Every week of the 2019 FCS season, Sam Herder will give his 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.
15. Southeastern Louisiana
Last week's ranking: 15
We're still in a wait and see mode for the Lions. The butt-kicking they give Jacksonville State to open the season is still eye-opening. But as you'll notice later on in this ranking, the Gamecocks are ahead of SE Louisiana. Right now, I feel more confident that JSU will make a deeper playoff run than SE Louisiana. If the Lions ascend to the top of the Southland Conference standings, that opinion could change.
14. Montana State
Last week's ranking: 14
I've said for a few weeks now that I need to see more from the passing attack with Montana State. Apparently head coach Jeff Choate agreed. Sophomore Tucker Rovig replaced redshirt freshman Casey Bauman as the starting QB in a blowout win against a struggling Norfolk State team. Despite the opponent, there's still a ton of positives to take away from this game, highlighted by Rovig going 21-27 throwing for 221 yards and four touchdowns. The Bobcats also had three players rush for more than 100 yards.
Last week's ranking: 13
Maine responded to last week's loss to Towson by handling Colgate. While the 45-23 loss to the Tigers raised doubts on if this team can make it back to the semifinals, the Black Bears should still be a dangerous team in the playoffs. They play good defense and the weapons on offense and special teams are solid.
12. Central Arkansas
Last week's ranking: 12
The Bears lost 35-16 to FBS Hawaii and hold a 3-1 overall record with an FBS win over Western Kentucky. UCA squeaked by some OK FCS teams in between its two FBS games. With a bye this week, the Bears travel to ranked Nicholls next Saturday in a huge game. That matchup will play a big factor in this ranking.
11. Jacksonville State
Last week's ranking: 10
JSU handled business in a decisive win against North Alabama. Coming off an emotional come-from-behind win against Eastern Washington, this was a good performance for the Gamecocks to avoid any letdowns. The offense did its thing and if this performance is the start of the defense improving (allowing 12 points) then this team can get multiple wins in the postseason.
10. Northern Iowa
Last week's ranking: 9
UNI's offense struggled against an Idaho State team not known for its defense in a 13-6 win. A road trip to Weber State is going to give us a great look at what kind of team UNI is. The Panthers have been stuck as a second-round team for a few seasons now. A win at Weber would tell us UNI is ready for a longer playoff run.
Last week's ranking: 8
After two straight seven-point losses to FBS opponents, Furman avoided a letdown performance and defeated Mercer 45-10. This is the third time this offense has scored more than 40 points. The more I watch the Paladins, the more there is to like. They're right on the cusp of getting a seed.
8. Illinois State
Last week's ranking: 7
The Illinois State offense finally got going, scoring 40 points against Northern Arizona in a 13-point win. Running back James Robinson continues to be special and if QB Brady Davis and the passing attack can build off of this 419-yard performance, the Redbirds will be a dangerous team.
7. Weber State
Last week's ranking: 6
Weber State had a bye week and sits at 1-2 with a decent win against Cal Poly and two six-point FBS losses. It's tough to gauge where this team is at nationally. Thankfully, we'll get a better feel for that on Saturday when the Wildcats host Northern Iowa.
Last week's ranking: 3
Scoring 45 points against a Villanova defense that had allowed 34 points in the first three games goes to show how dangerous this Towson offense is. But it was Villanova that got the lost laugh in overtime, winning 52-45. The Tigers shouldn't drop far in anyone's rankings. This game could've gone either way.
Last week's ranking: Unranked
I was waiting to see what Villanova did against a strong opponent and boy did the Wildcats deliver. Usually, this program has relied on its defense. But Nova uncharacteristically allowed 45 points in an overtime game against a terrific Towson offense. It was the Wildcats' offense that made the difference this time, scoring 52 points. Quarterback Daniel Smith has injected some firepower for Villanova and Justin Covington continues to be electric in the running game. The Wildcats play the type of defense that sets them up for a deep playoff run. Now the team has balance with its offensive play.
4. South Dakota State
Last week's ranking: 5
J'Bore Gibbs is back behind center for SDSU for the first time since the season-opening narrow loss to Minnesota. Again, the redshirt freshman showed flashes of how good he can be. But the youth is still evident at times. There's some special talent surrounding him and the SDSU defense looks stout. It appears the Jacks are set for another run to the semifinals, but I'll need to see what this team does at Youngstown State and versus NDSU in October to get a feel if they can get over the hump and make it to Frisco.
3. UC Davis
Last week's ranking: 4
The Aggies showed they belong in the national title picture with a strong showing at NDSU. Even though it was a 27-16 loss, UC Davis had several opportunities to make this a different outcome. Now, this team needs to avoid the "Bison hangover" and handle business at home against a Montana team looking to enter this Top 15 ranking.
2. James Madison
Last week's ranking: 1
I still think JMU and NDSU are 1A and 1B, but I give a slight nod to the Bison this week because we saw them in action against another national title threat in UC Davis. But the Dukes are still looking pretty damn good. JMU's defense is as good as advertised and quarterback Ben DiNucci is leading an offense that can be scary good if it can finish drives with touchdowns instead of field goals. It still baffles me that some don't understand why the Dukes have an equally strong argument to be the national title favorites. It doesn't take a whole lot of research to see the level of talent the Dukes have. JMU is loaded, experienced and built like a team that can win a championship.
1. North Dakota State
Last week's ranking: 2
As I said above, it's a coin flip right now between JMU and NDSU. The Bison are a little better than I expected them to be, but their 4-0 start doesn't surprise me at all. JMU vs. NDSU is a Frisco matchup I've had locked in since January. NDSU was nearly beaten by UC Davis, but a big-time fourth-quarter interception from Michael Tutsie on the goal line prevented the Aggies from taking the lead as the Bison sealed the game a few minutes later. The Bison looked beatable. But despite not playing the cleanest game, they still found a way to win. For being a young team, this is a positive sign that NDSU can pull out a win in these kind of games. The Bison will continue to get better as the season progresses. And they're already ahead of schedule in my opinion
Listen to the latest episodes of B-Mac and Herd's FCS Podcast, which is also available on iTunes, Spotify, iHeart, Stitcher and Spreaker.
SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast