Over the last two weeks, the NCAA Division I Football Championship Committee has come out with its own top 10 rankings to "bring conversation to the Football Championship Subdivision fan base during the regular season.”
The third and final poll prior to Selection Sunday on Nov. 20 was released Tuesday night with a noticeable change at the top:
|1||North Dakota State||3|
|5||Sam Houston State||5|
|10||South Dakota State||NR|
Five-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State is the new No. 1 in the third edition, moving up from No. 3 last week. The Bison made a home in the top spot of the coaches poll for the first six weeks of the year before being shocked by South Dakota State in Week 7 at home.
But NDSU regained its footing quickly and has rattled off four straight victories since then, including a convincing 41-17 win over Indiana State this past weekend.
It’s likely that the Bison’s postseason track record and strength of schedule were enough to propel them two spots higher into the top poll position Tuesday. North Dakota State has five wins this year over teams that were ranked in the coaches poll, including an early season victory over Eastern Washington, who the Bison had to look up to in the committee’s previous two polls.
Meanwhile, it’s interesting that Jacksonville State fell two spots to No. 3. The Gamecocks handled Murray State 33-15 last week and their only defeat this year remains to be against LSU out of the SEC in daunting Baton Rouge.
But Jacksonville State’s schedule simply hasn’t been as strong as that of No. 1 North Dakota State or No. 2 Eastern Washington. Its best win thus far may have come in a 48-19 thrashing of Liberty, who fell out of the coaches top 25 last week immediately after joining the rankings for the first time.
With that said, the Gamecocks continue to handle their business without any letdowns and have the talent to warrant a top three spot. Jacksonville State can clinch an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs with a regular season finale win over UT-Martin this upcoming Saturday.
Two spots below in the rankings, it’s still apparent that Sam Houston State’s schedule is affecting how the Committee stacks it up against the rest of the FCS’ elite. The Bearkats are one of two undefeated FCS programs left – along with No. 6 The Citadel – but have not yet played a team boasting a winning record.
That’ll change this week, however, as the Bearkats host 9-1 Central Arkansas in a battle for the Southland crown.
Sam Houston State is the only FCS team to average more than 50 points per game this year. But with this regular season finale being its first true test, there’s still a lot to prove before the playoffs.
A win would solidify Sam Houston State’s elite status and would possibly signify that the Bearkats are worthy of a higher ranking. A loss, however, could lead to plenty of question marks and uncertainties ahead of difficult bracket play.
The Jackrabbits have established themselves as a formidable danger in a conference loaded with playoff threats like the Bison and Youngstown State. And if consistent quarterback play is the key to playoff success, SDSU has one of the best in sophomore Taryn Christion (32 touchdowns).
While the latest top 10 provides a useful look into how the 2016 playoff picture may be shaped, it’s far from static. A handful of these top teams have tough matchups on their plate in Week 12 that could lead to changes come time for Sunday’s playoff seeding.
The 2016 FCS playoff field will be announced this Sunday, Nov. 20. The 24-team bracket will include 10 automatic qualifiers and 14 at-large bids. First round play will then kick off on Saturday, Nov. 26.