Jacksonville State vaults to top spot in STATS FCS Top 25

(STATS) - Jacksonville State football coach John Grass is still lamenting a golden opportunity that slipped away from his team, but the Gamecocks have made enough of a national impression to go somewhere Monday they've never been before - No. 1.

Following its near upset of SEC power Auburn on Saturday, Jacksonville State vaulted from No. 5 to the top spot of the STATS FCS Top 25.

For the second straight week, the voting near the top was extremely tight. Sam Houston State, last week's No. 1, actually dropped to No. 3 after being on a bye last weekend. That's because No. 2 Coastal Carolina, like Jacksonville State, posted quite an impressive performance.

The Gamecocks (1-1) earned 39 of the 154 first-place votes and 3,491 points in the national media poll; Coastal Carolina (2-0) moved up one with 36 first-place votes and 3,461 points; Sam Houston State (0-1) collected 38 first-place votes and 3,450 points; and North Dakota State (1-1), the four-time defending FCS champion, fell two spots despite having 23 first-place votes and 3,441 points.

All four teams can make a strong case for No. 1, but the other three haven't faced Jacksonville State's schedule to date. The defending Ohio Valley Conference champion opened its season with a road win over nationally ranked Chattanooga, then stayed in the Top 10 - only this time at the FBS level - and held a lead on Auburn in the final minute.

Auburn rallied to tie the game and then won in overtime, 27-20.

In the loss, junior wide receiver Josh Barge set a Jacksonville State school record with 14 receptions, including a touchdown, and senior linebacker Dawson Wells led an inspired defensive effort.

"We felt like we should have won," Grass said Monday. "As far as our performance, the stage wasn't too big for us. We went out there and we played like we were capable of playing. We were worried all week about how we play, and if we do that every week, this team has a good chance to do some really good things."

Jacksonville State's highest ranking previously was No. 2 in 2010. Ironically, the Gamecocks won the 1992 NCAA Division II football championship but never appeared at No. 1 because the last poll was conducted after the regular season.

The most recent OVC team to be ranked No. 1 was Tennessee State in 1999. Jacksonville State will host the Tigers on Saturday for their home opener at Burgess-Snow Field.

"FCS football is no joke," Grass said. "I think the parity in FCS football is really, really good. There's a lot of good teams out there, there's a lot of good teams in our conference. We've got to take care of ourselves and what we can control and just be better every day."

Coastal Carolina impressed voters with its 41-14 thrashing of MEAC power South Carolina State. The Chanticleers from the Big South are one of only two Top 10 teams without a loss.

Sam Houston State reached No. 1 after playing well in an opening-week loss to Texas Tech from the Big 12. The Bearkats will get back on the field Saturday with its Southland Conference opener against Lamar.

North Dakota State defeated Weber State 41-14 at a home opener in which the Bison raised yet another national championship banner. This week, they will face North Dakota for the first time since 2003.

Seven teams received first-place votes, down from 10 a week ago. Illinois State (1-1) gained six first-place votes and the No. 5 ranking, followed by No. 6 Villanova (1-1), which had four first-place votes, and No. 7 South Dakota State (2-0), which gained eight first-place votes.

Montana (1-1), Northern Iowa (1-1) and Chattanooga (1-1) rounded out the Top 10.

Montana State (1-0) retained the No. 11 ranking and was followed by James Madison (2-0), New Hampshire (1-1), Eastern Washington (0-2), Liberty (1-1), Youngstown State (1-1), Cal Poly (1-1), Fordham (1-1), Portland State (2-0) and Southeastern Louisiana (2-0).

Rounding out the Top 25 were Eastern Kentucky (1-1), Richmond (1-1), Indiana State (1-1), previously unranked Northern Arizona (2-0) and Harvard (0-0), the defending Ivy League champion which kicks off its season this week.

Idaho State was the only team to fall out of the poll, but the addition of Northern Arizona meant the Big Sky Conference still had six teams in the rankings, sharing the national high with the Missouri Valley Conference.

A national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries select the STATS FCS Top 25. In the voting, a first-place vote is worth 25 points, a second-place vote 24 points, all the way down to one point for a 25th-place vote.

The Top 25 is released every Monday afternoon during the regular season, except for Sunday morning, Nov. 22, prior to the selection of the 24-team FCS playoff field. A final Top 25 will follow the FCS championship game, which will be held Jan. 9 in Frisco, Texas.

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