Oct. 20, 2009

Watch No. 1 North Alabama vs. Valdosta State, Thursday 8pm ET

By Amy Farnum
NCAA.com

ROARING AHEAD:  It has been 13 years since North Alabama has held the No. 1 ranking in the AFCA Division II Top 25, but the Lions are not satisfied with getting back on top -- they want to stay there.

“We have a lot of respect for the ranking but it means nothing if we can’t lineup and beat Valdosta State this week,” said head coach Terry Bowden. “We are going to fight hard to keep it but our players have to understand that the vote only lasts for seven days. There are no awards given for mid-season No. 1 rankings.”

UNA claimed the top spot after improving to 8-0 with a 34-24 victory over Delta State, combined with a loss to previous No. 1 Abilene Christian last week.  The Lions were last No. 1 following their third straight NCAA title in 1996.

North Alabama is one of only six unbeaten teams remaining in Division II, joining Central Washington (8-0), Bloomsburg (8-0), Minnesota State-Mankato (8-0), Albany State (7-0) and Charleston (8-0).

The Lions will immediately test their No. 1 ranking in a Thursday night match-up at Valdosta State in a meeting between Gulf South Conference foes.  The game will be nationally-televised on CBS College Sports at 8 p.m. ET.  North Alabama beat the Blazers in both the regular season and NCAA playoff contests last year after falling twice to VSU in 2007.  This is the first meeting since 2002 that one of the teams is not nationally ranked.

ALL THE MARBLES:  There are four match-ups between nationally-ranked conference foes this week, highlighted by No. 10 Charleston (W.V.) versus No. 18 West Liberty State in only the second meeting ever between a pair of ranked West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference squads.

Charleston enters the contest on an eight-game winning streak after dismantling North Greenville University, 34-7, last weekend.  West Liberty State edged Shepherd, 31-30, to move to 7-1 on the season and stretch its winning streak to seven games – the Toppers’ longest in 30 years.

Both squads sit at 5-0 in the WVIAC standings, making the game on Oct. 24 a battle for first place.  It is only the second time since the WVIAC became a Division II member in 1995 that two Top 25 league teams will meet.  Last year, No. 23 Seton Hill downed No. 19 West Virginia State, 35-28.

Elsewhere in the Top 25 on Saturday, No. 4 Northwest Missouri State tangles with No. 16 Washburn, No. 9 Abilene Christian and No. 11 Tarleton State battle for control of the Lone Star Conference South Division race and No. 19 Tuskegee looks to knock off undefeated and eighth-ranked Albany State.

RING THE BELL:  Wayne State (Mich.) senior running back Joique Bell continues to carry a big load for the Warriors while leading the nation in three statistical categories. 

The native of Benton Harbor, Mich., rushed for 263 yards and six touchdowns on 34 carries in a convincing 45-7 victory over Ferris State on Oct. 17.  Bell finished the game with 305 all-purpose yards – the sixth-best total in school history.  He collected his third Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week award for his performance.

Bell tops the nation in rushing yards per game (191.38), scoring (18.75 points per game) and all-purpose yards (216.50 per game), and is first nationally among all divisions in both rushing and scoring.  He ranks ninth all-time in scoring with 534 points among all divisions in NCAA history.

The Warriors travel to No. 25 Hillsdale on Saturday for a tilt between second-place GLIAC teams.