Seven-time national champion North Dakota State is once again No. 1 after claiming the top spot in the 2019 preseason FCS Coaches Poll. This is the sixth time in eight years that the Bison open as No. 1.
North Dakota State garnered 644 total points and 23 of 26 first-place votes in Monday's rankings release. Joining NDSU in the preseason top five are James Madison, Eastern Washington, South Dakota State and UC Davis.
Here is the full top 25:
2018 FINAL RANK
|1||North Dakota State (23)||15-0||644||1|
|2||James Madison (1)||9-4||597||10|
|3||Eastern Washington (2)||12-3||588||2|
|4||South Dakota State||10-3||579||3|
|18||Southeast Missouri State||9-4||178||16|
|19||North Carolina A&T||10-2||158||11|
|22||Sam Houston State||6-5||117||NR|
How does the preseason top 25 affect the playoff picture come late November? Fourteen of the 25 ranked teams in last year's preseason poll qualified for the 24-team FCS playoffs. Sam Houston State (No. 4) was the highest-rated team featured in the preseason rankings to miss the postseason, after finishing 6-5.
Five new teams crack the 2019 preseason poll after being left off last year's final rankings. They include No. 13 Illinois State, No. 17 Furman, No. 20 Northern Iowa, No. 22 Sam Houston State and No. 25 Central Arkansas.
North Dakota State is the team to beat (again)
The Bison return just seven starters from last year's championship squad and have a new head coach in former defensive coordinator Matt Entz. But that didn't stop voters from selecting North Dakota State as the No. 1 team.
Monday's poll was released shortly after a major announcement was made by Entz earlier in the afternoon: Trey Lance, a redshirt freshman who played in two games last year, will be the Bison's starting quarterback entering 2019. He'll be joined by first-time starting running back Ty Brooks in a new-look — but still dangerous — offense.
The Bison will be challenged early with a three-game stretch at No. 23 Delaware on Sept. 14, home against No. 5 UC Davis on Sept. 21 and at No. 13 Illinois State on Oct. 5. The annual Dakota Marker rivalry game with No. 4 South Dakota State then looms on Oct. 26.
North Dakota State hasn't lost multiple regular-season games since 2015 and has the longest active win streak across FCS football (21 games).
Sorting through the other top contenders
Only three programs have claimed FCS championships since the title game moved to Frisco, Texas in 2010: North Dakota State (2011-15; 2017-18), James Madison (2016) and Eastern Washington (2010). Coincidentally, those are the top three teams in the first 2019 Coaches Poll.
James Madison, the last team to defeat North Dakota State in an FCS playoff game, returns to the No. 2 spot despite losing coach Mike Houston to East Carolina. Curt Cignetti takes over a program returning almost every starter from last year's 9-4 campaign.
Eastern Washington, runner-up to North Dakota State in last year's championship game, is led by incumbent starting quarterback Eric Barriere. Barriere stepped in due to injury last year and finished with 32 total touchdowns, including 13 in four playoff games.
CAA, MVFC open with strongest conference representation
The Missouri Valley Football Conference and Colonial Athletic Conference each have five representatives in the preseason top 25, including the top two teams in North Dakota State and James Madison.
The Big Sky follows right behind with four teams, including three top 10 squads (Eastern Washington, UC Davis, Weber State). Last year, the Big Sky was the only conference with a trio of teams who advanced to the FCS national quarterfinals.
Overall, 10 FCS conferences are represented in the first Coaches Poll. The leagues left off the preseason poll are the Northeast, Pioneer Football League and SWAC.