The FCS playoff selection committee sure liked Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State when it ranked them No. 1 and 2, respectively, in its first set of rankings leading into the 24-team field in two weeks.
Um, they forgot one thing – strength of schedule. Maybe Cooper Kupp, too.
Hey, we love the conference powers from the Ohio Valley and Southland just like the committee, but their schedules don’t match what North Dakota State and Eastern Washington have forged through this season. According to NCAA statistics, NDSU has the third-toughest schedule and EWU 12th, with Sam Houston 89th and Jacksonville State 101st. Another oddity that struck us was that The Citadel, the only other unbeaten FCS team besides Sam Houston State, has the 12th-toughest schedule (tied with Eastern Washington).
We say the rankings should, and will, change even if all four teams win out.
Here is the Athlon Sports FCS Power Poll through the games of Nov. 5:
1. North Dakota State
(8-1, 5-1 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 1
Last Week’s Result: 24-3 win over then-No. 17 Youngstown State
Oh, how the names have changed when cornerback Jaylaan Wimbush and linebacker Matt Plank are the leading tacklers in a Bison win. Oh, yes, a Bison win over another ranked opponent. OK, not a lot has changed.
Next Opponent: Indiana State (Nov. 12)
2. Eastern Washington
(8-1, 6-0 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 2
Last Week’s Result: 42-21 win over then-Nov. 11 Cal Poly
Let’s hear it for the Eastern... defense? Having been knocked around during head coach Beau Baldwin’s highly successful tenure, the Eagles have a veteran unit this year. They have surrendered their season’s three lowest point totals in the last three games.
Next Opponent: Idaho State (Nov. 12)
3. Jacksonville State
(8-1, 5-0 Ohio Valley)
Previous Ranking: 3
Last Week’s Result: 17-10 win over Southeast Missouri State
Even though quarterback Eli Jenkins became the Gamecocks’ all-time passing yardage leader in their 22nd straight OVC win, head coach John Grass took him out of the game when the offense was mostly ineffective for the second time in three games.
Next Opponent: at Murray State (Nov. 12)
4. Sam Houston State
(9-0, 8-0 Southland)
Previous Ranking: 4
Last Week’s Result: 56-43 win over McNeese
Jeremiah Briscoe throwing for 504 yards and six touchdowns is nearly expected these days. Freshman wide receiver Nathan Stewart (12 receptions, 268 yards, three touchdowns) stood out in the win over rival McNeese.
Next Opponent: at Northwestern State (Nov. 12)
5. James Madison
(8-1, 6-0 CAA Football)
Previous Ranking: 6
Last Week’s Result: 47-43 win over then-No. 5 Richmond
Whew! There’s no let up for the Dukes in the CAA schedule as they move from a road win over Richmond to a road trip to Villanova. Against Richmond, quarterback Bryan Schor accounted for four touchdowns and Khalid Abdullah scored twice, giving him a school-record 33 career rushing TDs.
Next Opponent: at No. 11 Villanova (Nov. 12)
6. The Citadel
(9-0, 7-0 Southern)
Previous Ranking: 7
Last Week’s Result: 37-34 overtime win over then-No. 15 Samford
South Carolina saw last year that Bulldogs fullback Tyler Renew gets better late in the season. Samford was knocked over by his 45 carries for 285 yards and three touchdowns – all career highs – while the Bulldogs earned at least a share of a second consecutive SoCon title as well as the automatic playoff bid.
Next Opponent: at VMI (Nov. 12)
(8-1, 6-1 Southern)
Previous Ranking: 9
Last Week’s Result: Idle
To have a shot at earning a seed and first-place bye in the playoffs, the Mocs have to defeat dangerous Wofford because they’re not going to win their final regular-season game at Alabama.
Next Opponent: Wofford (Nov. 12)
(7-2, 4-2 CAA)
Previous Ranking: 5
Last Week’s Result: 47-43 loss to then-No. 6 James Madison
Quarterback Kyle Lauletta threw for 435 yards and accounted for six touchdowns in the back-and-forth loss to rival JMU. It might have cost the Spiders a higher seed and first-round bye in the playoffs.
Next Opponent: Delaware (Nov. 12)
9. North Dakota
(8-2, 7-0 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 10
Last Week’s Result: 23-13 win over Northern Colorado
Ryan Bartels stepped in for injured quarterback Keaton Studsrud (shoulder) and passed for a touchdown in the Fighting Hawks’ eighth straight win. He also kept feeding the ball to John Santiago, who had a season-high 204 rushing yards.
Next Opponent: Northern Arizona (Nov. 12)
10. South Dakota State
(6-3, 5-1 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 12
Jake Wieneke and Dallas Goedert both went over 1,000 receiving yards for the season, but the Jackrabbits relied on six touchdown runs against Missouri State – two each from Brady Mengarelli and Isaac Wallace. They’re tied for first in the Missouri Valley with North Dakota State.
Last Week’s Result: 49-24 win over Missouri State
Next Opponent: South Dakota (Nov. 12)
(7-2, 5-1 CAA Football)
Previous Ranking: 14
Last Week’s Result: 26-7 win over then-No. 24 Maine
Maine only scored on a kickoff return as safety Rob Rolle led the Wildcats' defense with two of its four interceptions. Head coach Andy Talley is guaranteed a winning record in his 32nd and final season with the ‘Cats.
