Skip to main content

FCS Football: Final Top 25 Power Poll

North Dakota State Bison Football, 2021

The North Dakota State Bison went 14-1 while capturing a record ninth FCS national championship since 2011. Zachary Lucy/NDSU Athletics

Even being picked second, as North Dakota State was in the Athlon Sports' Preseason Top 25, must tick off and motivate the Bison.

They’re No. 1 in the FCS, and really by a long shot.

Their dynasty kept rolling in the 2021 season, capped by a 38-10 pounding of Montana State in the championship game to increase the Bison's record total of FCS national titles to nine in the last 11 seasons.

Here’s the final 2021 Athlon FCS Top 25 Power Poll:

1. North Dakota State
(14-1, 7-1 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 2
Notable: The Bison matched their largest win in the FCS title game with 380 rushing yards and Hunter Luepke’s three touchdown runs. Matt Entz, who has been a part of the coaching staff for six of the championships, including two as head coach, watched his team outscore opponents by an FCS-high 372 points (549-177) this season.

2. James Madison
(12-2, 7-1 CAA)
Previous Ranking: 2
Notable: Athlon’s preseason No. 1 is the only program to beat North Dakota State at the Fargodome in the FCS playoffs (27-17 in 2016), but the Dukes failed to do it again in the semifinals, falling 20-14. Curt Cignetti’s program, which earned a share of the CAA title, will begin its transition to the FBS level next year.

3. Montana State
(12-3, 7-1 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 9
Notable: The Bobcats, under first-year head coach Brent Vigen, ousted defending champion and No. 1 playoff seed Sam Houston with a 42-19 rout in the quarterfinals. Linebacker Troy Andersen was runner-up for the Buck Buchanan Award.

4. South Dakota State
(11-4, 5-3 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 11
Notable: The Jackrabbits have advanced to at least the national semifinal in four of their last five seasons. Between last spring and this fall, head coach John Stiegelmeier’s program played 25 games in one calendar year – a college football record.

5. Sam Houston
(11-1, 6-0 AQ7)
Previous Ranking: 1
Notable: The Bearkats captured the one-year AQ7 title, but had a 22-game winning streak end in the quarterfinals. They’ll begin a transition to the FBS level next season.

6. Montana
(10-3, 6-2 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 7
Notable: The Grizzlies’ return to prominence continued under head coach Bobby Hauck, including the end of a four-game losing streak to archrival Montana State.

7. Eastern Washington
(10-3, 6-2 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 4
Notable: Quarterback Eric Barriere, the Walter Payton Award recipient, surpassed 500 passing yards four times this season, including an FCS playoff-record 530 against Montana.

8. Villanova
(10-3, 7-1 CAA)
Previous Ranking: 5
Notable: One of linebacker Forrest Rhyne’s four games with at least 19 tackles came in a win at fellow CAA co-champ James Madison.

9. ETSU
(11-2, 7-1 Southern)
Previous Ranking: 8
Notable: Running back Quay Holmes had an FCS-high 1,884 scrimmage yards for the SoCon champion. Head coach Randy Sanders retired after the season.

10. Kennesaw State
(11-2, 7-0 Big South)
Previous Ranking: 12
Notable: Quarterback Xavier Shepherd had a monster season for the Big South champion with 38 combined TD passes and runs.

11. UT Martin
(10-3, 5-1 Ohio Valley)
Previous Ranking: 15
Notable: The OVC champ’s first FCS playoff win and head coach Jason Simpson's 100th career victory occurred together against Missouri State.

12. UIW
(10-3, 7-1 Southland)
Previous Ranking: 13
Notable: The Cardinals won an outright Southland title for the first time and Cameron Ward passed for an FCS-high 47 touchdowns.

13. Sacramento State
(9-3, 8-0 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 6
Notable: After posting a perfect Big Sky record under head coach Troy Taylor, the conference champ came up empty in the playoffs as the No. 4 seed.

14. Southern Illinois
(8-5, 5-3 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 16
Notable: The Salukis lost three of their final four regular-season games, but rebounded to win at South Dakota in the playoffs.

15. Missouri State
(8-4, 6-2 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 10
Notable: After a surprising second-place finish in the MVFC, the Bears dropped a 32-31 thriller to UT Martin in the first round of the playoffs.

16. Southeastern Louisiana
(9-4, 6-2 Southland)
Previous Ranking: 17
Notable: Quarterback Cole Kelley, the Walter Payton Award recipient last spring, had an even better fall campaign with 60 total TDs (44 passing and 16 rushing).

17. Holy Cross
(10-3, 6-0 Patriot)
Previous Ranking: 20
Notable: The Crusaders won a third straight Patriot League title and posted one of the FCS’ 12 wins over FBS programs (UConn) under coach Bob Chesney.

18. South Dakota
(7-5, 5-3 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 14
Notable: The “Hail Mary” game-winning pass from Carson Camp to Jeremiah Webb against South Dakota State highlighted the season.

19. UC Davis
(8-4, 5-3 Big Sky)
Previous Ranking: 19
Notable: After an 8-1 start, the Aggies dropped their final three games, including against South Dakota State in the playoffs.

20. Northern Iowa
(6-6, 4-4 Missouri Valley)
Previous Ranking: 21
Notable: Left tackle Trevor Penning is expected to be a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

21. Dartmouth
(9-1, 6-1 Ivy)
Previous Ranking: 22
Notable: The Big Green, who shared the Ivy League title with Princeton, have finished 8-2 or 9-1 in six of their last seven seasons under coach Buddy Teevens.

22. Stephen F. Austin
(8-4, 4-2 AQ7)
Previous Ranking: 23
Notable: A five-game winning streak to end the regular season pushed the Lumberjacks into the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

23. Rhode Island
(7-4, 4-4 CAA)
Previous Ranking: 24
Notable: After wins over UMass and New Hampshire, URI ended the season with a loss at Elon, and that proved costly for a playoff bid.

24. Mercer
(7-3, 6-2 Southern)
Previous Ranking: 25
Notable: The Bears played for the SoCon title at ETSU on the final day of the regular season and held a fourth-quarter lead before falling 38-35.

25. Jackson State
(11-2, 8-0 SWAC)
Previous Ranking: 18
Notable: The SWAC champ fell flat in the Celebration Bowl, but coach Deion Sanders earned the Eddie Robinson Award and his quarterback son Shedeur Sanders the Jerry Rice Award.

— 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.TheAnalyst.com. He appears frequently on radio, TV and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.