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: 15
My thought process with the Owls will probably remain the same and it'll be tough to prove me otherwise against Big South opponents. This team is going to end the regular season with a great record. I doubt its resume gets KSU a seed, but the Owls play solid defense and have a tricky offense to stop. So I see them winning a first-round game but not yet convinced this team can make the quarterfinals.
14. Sacramento State
Last week's ranking: Unranked
The Hornets have looked solid to start the season with a 2-0 record against FCS opponents along with competitive games against FBS teams. And they were decisive FCS wins, the latest coming against Eastern Washington. Now, EWU is in rebuilding mode this year. But Sac State proved it's now a contender in the Big Sky. The Hornets always had talent with the likes of Kevin Thomson at QB and Elijah Dotson at RB. Now, with a new coaching staff under Troy Taylor, they appear to be that team in the Big Sky that's risen to challenge the top teams. We'll see if they can do that these next two weeks at Montana State and against Montana for homecoming.
13. Youngstown State
Last week's ranking: Unranked
YSU was right there with UNI but missed opportunities late in the game resulted in a 21-14 loss. Even tougher was quarterback Nathan Mays taking a sack late on the last possession from two defenders that saw his leg fold underneath him. He was helped off the field and was then using crutches. His status is unknown and a key part in where the Penguins go from here. But they are 4-1 with a good chance to make the playoffs. Depending on matchups, we could see YSU in the second round.
12. Northern Iowa
Last week's ranking: Unranked
UNI is a hard team to figure out where exactly it stands in the national landscape. But I do know the Panthers are consistently a second-round team, which puts them in that 9-16 range. UNI had a solid win against undefeated YSU. It's still hard to trust the offense even with some standout weapons on the outside. But the defense is stout once again, allowing 14 points or less versus three of the four FCS opponents. That should get the Panthers a first-round win, but they've never drawn a great matchup in recent seasons to advance past the second round.
11. Stony Brook
Last week's ranking: Unranked
We'll see if Stony Brook can stay in this ranking going forward or if Saturday's close overtime loss to James Madison was a lightning-in-a-bottle performance. Right now, the Seawolves appear to be a dangerous team with an opportunistic defense and a much more explosive offense compared to past years. They are 4-1 against FCS opponents and control their own playoff destiny.
Last week's ranking: 14
We wanted a statement performance from Nicholls and boy oh boy did we get one. The Colonels throttled No. 11 Central Arkansas 34-14. The defense lived up to preseason expectations against UCA after battling some injuries to start the year. And it has a senior QB Chase Fourcade that knows how to win games. Nicholls has emerged as the Southland Conference favorite, as we all expected. It just took a few games to wake this strong team up.
Last week's ranking: 12
Furman erased any doubts after a so-so performance against ETSU. The Paladins dominated Samford 58-14 after the Bulldogs came in hot on a three-game winning streak. The SoCon has been a bit of a disappointment this year, but Furman is a big bright spot. To hold the Samford offense, which previously scored 61 and 55 points, to 14 points is impressive. Redshirt freshman QB Darren Grainger was efficient and the run game was explosive with 460 yards rushing.
Last week's ranking: 9
A lot of things didn't go Montana State's way on Saturday, but the Bobcats still found a way to defeat Cal Poly 34-28 in overtime. I discussed this after the game: Right now, MSU has the defense and running game to win a lot of games this year. But there is a medium-sized ceiling for this team if the passing game continues to be below average. I can see the Bobcats in the quarterfinals. Depending on who they match up with, a win in the quarters is possible. But it's hard seeing MSU defeating a team with a defense like NDSU's, JMU's, SDSU's or Villanova's when there's no threat through the air, no matter how many different ways the Bobcats can run the ball.
7. Weber State
Last week's ranking: 6
Weber is another interesting team to try and gauge. The Wildcats looked dominate in the first half a couple of games ago versus UNI. But the second half got a little ugly. And after bragging about how strong their defense was, they give up 35 points to Idaho, although the last score was a 97-yard kick return with 1:09 remaining. The good news is the offense, which has been inconsistent, scored 41 points versus the Vandals with a lot of the damage coming on the ground. Weber is a lot like Montana State. I have to see much more from the passing game to say the ceiling for this team is higher than a quarterfinal appearance.
Last week's ranking: 8
The Grizzlies flexed their muscle again when they wanted to, defeating Idaho State 59-20 after falling behind 17-0 early. The offense continues to show it's among the best in the FCS and the improvements on defense are noticeable. If we're going to nit-pick, though, it's that Montana is going to find itself in big trouble down the road if it has slow starts like some games so far this season. Climbing out of a 17-point hole against Idaho State is one thing, but doing it in December when weather conditions may slow down the passing attack is a whole different deal. The Griz haven't played their best four full quarters of ball yet, which is a scary thought.
Last week's ranking: 5
Towson's bye week came at a good time after facing Florida, losing 38-0. Its only other loss was an overtime one to Villanova. There's a ton of buzz right now with Nova and not as much with Towson despite that game being a coin flip. The Tigers are still dangerous offensively even with All-American all-purpose player Shane Simpson being sidelined with an injury. The question is can the defense rebound after giving up 42 points to Villanova and (understandably) 38 points to Florida? That side of the ball is key for Towson.
Last week's ranking: 4
Social media was a-buzzing about JMU's near loss, but not many mentioned Villanova not looking the greatest in a 35-28 win against William & Mary. But hey … as I say below under the JMU ranking, games like this happen. The Wildcats have the best record in the FCS at 6-0 and have done it with statement wins. Saturday is a chance at another one with a trip to JMU. Nova has the defense for a long playoff run. With the offense averaging 39.5 points per game with good balance (235.7 rushing yards and 207.2 passing yards per game), this is a dangerous team come December.
Last week's ranking: 3
We do weekly predictions on the best games every week. We haven't picked an SDSU game since Week 1 vs. Minnesota. The Jackrabbits just haven't played any truly tough FCS competition yet. They've beaten their last four opponents 147-30, but those teams have a combined record of 5-15. I trust the talent on the field to have the Jacks at No. 3 despite an OK-looking resume. This week is a great test at YSU as the schedule beefs up from here.
Last week's ranking: 2
The Dukes had every reason to lose its last of three straight road games at No. 24 Stony Brook. The defense wasn't at the level it was at in previous weeks. And the offense put the ball on the turf five times, losing three of them. Was this a warning sign? Or just one of those games where a terrific team played bad and still found a way to beat a solid opponent? Time will tell, of course. But go through national championship-winning seasons in the last few years for NDSU and JMU and there are games like this that pop up multiple times. One thing is clear, though … JMU can't have a performance like that this week versus Villanova.
Last week's ranking: 1
The Bison looked like a machine in a 37-3 win at No. 10 Illinois State. It's now turned into if the Bison will lose this regular season instead of when the Bison will lose. They're a young team still, and the Bison have only gone undefeated twice in 2013 and last year, which weren't your typical NDSU teams (that's saying something). NDSU still has big tests in front of it and a regular-season loss could happen. But right now, there's little reason to think the Bison won't get a No. 1 or 2 seed and home-field advantage to Frisco.
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