The top teams keep winning, but now they’ll start to play each other in the FCS playoffs
The top teams in the FCS just kept winning and winning and...
Seriously, the top four teams in the Athlon FCS Power Poll – North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State – have been in that order for nine straight weeks. It’s hard to argue if you want to slip James Madison in there somewhere.
And now comes everybody’s favorite way to decide who’s No. 1 - the 24-team FCS playoffs.
Yeah, 24 beats a four-team playoff, right?
Here is the Athlon Sports FCS Power Poll through the games of Nov. 19:
1. North Dakota State
(10-1, 7-1 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 1
Last Week’s Result: 28-21 win over South Dakota
As long as they keep winning, the five-time reigning FCS champion Bison have home-field advantage through the playoff semifinals. The No. 1-seeded team is 53-5 at the Fargodome this decade, including 17-0 in the playoffs.
Next Opponent: San Diego or Cal Poly in FCS Playoffs second round (Dec. 3)
2. Eastern Washington
(10-1, 8-0 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 2
Last Week’s Result: 35-28 win over Portland State
Portland-area natives Gage Gubrud (348 yards of total offense, three TD passes), Kendrick Bourne (game-winning TD reception) and Samson Ebukam (two sacks) all had a hand in the Eagles’ road win over Portland State, as EWU clinched a fourth Big Sky title in five seasons.
Next Opponent: Illinois State or Central Arkansas in FCS Playoffs second round (Dec. 3)
3. Jacksonville State
(10-1, 7-0 Ohio Valley)
Previous Ranking: 3
Last Week’s Result: 33-7 win over UT Martin
Not only have the Gamecocks gone three straight regular seasons without an Ohio Valley Conference loss, they’ve gone three straight regular seasons with losses only to FBS opponents. Quarterback Eli Jenkins had four touchdown carries against UT Martin.
Next Opponent: Samford or Youngstown State in FCS Playoffs second round (Dec. 3)
4. Sam Houston State
(11-0, 9-0 Southland)
Previous Ranking: 4
Last Week’s Result: 59-23 then-No. 10 Central Arkansas (Nov. 19)
Junior quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe’s seven touchdown passes against a stunned UCA delivered the Southland Conference title and moved him to a conference-record 52 – just four shy of the FCS single-season record.
Next Opponent: Weber State or Chattanooga in FCS Playoffs second round (Dec. 3)
5. James Madison
(10-1, 8-0 CAA Football)
Previous Ranking: 5
Last Week’s Result: 63-14 win over Elon
The Dukes rested No. 1 quarterback Bryan Schor (non-throwing shoulder) against Elon, and he has two more weeks to heal up before their second-round playoff game.
Next Opponent: Lehigh or New Hampshire in FCS Playoffs second round (Dec. 3)
6. The Citadel
(10-1, 8-0 Southern)
Previous Ranking: 6
Last Week’s Result: 41-7 loss to North Carolina
It wasn’t surprising the Bulldogs fell from the unbeaten ranks with a loss to North Carolina. Despite the lopsided defeat, their triple option held the ball for 42 minutes, 25 seconds.
Next Opponent: Charleston Southern or Wofford in FCS Playoffs second round (Dec. 3)
7. South Dakota State
(7-3, 6-1 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 9
Last Week’s Result: 45-24 win over then-No. 20 Northern Iowa
The Jackrabbits pulled the toughest dome-double around, winning at North Dakota State and Northern Iowa in the same season. Quarterback Taryn Christion threw two touchdowns to wide receiver Jake Wieneke and Wieneke threw one to Christion.
Next Opponent: Saint Francis or Villanova in FCS Playoffs second round (Dec. 3)
8. North Dakota
(9-2, 8-0 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 7
Last Week’s Result: Idle
The Fighting Hawks go into their first FCS playoff appearance with a nine-game winning streak, which is their longest since 2005. They have one of the stingiest run defenses in the FCS, but they’ve also picked off 20 passes.
Next Opponent: North Carolina A&T or Richmond in FCS Playoffs second round (Dec. 3)
(8-3, 6-3 Southern)
Previous Ranking: 11
Last Week’s Result: 31-3 loss to Alabama
Not a bad loss for the Mocs considering they led the nation’s top college football team, 3-0, after one quarter. Linebacker Dale Warren must have impressed the Tide with seven tackles, including three for a loss and a sack, as well as a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
Next Opponent: Weber State in FCS Playoffs first round (Nov. 26)
10. Charleston Southern
(7-3, 4-1 Big South)
Previous Ranking: 13
Last Week’s Result: 28-7 win over Kennesaw State
It was win and be in or lose and miss the playoffs, so the Buccaneers definitely preferred the former while earning the Big South’s automatic bid. Senior running back Darius Hammond (153 rushing yards, 2 TDs) regained his form, too.
Next Opponent: at Wofford in FCS Playoffs first round (Nov. 26)
(8-3, 5-3 CAA)
Previous Ranking: 8
Last Week’s Result: 34-13 loss to William & Mary
The Spiders blew a seed and first-round bye in the playoffs by falling to rival William & Mary. Even worse, they won't have starting quarterback Kyle Lauletta for the remainder of the season after he suffered a torn ACL.
Next Opponent: North Carolina A&T in FCS Playoffs first round (Nov. 26)
(8-3, 6-2 CAA Football)
Previous Ranking: 12
Last Week’s Result: 41-10 win over Delaware
The Wildcats won their 50th meeting with rival Delaware and extended head coach Andy Talley’s 32nd and final season on their sideline. He’s 229-136-1 with the ‘Cats and 257-154-2 overall heading into his 12th FCS playoff appearance.
