This was supposed to be a deep year for CAA Football, but the standings with four weeks to go in the regular season suggest it’s the best title race in the FCS.
Half of the 12-team conference is within one game of first place. James Madison and Stony Brook share first place with 4-0 conference records, while Richmond, Villanova and New Hampshire are a half-game behind at 4-1. Surging Maine has jumped into the race as well at 3-1.
The CAA’s five representatives in the power poll are the second most to the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s six.
Here is the Athlon Sports FCS Power Poll through the games of Oct. 22:
1. North Dakota State
(6-1, 3-1 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 1
Last Week’s Result: 21-13 win over then-No. 12 Western Illinois
NDSU was business-like in going to Macomb, Illinois, and winning for the 13th straight time following a loss. Head coach Chris Klieman’s Bison next head to Northern Iowa, where they lost, 23-3, two years ago. They’re still eyeing home-field advantage in the FCS playoffs.
Next Opponent: at No. 20 Northern Iowa (Oct. 29)
2. Eastern Washington
(6-1, 4-0 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 2
Last Week’s Result: 41-17 win over Montana State
Ho-hum, the Eagles return from their bye week and Gage Gubrud passes for 520 yards and four touchdowns and Cooper Kupp catches 13 passes. They have one of the great passing offenses in FCS history.
Next Opponent: No. 16 Montana (Oct. 29)
3. Jacksonville State
(6-1, 3-0 Ohio Valley)
Previous Ranking: 3
Last Week’s Result: 24-7 win over Eastern Kentucky
While the Gamecocks made it 20 straight OVC wins, the offense was subpar for a change, but the defense scored three touchdowns off interceptions – Reggie Hall (88 yards), Jaylen Hall (60) and Joel McCandless (41).
Next Opponent: Eastern Illinois (Oct. 29)
4. Sam Houston State
(7-0, 6-0 Southland)
Previous Ranking: 4
Last Week’s Result: 38-21 win over Nicholls
If it’s a goal-line situation, the defense better key on Bearkats tight end Deon Hutchinson, who has five touchdowns among his seven receptions. Quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe continues to lead the FCS in TD passes (29).
Next Opponent: Texas Southern (Oct. 29)
(7-1, 4-1 CAA)
Previous Ranking: 5
Last Week’s Result: 35-7 win over Elon
The Spiders, who have won five straight games, will have two weeks to prepare for rival James Madison. Quarterback Kyle Lauletta ranks seventh in the FCS in passing yards (2,194).
Next Opponent: No. 6 James Madison (Nov. 5)
6. James Madison
(6-1, 4-0 CAA Football)
Previous Ranking: 6
Last Week’s Result: Idle
Some would say the Dukes, coming off a bye, can extend their focus toward Richmond because they’re playing struggling Rhode Island this week. The two programs haven’t met since 2012, however.
Next Opponent: Rhode Island (Oct. 29)
7. South Dakota State
(5-2, 4-0 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 7
Last Week’s Result: 24-10 win over then-No. 13 Youngstown State
It took less than three minutes for Brady Mengarelli to become the first player to score a rushing touchdown against Youngstown State this season. Quarterback Taryn Christion and a big-play defense took it from there in the first-place showdown in the Missouri Valley.
Next Opponent: at Illinois State (Oct. 29)
8. The Citadel
(7-0, 5-0 Southern)
Previous Ranking: 8
Last Week’s Result: 24-21 overtime win over Wofford
Placekicker Cody Clark, a graduate transfer from Middle Tennessee State, has been clutch for the Bulldogs, including the OT winner at Wofford. First-year head coach Brent Thompson had led the best start in program history.
Next Opponent: East Tennessee State (Oct. 29)
9. Charleston Southern
(4-2, 2-0 Big South)
Previous Ranking: 9
Last Week’s Result: 38-3 win over Presbyterian
The Buccaneers surrendered only 102 yards to Presbyterian as they returned from a three-week layoff. Head coach Jamey Chadwell will sit out the Bucknell game for an assistant coach’s minor NCAA recruiting violation.
Next Opponent: Bucknell (Oct. 29)
(7-1, 5-1 Southern)
Previous Ranking: 11
Last Week’s Result: 30-13 win over VMI
Junior Richardre Bagley made up for the absence of leading rusher Derrick Craine with a career-high 189 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
Next Opponent: at Western Carolina (Oct. 29)
11. North Dakota
(6-2, 5-0 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 14
Last Week’s Result: 28-21 win over Idaho State
Another strong outing for junior quarterback Keaton Studsrud (three total touchdowns) pushed the Big Sky leader to a sixth straight win.
Next Opponent: Weber State (Oct. 29)
12. Cal Poly
(5-2, 3-1 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 15
Last Week’s Result: 21-16 win over UC Davis
The Mustangs grinded out a win over rival UC Davis in the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe, but it took Kyle Lewis’ 91-yard touchdown run in the final three minutes to gain breathing room.
