Every week of the 2019 FCS season, Sam Herder will update his playoff power poll and top 15 favorites to win the national championship. This is somewhat similar to my STATS Top 25 Poll except that it won't include any Ivy League and HBCU teams.
It's also a bit different because in most polls if a team loses, they drop some spots. In this ranking, that may not always be the case as this is a look ahead to who has the best chance to win it all in January. The beauty of the FCS is one loss doesn't derail the hope of hoisting that trophy in Frisco, Texas.
This is a big-picture look at the national scene and doesn't worry as much about the week-to-week movements in a typical Top 25 poll.
The Top 2 teams mean I expect them to play in Frisco with No. 1 being the winner, 3-4 means a semifinal appearance, 5-8 means a quarterfinal appearance and 9-15 means I think those teams will reach the second round.
15. Austin Peay
Last week's ranking: Unranked
I was close to putting Monmouth here, but I feel the Hawks will get a tougher first-round draw than the OVC auto-bid. I think that team will be Austin Peay, who hosts UT Martin on Saturday in a game between two teams that are 6-3 overall and have one-loss in the conference standings. The Govs have already hammered JSU and defeated SEMO and EKU. Their one loss, 26-24 at Tennessee State, is a bit of a head-scratcher. I like this team to win out and reach the playoffs, where it's solid enough to get a first-round win, depending on the matchup.
Last week's ranking: Unranked
Wofford is hot after trying to find its identity to start the season that resulted in an 0-2 record. The Terriers now resemble a team we're used to seeing in the playoffs and have won five straight against FCS opponents. They'll need to shake off any bumps and bruises from a 59-14 loss at Clemson on Saturday. With a 5-2 record against the FCS, it's not impossible for Wofford to earn a playoff seed. Especially with a home game against No. 9 Furman coming in a couple of weeks. The Terriers play only 11 games this year, so we'll see what happens if they win two out of the final three to reach seven D1 wins.
13. North Dakota
Last week's ranking: 14
The Fighting Hawks have three wins against ranked opponents at home: SHSU, UC Davis and just recently Montana State. Only MSU is currently ranked at No. 12, although we could see SHSU back in the rankings again. They also have road losses to two teams who won't be in the playoffs: EWU and Idaho State. The 55-20 loss at Idaho State is especially an eyesore. But UND sits at 5-3 with three games remaining in a 12-game schedule. On paper, the Hawks will go 2-1 with a loss at No. 3 Weber State and wins against Northern Colorado and Southern Utah. At 7-4, UND has an above-average chance at the playoffs with hopes of MSU being in the playoffs and SHSU making the playoffs as well. The Hawks could also just make the committee's decision on them easier by knocking off Weber on Saturday. But that's a tall order. If UND gets in at 7-4, I feel like they'd put in a good bid to host a first-round game. And the Hawks have been awesome at home. If the committee sticks to its regionalization guns, though, I don't like UND's chances getting past the second round.
12. Montana State
Last week's ranking: 15
Yes, I know UND defeated Montana State a couple of weeks ago. The reason I have MSU one spot ahead of the Fighting Hawks is that while I feel both can make the second round if they're in the field, I have more confidence in the Bobcats making the playoffs than UND. The Hawks would be a bubble team if they did finish 7-4. Meanwhile, I like MSU's chances to win its next two games at Northern Colorado and UC Davis to hit eight D1 victories. Eight wins and the Bobcats are in. We know they're going to put in a good bid to host in the first round. And they'll probably win that first-round home game to reach the second round. And if MSU does knock off highly-ranked rival Montana in the regular-season finale, a seed may be possible.
11. New Hampshire
Last week's ranking: Unranked
It's pretty risky to put any CAA team in here besides JMU. But the Wildcats have won five of their last six games after starting 0-2. The one loss isn't a great one at Delaware, a 16-10 score. Just about everyone in the CAA has a bad loss, though. Another risky part of this pick is UNH plays just 11 games. And the three remaining games are all challenges at James Madison, at Albany and versus Maine. I see the Wildcats going 2-1 to finish 7-4, which should get them into the playoffs. And UNH may get a decent first-round draw out east, potentially a rematch against the Patriot League's Holy Cross, who knocked off the Wildcats 13-10 to open the season. UNH has made huge strides since that game. The defense continues to be tremendous, ranking seventh in the FCS with 16.6 points allowed per game.
Last week's ranking: 12
Furman is 6-1 against the FCS and is fighting for a playoff seed. A showdown at Wofford is going to be absolutely key on Nov. 16. We'll see if the regular-season finale against non-counter Point ends up being costly for the Paladins. While they don't have any wins that jump off the resume's page, I think this team has the potential to win a first-round game if it does not get a seed. Consistency issues make me question if Furman can advance any further.
9. Illinois State
Last week's ranking: 10
I've cooled off on the Redbirds for awhile now. I don't see them reaching the quarterfinals, but a first-round win seems likely behind a strong defense (17.8 points allowed per game) and running game (James Robinson averaging 107 yards per game). The Redbirds are 6-2 against the FCS with those losses coming against NDSU and UNI. They have zero ranked wins, which does make me question their resume. We shall see if Illinois State can give SDSU a scare in Brookings on Saturday. If not, it should be a win against Missouri State to hit seven D1 victories. The road trip to Youngstown to end the regular season looks to be a huge one for the Redbirds to feel comfortable at eight wins.
