The best FCS teams in the country have danced back and forth for the last five weeks, alternating between weekends of stability and chaos. Half of the teams in the FCS Coaches Poll lost in Week 8 and two of the top six teams lost in Week 10. Just like in Week 7 and Week 9, Week 11 was fairly uneventful in terms of upsets, bringing a sense of order back to the sport.
The biggest changes in the latest FCS Coaches Poll are the drops experienced by Elon and South Dakota. They claimed the final spots in the top 10 last week at No. 9 and No. 10, respectively, but they're now ranked No. 15 and No. 16. With the exception of Illinois State, which fell from No. 20 to No. 25, every other team stayed within three spots of its previous ranking.
In what feels like a bi-monthly tradition in the FCS Coaches Poll this season, the top six teams stayed in the same order as last week: No. 1 James Madison (10-0), No. 2 Jacksonville State (9-1), No. 3 Central Arkansas (9-1), No. 4 Sam Houston State (9-1), No. 5 South Dakota State (8-2), No. 6 North Dakota State (9-1).
The Dukes received all 26 first-place votes. That's what happens when the defending national champion wins 22 consecutive games. However, James Madison did have its hands full against Richmond in Week 11. The Spiders kicked field goals late in the third and fourth quarters to tie the game twice, but Trai Sharp's 7-yard run with 44 seconds left in the game put the Dukes ahead for good.
You shouldn't have expected anything less than the war we had on the gridiron yesterday! Dukes prevail and we move ahead to Elon this week! pic.twitter.com/lQYoOBz44u— JMU Football (@JMUFootball) November 12, 2017
Jacksonville State also won a competitive, low-scoring affair against Tennessee-Martin. Gamecocks running back Roc Thomas ran for two touchdowns in the first half and the team's defense held the lead in JSU's 14-7 win.
Weber State and Western Illinois are this week's big winners as they cracked the top 10, replacing Elon and South Dakota at No. 9 and No. 10, respectively. Both schools rose three spots in the poll from last week after defeating winless teams in Week 11. The Wildcats rushed for 421 yards and seven touchdowns in their 63-17 victory over Portland State. The Leathernecks locked down Indiana State on defense, allowing just 133 total yards, while Western Illinois quarterback Sean McGuire was an efficient 17-of-25 passing for 253 yards and four touchdowns.
With the FCS Selection Show scheduled for Sunday at noon, there are two big questions looming for the FCS Playoffs:
1) Can James Madison run the table and win its second straight national championship?
2) Who is James Madison's biggest threat?
There is one other undefeated FCS team – T-No. 7 North Carolina A&T (10-0) – and eight one-loss teams ranked in the latest FCS Coaches Poll. Three of those teams are undefeated against FCS competition this season and four of them suffered their only loss against a team currently ranked among the top 13 of the poll.
If James Madison is currently in a class of its own, there's a strong and deep second tier of teams that could make the FCS Championship. But which team(s) is strong enough on defense to slow the Dukes' balanced but potent offense, while possessing a high-powered offense of its own to wear out a Dukes' defense that has allowed just 9.6 points per game?
We'll find out soon in the playoffs but there are still exciting regular season games to be played.
In Week 12, No. 1 James Madison travels to No. 15 Elon, No. 5 South Dakota State plays a massive road game at No. 16 South Dakota, No. 6 North Dakota State visits No. 25 Illinois State, No. 13 Samford hosts No. 24 Furman, and No. 21 Kennesaw State hosts No. 22 Monmouth.
If the trend continues of chaos occurring every other week, Week 12 could bring significant upsets for some of the best teams in the country, especially with three top-10 teams playing a ranked team on the road.