Top 25 rankings are made up of “what have you done for me lately” votes. If you lose, you drop. And it’s tough to rise if the teams in front of you keep winning.
The HERO Sports FCS Playoff Power Poll looks at the entire body of work to decide what the top eight seeds should be if the season ended today. Strength of schedule, Division I wins, FBS wins, wins against ranked FCS opponents and results against common opponents are some of the criteria taken into consideration.
Teams will slide up and down, appear and disappear, as their resumes strengthen or weaken throughout the season. After five weeks of action, here is what FCS writers Brian McLaughlin and Sam Herder believe the playoff seeds should look like today.
Brian McLaughlin's seeds
1. James Madison (5-0) – The Dukes found out how tough Delaware was this past weekend but still toughed it out on the road and knocked off the Blue Hens 20-10. JMU is off this weekend and may have ESPN Gameday ‘in the house’ next weekend. I will say this … some of these Valley teams below? They’re narrowing the gap between No. 1 and the field.
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2. North Dakota State (4-0) – The Bison have given up 31 points in four wins – tops in the FCS. Period. They’ve also scored more than 200 points, which only undefeated James Madison and North Carolina A&T and 4-1 Western Carolina have also done. I, um, think you have to begin to talk about NDSU in the national title picture … but then again, what’s new?
3. Youngstown State (3-1) – Flip a coin, right? The reason I have the Penguins here ahead of South Dakota is because I think they honestly should be 5-0 (OT loss at Pitt). The good news? We’ll be able to watch these two Valley opponents settle this question for the No. 3 spot, and then next week we’ll see the ‘Guins go against NDSU at home. YSU is getting it done, again. With some new names.
4. South Dakota (4-0) – The Western Illinois win last weekend was even bigger than the FBS win over Bowling Green – because the Leathernecks are loaded. The Coyotes play host this weekend to the FCS national runner-ups in Youngstown State. If they want to continue to be the flavor of the year, this weekend has to happen. QB Chris Streveler has worked out pretty well, eh?
5. South Dakota State (3-1) – Sick of the Valley teams yet? The rest of the FCS will be sick of them too when it comes time to release the playoff bracket. Youngstown State shut down the Jackrabbits’ vaunted offense, but we all know at some point in the next month SDSU’s offense is going to blow up on one or more of the top half of the Valley. It's the nature of the MVFC beast.
6. Jacksonville State (3-1) – We bump the Gamecocks down one notch because of what the Valley is doing, not because JSU is doing something wrong. We would have loved to have seen a tighter score with Georgia Tech in week two, but the win over previously undefeated Liberty in week three made it more interesting. Truly curious about how much of a challenge the Ohio Valley Conference puts up going forward, because the OVC seems better.
7. Illinois State (4-0) – The Redbirds have played well against a relatively easy slate so far, at least compared to the rest of the Valley teams above. But this team is squeezing opponents on defense. This weekend it gets a nice test against one of the best Big Sky teams, Northern Arizona. Then it’s the Valley gauntlet. We'll know who the Redbirds are within two to three weeks.
8. Weber State (4-1) – I could see several teams being in this spot. Central Arkansas certainly is worthy of a look after how it handled Sam Houston State. Western Illinois played South Dakota very tough and you have to look at them. How about Western Carolina? It played well without its star running back. But Weber State is 4-0 against FCS competition, leads the Big Sky, and hung tough with the Pac 12’s California in week two.
Sam Herder's seeds
1. James Madison (5-0) – You know your program is in a good spot when you’re 5-0 and the fans are still asking questions and raising concerns. JMU’s offense has looked human the last couple games, even though the total yards may not indicate that. Maybe it’s a matter of struggling to put teams away. But the Dukes are going to have to grind out every win with a big target on their back. Sometimes a win's a win and you put the performance behind you.
2. North Dakota State (4-0) – NDSU looks sharp. Plain and simple. While the Bison haven’t played much competition outside of Eastern Washington, the positives are all there. Easton Stick is completing 72.1 percent of his passes with no interceptions. Lance Dunn has the ability to bust a long run every time he rushes the ball. And with the return of linebacker Nick DeLuca, the defense is allowing just 7.8 points per game.
3. South Dakota (4-0) – The Coyotes handled No. 13 Western Illinois for most of the game, up 38-6 at one point before winning 38-33. It’s crazy to think USD, who has never reached the FCS playoffs, is a top team in the subdivision now. Ranked No. 6 in the Coaches Poll, the Coyotes host No. 3 Youngstown State and can prove their worth even more love.
4. Youngstown State (3-1) – The talk of the MVFC was NDSU vs. South Dakota State. Well for now, the Penguins erased the Jackrabbits from that conversation, winning 19-7. YSU shut down the SDSU passing attack and pummeled the defense with an impressive rushing attack (63 carries, 310 yards).
5. Jacksonville State (3-1) – There’s not much more the Gamecocks can do to move up the seedings besides just keep on winning (which they’ll probably do) and hope the teams before them drop multiple games. The Ohio Valley Conference is getting better, but still not good enough to jump the teams ahead of JSU. The problem is the MVFC and CAA will keep playing ranked teams and stacking their resumes every week and JSU will not.
6. New Hampshire (4-1) – Maybe it’s because of the head-scratching 51-26 loss to Holy Cross, but UNH has been quietly solid this season. A 4-1 record with an FBS win is nothing to scoff at. Watch out for that Oct. 28 game at JMU. The Wildcats aren’t to be forgotten in the CAA. And it's not the FCS playoffs without them. UNH has made the postseason 13 seasons in a row.
7. Central Arkansas (3-1) – A lot of people thought this was the year the Bears could knock off Sam Houston State. The Bearkats have dominated the Southland Conference for awhile and brought back basically their entire offense. But the Bears simply showed they're a better team and now have a chance to run the table and win the conference and get a seed. SHSU has just one loss and will likely win out from here as well. But that may not be good enough to earn a seed.
8. Western Illinois (3-1) – Despite losing their last game, the Leathernecks' resume is still pretty dang good. A dominating FBS win makes up for the 38-33 loss to ranked South Dakota. WIU was down 38-6 in the third quarter versus USD and showcased once again that that offense is one to fear, almost making a miraculous comeback.