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
- Western Carolina
- Southern Illinois
- Incarnate Word
- Sacramento State
- South Dakota
- North Dakota State
- North Carolina Central
- Holy Cross
- Eastern Washington
- North Dakota
- UC Davis
- William & Mary
- Florida A&M
- Central Arkansas
- Eastern Kentucky
- UT Martin
- Austin Peay
Leaving: New Hampshire, Youngstown State, Weber State, SEMO, Villanova
Entering: South Dakota, Harvard, Elon, UAlbany, Austin Peay
Welp, I’ve been preaching about not slot voting all fall, not depending too much on one’s preseason notions, and that it’s OK for there to be massive movement in ballots early in the season when the body of work is still small. And I’ll stick to those guns this week after eight teams on my ballot lost. Six of them lost to teams I did not have ranked. And several of those six winning teams in these matchups have good records, if not better records than the ranked teams they beat.
So large shifts happened indeed if we’re ranking things based on five weeks of 2023 FCS tackle football action.
I’ll explain those large shifts as I break down my order.
In the leaving category…
UNH (2-3) drops out after its second loss in a row, this one in OT to unranked Towson. YSU (2-2) lost to unranked UNI, dropping the Penguins out of my Top 25 with so many teams moving in. Weber State‘s (3-2) stock has plummeted in its last two performances, getting shellacked 40-0 at home to highly-ranked Montana State two weeks ago and then nearly (and probably should have) losing to a bad Northern Colorado team. UNC (now 0-5) threw some bad interceptions late, one a game-losing pick-six as Weber scored three TDs in the final seven minutes to win 28-21. Weber, in my Top 10 not long ago, has not looked like a Top 25 team in the last two weeks. Although you could argue its UNI win could keep it in the Top 25 after UNI beat ranked YSU.
SEMO didn’t do anything wrong, but at No. 25 last week and so many teams moving in that I felt were more deserving to be ranked, it dropped out. SEMO is 1-3 with two down-to-the-wire losses to ranked SIU and EKU. And Villanova (3-2) also moved out after a tough-looking 31-10 loss to UAlbany.
Five teams moving out means room for five teams entering…
South Dakota is the biggest riser, beating No. 2 NDSU in Fargo 24-19 in a game that saw the Coyotes hold a 2-3-possession lead for most of the game. USD jumping that high from unranked to No. 9 may be too extreme for some, but hey, this is the Top 25 poll for Week 6 of the FCS season. Not the “what’s going to happen in November” poll. And USD is undefeated vs. the FCS and just won convincingly at the previous No. 2 team. That sounds like a Top 10 team to me at this point in the season. That saw NDSU drop to No. 10, which seems fair for a team that had two now-ranked wins in the non-conference (EWU, UCA) but then looked overmatched at home vs. an unranked team. Will the Bison finish the season as the No. 10 team? Maybe not, but maybe. That wasn’t a promising performance by the Bison. There’s a difference between stubbing your toe as a Top 5 team for your first loss in the second half of the season against a 2-4 team. Body of work would likely keep you around the Top 5. But as we sit right now, how would I keep a 3-0 vs. FCS USD team ahead of an NDSU team it just beat solidly?
It’s the same situation for Harvard and Holy Cross.
Harvard saw a huge jump too. The Crimson took advantage of some turnovers and held a two-possession lead for most of the game in a 38-28 win over Holy Cross, who was No. 6 in the media poll. Harvard is now 3-0 with a solid head-to-head win over a team I had in my Top 5 last week. At this point in the season, Harvard showed they are a better football team than Holy Cross and have a better body of work. Holy Cross dropped to No. 13 after the concerning defensive effort.
Elon enters the ballot at No. 19 after beating W&M 14-6, who was No. 5 in the media poll. The Phoenix have had three straight strong performances to move to 3-2. William & Mary dropped to No. 20. The Tribe was already losing stock for me after not dominating a struggling Wofford program and only beating Charleston Southern 15-7. It had dropped to No. 10 for me last week. W&M’s defense has been great all season, but its offense hasn’t looked strong.
The last two to enter the ballot are UAlbany and Austin Peay. UAlbany just beat No. 16 Villanova and is 3-0 vs. the FCS and has two competitive FBS losses. And Austin Peay has gotten it rolling after an ugly Week 1 loss to SIU. The Govs have won three straight. Chattanooga was a strong consideration for No. 25.
In the Top 10…
No. 1 SDSU (4-0) had the cleanest performance Saturday, not letting the weekend madness hit them. The Jackrabbits handled No. 12 UND 42-21 with relative ease.
Montana State (4-1) moves up to No. 2, a spot it arguably should have been at already after dominating then-No. 10 Weber State and being within an inch of winning at SDSU. Idaho is also in the Top 3 and continues to impress. The Vandals are 4-1 with an FBS win, an FBS loss, and two ranked wins (Sac State, EWU).
Furman (3-1, 3-0 vs. the FCS) was always a Top 5 consideration team for me going back to the preseason, a well-balanced team with experience and good to great players at every position. And WCU continues to look like a great team week after week, now 4-0 vs. the FCS with an offense looking very tough to slow down.
SIU has seen a great start, looking sharp on both sides of the ball en route to a 4-0 start, an FBS win, and two wins over rankable teams (Austin Peay, SEMO). UIW (3-1, 2-0 vs. FCS) has very good defensive talent, and I like how its offense had started to roll before its bye week.
Sac State actually dropped a spot and would have dropped a few more if not for the upsets across the country. The Hornets only beat unranked NAU 31-30, a team that has shown more life and defeated ranked Montana last week. I’d like to see a bit more out of Sac State than that tight of a ball game at home, but their body of work overrides that performance enough to keep them in the Top 10 at 4-1 overall with an FBS P5 win over Stanford and being right there at the end of the game at highly-ranked Idaho.
North Carolina Central is just outside the Top 10 at 4-1 overall. The Eagles are very talented coming off of a Celebration Bowl win and have a dude at QB in Davius Richard. They had a concerning 35-14 deficit vs. Campbell, but the second half showed how good this team can be by coming back and winning 49-48.
A lot of movement this week. But hopefully I explained well enough my mindset and why it’s fine for massive shifts at this point in the season. There is technically no right method of voting. It’s all subjective. And as long as you can publically defend your reasoning, that’s the best we can ask for in a ranking of teams off of one’s opinion. My mindset is to rank teams how I see them at this point in the season. My upcoming weekly bracketology stories starting in a couple of weeks will be more projecting.
Things will shake out. Every week paints a clearer picture. The best teams will be at the top as we’re into November. If these are one-off performances by losing teams that were ranked high, they will make their way back up if they just keep on winning and show on the field that they’re worth being voter higher. But right now, I’m trying to rank who the 25 best teams are after five weeks. NDSU, W&M, and Holy Cross straight up got beat, and the teams that beat them have the body of work and the records to jump them and skyrocket in my rankings.