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FCS Rankings: Preseason Power Poll

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A new college football season brings a new look to the Athlon Sports FCS Power Poll.

FCS

Until you consider North Dakota State’s spot at the top is quite familiar.

But the weekly power poll this season is switching to a dirty dozen of national title contenders and a ranking of the FCS conferences.

The 2018 season will kick off Aug. 25. Here’s the preseason power poll:

1. North Dakota State

(14-1, 7-1 Missouri Valley)

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Behind fifth-year head coach Chris Klieman, the Bison are seeking a record seventh FCS national title in an eight-year span.

Season Opener: Cal Poly (Sept. 1)

2. James Madison

(14-1, 8-0 CAA)

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A new quarterback benefits from terrific offensive weapons, including running backs Marcus Marshall, Trai Sharp and Cardon Johnson and wide receiver Riley Stapleton.

Season Opener: at NC State (Sept. 1)

3. New Hampshire

(9-5, 5-3 CAA)

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In 14 straight playoff appearances under head coach Sean McDonnell, the Wildcats have appeared in two national semifinals and seven other quarterfinals, but never the championship game.

Season Opener: at Maine (Aug. 30)

4. South Dakota State

(11-3, 6-2 Missouri Valley)

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The Jackrabbits' special teams are outstanding, including one of the nation’s best placekickers, Chase Vinatieri, the nephew of NFL great Adam Vinatieri.

Season Opener: at Iowa State (Sept. 1)

5. Kennesaw State

(12-2, 5-0 Big South)

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The schedule has been raised considerably as the fourth-year program seeks to build on last year’s breakthrough season.

Season Opener: at Georgia State (Aug. 30)

6. Eastern Washington

(7-4, 6-2 Big Sky)

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The offense is always the nation’s best and the often-maligned defense will be improved with the return of the top six tacklers as well as All-Big Sky defensive tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli from injury.

Season Opener: Central Washington (Sept. 1)

7. Sam Houston State

(12-2, 8-1 Southland)

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Transfer quarterback Mike Dare replaces two-time Walter Payton Award winner Jeremiah Briscoe on an offense that returns All-America wide receiver Davion Davis and Nathan Stewart.

Season Opener: at Prairie View A&M (Sept. 8)

8. Jacksonville State

(10-2, 8-0 Ohio Valley)

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The Gamecocks, riding a 32-game winning streak in the Ohio Valley Conference, will host the No. 2 (Austin Peay), 3 (UT Martin) and 4 (Eastern Illinois) teams in the conference’s preseason poll.

Season Opener: vs. North Carolina A&T in Montgomery, Ala. (Aug. 25)

9. Weber State

(11-3, 7-1 Big Sky)

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Consistent quarterback play is needed for an offense that boasts running backs Treshawn Garrett and Kevin Smith and wide receiver Rashid Shaheed.

Season Opener: at Utah (Aug. 30)

10. Elon

(8-4, 6-2 CAA)

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A three-game, season-ending losing streak, including a playoff defeat to Furman, didn’t sit well with the Phoenix all offseason.

Season Opener: at South Florida (Sept. 1)

11. Villanova

(5-6, 3-5 CAA)

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Injuries set back head coach Mark Ferrante’s first season, but so many standouts return, including quarterback Zach Bednarczyk and All-America safety Rob Rolle.

Season Opener: at Temple (Sept. 1)

12. Samford

(8-4, 6-2 Southern)

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The Bulldogs feature two of the nation’s better players in quarterback Devlin Hodges and defensive end Ahmad Gooden, but their program is 0-5 in playoff games since 1991.

Season Opener: at Shorter (Aug. 30)

FCS Conference Rankings

1. CAA Football -- the conference’s depth is incredible

2. Missouri Valley Football Conference -- NDSU is the clear No. 1 team in the land

3. Big Sky Conference -- Eastern Washington has been carrying the load playoff-wise

4. Southern Conference -- Wofford may not be ready to give up the title

5. Southland Conference -- could four teams make the playoffs?

6. Ohio Valley Conference -- Austin Peay motivated by 2017 playoff snub

7. Ivy League -- Yale could repeat, but the race is deeper than ever

8. Big South Conference -- loss of Liberty hurts, but Monmouth a playoff contender again

9. Northeast Conference -- level of opponents is up, but a first playoff win has been elusive

10. Patriot League -- Lehigh went to the playoffs with a losing record

11. Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference -- North Carolina A&T has the longest win streak in the FCS at 12

12. Southwestern Athletic Conference -- Grambling, Alcorn State are divisional favorites again

13. Pioneer Football League -- San Diego simply reloads each season

14. FCS Independents -- North Dakota, Hampton and North Alabama are in transition

-- 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)