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
- Sacramento State
- Incarnate Word
- Western Carolina
- William & Mary
- Southern Illinois
- North Carolina Central
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
- Weber State
- Eastern Washington
- Florida A&M
- Youngstown State
- UC Davis
- Central Arkansas
- Eastern Kentucky
- UT Martin
Leaving: Rhode Island, Montana, Samford
Entering: Villanova, Eastern Kentucky, UT Martin
Rhody falls out of my Top 25 after a 35-9 loss against Nova, falling to 2-2 overall and 2-1 vs. the FCS. The Rams nearly stayed in, but I felt the other teams moving in had a better case for now. After somewhat controversially dropping Montana back several spots last week after barely beating D2 No. 1 Ferris State and also having a competitive game against non-scholarship Butler, the Griz fall out of my Top 25 after losing 28-14 at winless Northern Arizona. Samford has had a fast fall out of the Top 25 after a preseason Top 10 ranking, losing 47-24 against Chattanooga and dropping to 1-3 overall with zero D1 wins.
Villanova moves in all the way to No. 19 after that dominating win over Rhody, who I had No. 19 last week. The Wildcats are now 3-1 overall and 3-0 vs. the FCS. EKU enters at No. 23, completing an awesome comeback and 41-38 win vs. SEMO, who I had No. 12 last week. EKU may be 1-3 overall, but it is 1-1 vs. the FCS and the loss was a 27-24 L against Western Carolina, one of the hottest FCS teams right now. And UT Martin moves in as well at No. 24. The Skyhawks have the talent watching them, and they’ve built out a strong 3-1 start (3-0 vs. the FCS). They beat Missouri State 38-31, beat HCU 66-7 (who just beat previously ranked SLU), and beat North Alabama 37-21 last week (a team that has beaten Chattanooga, who just knocked Samford out of the Top 25 in dominant fashion).
Speaking of SEMO, I kept the Redhawks just inside the Top 25. I was high on the overall talent level of this team in the preseason. I had them No. 12 last week. And while they are 1-3 overall and 1-2 vs. the FCS, the Redhawks lost down-to-the-wire games against rankable SIU and EKU squads in the last two weeks while dealing with injuries to key players. I still think SEMO is one of the 25 best teams in the FCS, and watching them play and how their games unfolded will confirm that over looking at their record.
I also feel good about keeping Central Arkansas in my Top 25. The Bears may only be 2-2 overall and 1-1 vs. the FCS, but it played Oklahoma State pretty tough in Week 1 (losing 27-13). And they just beat Abilene Christian 52-17, a team that lost only 27-20 to Top 10 UIW a week before. Every week of games is different, teams match up against each other differently, and teams have down games or games where everything is just fully clicking. You can get into deep rabbit holes of comparing scores, similar to what I did with UT Martin above. But I think UCA’s performance against ACU showed it belongs in the Top 25, and possibly higher than my No. 22.
Delaware is a high riser for me, going from No. 23 to No. 13 after beating UNH 29-25, a team I had No. 14 last week. I kept UNH right behind UD, which ended up having them stay at No. 14 based on my order this week (a reminder that I restart my ballot every week and try not to slot vote).
Western Carolina keeps rising up my board quickly. I’ve tweeted and podcasted about WCU’s ranking and how it should have been ranked way higher two weeks ago after beating then-Top 10 Samford. It should have risen even more after beating EKU the next week, a rankable team. But the Catamounts were just No. 23 in the media poll entering this last week. I had them No. 16. Now I have bumped them all the way into my Top 10 after absolutely crushing Charleston Southern 77-21. This was a week after William & Mary, who was No. 5 in the media poll last week and No. 9 for me, had to scrap and claw to a 15-7 win against CSU. I do get that WCU and W&M have two different offensive styles (WCU is explosive, W&M is more grinding you out on the ground). But WCU is legit, and I have no problem going from not ranking them to putting them in my Top 10 in only a matter of a few weeks.
On the opposite side of big movements, Weber State moved down six spots after an ugly 40-0 home loss to Montana State, going from No. 10 to No. 16.
Speaking of Montana State, I’m here for the argument to put MSU No. 2. But I did keep them No. 3 behind SDSU and NDSU. The Jackrabbits are still the clear No. 1 to me. And the Bison, in my opinion, have further cemented their claim to the No. 2 spot for now with how they’re playing, looking like a much better team than last year and doing it against a non-conference schedule that has ended up being pretty solid with two rankable opponents in UCA and EWU. NDSU’s passing game and front seven look much better than last fall. But I have no doubt MSU has entered that top tier as a legit national title contender. SDSU-NDSU-MSU all look pretty even to the eye. And of course, we saw that in action when MSU was an inch away from winning at SDSU. The Bobcats have gotten noticeably better in the trenches, are playing great ball defensively, and put up 40 points on a usually strong Weber defense despite being down their top offensive player in QB1A Tommy Mellott. Behind QB1B Sean Chambers, the Bobcats offered a more balanced offensive attack at Weber. If they can mix in the shotgun/read-option look with Mellott and the under-center/play-action look with Chambers plus doing their usual creative things with both on the field at once, that adds another dimension to the offense, one that will be needed to knock off an SDSU or NDSU in the playoffs.
Holy Cross stays at No. 4 for me. The Crusaders have great talent, including arguably the best QB in the FCS in Matthew Sluka. Another few inches and they’d have more believers with a win over P5 Boston College. They do own a 49-24 win over Ivy League favorite Yale, a quality FCS victory. Overall depth keeps me from putting HC in that top tier.
Idaho has a good case for the No. 4 spot, but I have the Vandals No. 5. They own a dominant FBS win over Nevada, and this last week beat Sac State 36-27 (it was really a one-possession win if not for a scoop and score on a kickoff as time expired). Sac State was No. 4 in the media poll and No. 6 for me last week. Sac State moved down one spot, and Furman rose after an impressive 38-14 win over Mercer, who was No. 21 in the media poll.
SDSU-NDSU-MSU suck up a lot of FCS oxygen. Idaho is getting a lot of convo about their rise. Sluka and Holy Cross are getting plenty of social media buzz. And Sac State has a P5 win and is argued about often online on how good it is. But Furman is still right there as a Top 5-worthy candidate, a stronger team than last year’s who went toe-to-toe with an uber-talented UIW squad in the playoffs.