I’m excited to be a Stats Perform FCS Top 25 media poll voter and postseason national awards voter again this fall.
I believe it’s important to be transparent about my voting and reasoning. I’ll publish my weekly Top 25 ballot every Sunday or Monday during the season.
Preseason ballots are due this week. Here’s how I voted.
Team previews are part of the HERO Sports Preseason Top 25.
25. Eastern Kentucky
The Colonels finished 7-5 in 2022, losing in the opening round of the playoffs. EKU’s 2022 offense ranked No. 11 in FCS scoring, averaging 36.2 points per game. Returning from that unit are the star quarterback Parker McKinney, the No. 1 wide receiver, the No. 1 running back, and five offensive line starters. The Colonels lose their top three tacklers and only return four of their top 11 tacklers.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs went 7-6 overall last season, 6-3 vs. the FCS, and 5-0 in the Big South, advancing to the second round. Gardner-Webb returns seven offensive starters and 10 defensive starters. The passing attack loses its All-Conference quarterback and two leading All-Conference wide receivers, but it returns three-time First Team All-Big South running back Narii Gaither. Standouts DE Ty French, LB William McRainey, and CB Raequan Ousley lead the defense.
23. Rhode Island
The Rams finished 7-4 overall last year and 5-3 in the CAA. Rhody returns its veteran quarterback Kasim Hill, two of its top four pass-catchers, and four starters on the offensive line, including All-American OL Nick Correia. Only one of the top five tacklers returns (No. 2 Evan Stewart). And just four of the top 11 tacklers are back.
The Bears finished 7-4 overall last fall and 5-3 in the SoCon. Mercer returns nine of its 11 All-SoCon offensive and defensive players. The offense loses its starting QB but returns two All-American WRs Ty James and Devron Harper, plus its top two rushers and three starting OL. The top five tacklers and 10 of the top 11 return after the Bears allowed 22.1 points per game (No. 27 in the FCS).
21. Jackson State
The Tigers finished 12-1 last year, losing 41-34 in OT to North Carolina Central in the Celebration Bowl. JSU returns just one of its 12 All-SWAC players from last year (TE DJ Stevens). It loses its starting QB, top three rushers, top four pass-catchers, and top eight tacklers. The Tigers lost 19 transfers to the FBS and nine transfers to other FCS programs. T.C. Taylor and his staff have responded by hitting the portal hard themselves, bringing in 17 FBS transfers and 13 FCS transfers.
20. Northern Iowa
UNI went 6-5 last season and 5-3 in the MVFC. Returning is one of the best FCS quarterbacks and 2024 NFL Draft prospect Theo Day. Four of his top five pass-catchers return. The Panthers do lose their top two rushers and three starters on the o-line. The defense loses its top three tacklers but returns standout DB Woo Governor and DT Khristian Boyd.
19. Youngstown State
The Penguins finished 7-4 overall last year, 7-3 vs. the FCS, and 5-3 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. They improved from a 3-7 record in 2021. YSU loses star RB Jaleel McLaughlin but returns nine offensive starters, including standout WR Bryce Oliver. YSU has eight defensive returners who started six games or more in 2022, highlighted by DE Dylan Wudke and DT Chris Fitzgerald.
18. UC Davis
The Aggies finished 6-5 overall last year, 6-4 vs. FCS opponents, and 5-3 in the Big Sky. They won five of their last six games, and three of their losses were by six points or less to Top 10 teams. They bring back their All-Big Sky First Team quarterback Miles Hastings and leading pass-catcher C.J. Hutton, plus two All-Conference OL Jordan Ford and Jake Parks. The Aggies return seven of their top 11 tacklers, plus an All-Conference cornerback and an All-Conference defensive tackle, after ranking No. 24 in the FCS in scoring defense.
17. Southeastern Louisiana University
The Lions lost 48-42 at Samford in the second round to end 9-4 overall and 9-2 vs. the FCS. They will have a new starting QB this fall, lose their No. 1 and No. 3 pass-catchers, and lose their top three rushers. An experienced offensive line is highlighted by three All-Conference performers, including All-American John Allen. Southeastern brings back three of its five top tacklers from 2022 and six of its top 11.
16. North Dakota
UND finished 7-5 with a first-round playoff exit. The offense brings back veteran quarterback Tommy Schuster, its top wide receiver Bo Belquist, and its entire starting offensive line after scoring 30.33 points per game. The Fighting Hawks return seven of their top 11 tacklers and four of their top five. C.J. Siegel highlights the unit as one of the top cornerbacks in the FCS.
The Grizzlies went 8-5, advancing to the second round. Montana will have a new starting quarterback for the third season in a row and loses its two leaders in receiving yards. The entire starting offensive line does return, as does its top two rushers in Nick Ostmo and Isiah Childs. The defense loses three All-American and All-Big Sky First Team players, but it returns six of its top 11 tacklers, including the LB duo of Braxton Hill and Levi Janacaro and standout DT Alex Gubner.
14. New Hampshire
The Wildcats went 9-4 with a trip to the second round. UNH returns 3,000-yard passer Max Brosmer, all-purpose All-American Dylan Laube at RB, its top WR and TE, and four starting offensive linemen. The defense brings back its top five tacklers and nine of its 11 top tacklers. Highlighting the unit is the All-American defensive end duo of Josiah Silver and Dylan Ruiz.
13. North Carolina Central
NC Central beat Jackson State 41-34 in last season’s Celebration Bowl to finish 10-2 overall. The Eagles return 12 of 17 All-MEAC performers from last year, including the MEAC Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year. Davius Richard is one of the best-returning quarterbacks in the FCS. And Khalil Baker is a top safety in the subdivision.