Next Opponent: No. 5 James Madison (Nov. 12)
12. Central Arkansas
(8-1, 7-0 Southland)
Previous Ranking: 16
Last Week’s Result: 34-14 win over Stephen F. Austin
Despite six turnovers against Stephen F. Austin, UCA maintained its first-place tie with Sam Houston State in the Southland. Head coach Steve Campbell’s squad has surrendered 14 points or fewer in six of its nine games.
Next Opponent: Nicholls (Nov. 12)
13. Cal Poly
(6-3, 4-2 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 11
Last Week’s Result: 42-21 loss to No. 2 Eastern Washington
It was great that Cal Poly kept EWU star Cooper Kupp to one touchdown reception, but he was more dangerous throwing the ball (two touchdowns). The Mustangs have only lost to Nevada and the two teams (also North Dakota) unbeaten in the Big Sky.
Next Opponent: at Weber State (Nov. 12)
14. Western Illinois
(6-3, 3-3 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 13
Last Week’s Result: 31-26 loss to Illinois State
A 6-5 record got the Leathernecks into the playoffs last season, but it won’t work this year. They need to beat UNI or Southern Illinois to secure an at-large bid.
Next Opponent: No. 23 Northern Iowa (Nov. 12)
(6-3, 3-3 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 19
Last Week’s Result: 62-44 win over Idaho State
Senior quarterback Chad Chalich subbed in for Brady Gustafson and passed for 388 yards and seven touchdowns, including four to Keenan Curran, as the Griz surpassed the 60-point mark for the third time in five games.
Next Opponent: at Northern Colorado (Nov. 12)
16. North Carolina A&T
(8-1, 6-0 MEAC)
Previous Ranking: 18
Last Week’s Result: South Carolina State
The Aggies are on a collision course with MEAC co-leader North Carolina Central on Nov. 19. The two teams have combined for three losses - each against an FBS opponent.
Next Opponent: at Delaware State (Nov. 12)
17. Charleston Southern
(5-3, 2-1 Big South)
Previous Ranking: 8
Last Week’s Result: 17-10 loss to Gardner-Webb
Considering the Buccaneers have a Division II win and a game was canceled, their playoff bid can’t afford another loss. So that means they have to win at Liberty, the Big South leader.
Next Opponent: at Liberty (Nov. 12)
(6-3, 4-2 Southern)
Previous Ranking: 15
Last Week’s Result: 37-34 overtime loss to then-No. 7 The Citadel
The Bulldogs have suffered back-to-back losses to two other Bulldogs teams (Mississippi State and The Citadel). Against The Citadel, they gave up a 34-24 lead in the final five minutes before falling in overtime.
Next Opponent: Mercer (Nov. 12)
19. Coastal Carolina
(7-2 FCS Independent)
Previous Ranking: 22
Last Week’s Result: 38-17 win over Monmouth
Wishing the Chanticleers had played a stronger schedule in their FCS finale. The former Big South program has lost by one point to only two teams ahead of it in the power poll, Jacksonville State and Charleston Southern.
Next Opponent: Bryant (Nov. 12)
20. New Hampshire
(6-3, 5-1 CAA)
Previous Ranking: 20
Last Week’s Result: Idle
With wide receiver Malik Love, linebacker Quinlen Dean and three starters in the secondary (Michael Balsamo, Pop Lacey and Prince Smith Jr.), the Wildcats surely have the best freshman class in the FCS.
Next Opponent: Albany (Nov. 12)
21. Youngstown State
(6-3, 4-2 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 17
Last Week’s Result: 24-3 loss to No. 1 North Dakota State
Behind quarterback Hunter Wells, the Penguins held the ball for nearly 36 minutes and gained 360 yards against the Bison, but they didn’t find the end zone.
Next Opponent: Southern Illinois (Nov. 12)
(8-2, 5-0 Patriot)
Previous Ranking: 21
Last Week’s Result: Bucknell
The first team to clinch a spot in the FCS playoffs, Patriot League champ Lehigh gets a week off before playing rival Lafayette for the 152nd time in college football’s most-played rivalry.
Next Opponent: at Lafayette (Nov. 19)
23. Northern Iowa
(4-5, 3-3 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Last Week’s Result: 39-6 win over Indiana State
The Panthers are right that they can earn their way to an at-large playoff bid by beating Western Illinois and South Dakota State. They’re getting production in the offensive backfield that they never expected even a month ago.
Next Opponent: at No. 14 Western Illinois (Nov. 12)
(7-1, 5-0 Ivy)
Previous Ranking: 25
Last Week’s Result: 28-21 win over Columbia
Joe Viviano III’s three touchdown passes helped lead Harvard past stubborn Columbia. Obviously, the Crimson have been looking toward their next game at Penn, which lost to Princeton on Saturday and fell back to second place.
Next Opponent: at Penn (Nov. 11)
25. Illinois State
(5-5, 3-4 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Last Week’s Result: 31-26 win over then-No. 13 Western Illinois
Maybe scheduling a bye during the last two months instead of on Nov. 19 would have been beneficial for the Redbirds, who have beaten South Dakota State and Western Illinois over the last two weeks of a disappointing campaign.
Next Opponent: Missouri State (Nov. 12)
Power Poll Possibility:Liberty (6-3, 4-0 Big South)
— 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.
(Top photo by Doug Kelly)