I am grateful to again have a vote in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25 media poll for the 2023 season. I’ll publish my ballot every week and provide some reasoning for my order.
Notes at the bottom.
FCS Top 25
- South Dakota State
- Montana State
- South Dakota
- Western Carolina
- North Dakota
- North Carolina Central
- Sacramento State
- Southern Illinois
- Holy Cross
- North Dakota State
- Youngstown State
- Florida A&M
- William & Mary
- Central Arkansas
- UT Martin
- Austin Peay
Leaving: EWU, UC Davis, Elon
Entering: Villanova, UT Martin, Austin Peay
Exiting my ballot this week — EWU blew a 41-14 lead to lose 42-41 at Idaho State (who is now 2-4). EWU drops to 2-4 overall now. This also was partially why I dropped UC Davis, who won at Weber State 17-16 to improve to 4-3. EWU has a head-to-head win over UC Davis, plus I haven’t been too high on Weber in recent weeks. Add in some more deserving team moving in, and that dropped UC Davis from my No. 25 last week to out. Elon lost 21-0 vs. Villanova this week, dropping to 3-4 overall with two straight losses.
That leads to Villanova moving back in. Nova is 5-2 overall and 5-1 vs. the FCS. It does have a 31-10 loss to UAlbany, which is why UAlbany stays ahead of Nova despite just losing 38-31 to UNH. The overall body of work has UAlbany 4-3 overall and 4-1 vs. the FCS. UNH just misses out on being ranked at 3-3 overall and 3-2 vs. the FCS with losses to ranked Delaware and unranked Towson.
UT Martin just keeps on winning, now 5-1 overall and 5-0 vs. the FCS. And Austin Peay has been rolling opponents since an early loss to SIU. The Govs are 4-2 overall and 4-1 vs. the FCS.
Chattanooga moved up several spots after beating a rankable Mercer team 22-10. The Mocs are 5-2 overall/vs. the FCS, have a then-ranked win over Samford, and nearly beat WCU, who I am high on.
UIW fell back a few spots. It is 5-1 overall and 4-0 vs. the FCS, but its last two performances to the eye against struggling SLU and Texas A&M-Commerce didn’t leave me feeling like this was a Top 10 team.
Two big movements happened based on two results that took up most of the FCS conversation yesterday.
Montana skyrocketed to No. 6. I was critical of Montana’s September performances and dropped the Grizzlies out of my ballot for a couple of weeks. Teams like Weber and W&M also got similar treatments with big drops due to performances. I wasn’t the only one to unrank Montana, and some Griz followers were also talking about doomsday scenarios. But a weekly reminder that I vote each week based on the performances and results at that point in the season, not slotting things based on my previous ballots and not projecting ahead.
Two things can be true: Montana wasn’t playing like a Top 25 team in September, but the Griz are playing like a Top 10 team now.
Any judgment of how Montana looked last month can be thrown away. This is a different-looking squad that has beaten two straight ranked opponents on the road. I moved them to No. 19 last week after beating UC Davis. Then Saturday saw a win at No. 3 Idaho. The Griz are now getting the defensive pressure they lacked in September, the o-line is playing with more of an edge, and Clifton McDowell has steadied the QB spot and then some by taking the reins as the starter and playing better every week.
At 6-1 overall and back-to-back ranked wins on the road, Montana no doubt deserves to be in the Top 10.
Idaho drops one spot behind Montana at 5-2 overall, 4-1 vs. the FCS, two then-ranked wins, and one FBS win. The Vandals are still a really good football team. They have a bye week before hosting No. 2 MSU in a massive showdown for rankings and playoff seeds.
In a different kind of movement, NDSU drops to No. 16 after being dominated 49-24 at UND. That moves UND, who I had No. 14 last week, to No. 8. UND is 4-2 overall and 4-1 vs. the FCS with the loss at No. 1 SDSU. The Fighting Hawks made a statement to be a top-10 ranked team. It was the first win over NDSU in 20 years. It can be a program-changer, but UND can’t have an emotional hangover next week with a really tough test in going to UNI, who will be desperate for a win at 3-3 overall.
The Bison are now 4-2 overall/vs. the FCS with two overall convincing losses in the last three weeks to USD and UND. The Bison haven’t looked like the Bison in conference play. UND was running it down NDSU’s throat even when the Bison knew it was coming. At one point, UND converted a third-and-long with a simple draw play. On the other side of the ball, NDSU’s o-line hasn’t gotten a push in the run game, and the Bison lack a home-run hitter at RB and WR. NDSU didn’t get over 20 points at UND until 2:42 left in the game. It was 49-17 at one point in a shocking score.
The doomsday scenarios have moved from Missoula to Fargo now. Fans and former players are calling for changes while doubting a playoff seed is even in play anymore. Local media called an end to the dynasty. And current players called out the locker room. The vibes off the field and the play on the field just aren’t great.
But NDSU still has wins over teams that were ranked last week (EWU and UCA), which keeps the Bison around the 15 ranking. NDSU should roll its next two opponents vs. WIU and Murray State to move to 6-2. But with games at No. 1 SDSU, vs. Top 15 SIU, and at a UNI team probably playing for its playoff life to end the regular season, all of a sudden those 8-3 and 7-4 preseason predictions don’t sound so crazy.