Next Opponent: Saint Francis in FCS Playoffs first round (Nov. 26)
13. Coastal Carolina
(9-2 FCS Independent)
Previous Ranking: 14
Last Week’s Result: 42-7 win over Liberty
Ineligible for the FCS playoffs, the Sun Belt-bound Chanticleers have a six-game winning streak heading into their final game in the subdivision. The quarterback carousel continued when Tyler Keane was knocked out of the Liberty game, but running back De’Angelo Henderson was as good as ever.
Next Opponent: Hampton (Nov. 26)
14. Youngstown State
(8-3, 6-2 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 17
Last Week’s Result: 65-20 win over Missouri State
The Penguins so wanted to end a 10-year playoff drought that they averaged 10.6 yards on their 54 carries against Missouri State. Joe Alessi (seven carries, 190 yards, 2 TDs) Martin Ruiz (19-183-3) and Jody Webb (15-166-2) fueled the 572-yard ground assault.
Next Opponent: Samford in FCS Playoffs first round (Nov. 26)
15. Central Arkansas
(9-2, 8-1 Southland)
Previous Ranking: 10
Last Week’s Result: 59-23 loss to No. 4 Sam Houston State
The Bears have to regroup quickly from their defeat in the pseudo-Southland Conference title game. A seed and first-round playoff bye also were surrendered by a team that had won eight straight games.
Next Opponent: Illinois State in FCS Playoffs first round (Nov. 26)
(9-2, 6-0 Patriot)
Previous Ranking: 21
Last Week’s Result: 45-21 win over Lafayette
The Patriot League champion Mountain Hawks enter the playoffs on a nine-game winning streak. Quarterbacks Nick Shafinisky and Brad Mayes have combined for 32 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions.
Next Opponent: at New Hampshire in FCS Playoffs first round (Nov. 26)
17. North Carolina Central
(9-2, 8-0 MEAC)
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Last Week’s Result: 42-21 win over then-No. 15 North Carolina A&T
The Eagles’ demolition of rival North Carolina A&T was a statement. Behind quarterback Malcolm Bell (315 yards of total offense, 3 total TDs), the Eagles powered into the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl with the outright MEAC title.
Next Opponent: Celebration Bowl (Dec. 17)
18. Illinois State
(6-5, 4-4 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 18
Last Week’s Result: Idle
Three season-ending wins, including two over Top 25 teams, were enough to get the Redbirds into the playoffs as only the second 6-5 team to earn an at-large bid. They were the national finalist in 2014 and a quarterfinalist last season.
Next Opponent: at Central Arkansas in FCS Playoffs first round (Nov. 26)
(8-3, 6-2 Southern)
Previous Ranking: 19
Last Week’s Result: 17-0 win over VMI
While Wofford is known for its triple-option offense, the defense, behind linebacker Datavious Wilson and safety Jaleel Green, has posted three shutouts this season. The Terriers have not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season.
Next Opponent: Charleston Southern in FCS Playoffs first round (Nov. 26)
20. Cal Poly
(7-4, 5-3 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 24
Last Week’s Result: 55-48 win over Northern Colorado
In a high-scoring game that got Cal Poly into the playoffs, quarterback Dano Graves (338 yards of total offense, 3 total TDs) never let the Mustangs trail against Northern Colorado. The Mustangs beat San Diego, 38-16, on Sept. 10.
Next Opponent: San Diego in FCS Playoffs first round (Nov. 26)
21. Grambling State
(8-1, 8-0 SWAC)
Previous Ranking: 23
Last Week’s Result: Texas Southern
The Grambling-Southern winner will represent the SWAC West Division in the conference championship game Dec. 3 in Houston. While quarterback DeVante Kincade has led the offense all season, Jestin Kelly and Martez Carter have taken the run game to a higher level in recent weeks.
Next Opponent: Southern in Bayou Classic (Nov. 26)
22. North Carolina A&T
(9-2, 7-1 MEAC)
Previous Ranking: 15
Last Week’s Result: 42-21 loss to North Carolina Central
The Aggies are 27-7 over the last three years, but have lost to rival North Carolina Central to end each of those regular seasons. This time, Tarik Cohen and Co. got renewed life with an at-large playoff bid.
Next Opponent: at Richmond in FCS Playoffs first round (Nov. 26)
(7-4, 5-3 Southern)
Previous Ranking: 16
Last Week’s Result: 15-14 loss to East Tennessee State
Perhaps the most surprising loss of the final full weekend of the FCS regular season didn’t prevent the Bulldogs from earning a playoff bid. Quarterback Devlin Hodges was held to a season-low 122 passing yards and no touchdowns.
Next Opponent: at Youngstown State in FCS Playoffs first round (Nov. 26)
24. New Hampshire
(7-4, 6-2 CAA)
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Last Week’s Result: 24-21 win over Maine
For much of the regular season, there was never a definitive answer whether UNH should be in the power poll or not. But Morgan Ellman’s late field goal lifted the Wildcats over rival Maine for the seventh straight time and to their 13th straight playoff bid.
Next Opponent: Lehigh in FCS Playoffs first round (Nov. 26)
(8-2, 6-1 Ivy)
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Last Week’s Result: 38-21 win over Dartmouth
Other teams (Fordham and Weber State among others) have a say here, but why not the Tigers, who shared the Ivy League title with Penn despite owning a 28-0 win over the Quakers. In 10 games, do-everything offensive threat John Lovett had 30 total touchdowns (20 passing, 10 rushing).
Next Opponent: Season complete
— 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 Keith Currie/EWU Athletics)