin Casey. But the Hawks’ defense, which struggles at times, lost all three starting linebackers.
Next Opponent: No. 8 Villanova (Sept. 2)
13. Northern Iowa
(2016: 5-6, 4-4 Missouri Valley)
Of Note: UNI opened last season with a 25-20 win at Iowa State – head coach Mark Farley’s third against the Cyclones – but went on to be one of the more disappointing teams in the FCS (preseason No. 3). The Panthers return to Ames seeking a 23rd all-time win against an FBS opponent.
Next Opponent: at Iowa State (Sept. 2)
14. Youngstown State
(2016: 12-4, 6-2 Missouri Valley)
Of Note: Controversy seems to swirl around Penguins head coach Bo Pelini and his program, but you can’t deny he took them to FCS championship game last season. Despite the loss of key personnel, a preseason No. 14 ranking might be too low.
Next Opponent: at Pittsburgh (Sept. 2)
15. Charleston Southern
(2016: 7-4, 4-1 Big South)
Previous Ranking: No. 16
Of Note: New head coach Mark Tucker has big shoes to fill with Jamey Chadwell having departed for new FBS program Coastal Carolina. Tucker knows not to change a lot on defense with a fierce front seven led by defensive end Anthony Ellis and linebacker Solomon Brown.
Next Opponent: at Mississippi State (Sept. 2)
16. Central Arkansas
(2016: 10-3, 8-1 Southland)
Previous Ranking: No. 17
Of Note: The Bears defeated an FBS opponent (Arkansas State) for the second time last season, but this year’s opener brings a tougher assignment for a squad that hopes to control game clock with its excellent offensive line and defense.
Next Opponent: at Kansas State (Sept. 2)
(0-1, 0-0 Southern)
Previous Ranking: No. 15
Last Week: 27-13 loss to No. 9 Jacksonville State
Of Note: Senior quarterback Alejandro Bennifield was suspended for the first four games because of academics on the eve of the Mocs’ season-opening loss to Jacksonville State. New head coach Tom Arth hopes to regroup against, uh, LSU!
Next Opponent: at LSU (Sept. 9)
(2016: 7-5, 5-3 Southern)
Of Note: Playing in the Southern Conference, Samford is well schooled in facing an option offense like Kennesaw State’s. The visiting Owls aren’t accustomed to facing a quarterback like Devlin Hodges, who passed for 4,088 yards and 36 touchdowns last season.
Next Opponent: Kennesaw State (Aug. 31)
19. Western Illinois
(2016: 6-5, 3-5 Missouri Valley)
Of Note: Like fellow conference member Northern Iowa, the Leathernecks disappointed last season, even after a 5-1 start. But they bring back 18 starters, including standouts in quarterback Sean McGuire, running back Steve McShane and All-America linebacker Brett Taylor.
Next Opponent: at Tennessee Tech (Aug. 31)
(2016: 7-4, 4-4 CAA)
Of Note: The Great Danes have claimed All-America running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks would be back healthy from a torn ACL in last year’s final game. Now comes the necessary proof as Albany tries to get to the FCS playoffs after being one of the last two teams left out of the field.
Next Opponent: at Old Dominion (Sept. 2)
(2016: 8-3, 5-1 Patriot)
Of Note: The Rams opened the 2015 season with a win at Army West Point, and they return with the same 1-2 offensive punch – running back Chase Edmonds and quarterback Kevin Anderson. Edmonds (5,285 rushing yards, 69 TDs) has been unstoppable in his career.
Next Opponent: at Army West Point (Sept. 1)
(2016: 6-5, 4-1 Big South)
Previous Ranking: No. 23
Of Note: The FCS world isn’t paying a lot of attention to the Flames because they’re transitioning toward the FBS level next season. Well, after their opener, all they play is FCS opponents, so head coach Turner Gill’s squad will be back on the radar.
Next Opponent: at Baylor (Sept. 2)
(2016: 6-5, 5-4 Southland)
Previous Ranking: No. 24
Of Note: Let’s hear it for the teams opening the season in conference play. The Cowboys are saddling up to that scenario for the first time since 1975. Second-year head coach Lance Guidry has reclaimed the defensive coordinator duties after a disappointing season.
Next Opponent: at Nicholls (Aug. 31)
24. The Citadel
(2016: 10-2, 8-0 Southern)
Previous Ranking: No. 24
Of Note: Last year’s FCS rushing leader should jump right to No. 1 again with an opening matchup against Newman, er, Newberry. Quarterback Dominique Allen is back to run the Bulldogs’ triple option, but he’s one of just three returning starters on offense.
Next Opponent: Newberry (Sept. 2)
25. Illinois State
(2016: 6-6, 4-4 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Of Note: Cal Poly’s "Week Zero" loss to Colgate moves Illinois State into the power poll. The Redbirds probably felt they should have been there are along because they return 14 starters from a third straight playoff team.
Next Opponent: Butler (Sept. 2)
Power Poll Possibilities: Colgate (1-0, 0-0 Patriot); Montana (2016: 6-5, 3-5 Big Sky); Northern Arizona (2016: 5-6, 4-4 Big Sky); UT Martin (2016: 7-5, 6-2 Ohio Valley); Weber State (2016: 7-5, 6-2 Big Sky)
— 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 Matt Reynolds/Jacksonville State)