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: Unranked
Let's not forget that in Monmouth's 47-27 loss at Montana in September, the Hawks only trailed 33-27 in the fourth quarter. Montana is now looking at a Top 4 seed. Monmouth stomped Kennesaw State 45-21, a team ranked in the Top 10 for the first two months of the season. And oddly enough, is back in the Top 10 in the Coaches Poll. That poll sucks, though. We all know it. The point is Monmouth is a good football team. And I can see this team knocking off a CAA program in the first round. Because hey, Albany looks like a potential playoff team and the Hawks beat them 38-35 in overtime a week before playing Montana.
14. North Dakota
Last week's ranking: 14
UND needs to beat SUU to hit 7-4. Even then, it's 50/50 on the Fighting Hawks getting into the bracket. So this is a risky ranking, but I believe UND is in at 7-4 with its win against currently-ranked No. 8 Montana State and a good showing at No. 6 Weber State. The Fighting Hawks have a better win than all of the other 7-win teams, and that's including SIU's FBS victory. Yes, that's right, because Montana State is better than UMass. Not all FBS wins should be treated the same, especially if we're all saying the top third of the FCS is better than the bottom third of the FBS. I see the Fighting Hawks in the playoffs, winning a bid to host a first-round game and keeping their undefeated home record going in the opening round.
Last week's ranking: 15
Wofford is back to looking like that consistent playoff team. The Terriers have won seven straight FCS games, including last week's impressive 24-7 win against then-No. 9 Furman. With a win at The Citadel, which won't be easy, Wofford has an argument for a seed. The Terriers would be looked at as an 8-2 team and has to hope Furman gets a playoff nod with only seven D1 wins to bolster their own playoff resume.
12. Central Arkansas
Last week's ranking: 13
UCA isn't 100 percent in the field just yet, but at 8-3 with an FBS win, I think the Bears have a good shot at making the postseason even with a loss to UIW. However, if Nicholls beats SE Louisiana, both of those teams could get the nod over UCA because of head-to-head wins. But I do think the Bears will defeat UIW to secure a bid. UCA was looking like a potential seed until a 34-0 loss to SE Louisiana a couple of weeks ago. That makes me wonder once again how far they can go in the bracket.
Last week's ranking: 12
The Lions have a sneaky good resume at 7-2 versus FCS opponents with a dominating win against ranked Central Arkansas. A win Thursday against No. 23 Nicholls could potentially get this team into the seeds. On the other extreme end, a loss and SE Louisiana could end up missing the playoffs. The Lions are on a four-game winning streak, winning all of those games by 17 points or more. I'll take them at home against Nicholls and to get a first-round playoff win.
10. Montana State
Last week's ranking: 10
The Bobcats are a playoff lock with an 8-3 overall record, 8-2 against the FCS. Now they are playing for a seed if they get a win against Montana. The Griz are favored by less than a touchdown on the road, and a win would likely knock their rival into playing a first-round game. The Bobcats have played really well these last three weeks. The Brawl of the Wild game will tell us where they stand in the national picture. For right now, I see MSU as a second-round team.
Last week's ranking: 5
UNI had a chance at a seed, but suffered a disappointing 38-7 loss at SDSU on Saturday. The Panthers do own a 27-10 win against Illinois State, but there's a good chance they are playing in the first round. It's hard to put a lot of trust in the offense that averages 22.5 points per game. But the Panthers do play a physical style of football and their defense allows just 20.7 points per game. The Panthers are always that second-round team year after year. Depending on matchups, we'll see if they can advance any further in 2019.
Last week's ranking: 11
The No. 8 seed is very much up for grabs and Nova has a strong argument for it. And obviously the difference between having to play on Thanksgiving weekend and getting a bye is a big part in how far you can play into the postseason. The Wildcats are 8-3 overall and against the FCS. They have already secured a spot in the playoffs. And with a home win against Delaware, who is 5-6, a nine-win CAA team has a decent shot at a seed.
Last week's ranking: 7
The Redbirds continue to squeak by opponents with a great defense and an average offense. With QB Brady Davis getting knocked out of the game, Illinois State survived a scare against struggling Missouri State and won 17-12. It's now been announced that Davis will miss the rest of this season with a knee injury. This team is now 8-2 against the FCS and travels to YSU on Saturday. The Redbirds can secure a seed with a win. I think they can win a second-round game against an unseeded team, but I'm not sold on the Redbirds advancing past the quarterfinals.
Last week's ranking: 8
Even though SDSU lost to Illinois State a couple of weeks ago and the Redbirds may be seeded higher than the Jacks if they both win Saturday, I still have more confidence in SDSU making a longer playoff run, although I still have them both losing in the quarterfinals here. The Jacks looked like a whole new team in a dominating effort against UNI. The defense remains strong. And the offense is getting going despite its starting QB and now star RB Pierre Strong Jr. being hurt. True freshman Keaton Heide is playing some solid ball and went 15-16 passing for 196 yards and 2 TDs against UNI. This is still a dangerous team in the playoffs. We'll see what kind of matchup they get in the quarterfinals and if they can advance to the semis for the third-straight season.
5. Weber State
Last week's ranking: 3
The concerns about the Wildcats popped back up again Saturday in their 35-16 loss at Montana. The passing game struggled overall while the pass defense allowed big plays. Now, Weber is still good enough to make a run to the quarterfinals, depending on matchups. The team still sits at 8-1 against the FCS and should be a seed. But Saturday's game showed that this team is good, just not among the nation's elite.
Last week's ranking: 6
See below for my take on Montana potentially being No. 3 in this ranking. The Griz proved they're a team good enough to make a run to the semifinals after demolishing Weber State. Is this team strong enough to beat the likes of an NDSU or JMU? I'm not so sure about that, especially on the road. The Griz can set themselves up nicely by hosting all games through the quarterfinals with a win at rival Montana State.
Last week's ranking: 4
There's an argument for Montana here. Sac State is 7-1 versus the FCS and Montana is 9-1. But right now I like Sac State's quality wins (against Montana and Montana State) more than Montana's (Monmouth and Weber State). There is that dilemma of Montana pounding Weber State, who pounded Sac State. But the Hornets have the head-to-head on the Griz. Kevin Thomson is back at QB for Sac State and if they defeat UC Davis at home Saturday, they should secure a Top 4 seed with a good chance to reach the semifinals.
Last week's ranking: 2
The Dukes have been dominant this year. Their only loss is to FBS West Virginia. They did have an overtime scare at Stony Brook and were pushed by Villanova for three quarters before rolling to a 14-point victory. Overall, nine of JMU's 10 wins have been by double-digit points. The Dukes are outscoring opponents 41.1 to 15.2. Ben DiNucci is playing like the CAA Offensive Player of the Year. The defense is allowing an amazing 2.3 yards per rush attempt and 69.1 rushing yards per game. This team is legit and at the top of the list of potential teams that can spoil NDSU's undefeated season.
Last week's ranking: 1
The Bison are heavy favorites to win at Southern Illinois to finish the regular season 12-0. Even with an upset loss, it's hard to imagine NDSU dropping below the No. 2 seed. It's also hard to imagine a team coming into the Fargodome and getting a win with how this team is playing right now. NDSU looks to be rolling to Frisco once again, a place where it's hard to pick against the Bison.
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