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.
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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 seven 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 (7-0) – The Dukes just keep getting it done. In the preseason, nobody questioned their chance to finish 11-0. They’re doing everything right so far.
JMU DL Andrew Ankrah on the HERO Sports FCS Podcast:
2. North Dakota State (7-0) – The Bison are surviving the Valley gauntlet so far. They’ve taken some lumps but have come out unblemished. The question is, should they get some love for the No. 1 spot? It’s up to them.
3. Jacksonville State (6-1) – Right now, JSU nabs this spot – but as things go along I’d really like to see the Gamecocks win in more convincing style in the next four games. Otherwise, as time goes forward, I’d be more inclined to have another Valley team in this spot.
4. Western Illinois (5-2) – Based on ‘right now’ I’d put the Leathernecks in this spot because of the way they’ve played the past few weeks. They gave NDSU all they could handle for most of last week’s game in Fargo, and they have some resume builder wins that look better every week (Northern Arizona win, FBS blowout win).
5. South Dakota (6-1) – People will think I’m nuts putting USD behind a team it beat. But the Valley is nuts, so there you go. As of right now, that’s how I see it. Tune in next week for another change, and consult your astrologer for next week’s ranking. You’ll need one.
6. Central Arkansas (6-1) – If UCA knocks off McNeese this weekend at home (it’s lone serious hurdle remaining) I’m going to move UCA up some. They should be in good shape to finish 10-1 and get a first-round bye. Kudos to the Bears, who are doing great things.
7. Northern Arizona (5-2) – That Illinois State blowout win three weeks ago looks better and better every week, and the second week loss to Western Illinois looks less and less like a dark blemish on the season. The Lumberjacks have won five in a row and are playing well right now.
8. Delaware (5-2) – The Blue Hens are really starting to come into form and they generally play good defense. Lone losses? Virginia Tech and FCS No. 1 James Madison – who they only allowed 13 points to, defensively. As things wear on, a Southern Conference team may emerge and challenge for a seed, or maybe another Valley team, but right now? I think this Delaware team is looking good.
Sam Herder's seeds
1. James Madison (7-0) – It’s business as usual for the Dukes, coming off another great defensive effort. This week gets tougher against New Hampshire. Then there’s Richmond and Elon on the upcoming slate. Let’s be real, though, the Dukes aren’t losing those games unless they go out and lose it themselves: turnovers, penalties, etc. If you want to find a weakness, it’d be the running attack not being as productive as expected. But JMU looks locked, loaded and physically superior to make another run to Frisco with a top seed.
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2. North Dakota State (7-0) – There’s been a lot of impressive defensive efforts by the Bison over the years. Saturday’s was up there. The unit allowed just two field goals and 216 total yards in a 24-12 win over Western Illinois, who came in averaging 41.8 points per game. Offensively, quarterback Easton Stick continues to show he’s a gamer by shaking off two early interceptions to finish with 282 yards of total offense and three touchdowns.
3. South Dakota (6-1) – Yes, the Coyotes lost to Illinois State. But it’s hard to find more than two resumes better than theirs (FBS win, three ranked FCS wins). The question marks on defense are back for USD, allowing 37 points against the Redbirds, who put up just seven points against Southern Illinois the week before. USD’s dual-threat quarterback Chris Streveler had to throw the ball 63 times and only rushed eight times this game. But he was still got hit often when dropping back.
4. Elon (6-1) – Let me answer two questions quick here. Do I believe the Phoenix are the fourth best team in the FCS? No. Do I believe they will be seeded No. 4? No. But remember the point of these power polls are who deserves to be seeded right now. Elon has one loss to an FBS team and three ranked FCS wins. Now, let’s see how good this team really is this weekend against Villanova and against New Hampshire and JMU in November.
5. Jacksonville State (6-1) – I still believe by the end of the season, the Gamecocks will be a Top 4 seed with a potential No. 3 seed. But here’s a question: Could JSU be underrated this season? The Ohio Valley Conference doesn’t have a great reputation as far as being a strong league. The Gamecocks have owned it and basically take up half of the all-conference teams each year. But they’ve gotten roughed up the last two years by MVFC teams. Along with the departure of quarterback Eli Jenkins, a lot of people don’t consider the Gamecocks a threat. Maybe they’re not. Or maybe they’ll end up being that “surprise” team in the playoffs.
6. Western Illinois (5-2) – WIU’s only two losses this season are to USD and NDSU and is helped by an FBS win over Coastal Carolina. The Leathernecks have a huge game this weekend when South Dakota State visits. SDSU is looking to get back in the seed discussion after two early conference losses. WIU can’t afford a third loss in Valley play.
7. Central Arkansas (6-1) – The Bears host a huge showdown with McNeese this weekend. Both teams are 6-1. A win here locks up a seed for UCA unless it's on the wrong end of a huge upset in the final three weeks. It'll be interesting to watch fellow Southland Conference member Sam Houston State and if the playoff committee gives the Bearkats any love. SHSU's only loss is to UCA and owns two ranked wins. But maybe the blowout exits from the last three playoffs cost them this season.
8. Southern Utah (5-2) – Just when we thought Eastern Washington was ready to jump back into the seedings, SUU hands the Eagles a loss. The Thunderbirds defeated Weber State the week prior to have back-to-back ranked wins. Their loss to Oregon can be thrown out the window. The head-scratcher is a blowout loss at Sacramento State. SUU should win its next three games before hosting Northern Arizona in the final week of the regular season, which likely could be for the Big Sky title.