We're inching closer to football season and the release of the FCS Coaches Poll and FCS STATS Preseason Top 25 Poll brings us one step closer. Every national champion since 2008 appears in the top 10.
Here are some quick reactions from the preseason FCS Coaches Poll and FCS Stats Top 25 Poll.
A new name in the No. 1 spot, consensus top 10 teams between polls
North Dakota State has been nothing short of dominant against FCS – and FBS, for that matter – competition since 2011, but last fall James Madison ended the Bison's run of five consecutive national championships. As a result, the Dukes enter the season as the preseason favorites in both polls. They've made it to the top of the FCS and now they'll face the challenge of trying to stay there.
James Madison will carry the nation's longest active winning streak – in the FCS or FBS – of 12 games into the 2017 season and the Dukes will have the reigning Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Year at their disposal to keep the streak alive. Quarterback Bryan Schor led the FCS in completion percentage, passing efficiency and yards per attempt last season. Schor was effective on limited attempts against the Bison in the playoffs last fall, completing 11 of 18 passes for 242 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
In addition to James Madison, four other teams, including North Dakota State, which debuts at No. 2 and will be looking for revenge from its 27-17 playoff defeat against JMU, received at least one first-place vote in either of the polls. The Bison had four defensive players named to one of the STATS FCS Preseason All-American teams, but their defensive front took a major hit with the loss of defensive end Greg Menard, a member of the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List who suffered a season-ending knee injury over the weekend.
Sam Houston State is No. 3 in both polls. Eastern Washington is No. 4 in the Coaches poll/No. 5 in the STATS poll, South Dakota State is No. 6/No. 4, and Jacksonville State is No. 5/No. 6.
Both polls have the same teams, albeit in different orders, ranked in the top 10.
Slight drop for Youngstown State
In coach Bo Pelini's second season with Youngstown State, the Penguins advanced to the FCS national championship game, where they fell 28-14 to the Dukes. What can Youngstown State put together for an encore? It begins the season at No. 8/9, roughly 800 points outside of the top five in the STATS poll, meaning the Penguins will be viewed as underdogs by some nationally.
Pelini assembled a roster of 105 players for fall camp, the largest in program history, more than 30 of whom are newcomers to the team. The Penguins have a veteran quarterback in senior Hunter Wells, who completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 1,724 yards last season. He'll be protected by a pair of preseason all-conference linemen in offensive tackle Justin Spencer and center Vitas Hrynkiewicz.
Youngstown State was picked to finish third in the MVFC preseason poll, behind North Dakota State and South Dakota State, which were separated by just one vote, but the Penguins will host both teams this season, giving them a unique opportunity to potentially leapfrog one, or both, in the standings.
The Missouri Valley Football Conference has established itself as the pre-eminent conference in the FCS, but there is power in numbers from several conferences. Fifteen of the 25 teams in the STATS FCS preseason top 25 hail from thee conferences: the Missouri Valley Football Conference (six), Colonial Athletic Association (five), and Southern Conference (four).
North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Youngstown State gives Missouri Valley three teams in the top 10, along with No. 18 Northern Iowa, No. 20 Illinois State and No. 25 Western Illinois. The Colonial can counter with its own top-10 trio of James Madison, No. 7 Richmond and No. 10 Villanova.
Based on preseason voting, North Dakota State will have its work cut out for it in the MVFC, but can Richmond or Villanova push James Madison in the Colonial standings? Or, will the Dukes waltz into the playoff unscathed?
Top quarterbacks aplenty
Compare the polls with the Walter Payton Award Watch List, which features 22 players in the running for the FCS' most outstanding offensive player, and you'll notice some overlap. Many of the top-ranked teams also have a quarterback who's under early consideration for the award. Five of the top seven teams in the rankings – James Madison, Sam Houston State, South Dakota State, Eastern Washington and Richmond – have a signal caller on the list, in addition to top-25 teams Samford and Grambling State.
Sam Houston State's Jeremiah Briscoe won the award last season and this fall he'll try to become just the second two-time winner, an honor only held by former Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards.
Biggest movers, others receiving votes
The biggest shakeup in the FCS Coaches Poll from its last update on Jan. 9 was that The Citadel fell seven spots from No. 9 to No. 16. Youngstown State dropped six spots from No. 2 to No. 8, as did Grambling State from No. 15 to No. 21. San Diego dropped out of the poll from No. 21 to seventh among teams receiving votes.
Villanova improved four spots from No. 13 to No. 9, as did Samford from No. 23 to No. 19.
No. 18 Illinois State and No. 20 Northern Iowa both cracked the top 25 after falling short of making an appearance in the final Coaches poll from last season.
The two polls agreed on 22 teams. The FCS Coaches Poll included Weber State (No. 22), North Carolina Central (24) and North Carolina A&T (25), while the STATS FCS Top 25 Poll chose Fordham (No. 22), Albany (24) and Western Illinois (25).