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Wayne Cavadi | | August 16, 2021

DII football rankings: 3 takeaways from the AFCA Coaches preseason poll

West Florida is crowned the DII Football National Champion

Opening weekend is creeping closer, and the defending champion West Florida Argonauts are heading into the season at the No. 1 spot. Much like the Preseason Power 10, the Argos top the AFCA Coaches preseason poll released on Monday, August 16.

PRESEASON RANKINGS: The Preseason Power 10

Before we dive into some key takeaways from the first DII football poll in over a year, here's how the first top 25 of the season looks:

Rank School (1st Place Votes) 2019 Record Points Final 2019 RANK
1 West Florida (26) 13-2 698 1
2 Minnesota State (2) 14-1 673 2
3 Ferris State 12-1 630 3
4 Northwest Missouri State (1) 12-2 575 7
5 Slippery Rock  13-1 544 6
T-6 Lenoir-Rhyne  13-1 540 4
T-6 Valdosta State 10-1 540 5
8 Texas A&M-Commerce 10-3 520 11
9 Notre Dame (OH) 12-2 501 10
10 Colorado School of Mines 12-1 423 8
11 Ouachita Baptist 11-1 387 14
12 CSU Pueblo 11-2 327 12
13 Central Missouri 11-2 323 13
14 UIndy 9-2 261 17
15 Shepherd 10-3 256 22
16 Grand Valley State 8-3 231 NR
17 Indiana (PA) 10-2 220 21
18 Bowie State 11-1 210 18
19 Tiffin  9-2 188 23
20 Kutztown  11-2 144 16
21 Lindenwood  9-4 134 25
22 Harding  10-2 120 15
23 Minnesota Duluth 8-3 100 NR
T-24 Carson-Newman 9-3 95 20
T-24 Wingate 10-2 95 16

A very familiar top 10 to open the 2021 DII football season

To no one's surprise, your defending national champions open the season second to none. West Florida — whose record-setting quarterback Austin Reed is back to run the offense — will challenge itself a bit early on, opening against an FCS opponent (McNeese State) and then heading to Commerce for a rematch of the 2017 national championship game.

Every other team joining West Florida in rounding out the top 10 were all in the 2019 DII football championship tournament. In fact, each of the top 10 teams made it to at least the second round. All four semifinal teams  — West Florida, Minnesota State, Ferris State and Slippery Rock — are in the top 5. Northwest Missouri State comes in at No. 4, joining Texas A&M-Commerce, Lenoir-Rhyne and Notre Dame (OH) as 2019 national quarterfinal teams finding their way to the top 10. 

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PSAC football dominates top 25

The PSAC is the unquestioned kings of the new top 25 with four teams in the mix. Slippery Rock was the highest-ranked team at No. 5 with No. 15 Shepherd, No. 17 Indiana (PA) and No. 20 Kutztown all earning preseason honors. 

The SAC was right behind with three teams in the mix. Lenoir-Rhyne was ranked the highest, tied for the No. 6 spot. Carson-Newman and Wingate tied for the final spot in first rankings of the season, with 2021 spring champion Tusculum on the outside looking in after a flurry of transfers hit the roster hard in June. The GSC, NSIC, GLIAC, MIAA, RMAC, GAC and GLVC were all represented by a pair of schools with the Gulf South Conference having the honor of two top 10 teams in No. 1 West Florida and No. 6 (tie) Valdosta State. 

Welcome back to the DII football rankings

Grand Valley State — which we tabbed as one of two sleepers for the top 10 in our preseason Power 10 — was not ranked in the final DII poll of 2019, nor in the last DII football tournament. The Lakers, armed with a bevy of talented returners, jump into the preseason poll all the way at No. 16. 

Minnesota Duluth, which are typically tournament and top 25 regulars, missed out on both in 2019. After going undefeated in their division, the Bulldogs return plenty of experience and sneak into the preseason poll from the unranked to No. 23.

FAQ: How the DII football championship works | Most titles in DII history

And let's not forget those that just missed. Of the 35 schools receiving at least one vote, 14 tabbed at least 20. Those teams should be watched closely in the opening weeks of the new season. Here they are:

Also receiving votes: Fort Hays State 90; Tusculum 52; Angelo State, 49; Augustana (S.D.) 42; Ashland 38; West Chester 38; Delta State 35; West Texas A&M 26; MSU Texas 25; Bentley 24; Henderson State 24; Sioux Falls 23; UT Permian Basin 23; Ohio Dominican 20.

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