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 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.
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: 9
I'm not too sure if Nicholls more resembles the team that put a butt-whooping on Central Arkansas a couple of weeks ago or the team that had a clunker at Sam Houston State on Saturday. Or perhaps it's somewhere in between. And honestly, it was hard to find a deserving team for this No. 15 spot. The Colonels are 4-1 against FCS opponents and I like the experience on this team. I'll put a second-round grade on them for now.
Last week's ranking: Unranked
Figuring out who the No. 3 team is in the CAA is no easy feat. Towson hasn't played to expectations. Stony Brook took JMU to overtime and then lost to New Hampshire the next week. UNH has beaten Elon but lost to Delaware on Saturday after the Blue Hens were dominated by Elon. So for right now, I'll go with the Phoenix and how they looked in the 42-7 win against Delaware. They had a bye Saturday and can go on a decent run here with Rhode Island, W&M, Maine and Towson to finish the season. Elon needs to win out to have a good shot at the playoffs as it is currently 3-4 overall and 3-3 against the FCS. If the Phoenix play to the level they did against Delaware, this can be a Top 15 team.
13. Sam Houston State
Last week's ranking: Unranked
A week after losing to Lamar in triple overtime, the Bearkats took down a Top 10 opponent in Nicholls. This team is a bit tough to figure out and may bounce in and out of this ranking because of it. But right now? The Bearkats look like a playoff team and one that can win a first-round game. What I really like about this team is the defense. Yes, the turnaround on that side of the ball has been impressive. Last year's team allowed 28.1 points per game. So far in 2019, SHSU is allowing 16.1.
Last week's ranking: 7
The loss to The Citadel didn't surprise me. But how the game played out certainly provided some warning signs. This team is still super talented and I'm not going to drop them from a potential quarterfinal team to a squad that loses in the first round just off of one bad performance. Hell, if we judged teams' outlooks off of their Week 8 performance then no way is NDSU winning a national title. The Paladins are 4-1 against the FCS and are still sitting good. I'm not as confident in this team advancing too far in the playoffs anymore, but it can rebound for a nice finish to the regular season and get a first-round win.
11. Illinois State
Last week's ranking: Unranked
The Redbirds are 5-1 against FCS opponents with the lone loss coming to NDSU. They have bounced back from the loss with a 21-7 win at SIU, a team that just pounded ranked YSU, and a 28-14 win at WIU. Illinois State should win its third game in a row with Indiana State coming to town. Then we find out more about this team with back-to-back games versus UNI and at SDSU. I believe this is a playoff team that is solid enough to win a first-round game. It's tough for me to say the Redbirds can make the quarterfinals at this point in the season.
10. Northern Iowa
Last week's ranking: 12
The Panthers held off a hot South Dakota team on Saturday and is now 4-2 against the FCS. Those two losses came against highly-ranked teams: NDSU and Weber State. Games remain against Illinois State and SDSU, which should paint a clearer picture of this team. But as I've said in this article before, the Panthers are consistently playing in the second round and I think that continues this year.
9. Montana State
Last week's ranking: 10
The bye week came at a good time for the Bobcats after a 34-21 home loss to Sacramento State, which now doesn't look all that bad. Since MSU and Montana fans love to argue, they can argue about which loss was better. (I'm kidding, kinda.) Anyway, as I've been saying for a couple of weeks now, the Bobcats have a ceiling with how the defense is playing and the issues in the passing game. The talent is there to make the second round. And a seed is still in play with the Bobcats being 5-1 against FCS opponents. So a trip to the quarterfinals is still a legit possibility. But that second round to quarterfinal range is where I see the ceiling for this team right now.
8. Kennesaw State
Last week's ranking: 14
With teams like Furman and Nicholls losing Saturday, Kennesaw's chances at a seed are getting higher. I'm still unsure how the playoff committee is going to handle the Owls, who will likely go undefeated against the FCS but does have two non-counter winners and are 106th in Massey's strength of schedule rankings. Teams with good records but bad schedules that have prior playoff success are bound to get more love. Example: Jacksonville State in 2016 and 2017. Teams with no prior playoff success are the opposite: Example: 2017 McNeese (left out of the playoffs at 9-2) and 2018 Monmouth (left out of the playoffs at 8-3). Something tells me the Owls are getting a seed. And this team is certainly good enough to avoid an unseeded team knocking them off in the second round.
