Preseason rankings are rarely accurate. Teams don’t live up to expectations, while other squads are stronger than anticipated. It’s what makes sports fun and unpredictable, which is especially the case in the FCS where teams can rise and fall rapidly in one year.
As we sit a third of the way through the 2023 season, there are already a few notable risers and fallers.
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After going 5-6 last season, SIU received 66 voting points in the Stats Perform preseason media poll, placing the Salukis No. 29. They have quickly shot all the way to No. 10 with three impressive victories. SIU beat Austin Peay (who was also receiving votes) 49-23, knocked off FBS Northern Illinois 14-11, and defeated No. 13 SEMO 26-25.
SIU is getting strong QB play from veteran starter Nic Baker (70%, 825 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INT). And its defense has been stout, ranking No. 4 in the FCS with 62.7 rushing yards allowed per game.
Delaware began this fall as the No. 22 team in the preseason media poll. The Blue Hens have since risen to No. 11 thanks to a 3-1 start and 3-0 record vs. FCS opponents. They rolled in their first two FCS games, beating Stony Brook 37-13 and Saint Francis 42-14. Last week, Delaware beat No. 11 New Hampshire 29-25 to soar higher in the rankings.
Delaware had a question mark on how it’d replace longtime standout QB Nolan Henderson. But Ryan O’Connor has been great, throwing for 895 yards, seven touchdowns, and two interceptions. And in four games, Marcus Yarns already has 437 yards and five scores on the ground.
WCU was not even in the “Others Receiving Votes” section in the preseason media poll. Now the Catamounts are No. 17 with a legit argument to be ranked even higher. They are in the Top 10 on plenty of ballots.
WCU is 3-1 overall and 3-0 vs. the FCS, making an early statement against then-No. 8 Samford in a 30-7 win. It then beat a solid Eastern Kentucky team 27-24. And last week, WCU defeated Charleston Southern 77-21, a week after CSU lost just 15-7 against No. 5 William & Mary.
WCU is playing well defensively, and the duo of QB Cole Gonzales (1,019 yards, 10 TDs, 2 INT) and RB Desmond Reid (469 rushing yards, 5 TDs) has been electric.
Samford returned most of its offense after finishing 11-2 overall and 11-1 vs. the FCS last year with a trip to the quarterfinals. Led by returning All-American Michael Hiers at QB, the Bulldogs were No. 9 in the preseason media poll.
They have since dropped all the way out of the Top 25. The Bulldogs are 1-3 overall with zero D1 wins, a P5 loss to Auburn, and 23-point losses to SoCon foes WCU and Chattanooga.
Hiers is still playing fine, completing 67% of his passes for 1,130 yards, eight TDs, and four interceptions. But Samford has allowed 11 sacks while its defense is giving up 34 points per game (40.6 PPG vs. D1 opponents).
Southeastern Louisiana University
SLU has won one playoff game in each of the last three fall seasons. The Lions entered 2023 at No. 15 in the media poll.
Now? They are 0-4.
You can somewhat understand an 0-3 start, losing to two good FBS teams in Mississippi State 48-7 and South Alabama 35-17, then losing at an FCS-ranked Eastern Washington team 40-29. But last week’s 34-19 loss at home to Houston Christian was not good.
SLU has been a consistent top Southland team, winning the conference title last year. But the Lions have regressed in 2023.
Montana is 3-1 and hasn’t dropped too far in the Top 25 polls, going from No. 14 in the preseason to now No. 18. That’s not too bad on paper. But the Grizzlies aren’t playing good football right now for those who are watching, and they have dropped completely out of Top 25 rankings from most of those that watch FCS the closest.
It started with a 35-20 win over non-scholarship Butler in a game that was 21-20 in the third quarter and 28-20 in the fourth. A couple of weeks later, Montana got into a defensive battle and beat D2 No. 1 Ferris State 17-10. Even at 3-0, there were concerns about how the Griz looked. Those concerns were amplified last weekend.
The Griz lost 28-14 at 0-3 Northern Arizona, who the previous week trailed Utah Tech 50-15 in the fourth quarter. Montana gained only 231 total yards and 85 rushing yards on 24 attempts, which ended up being 18 net rushing yards when figuring in seven sacks allowed.
Montana, a program where making the playoffs is at the floor of expectations, has only two D1 wins through four games. To hit the seven D1 win mark, which is usually the magic number to get a postseason bid out of the Big Sky (a bid with six D1 wins has happened before, but it is rare), Montana has to beat unranked Idaho State, Northern Colorado, and Portland State, and then go at least 2-2 against No. 21 UC Davis (away), No. 4 Idaho (away), No. 8 Sac State (home), and No. 3 Montana State (home).