Valdosta State ended the 2018 DII football season undefeated and No. 1 in the country with its fourth national championship. That's exactly where the Blazers will open 2019, earning the No. 1 spot in the AFCA preseason DII football poll.
There weren't too many surprises at the top. National runner-up Ferris State is right behind them, while the quarterfinalists from a year ago fill out the top 10.
How did the rest of the poll pan out? Let’s break down the AFCA preseason top 25.
SCHOOL (1ST VOTES)
|1||Valdosta State (29)||14-0||792||1|
|2||Ferris State (3)||15-1||768||2|
|4||Notre Dame (Ohio)||13-1||623||4|
|6||Northwest Missouri State||10-3||580||10|
|11||Fort Hays State||9-3||419||22|
|12||Grand Valley State||10-2||418||14|
|17||Colorado School of Mines||10-2||288||18|
HOW DID WE DO?: Our DII football preseason top 10 from January
Top-ranked DII football teams returning plenty of talent
There’s a reason why last year’s DII football tournament semifinalists are the top four teams this preseason. Valdosta State, Ferris State, Minnesota State and Notre Dame (OH) — Nos. 1 through 4 respectively — all entered the semifinals undefeated last year, and many of those big names return for all four teams.
THE 2019 SEASON: When does the DII football season start?
Valdosta State’s high-flying offense returns its quarterback Rogan Wells, who set a DII football championship game record with six touchdowns in a wild 2018 finale. His championship counterpart Jayru Campbell will lead a loaded Ferris State offense in a stacked GLIAC. DII football’s leading rusher Jaleel McLaughlin returns for a young, talented and up-and-coming Falcons squad, while potential defensive player of the year Sha'haun Williams anchors a solid defense.
Nate Gunn — one of DII football’s most consistent backs for the past couple of seasons — is in the backfield for one more run with the Mavericks. But he’s not alone. Justin Taormina and Shane Zylstra are seasoned vets at this point for a Minnesota State team that hasn’t lost in the NSIC since 2016.
How does the DII football preseason No. 1 fare?
The simple answer is very well. Per the official DII football record books, since 2014 when Northwest Missouri State entered the season in the No. 1 position, every preseason No. 1 has reached the DII football championship tournament. The 2015 Mavericks and 2014 and 2017 Northwest Missouri State Bearcats both lost in the first round, while last year, Texas A&M-Commerce made it to the second round in its title defense season. The Bearcats, of course, entered the season No. 1 in 2016 and went the whole way as part of their back-to-back undefeated championship seasons.
The last team to enter the season No. 1 and not make the playoffs, you ask? That would be Valdosta State in 2013 when it finished 6-4 and did not earn an invite to the championship bracket after its 2012 title.
Six teams in the top 25 have won a DII football championship
Dating back to 2012, every team that has won the DII football national championship is in the 2019 preseason poll. No. 1 Valdosta State (2018, 2012), No. 13 Texas A&M-Commerce (2017), No. 5 Northwest Missouri State (2016, 2015, 2013) and No. 9 Colorado State-Pueblo (2014) all populate the top 25.
In fact, you could go back to 2002 and add No. 14 Minnesota Duluth and No. 12 Grand Valley State as other national champions to find a spot in the current rankings. Pittsburg State won in 2011, and although the Gorillas begin this season just outside the top 25, don’t be surprised to see them finish inside when it’s all said and done, as a real sleeper in the MIAA this season.
The 2018 undefeated teams are all ranked in the top 15
Last season was a wild one in DII football. It wasn't simply all four semifinalists who made deep, undefeated tournament runs, but the quarterfinals featured six undefeated teams as well. Ouachita Baptist and Tarleton State saw their perfect seasons come to an end in the round of eight. But wait, there's more. West Chester, LIU Post and Minnesota Duluth also all entered the tournament undefeated.
All of those current DII programs (LIU Post jumped to DI) are all well-represented in the poll. West Chester is the lowest-ranked of those undefeated teams, landing at No. 22, while six teams find themselves in the top eight.
Surprise, surprise: Welcome to the DII football top 25
Three new teams open in the top 25 that finished outside the poll to end 2018. Neither come as much of a surprise.
No. 23 Ashland is the highest entrant into the rankings, landing at No. 23. With the reigning GLIAC freshman of the year, quarterback Austin Brenner under center, the Eagles could climb even higher quickly, especially by making an opening night statement over No. 16 UIndy. No 24 West Alabama found its way to the DII football championship tournament in 2017 and 2018 and though the Tigers lost a few pieces, this team is still postseason ready. No. 25 Fairmont State ended the season on a five-game winning streak, finishing at 9-2 and just missing the postseason.
Which DII football conference reigns supreme in the preseason rankings?
Well, this is interesting. Each team in the top 10 hails from a different conference. With the rise of teams like Grand Valley State and Ferris State in the GLIAC and Northwest Missouri State and Fort Hays State in the MIAA and the big guns like Texas A&M-Commerce, Tarleton State, and Midwestern State in the Lone Star, this hasn't always been the case.
No conference pulled away with an overwhelming dominance in the preseason poll. Here are where the top 25 hail from.
|Conference||No. of schools||Schools|
|GLIAC||3||Ferris State, Grand Valley State, Ashland|
|GSC||3||Valdosta State, West Georgia, West Alabama|
|LSC||3||Tarleton State, Texas A&M-Commerce, Midwestern State|
|GAC||2||Ouachita Baptist, Harding|
|MEC||2||Notre Dame (OH), Fairmont State|
|MIAA||2||Northwest Missouri State, Fort Hays State|
|NSIC||2||Minnesota State, Minnesota Duluth|
|PSAC||2||Slippery Rock, West Chester|
|RMAC||2||CSU-Pueblo, Colorado School of Mines|
DII football opens in less than two weeks
Now that we know the top 25, all that's left to do is wait with bated breath for opening night. While Elizabeth City and Morehouse get rolling this coming weekend against FCS competition, DII football head-to-head action commences Thursday, Sept. 5. Here's the full Week 1 schedule for the top 25 — and those receiving votes — with links to box scores.