Surging Grambling back in the Top 25

(STATS) - The days of Grambling State football barnstorming the country, as the Tigers did under legendary coach Eddie Robinson, may soon be coming back.

The Tigers have designs on playing in three NFL stadiums in the next six weeks.

They could be doing so as a nationally ranked team after claiming the final spot in the STATS FCS Top 25 on Monday.

Grambling's ranking was its first since the final 2010 poll and the first by a Southwestern Athletic Conference team since Jackson State was part of the final 2011 poll.

The new national media poll had a reshuffled look after top-ranked Jacksonville State (8-1) was the only Top 5 team to win its game this past weekend. The Gamecocks were a decisive No. 1, collecting 149 of the 161 first-place votes (92.5 percent). In fact, six teams in the Top 10 lost on Upset Saturday, so North Dakota State, McNeese State, Coastal Carolina and South Dakota State moved into the Top 5 after not being there a week ago.

Grambling (7-2) earned its ranking following a 41-15 thrashing of Texas Southern, which pushed the Tigers to 7-0 in the SWAC - they opened the season with non-conference losses to Cal and Bethune-Cookman.

Second-year coach Broderick Fobbs has turned around the historic program, best known for its many seasons under Robinson (1941-1997), which included nine black college championships and 17 SWAC titles, as well as the barnstorming games from coast to coast. The G-Men bottomed out with only one win in each of the two seasons before Fobbs' arrival, but they've returned to prominence with seven wins for the second consecutive season.

"I think they've grown as far as understanding the little things, the details. And that's something that we always talk about, is focusing on the details of your performance," Fobbs said Monday.

"When you're in a particular system for a second year, I think you should be a little bit better at it. And our kids are really understanding what they're doing and understanding the spots on the field (where) they're supposed to be. And that's the most important thing: knowing your scheme as well as you possibly can."

With senior quarterback Johnathan Williams leading the way, Grambling hopes to keep extending its big season. The first-place Tigers are one game ahead of Prairie View A&M in the SWAC's West Division, and they own the tiebreaker over the Panthers because of a head-to-head victory.

Grambling visits Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday and then will finish the regular season against rival Southern in the Bayou Classic on Nov. 28 at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

The West Division champion will move on to play the East Division champ in the SWAC championship game on Dec. 5 in Houston's NRG Stadium. The winner of that game will face the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titleist in the inaugural Celebration Bowl on Dec. 19 at Atlanta's Georgia Dome.

By then, the upcoming FCS playoffs will be in its closing stages, and Jacksonville State hopes to be making a deep run. The Gamecocks have only lost at Auburn in overtime, and Saturday's 24-3 win at Eastern Illinois was their second straight in matchups of unbeaten OVC teams. A week earlier, they handled Eastern Kentucky 34-0.

Jacksonville State will finish the regular season with home games against Southeast Missouri State and Murray State. The Gamecocks are trying to complete a second straight 8-0 OVC record under second-year coach John Grass.

Four-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State (7-2) moved up four spots to No. 2 after beating Western Illinois 59-7 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. McNeese State (9-0) leaped six spots to No. 3 - while gaining 12 first-place votes - following a 27-10 win over Sam Houston State, which clinched at least a share of the Southland Conference title and as well as an automatic bid in the FCS playoffs.

Coastal Carolina (8-1) rebounded from a loss to Charleston Southern with a 46-0 shutout of Gardner-Webb in the Big South, and moved up four spots to No. 4. South Dakota State's six-spot increase to No. 5 tied McNeese State for the biggest of the week. The Jackrabbits (7-2) beat then-No. 2 Illinois State 25-20 in the Missouri Valley.

The rest of the Top 10 was Illinois State (7-2), William & Mary (7-2), Chattanooga (7-2), Richmond (7-2) and Eastern Washington (6-3).

Charleston Southern (8-1) moved up to No. 11 after clinching the Big South's automatic playoff bid. The Buccaneers, headed to the postseason for the first time, were followed in the rankings by Harvard (8-0), Sam Houston State (6-3), James Madison (7-2), Portland State (7-2), Fordham (8-2), Northern Iowa (5-4), Southern Utah (7-2), North Carolina A&T (8-1) and Youngstown State (5-4), which gave the Missouri Valley Conference a poll-high five representatives.

The Citadel (7-2) checked in at No. 21. Then it was Montana (5-4), Dartmouth (7-1), Eastern Kentucky (5-4) and Grambling, with Indiana State the lone team falling from the rankings.

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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