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FCS Spring Rankings: Final Athlon Sports Top 25 Power Poll

FCS Spring Rankings: Final Athlon Sports Top 25 Power Poll

FCS Spring Rankings: Final Athlon Sports Top 25 Power Poll

The way Sam Houston earned its first FCS national championship was jaw-dropping this spring.

In finishing 10-0, the Bearkats defeated seven nationally ranked opponents, capping the perfect run with a 23-21 victory over South Dakota State in Sunday's title game in Frisco, Texas.

All four playoff games against Monmouth, North Dakota State, James Madison and South Dakota State were in doubt in the final minutes, but the Southland champ came up clutch. Seventh-year head coach K.C. Keeler became the first coach to lead two different programs to the FCS title (he also won at Delaware in 2003).

Here is the final Athlon FCS Power Poll for the spring 2021 season:

1. Sam Houston

(10-0, 6-0 Southland)

Previous Ranking: 4

Notable: Eric Schmid threw three touchdowns in the championship game win, two to the game's most outstanding player, Jequez Ezzard, and a 10-yard, game-winning strike to Ife Adeyi with 16 seconds remaining. The Bearkats are departing the Southland this summer for the Western Athletic Conference.

2. South Dakota State

(8-2, 5-1 Missouri Valley)

Previous Ranking: 2

Notable: The Jackrabbits became the sixth No. 1 playoff seed to lose to the No. 2 seed in seven all-time matchups in the national championship game. Head coach John Stiegelmeier’s MVFC co-champ lost quarterback Mark Gronowski to a game-ending injury on its first possession.

3. James Madison

(7-1, 3-0 CAA)

Previous Ranking: 1

Notable: The Dukes let a 21-point halftime lead slip away in a semifinal loss at Sam Houston, denying the national power of a fourth trip to the championship game in five seasons.

4. North Dakota State

(7-3, 5-2 Missouri Valley)

Previous Ranking: 6

Notable: While the Bison's three-year run as FCS champions and nine-year run atop the MVFC ended, they advanced to the quarterfinals for the 11th straight season.

5. Delaware

(7-1, 4-0 CAA)

Previous Ranking: 5

Notable: A semifinal blowout loss at South Dakota State was the only negative with the Blue Hens' best season since they finished as the 2010 national runner-up.

6. North Dakota

(5-2, 4-1 Missouri Valley)

Previous Ranking: 7

Notable: Picked seventh in the MVFC's preseason poll, the Fighting Hawks earned a share of the conference title as first-year members.

7. Jacksonville State

(10-3, 6-1 Ohio Valley)

Previous Ranking: 8

Notable: One of two FCS teams to beat an FBS opponent (FIU), the Ohio Valley Conference champ played in the most games and had the most wins in the subdivision.

8. Southern Illinois

(6-4, 3-3 Missouri Valley)

Previous Ranking: 12

Notable: Advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 2009, the Salukis were the only road team to win in the first round, upsetting Weber State with a last-minute touchdown.

9. Weber State

(5-1, 5-0 Big Sky)

Previous Ranking: 3

Notable: The Wildcats captured a fourth straight Big Sky title, but their close regular-season wins caught up with them in the first round of the playoffs.

10. Monmouth

(3-1, 3-0 Big South)

Previous Ranking: 11

Notable: The Hawks won their three Big South games by an average of 24 points before pushing Sam Houston to the final minute in a first-round playoff loss.

11. Eastern Washington

(5-2, 5-1 Big Sky)

Previous Ranking: 9

Notable: Quarterback Eric Barriere was the Walter Payton Award runner-up while the Eagles reached the playoffs for the eighth time since 2009.

12. VMI

(6-2, 6-1 Southern)

Previous Ranking: 14

Notable: The Keydets, behind Eddie Robinson Award-winning head coach Scott Wachenheim, captured their first SoCon title since 1977 and advanced to the playoffs for the first time.

13. UC Davis

(3-2 Big Sky)

Previous Ranking: 13

Notable: Barring offseason defections, the Aggies set themselves up nicely for what should be a deep Big Sky race in the fall.

14. Missouri State

(5-5, 5-1 Missouri Valley)

Previous Ranking: 10

Notable: After tying for ninth in the MVFC preseason poll, the Bears earned both a share of the title and their first playoff bid since 1990 under first-year head coach Bobby Petrino.

15. Northern Iowa

(3-4 Missouri Valley)

Previous Ranking: 15

Notable: The loss of key players to FBS transfers and training for the NFL proved to be too big of an obstacle in head coach Mark Farley's 20th season.

16. Southeastern Louisiana

(4-3 Southland)

Previous Ranking: 17

Notable: Quarterback Cole Kelley was a force while earning the Walter Payton Award as FCS offensive player of the year.

17. Richmond

(3-1 CAA)

Previous Ranking: 16

Notable: A loss at James Madison on the final day of the regular season cost the Spiders the CAA South title and, a day later, a playoff bid.

18. Rhode Island

(2-1 CAA)

Previous Ranking: 18

Notable: A late-season pause due to COVID-19 ended a campaign that opened with road overtime wins over ranked opponents Villanova and Albany.

19. Villanova

(2-2 CAA)

Previous Ranking: 19

Notable: In the deep CAA race, the Wildcats didn't live up to high expectations (preseason No. 7).

20. Kennesaw State

(4-1, 2-1 Big South)

Previous Ranking: 20

Notable: Injuries at quarterback played a big role in a season in which the Owls surprisingly were not competitive when they played a pseudo-Big South championship game at Monmouth.

21. Austin Peay

(4-5, 4-2 Ohio Valley)

Previous Ranking: 21

Notable: The Governors made big strides in the spring season under new head coach Scotty Walden, finishing with consecutive three-point wins at Jacksonville State and Murray State.

22. Murray State

(5-2 Ohio Valley)

Previous Ranking: 22

Notable: In head coach Dean Hood's return to the OVC, the Racers tied their 1995 team for the best start (5-0) in program history.

23. Nicholls

(4-3, 3-3 Southland)

Previous Ranking: 23

Notable: At a breathtaking rate, there were 579 points in Colonels' games — an average of 82.7 per game, with none under 55 points.

24. ETSU

(4-2 Southern)

Previous Ranking: 24

Notable: The only SoCon team to defeat VMI, the Buccaneers had more wins in half the games than they did while finishing 3-9 in 2019.

25. Alabama A&M

(5-0, 4-0 SWAC)

Previous Ranking: Unranked

Notable: The Bulldogss, behind quarterback Aqeel Glass, was the only unbeaten FCS team besides Sam Houston with more than two wins. 

— 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 He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.

(Photo courtesy of Brian Blalock/Sam Houston Athletics)