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 mostly 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.
Last week's ranking: 14
Wofford has won six straight games against the FCS, is 6-2 against championship subdivision opponents and is 6-3 overall. The final two games get interesting for the Terriers as they chose to play 11 games this year. Upcoming wins against Top-10 ranked Furman and playoff-potential The Citadel has Wofford in the discussion for a seed. There's also a chance the Terriers go 0-2 and miss the playoffs. And even a split has them on the bubble at 7-4. Wofford is playing much better ball now than it was at the beginning of the season when it started 0-2. This team is experienced and a perennial playoff participant. I think it finds its way again into the field and gets a first-round win.
14. North Dakota
Last week's ranking: 13
Putting a 5-4 team in this ranking is risky. But hey, the playoff committee had New Hampshire, who's now one loss from not even making the postseason, at No. 10 a week ago. The Fighting Hawks very nearly (and probably should've) beaten No. 3 Weber State on the road. Their performance, along with remaining home games against Northern Colorado and SUU, tells me this team should be in the playoffs at 7-4 and is good enough to win a first-round game.
13. Central Arkansas
Last week's ranking: 8
I'm not really sure what to make of the Bears right now. Their 34-0 loss at home at the hands of Southeastern Louisiana really made me consider dropping them from this ranking. But UCA does have a head-to-head win against Austin Peay, who ended up leaving this list from last week despite getting a big win. And the Bears do sit at 6-2 versus the FCS along with an FBS win. With games remaining against SFA and UIW, the Bears are likely going to be in the playoffs. But any momentum of potentially earning a seed has gone away for UCA.
Last week's ranking: Unranked
The Lions have been on and off people's radars. Their season-opening win against then-No. 6 Jacksonville State didn't age well. And they lost two straight games in early October. But Southeastern Louisiana has grabbed our attention again, dismantling Central Arkansas 34-0. The Lions are now tied atop the Southland Conference standings at 5-2 with UCA, SHSU and Nicholls. They are 6-3 overall and 6-2 vs. the FCS. When things are clicking, this team is solid.
Last week's ranking: Unranked
The Wildcats desperately needed that win against Richmond to snap a three-game losing streak. They are now 7-3 overall and one win away from likely earning a playoff bid. That should come Saturday against 0-8 Long Island, who's in its first year as an FCS program. In the first round, it seems Villanova would get matched up with a team like Monmouth or CCSU. While those teams are strong, I'd favor Nova to win. So I think this team has the talent and the remaining schedule to reach the second round.
10. Montana State
Last week's ranking: 12
Again, I'm aware that UND beat Montana State. But if we're talking who has a better chance of reaching the second round, it's MSU. The Bobcats are 7-2 vs. the FCS and the Fighting Hawks are 5-4. MSU has scored a combined 87 points in the last two games since losing to UND. While those came against weaker opponents, there is room for a little optimism of this offense coming to life. The Bobcats will need it in these final two games. UC Davis still has its playoff hopes alive and Montana is eyeing a seed. MSU can't slip back into its old ways offensively and go 0-2 because a 7-5 overall Bobcats team is sitting nervously on Selection Sunday. But I think they secure a bid Saturday with a win at UC Davis. That sets up for a massive Brawl of the Wild game.
Last week's ranking: 10
Furman is 7-1 against the FCS and has a chance at a seed. A win against Wofford on Saturday would be huge. But the regular-season finale against non-D1 Point is … pointless. Would an 8-1 Furman team be a seed? There's a chance of it. Beating Wofford is far from a guarantee, though, so I have Furman right outside the Top 8 for now.
Last week's ranking: 3
It seems every year the Jackrabbits have a loss that really hurts their seed positioning. In discussion for a Top 3 seed, SDSU had an ugly showing against Illinois State and lost 27-18. Now the Jacks are battling for a 6-8 seed in their home game with UNI on Saturday. The offense will need to figure things out against another good defense. If not, the Jackrabbits are looking at playing in the first round.
Last week's ranking: 9
If Illinois State's defense plays like it did against SDSU — forcing four turnovers and holding a strong Jackrabbit rushing attack to 81 yards on the ground on 32 attempts — the Redbirds don't have to worry about racking up the points. And now that they have that quality win we've been waiting for, this team proves it's as legit as its record indicates. Illinois State is 7-2 against FCS foes with those losses coming against NDSU and UNI. The final two opponents are against Missouri State and at YSU. The Redbirds should win those and earn a seed. The question is is this offense explosive enough to get past the quarterfinals? They rank 93rd in the FCS with 22.6 points per game.
