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. Kennesaw State
Last week's ranking: Unranked
The Owls were right on the fringe last week and now move into the Top 15 with teams moving out due to ugly losses. Here's the thing with Kennesaw … the Owls are going to finish the regular season 11-1 and 8-0 against FCS opponents. But they will have zero quality wins. Does the playoff committee treat KSU like the 9-2 McNeese team from a couple of years ago and put the Owls, who will have the Big South auto-bid, into a first-round game? Or does Kennesaw's name recognition and past playoff success lead to a playoff seed? Whatever it is, I see the Owls playing in the second round of the playoffs. But I'm not sold on another quarterfinal appearance just yet, which would put them in the Top 8 in this ranking.
Last week's ranking: Unranked
Nicholls moved into the Top 15 despite a disappointing performance against an FBS team. I thought the Colonels would compete much better (and possibly win) against a Texas State squad, but fell 24-3. Some bad losses in last week's ranking allowed Nicholls to move up. I'm still waiting on a signature win, though, and that could possibly come this week against Central Arkansas. The Colonels made the second round of the playoffs last year. The pieces coming back from that team tells me Nicholls can make it back to the round of 16.
13. Southeastern Louisiana
Last week's ranking: 15
If not for a canceled game versus Bethune-Cookman, Southeastern Louisiana would likely be sitting at 4-1 with the loss coming against Ole Miss, a 40-29 game. The Lions are 3-0 against FCS opponents, highlighted by the season-opening win against Jacksonville State. Now, JSU is proving to be a mess in 2019. But it was still impressive how Southeastern Louisiana physically dominated that game.
Last week's ranking: 9
Furman dropped a little here because of the Montana schools rising and also the fact that the Paladins didn't look overly impressive in a 17-10 win against East Tennessee State. Now, one week's performance isn't going to make me lose all the confidence I have in this team. Furman still looks like the SoCon favorite and could be in the discussion for a playoff seed if it survives the competitive conference schedule.
11. UC Davis
Last week's ranking: 3
It looked like a mixture of the Bison mental and physical hangover and simply just running into a really good team as UC Davis got beat up on at home against Montana. But that performance doesn't make me forget that the Aggies had multiple opportunities to take a fourth-quarter lead on No. 1 NDSU the week before. This team is talented, experienced and well-coached and will bounce back. The Aggies should still make the playoffs and at least reach the second round.
10. Central Arkansas
Last week's ranking: 12
UCA's season-opening FBS win against Western Kentucky is carrying a lot of weight still, but its Week 2 24-16 win against Austin Peay is now looking much more impressive after the Govs absolutely pounded Jacksonville State. The Bears are on the cusp of being a quarterfinal team. The upcoming Southland Conference games, especially this week at Nicholls, are big for UCA.
9. Montana State
Last week's ranking: 14
Montana vs. Montana State was a coin flip game last year. With both teams returning about the same number of starters, the gap between these two teams in the preseason was closer than the first poll indicated. With both teams 4-0 against FCS opponents, I gave the slight nod to Montana because it has the better overall resume. But these teams are neck and neck. If Montana continues to play like it did against UC Davis and Montana State plays like it did in the second half against Northern Arizona, we could be looking at seeding implications in the Brawl of the Wild game.
Last week's ranking: Unranked
I stayed patient with Montana and its start to the season. I needed to see what the Grizzlies did against a solid FCS team. And boy did they deliver on Saturday, hammering UC Davis 45-20 on the road. The level of talent on this team is easy to see. Now Montana needs to avoid a rollercoaster of performances from here on out to set itself up for a potential seed.
7. Illinois State
Last week's ranking: 8
The bye week came at a good time as the Redbirds are dealing with big injuries to its offense, including the top two receivers. I've been in wait-and-see mode for Illinois State for a while now and there's no better test than No. 1 NDSU coming to town Saturday.
6. Weber State
Last week's ranking: 7
Weber State is one of those rare FCS programs that is able to reload every year. The Wildcats lost a ton of standout seniors from last year's team and is looking equally as strong. Weber handled highly-ranked Northern Iowa 29-17 on Saturday in a game that saw a quick 17-0 first-quarter lead for the Wildcats. The defense can win this team a couple of playoff games while the offense has shown flashes.
Last week's ranking: 6
The Tigers may be 3-2, but their resume is solid. The two losses are against Villanova in overtime and Florida. Towson's three wins is highlighted by a 22-point victory against Maine. We know this offense is among the best in the country. The defense has shown improvement compared to last year, but there's still room to grow for this team to make it past the quarterfinals.
Last week's ranking: 5
Nova is 5-0 with back-to-back impressive wins against ranked opponents. The Wildcats are scoring 40.4 points per game and allowing 19.2, with Towson's 45 points jumping that number up. The offensive balance needed to win games in December is looking good as well with 244.6 rushing and 198.6 passing yards per game. Villanova, with a huge game at James Madison looming in a couple of weeks, looks like it can earn a Top 4 seed and make a run to the semifinals.
3. South Dakota State
Last week's ranking: 4
Conference play couldn't have come soon enough for those of us trying to figure out how good the Jacks are. They're 3-1 with a close loss to Minnesota and three blowout wins against below-average teams. It does appear each position group has raised its level of play from last year except for maybe the secondary that is gaining experience. The Jacks need that elevation of play as redshirt freshman quarterback J'Bore Gibbs continues to get more comfortable after missing a couple of games with a finger injury.
2. James Madison
Last week's ranking: 2
The Dukes dominated on the road against an Elon team that has 14 starters back from last year's playoff squad. While the Phoenix aren't a national title contender, the 45-10 result is still impressive for JMU. With a tremendous defense, a stronger running game and Ben DiNucci playing like an All-CAA quarterback, this team has what it takes to make it back to Frisco.
1. North Dakota State
Last week's ranking: 1
The Bison have answered a ton of offseason questions and look primed for another run to Frisco. But now comes the toughest part of the schedule that will determine if NDSU can earn a No. 1 or 2 playoff seed and have home-field advantage until Texas. The Bison face four ranked teams in their next five games with three of those coming on the road.
NEXT: FCS Playoff Predictions After Week 5
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