With the regular season coming to a nearing close and only three weeks remaining on the schedule, the FCS committee revealed its Top 10 teams Thursday night in preparation for the playoffs that will kick off later this month.
Featured in the first rankings were the two lone unbeaten teams in James Madison and North Dakota State, six one-loss teams and a pair of teams with two losses, all represented from six different conferences.
Before we break down the first Top 10 reveal, take a look at who cracked the first list:
|2||North Dakota State||8-0|
|6||Sam Houston State||7-1|
|10||South Dakota State||6-2|
Here's the breakdown by conference:
|Conference||Number of teams|
|Colonial Athletic Association||2|
There’s no surprise that the Dukes and Bison sit No. 1 and No. 2 as both squads have won all eight games on their respective schedules. James Madison currently holds the longest winning streak in the country at 20 games, and 22 straight in FCS play. That stretch includes winning last year’s championship game 28-14 over Youngstown State, a week after defeating top-ranked North Dakota State 27-17 in the semifinals.
But just how evenly matched are these two teams that have looked virtually unstoppable at different parts of the season? The Bison have outscored their opponents 339-81 while the Dukes follow closely behind at 306-81. If both teams can win out these last three weeks – both have at least one game remaining against another Top 10 team – they’ll finish in the top two spots and opposite sides of the bracket. While JMU holds the advantage in the passing game behind quarterback Bryan Schor, NDSU has the advantage in the rushing department behind its two-headed attack of Bruce Anderson and Lance Dunn, who have combined for 16 touchdowns this season.
The total offensive difference through eight games between the top two teams? A mere 16 yards. Yes, it’s that close.
|Team||Points scored||Points per game||Total offense||Total yards per game||Rushing offense||Rushing TDs||Passing offense||Passing TDs|
After seeing those offensive numbers, is anyone surprised that their defensive numbers are eerily similar as well? James Madison and North Dakota State’s scoring defenses, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 respectively, are separated by one one-hundredth of a point. The Dukes have allowed seven total touchdowns compared to the Bison’s eight.
|Team||Points allowed||Points per game||Total defense||Yards allowed per game||Rushing defense||Rushing TDs allowed||Passing defense||Passing TDs allowed|
With little separation between these two teams through eight weeks, here’s who each have remaining on their schedule:
- Nov. 4 @ Rhode Island
- Nov. 11 vs. Richmond
- Nov. 18 @ No. 7 Elon
North Dakota State:
- Nov. 4 @ No. 10 South Dakota State
- Nov. 11 vs. No. 5 South Dakota
- Nov. 18 @ Illinois State
We’ll keep an eye on those two throughout the next three weeks to see if either can separate itself from the other with difficult matchups ahead.
The six one-loss teams – all 7-1 on the season – have impressive resumes themselves, and if each continue to win, we could see a mix-up in the rankings on a week-to-week basis. No. 3 Jacksonville State comes next, followed by Central Arkansas, South Dakota, Sam Houston State, Elon and Wofford.
No. 4 Central Arkansas is the only team featured that has a head-to-head victory over another Top 10 opponent, after beating the No. 6 Bearkats, the nation’s highest-scoring offense at 43.9 points per game, 41-30 at home in Southland Conference play Sept. 30.
Of the six teams with one loss, three have had their only losses come against FBS opponents earlier in the season. Aside from the Dukes, the No. 5 Coyotes are the only team to beat an FBS team, a 35-27 win against Bowling Green on Sept. 9. They responded to their only loss of a season to Illinois State with a 42-0 win over Southern Illinois last weekend. The Terriers' lone loss came in SoCon play against Samford, and they bounced back with a 31-24 win against East Tennessee State last Saturday.
After back-to-back losses to start the season, Northern Arizona has won six consecutive games, all by double-digits. The Lumberjacks eye their regular-season finale with Southern Utah Nov. 18 with not only the Hinton Burdick Grand Canyon Trophy on the line, but the Big Sky Conference title as well.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Finalists for 2017 William V. Campbell Trophy
The Jackrabbits find themselves with an uphill battle with their last three games coming against MVC opponents with a combined record of 21-3, including matchups against No. 2 North Dakota State and No. 5 South Dakota. Despite holding the fourth-best scoring offense as one of four teams to average at least 40 points per game, the Jackrabbits could quickly find themselves on the outside looking in.
The committee will reveal its new Top 10 next Thursday, Nov. 9 at halftime of the Appalachian State vs. Georgia Southern game, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU.