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Wayne Cavadi | | September 4, 2017

DII football poll: 5 takeaways from the Week 1 AFCA poll

  Week 1 saw a lot of change, but NWMSU remains No. 1 in DII football.

It was a wild Week 1 in Division II football. Nearly half of the preseason Top 25 lost, leading to an all out shake up in the Top 10.

Hold onto your seats, DII football fans. Let’s breakdown the action from this week’s AFCA poll.

DII football is still Bearcats Country

The Bearcats had a tough assignment on opening night. Not only did they face off against Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association arch-rival Emporia State, but the Hornets were the preseason No. 4. Northwest Missouri State sent a message to the DII football world.

They’re back, and as good as ever.

Rich Wright picked up his first win as the Bearcats head coach, and Zach Martin shined in his debut as starting quarterback. Martin threw for 314 yards and a touchdown as Northwest Missouri State stretched its winning streak to 31, having not lost since the 2014 postseason. The defense shutdown one of the premier returning quarterbacks in DII -- Braxton Marstall -- sacking him four times and limiting him to 135 yards in the air. The 34-0 win showed that the Bearcats are No. 1 for a reason, and will be in the hunt for their third straight title.

Eleven ranked teams fall in Week 1

Last season, six ranked teams fell on opening weekend. Half of those teams played other ranked schools. North Alabama — who ended last season as national runner-up — lost to an FCS program in Jacksonville State. Despite the heavy dose of losses, it wasn’t surprising.

This season opened with 11 ranked teams falling on the first weekend. Perhaps none was more surprising than Indianapolis’ late fourth quarter rally to upend No. 2 Grand Valley State 24-20.

Four of the 11 teams that fell were in the Top 10. That led to seven schools — UIndy, Winston-Salem State, Albany State, Tuskegee, Henderson State, West Chester, and West Georgia — making a Top 25 debut. UIndy made the biggest jump of them all, going from unranked to No. 18. Four teams -- Colorado State-Pueblo, Azusa Pacific, Sioux Falls and LIU-Post -- rose into the Top 10. Sioux Falls' big victory over then-No. 10 Minnesota Duluth made them Week 1's Big Risers, jumping eight spots to No. 9. Also jumping eight spots this week were Minnesota State (No. 12) and Central Missouri (No. 13).

FCS opener? No problem for Tuskegee

Tuskegee began the season unranked. The Tigers enter Week 2 a Top 25 team in DII football.

The Tigers enter the poll at No. 22. While UIndy grabbed headlines for its upset of a highly-ranked DII team, Tuskegee took the show on the road to take on the FCS program Alabama State. Though it wasn't a high-scoring affair, Tuskegee was in command for most of the game, taking an early first half 7-0 lead in front of a crowd reportedly over 25,000. When the Hornets cut the score to 7-6 in the fourth quarter, the Tuskegee defense clamped down and put the game out of reach.

Suddenly, Tuskegee's Week 2 matchup becomes the Top 25 Matchup of the Week. The Tigers open their home slate in the White Water Classic in Phenix City, Alabama against Albany State. Like Tuskegee, Albany State began the season unranked. A huge 29-12 upset over then-No. 11 Valdosta State, has the Golden Rams sitting at No. 20. That means one of these two teams will still be in the Top 25 next week, possibly breaking into the Top 20 of DII football.

Big debuts equal big jumps

Zach Martin -- engulfed in a starting quarterback battle thoughout the preseason -- had a great debut for the Bearcats, helping maintain their No. 1 status. Others had big first games as well.

Connor Jessop had the daunting task of replacing Jeff Ziemba in Shepherd. The Rams -- who have become a perennial powerhouse -- lost the No. 5 passer in DII football last season and handed the play calling duties to Jessop. He responded by throwing for 476 yards and five touchdowns, while adding two more touchdowns on 50 yards rushing, leading the Rams to 54-49 victory and their first jump into the Top 5 this season.

Al McKeller's first collegiate game went pretty smooth for UIndy. The running back amassed 206 yards on the ground, including the game-clinching 51-yard touchdown run. Most importantly, he and backfield mate Andrew Walker -- who ran for over 100 yards himself -- kept the ball away from the explosive offense of Grand Valley State.

Road warriors

Henderson State is one of the seven schools making its debut in the poll this week. The No. 23 ranking comes on the heels of an upset of the reigning Great American Conference champion Harding. 

What is most remarkable about the Reddies' victory was that it was on the road. Henderson State has now won an NCAA-best 27-straight games on the road. In fact, the program has never lost a GAC game on the road since its inception in 2011. Quarterback Andrew Black led the charge, throwing for 246 yards and two touchdowns. The Reddies' open their home slate in Arkadelphia, Arkansas this weekend against the upstart Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys, fresh off its own upset of GAC-favorite Southern Arkansas. 

Conference breakdown: 

With West Chester's 51-9 rout over Bentley, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference is tied at the top as the most represented conference in the poll. The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference makes its debut this week, with not one, but two schools thanks to the big upsets by Albany State and Tuskegee.

Conference Teams in Top 25
PSAC 3 (California (PA), Indiana (PA), West Chester)
MIAA 3 (NWMSU, ESU, Central Missouri)
NSIC 3 (Sioux Falls, Minnesota State, Minnesota Duluth)
GLIAC 2 (Ferris State, Grand Valley State) 
GSC 2 (North Alabama, West Georgia)
LSC 2 (Texas A&M-Commerce, Midwestern State)
RMAC 2 (Colorado State-Pueblo, Colorado Mesa)
SIAC 2 (Albany State, Tuskegee)
CIAA 1 (Winston Salem State)
GAC 1 (Henderson State)
GLVC  1 (UIndy)
GNAC  1 (Azusa Pacific)
MEC 1 (Shepherd)
NE-10 1 (LIU Post)


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