Next Opponent: at Sacramento State (Oct. 29)
13. Western Illinois
(5-2, 2-2 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 12
Last Week’s Result: 21-13 loss to No. 1 North Dakota State
Quarterback Sean McGuire committed three turnovers (a goal-line fumble and two interceptions) in the game’s final eight minutes against NDSU. The schedule stays rough this week.
Next Opponent: at No. 24 South Dakota (Oct. 29)
14. Stony Brook
(5-2, 4-0 CAA)
Previous Ranking: 18
Last Week’s Result: 28-3 win over Delaware
The Seawolves have allowed only 40 points in four CAA games and no touchdowns in their last 10 quarters. Running back Stacey Bedell has surpassed 100 yards and found the end zone in each conference win.
Next Opponent: at No. 25 New Hampshire (Oct. 29)
15. Youngstown State
(5-2, 3-1 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 13
Last Week’s Result: 24-10 loss to then-No. 7 South Dakota State
Late-season collapses have plagued the Penguins in recent years. After falling to South Dakota State, they probably need to win two of their final four games to end a postseason drought since 2006.
Next Opponent: Indiana State (Oct. 29)
(5-2, 2-2 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 10
Last Week’s Result: 45-34 loss to Northern Arizona
The Grizzlies have lost two of their three road games and now face their toughest road game at rival Eastern Washington. They were sloppy (12 penalties and two turnovers) in the loss to Northern Arizona.
Next Opponent: at No. 2 Eastern Washington (Oct. 29)
(6-2, 4-1 CAA Football)
Previous Ranking: 19
Last Week’s Result: 24-13 win over Albany
Linebacker Ed Shockley realized the Wildcats have a bye week ahead, so he gobbled up 3.5 of his team's nine sacks against Albany.
Next Opponent: at Maine (Oct. 29)
(6-1, 4-1 Southern)
Previous Ranking: 17
Last Week’s Result: 30-17 win over Western Carolina
Senior Karel Hamilton is the hottest wide receiver in the FCS, catching 35 passes for 539 yards and six touchdowns in Samford’s last three games. He’s become the Tigers’ all-time leader in receiving yards (3,166).
Next Opponent: at Mississippi State (Oct. 29)
19. Central Arkansas
(6-1, 5-0 Southland)
Previous Ranking: 20
Last Week’s Result: 22-12 win over Lamar
The Bears swept a three-game road swing earlier this season, but they will have to earn their way into the playoffs, with three of their final four games on the road.
Next Opponent: at Southeastern Louisiana (Oct. 29)
20. Northern Iowa
(3-4, 2-2 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 22
Last Week’s Result: 61-7 win over Missouri State
In his first career start, quarterback Eli Dunne completed his first 12 passes and was 25 of 33 for 418 yards and two touchdowns. It was UNI’s first 400-yard game since 2009.
Next Opponent: No. 1 North Dakota State (Oct. 29)
21. North Carolina A&T
(6-1, 4-0 MEAC)
Previous Ranking: 23
Last Week’s Result: 34-7 win over at Howard
Another game, another dominating effort for senior running back Tarik Cohen. He became the 10th FCS player to reach 1,000 rushing yards in four different seasons.
Next Opponent: Florida A&M (Oct. 29)
22. Coastal Carolina
(5-2 FCS Independent)
Previous Ranking: 16
Last Week’s Result: 33-25 win over Central Connecticut State
Two straight less-than-inspiring wins are cause for a tumble in the power poll. Senior running back De’Angelo Henderson missed the CCSU win and can no longer tie the NCAA all-divisions record for consecutive games with a touchdown.
Next Opponent: at Presbyterian (Oct. 29)
(6-2, 3-0 Patriot)
Previous Ranking: 24
Last Week’s Result: 46-14 win over Holy Cross
Following a big game from running back Dominick Bragalone (182 yards, two TDs), Lehigh is averaging 46.7 points during a six-game winning streak. A win over fellow Patriot League unbeaten Fordham would give the Mountain Hawks full control of the title race.
Next Opponent: Fordham (Oct. 29)
24. South Dakota
(4-3, 3-1 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Last Week’s Result: 27-24 win over Illinois State
The Coyotes have played a difficult schedule and responded with a three-game winning streak in the Missouri Valley. Backup quarterback Austin Simmons replaced injured starter Chris Streveler against Illinois State and threw for 205 yards and two touchdowns.
Next Opponent: No. 13 Western Illinois (Oct. 29)
25. New Hampshire
(5-3, 4-1 CAA)
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Last Week’s Result: 21-7 win over Towson
The Wildcats are trying to make the FCS playoffs for the 13th straight year. A win over Stony Brook is a must with only two games on tap in November.
Next Opponent: No. 14 Stony Brook (Oct. 29)
Power Poll Possibilities:Harvard (5-1, 3-0 Ivy), Maine (4-3, 3-1 CAA), Tennessee State (5-2, 2-1 OVC) and Weber State (5-2, 4-0 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.
(Top photo by University of Richmond Athletics)