Last week's ranking: 7
The Grizzlies have some decent wins. They beat Monmouth, the likely Big South auto-bid by 20 points. And UC Davis, who Montana defeated 45-20, is still not completely out of the playoff hunt. But we're still waiting on that one win that proves to us that this team is nationally legit. That opportunity comes Saturday with Weber State coming to town. The Griz, who are currently 8-1 against the FCS, would still be sitting fine if a loss did happen. The pressure would then be on to defeat rival Montana State on the road to secure a seed. However, a win against Weber followed by knocking off MSU and all of a sudden we're talking about hosting a quarterfinal game. That's two playoff games at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. But before we call Montana a semifinal team, two huge games await. I can see a 2-0 finish to the regular season. An 0-2 finish wouldn't shock me either.
Last week's ranking: 5
UNI is playing some solid ball right now. Its defense is playing lights out, allowing 10 points or less in the last three games. The offense has ranged from average to above average, scoring 29, 27 and 17 points in those three games. Trey Lance and, at least for a little bit, J'Bore Gibbs have gotten a lot of the attention for young QBs in the MVFC, but redshirt freshman Will McElvain has been really good for the Panthers. He's thrown for 2,115 yards, 18 TDs and just three interceptions. UNI has been a typical second-round exit team for a few years now. The Panthers have a great shot to set themselves up much better for a longer run. They can secure a seed with a win at SDSU this weekend.
Last week's ranking: 6
The health of QB Kevin Thomson is huge for this team. He is a gigantic reason for this team's remarkable turnaround. Thomson sat out last week after getting shaken up the week prior against Weber State. Backup Jake Dunniway played great against NAU, throwing for 384 yards and 4 TDs. But Thomson is just a different caliber guy as the Hornets had to score two touchdowns in the final two minutes to defeat NAU (4-6 overall) 38-34. Sac State improves to 6-1 versus the FCS with quality wins against Montana and Montana State and the one loss coming to Weber. A win at Idaho should be expected. And then it's a home game against UC Davis that may have a lot on the line, including a Top 4 seed. The Hornets have the offense and defense to make a deep playoff run. Getting a healthy Thomson back is key in winning multiple December games, though.
3. Weber State
Last week's ranking: 4
The Wildcats showed how legit they were a couple of weeks ago with a dominating win against Sac State. But a near home loss to UND, who's now 5-4, may make some people pause. Maybe that was just their "off" game, and they did suffer some key injuries. Or maybe UND is that good. Who knows. We will get a great look at how good Weber is on Saturday, though. The Wildcats travel to Montana in a huge game with seeding implications. Can their defense with a younger secondary stop an explosive passing attack? Can the offense continue to make strides with a raucous crowd and good defense trying to disrupt them? With a home game against Idaho State closing out the regular season, the Wildcats can solidify a No. 3 seed and maybe the committee will pull the trigger and slide them past JMU to No. 2 if they get a win at Montana.
Last week's ranking: 2
Maybe it's because FloSports isn't the best streaming service and not many people around the country watch CAA games, but I'm not sure people realize how strong this JMU offense has been this year. I said it on our podcast a couple of weeks ago that Ben DiNucci is playing like one of the better QBs in the country while the offensive unit ranks third in the FCS with 40.4 PPG. And the defense is Top 5, allowing 16.1 PPG. If the Dukes play like they did against New Hampshire this last weekend, we're looking at another colossal showdown in Frisco between the Dukes and the Bison.
Last week's ranking: 1
There's not much to add to what I've already said about the Bison in these weekly articles. The offense is second in the FCS with 41.0 PPG, right behind Dayton's 41.2. The defense also ranks second with 12.6 points allowed per game, behind Dartmouth's 10.1. This is against a schedule that features seven teams who have been or are currently ranked in the Top 25. Trey Lance has 30 combined TDs (21 passing and 9 rushing) and still has zero interceptions. Anyone who thought the Bison were going to take a huge step back this year is sadly mistaken. And honestly, there weren't many that thought that in terms of media. It was mostly fans of other teams forming that narrative. I predicted NDSU to return to Frisco a week after the 2018 season finished. But I must admit, this Bison team is much better than I even anticipated.
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