Last week's ranking: 5
The Grizzlies are still a good football mean. They're maybe just not as good as we thought, especially defensively. And there's also the whole Sacramento State being legit thing. Montana can recover from the 49-22 loss and is still in position for a seed with a 5-1 record against the FCS. The big question is how long star QB Dalton Sneed is out for with an ankle injury. He is doubtful this week with EWU coming to town. Sneed is a huge part of this team's success. Cam Humphrey is capable of getting the Griz a few wins in the meantime. But Montana's outlook on how many wins it can get in the playoffs changes if Sneed's injury is a long-term issue. Ankles tend to heal at their own pace, but Sneed seems like the type of dude to put some extra tape on and let it rip.
6. Weber State
Last week's ranking: 6
Play good defense and run the ball effectively will get you places. And for the Wildcats, that will be their third straight quarterfinals. Weber ran the ball 59 times for 443 yards Saturday while limiting Northern Arizona to 22 yards rushing on 16 attempts. Case Cookus did have 359 yards passing, but he's Case Cookus. Weber is just such a solid FCS program that will be a factor in the bracket again. I don't know if they're cracking the semifinals just yet, though.
Last week's ranking: 4
The bad news for Villanova is stud RB Justin Covington is out for the season with an ACL injury. The good news is the Wildcats were right there with No. 2 James Madison without him a couple of Saturdays ago. It's still a tough loss to have such a dynamic player sidelined. But Nova still has some serious talent. If the Wildcats can keep its team balance at this level, they're going to be a tough team to beat in the playoffs. Sitting at 6-1 against the FCS, Nova controls its own destiny when it comes to earning a seed.
4. Sacramento State
Last week's ranking: 8
The EWU win made people raise their eyebrows. The Montana State win made people ponder how legit this team is. And the Montana win gave people the answer. The Hornets are for real. They play good defense. They're balanced on offense and can beat you in a multitude of ways. They're well-coached, well prepared and execute at a high level. And they're 4-0 against FCS opponents with four decisive wins and look like the best team in the Big Sky. Sac State is now a factor in the FCS.
3. South Dakota State
Last week's ranking: 3
SDSU's front seven on defense is for real, you guys. Everyone knows the name of All-American LB Christian Rozeboom. But, while he's having another fantastic season, he's not even the best player on the defense right now. That would be junior LB Logan Backhaus. He just keeps on making plays in every game that I watch and I know SDSU fans want him to get more attention. His play has certainly been noticed. And offensively, the Jacks are making huge strides as expected with a redshirt freshman QB that missed a couple of early games due to injury. If the offensive line can get a bit more consistent, the weapons are there to put up big points on any defense in the country. Just how good is SDSU? Well, we'll find out Saturday when NDSU comes to town. And just how huge is this game? Well, ESPN's "College GameDay" is also coming to town.
2. James Madison
Last week's ranking: 2
The Dukes handled business on the road at William & Mary 38-10 in a game that wasn't the prettiest. But a 28-point road win isn't something to nit-pick at too much. JMU's defensive line just continues to make o-line's look foolish. And the offense should get more love on just how good it's been this season. While NDSU has dominated this season, we haven't forgotten how good the Dukes are. I said this team is making it to Frisco less than a week after the national title game concluded. I feel as confident in that as ever.
1. North Dakota State
Last week's ranking: 1
NDSU defeated Missouri State 22-0 while out-gaining the Bears 447-185 in yards of total offense. Yet you watch that game and it's easy to see the Bison weren't at their best, which goes to show how good this team. Mo State had NDSU schemed up pretty well, but there were still things such as penalties and missed throws that were unorthodox for the 2019 Bison. NDSU's defense, though, was as dominant as ever. It seems the Bison have had two "off games" against UC Davis and Missouri State and both were still double-digit wins. It's probably safe to say NDSU won't look as sluggish when it travels to SDSU on Saturday. This is by far the biggest test for the Bison this year and could decide home-field advantage in the playoffs.
NEXT: Playoff Predictions After Week 8
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