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
- North Dakota State
- Montana State
- Holy Cross
- William & Mary
- Sacramento State
- Incarnate Word
- Weber State
- North Carolina Central
- Southern Illinois
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
- Western Carolina
- UC Davis
- Southeastern Louisiana University
- Youngstown State
- Florida A&M
- Rhode Island
- Central Arkansas
Leaving: UNI, Mercer
Entering: SIU, WCU
My Top 4 stayed the same.
No. 3 Montana State came within literal inches of winning at No. 1 SDSU. It wasn’t always pretty for the Jacks, but championship teams just find ways to win and make the winning plays when it matters most.
SDSU stays No. 1, of course, and I kept MSU No. 3. NDSU stays No. 2 for me, even though MSU clearly showed they are now a legit national title contender. The Bobcats went toe-to-toe with SDSU’s elite OL and were getting a good push from their own OL. I certainly get moving MSU up to No. 2, but I’ll keep them No. 3 due to NDSU’s play as well.
The Bison look like an improved squad from a year ago, both offensively and defensively. The EWU team NDSU beat 35-10 in Week 1 nearly defeated Fresno State in 2OT. Fresno won 10 games last year and beat the Big Ten’s Purdue in Week 1. Through two games, though, NDSU’s Massey strength of schedule is only 62nd. So it’s not the best gauge just yet, but eye test is enough for me to keep them No. 2. The Bison are tackling better and have better QB play than last year. But No. 2 and 3 are very close, and even Nos. 1-3 are very close, which is a great thing.
Holy Cross remains at No. 4. HC lost 31-28 at P5 Boston College. Matthew Sluka played like a stud, but it’ll be a tough film watch because he broke loose on a run along the sideline that would have been the game-winner, but he accidentally stepped out of bounds. HC had the win within reach, but as I wrote above, football is a game of inches.
I flipped Idaho and Furman at No. 5 and 6. I still really like Furman on both sides of the ball, but Idaho has answered some defensive questions for me while its offense has lived up to the hype. Idaho is 2-0 after crushing FBS Nevada 33-6.
W&M, Sac State, and UIW remain in my Top 10. Weber State also enters my Top 10 after an impressive win at UNI, who dropped out of my Top 25 at 0-2. W&M is very talented. Sac State is looking sharp with the standout play of new QB Kaiden Bennett. And UIW’s offense got it going this weekend.
NC Central, UNH, UND, and Montana are all about in the same spots as last week in the teens. NC Central got a good road win on the road at rival NC A&T. UNH is legit offensively and pushed an FBS team. UND looks the part and is rolling inferior opponents like a Top 15 team should. And Montana looked better in Week 2 than Week 1, but we may not get a good gauge of the Griz for another few weeks. The passing game is still uncertain.
A big riser for me is Southern Illinois. SIU went from unranked to my No. 13. That may seem like too big of a jump, but folks who have been following my Top 25 breakdowns for a bit know that I hate slot voting. I do not copy and paste my previous week’s ballot and just keep it as is if a team wins and slide around a few other teams that lose. Every week gives us a clearer picture. And hey, sometimes it’s OK to admit you were wrong the previous week. Maybe I should have had Team A ahead of Team B, and the weekend’s action proved that. Just because Team A was ahead of Team B last week and both won, doesn’t mean they have to be in that order again. Reevaluating every week > slot voting.
So with SIU, I should have had SIU ranked last week after it demolished Austin Peay, who was receiving votes in the preseason media poll. And then this week, SIU’s defense continued to play incredibly well when the Salukis beat FBS Northern Illinois 14-11. I don’t have a problem boosting a team up that much in a week. I shouldn’t let my hard-headedness last week impact my voting this week.
I think SIU one spot ahead of UNH is fair. SIU beat NIU, and UNH narrowly lost to Central Michigan. NIU was picked to finish one spot ahead of CMU in the MAC preseason poll.
Another high riser is Western Carolina, going from unranked to No. 16. WCU crushed Samford 30-7. WCU was probably in my 30 range last week, and Samford was No. 8. Samford dropped to No. 23 this week. I’m really close to moving WCU up even more, similar to SIU. But there’s still plenty of time in the season to figure out the balance of if WCU is that good, or if I had Samford too highly ranked. That’s the tough balance when an unranked team beats a Top 10 team early in the season.
I’m not going to overthink Southeastern Louisiana University. Are they 0-2? Yes. But those losses are to a ranked P5 team and one of the best G5 teams. Simply put, I believe SLU is one of the 25 best teams in the FCS based on their talent I’ve seen. To say “They’re 0-2 and shouldn’t be ranked” is too lazy of an analysis.
Going back to my anti-slot voting rant. Fans of teams like UC Davis, YSU, FAMU, Gardner-Webb, and Mercer are probably puzzled on how they dropped a spot. How do you punish a team that lost to an FBS opponent? How do you drop down a Gardner-Webb squad that beat a decent Elon team? How do you drop Mercer out of your ranking completely after they won? If you zoom in just on one of those specific teams, yeah it doesn’t make sense. But you have to zoom out at the larger picture. SIU and WCU soared in this ranking, which means it is going to bump teams back.
Mercer got bumped out with two new teams moving in. Mercer is 2-1 overall and 2-0 vs. the FCS. It beat North Alabama 17-7 in Week 0, and UNA just lost 52-31 at Tarleton. Mercer also beat Morehead State 48-22 this weekend, a game that was only 29-22 entering the 4th. Morehead State went 2-9 last year and barely beat non-D1 West Virginia State last week.
Other teams like Rhody and UCA held their spots at No. 22 and No. 25. Rhody is looking good, especially offensively. UCA has great talent, and we’ll see what it can do at NDSU this week.
Morgan State and UAlbany were just outside my Top 25.
Morgan State really should have beaten FBS Akron. All it needed was a first down to win. Instead, the Bears fumbled, which was scooped up and scored by Akron in the final minute for a 24-21 win. This was after Morgan State beat ranked Richmond. So why didn’t I rank the Bears? I wasn’t high on Richmond all offseason. And I don’t think Akron (2-10 last year, picked to finish second to last in the MAC East) would be a Top 25 FCS squad.
UAlbany is 1-2, but two of those Ls were competitive FBS losses (21-17 at Marshall, and 31-20 at Hawaii this weekend). Fordham was one of three FCS teams to get an FBS win this week, beating Buffalo. But you can’t rank Fordham and not rank UAlbany ahead of them, because UAlbany beat Fordham 34-13 in Week 0. At this point in the season and with records/resumes not as built out, head-to-head results carry even more weight. The Great Danes are close, but I ran out of room in my Top 25.
I hope you enjoy my Top 25 breakdown here. I’m never going to say my Top 25 is right. Because it’s impossible to know at the time. I also have said that there is no such thing as a good Top 25. It’s all just one’s opinion, and most people reading this will disagree with at least one thing, while those who call it trash are probably just focused on one team or one conference that they cheer for. So there are no good Top 25s out there. Because what determines that? That’s why I like to go somewhat in-depth with my order. It’s OK to have disagreements on the order. Heck, sometimes I’ll go back a few days later and realize my analysis was off. There isn’t a good Top 25 anywhere. But a Top 25 can be a fine ranking as long as you can provide a reasoning for your order and defend any changes.