12. Weber State
The Wildcats lost 33-25 at Montana State in the second round to end the year with a 10-3 record. Weber loses its starting QB, its No. 1 and 3 RBs, and its 1,000-yard WR. But it returns three All-Conference offensive linemen and 700-yard rusher Damon Bankston. The Wildcats return five of their top 11 tacklers after they finished No. 12 in FCS scoring defense last season, allowing 20.4 points per game. The unit is highlighted by All-Americans Winston Reid (LB) and Maxwell Anderson (CB).
The Redhawks lost 34-24 at Montana in the first round, finishing 9-3. SEMO’s offense returns six starters from a unit that ranked No. 16 in FCS scoring last year, led by QB Paxton DeLaurent and All-American RB Geno Hess. The defense returns nine players who started six or more games, highlighted by All-Americans Bryce Norman (LB) and Lawrence Johnson (S/NB).
10. Incarnate Word
UIW finished 12-2 overall, losing 35-32 at North Dakota State in the semifinals. UIW returns only one of its 13 All-Southland Conference selections from last year (DE Steven Parker), losing its Walter Payton Award-winning QB, its 1,000-yard RB, its top two WRs, four All-Conference offensive linemen, and 10 of its top 13 tacklers. The Cardinals have lost 15 players to the FBS, but they have brought in three FCS transfers and 20 FBS transfers. This includes QB Zach Calzada, who started 10 games at Texas A&M in 2021, throwing for 2,185 yards, 17 TDs, and nine interceptions, including going 21/31 for 285 yards and three TDs in a win over No. 1 Alabama.
9. Sacramento State
The Hornets went 12-1 overall, losing 66-63 to UIW in the quarterfinals. Sac State brings back 15 offensive and defensive starters, including its leading pass-catcher in All-American TE Marshel Martin, its No. 2 WR, its No. 2 RB, four offensive line starters, and eight of its 11 top tacklers, highlighted by leading tackler Armon Bailey at LB.
Samford finished 11-2 overall, featuring a trip to the quarterfinals. Samford loses eight of its 11 All-SoCon offensive and defensive selections from last season. But the high-powered offense returns seven full-time starters, led by All-American QB Michael Hiers and his No. 1 and No. 3 WRs Chandler Smith and D.J. Rias, plus top RB Jay Stanton. The defense returns only four starters.
The Vandals broke through last season, finishing 7-3 vs. the FCS and reaching the playoffs for the first time since returning to the subdivision from the FBS. They lost 45-42 at Southeastern Louisiana University in the first round. Idaho returns six starters on defense. The offense is highlighted by 2022 Jerry Rice Award winner Gevani McCoy at QB, two 1,000-yard WRs Hayden Hatten and Jermaine Jackson, 2021 All-Conference WR Terez Traynor back from injury, and leading rusher Anthony Woods at RB.
6. William & Mary
W&M is coming off of an 11-2 season and a quarterfinal appearance. The No. 3 rushing attack returns its top three rushers, including starting QB Darius Wilson and 1,000-yard rusher Bronson Yoder, and four starters on the o-line. The defense returns nine of its top 11 tacklers, highlighted by All-Americans John Pius at OLB and Nate Lynn at defensive end.
Furman finished 10-3 overall, losing 41-38 at UIW in the second round. The Paladins bring back eight starters on offense, including starting QB Tyler Huff, 1,000-yard rusher Dominic Roberto, three starting offensive linemen, and the top three WRs. The defense returns 10 starters and its top 11 tacklers after owning the No. 10 FCS scoring defense last year, allowing 20.2 points per game.
4. Holy Cross
The Crusaders were tied 21-21 entering the fourth quarter at South Dakota State in the 2022 quarterfinals before losing 42-21, finishing the season 12-1 overall. Holy Cross returns eight starters on an offense that ranked No. 8 in FCS scoring, led by standout QB Matthew Sluka. Six starters are back on defense, highlighted by the return of All-American LB Jacob Dobbs.
3. Montana State
MSU finished 12-2 overall with a trip to the semifinals. The Bobcats return their entire starting offensive line, the two-headed QB monster and leading rushers Tommy Mellott and Sean Chambers, and the No. 2 and 3 pass-catchers after ranking No. 2 in the FCS with 311.9 rushing yards per game and No. 3 in scoring offense (42.9 points per game). The entire starting d-line is back, led by All-American DT Sebastian Valdez, along with two solid linebackers in Danny Uluilakepa and Nolan Askelson, starting CB Simeon Woodard, and starting safety/nickel Rylan Ortt.
2. North Dakota State
From last year’s 12-3 squad that reached the national title game, NDSU loses its two best rushers, two best offensive linemen, the team tackles leader at linebacker, best defensive end, top three cornerbacks, and top three safeties. But the Bison return veteran starting QB Cam Miller, 700-yard rusher TaMerik Williams, an intact WR room, five offensive linemen with starting experience, All-American DT Eli Mostaert back from injury, and a majority of its linebackers.
1. South Dakota State
After going 14-0 vs. the FCS and winning the 2022 FCS national championship, SDSU returns 10 offensive starters and eight defensive starters. The Jackrabbits return their entire starting offensive line, starting QB Mark Gronowski, top two running backs led by the best FCS RB Isaiah Davis, top three pass-catchers, top four tacklers, and nine of their top 11 tacklers, highlighted by All-American LB Adam Bock. In the last three games of the 2022 playoffs, SDSU outscored teams 2-4 in this preseason ranking 126-60 (Holy Cross 42-21, Montana State 39-18, NDSU 45-21).