8. Central Arkansas
Last week's ranking: 11
UCA is 6-1 versus FCS competition with an FBS win against Western Kentucky. I have the Bears as a seed if the season ended today. The Bears have won four straight games after an ugly 34-14 loss to Nicholls. It's hard to imagine all eight seeds going to Big Sky, CAA and MVFC teams. With games remaining against Southeastern Louisiana, SFA and UIW, the Bears control their own seeding destiny.
Last week's ranking: 6
The explosive Montana offense has been just fine with backup QB Cam Humphrey in these last two games as the Griz have gone 2-0 since losing to Sac State. The Grizzlies certainly are looking forward to getting All-American-caliber Dalton Sneed back from his ankle injury, though. Montana is an Idaho win away from being 8-1 against the FCS heading into the final two games, which is where the Griz can determine if they're seeded or not. They host Weber State and travel to Montana State. A trip to the quarterfinals would be a huge step forward for this proud program that hasn't been to the postseason since 2015.
6. Sacramento State
Last week's ranking: 4
Sac State should be one spot ahead of Montana with its 49-22 head-to-head win a couple of weeks ago. But Weber State doused one of the hottest teams in the FCS with a big bucket of water on Saturday with a 36-17 win. That knocks the Hornets back from a semifinal team to a quarterfinal team. They are still 5-1 against the FCS and still sitting just fine to earn a seed. Sac State will be favored to win its final three games at Northern Arizona, at Idaho and against UC Davis. The status of QB Kevin Thomson, who was knocked out of the Weber game with a neck/back injury after taking a blindside hit, is key in where Sac State's season goes from here, though. He appears to be day-to-day right now. Thomson is a special player that can take this team far into the playoffs.
5. Northern Iowa
Last week's ranking: 7
The Panthers are playing good ball right now and really have been all season. UNI defeated No. 7 Illinois State on the road 27-10 in another strong defensive effort. This team is allowing just 20.1 points per game and has its moments of explosiveness on offense. Redshirt freshman QB Will McElvain continues to get better and receiver Isaiah Weston is already up to 924 yards receiving and 10 TDs. The Panthers are 6-3 overall and 6-2 versus the FCS. The three losses came at FBS Iowa State (in overtime), at Weber State and at NDSU. They should win at least two of their final three regular-season games against Indiana State and WIU. If the Panthers really want to set themselves up for a nice playoff run, defeating SDSU in Brookings on Nov. 16 should get them a seed.
4. Weber State
Last week's ranking: 5
The Wildcats were a popular pick to lose at No. 6 Sacramento State. But they proved once again how strong of a team, and how strong of a program this is. The defense continues to be amazing. And the offense is much better than we give it credit for and gets it done in a balanced fashion, averaging more than 37 points per game against FCS opponents. The Wildcats average 184.3 rushing yards and 168.56 passing yards per game. Weber has advanced to back-to-back quarterfinal games. Its performance against Sac State tells me this team is ready to take it one step further.
3. South Dakota State
Last week's ranking: 3
It was a slow start offensively for SDSU at Missouri State. With true freshman QB Keaton Heide starting for the first time, that was probably to be expected. By game's end, though, the Jackrabbits won 35-14 and had 526 yards of total offense. Heide was efficient and made most of the throws he had to make, going 11-19 for 173 yards and a TD. With the play of the defense and the offensive line and finding creative ways to pick up yards in some wildcat formations, I still believe the Jacks are the third-best team in the FCS.
2. James Madison
Last week's ranking: 2
JMU was on a roll heading into its bye last week, playing its best football of the season. The Dukes need that to roll over on the other side of the bye week as some other teams are making a strong case for the No. 2 seed. JMU, who is undefeated against the FCS, can't give the playoff committee a reason to drop the Dukes out of home-field advantage. Remaining games against No. 23 New Hampshire, Richmond and Rhode Island should be wins on paper. Convincing wins certainly wouldn't hurt the resume, especially with prior CAA opponents falling rapidly in the Top 25 polls. To me, the Dukes are way too talented and experienced to have a hiccup before the playoffs start. This team looks to be Frisco-bound.
1. North Dakota State
Last week's ranking: 1
Can a trap game really be a trap game if it's called a trap game all week long? A lot of people pointed to NDSU's game at Youngstown State as a possible letdown spot. And the points were fair. The Bison were coming off of an emotional win against a highly-ranked rival at SDSU, this was the second road game in a row and YSU always plays NDSU tough. But this game was never a contest as NDSU won 56-17. After a couple of so-so games, Trey Lance proved why he's one of the best QBs in the FCS as just a freshman and he now has 19 TD passes to zero interceptions. The Bison look set to finish the regular season undefeated, something only the 2013 and 2018 teams have been able to do. This year's team is much younger than those two squads, which goes to show the level of talent NDSU has and how good it's going to be for years to come. The Bison will be even better next season, folks. Can anyone rise up and knock them off in 2019?
NEXT: Playoff Predictions After Week 10
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