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August 08, 2016

(STATS) - They've filled an entire hand with national championship rings.

Yet the North Dakota State Bison never allow themselves to become satisfied.

Not when there's a whole other hand to start filling this season.

Unsurprisingly, North Dakota State will enter the 2016 season as FCS' prohibitive favorite yet again. Having won an NCAA-record five straight national titles, the Bison earned 152 of the 158 first-place votes Monday in the STATS FCS Preseason Top 25.

Yes, it's still a Bison world until proven otherwise.

"To me, it's business as usual," said third-year coach Chris Klieman, whose team whipped Jacksonville State 37-10 in the national title game to finish 13-2 last season.

"Stay humble, stay hungry. We've got a long ways to go. What you did yesterday is great, but it pales in comparison to what you can do today. 2015 was dynamite; it's a new season, a new team and our goal is the same as it's always going to be and has been for a long time - be in the position to compete for the Missouri Valley Conference championship."

The Missouri Valley is regarded as the strongest conference in the FCS and North Dakota State has won at least a share of its last five titles. This year's team returns 14 starters and resolved any potential starting quarterback questions when Easton Stick went 8-0 last season while replacing an injured Carson Wentz.

Stick will have plenty of help, as NDSU will roll out its power run game, led by senior tailback King Frazier, complementing a defense that has been the best in the nation while the Bison have built their dynasty. Linebacker Nick DeLuca and defensive end Greg Menard lead this year's unit.

The Bison are followed in the Top 5 by Sam Houston State, which earned two first-place votes; Jacksonville State, which earned the other four; Richmond; and Northern Iowa. Over the past two postseasons, NDSU has knocked out all of them.

Last year, Southland Conference power Sam Houston (11-4) reached the national semifinals for the fourth time in five seasons before falling to Jacksonville State. Quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe will be at the controls of coach K.C. Keeler's Bearkats offense, which was top-ranked in the FCS last season.

Speaking of explosive offenses, Jacksonville State (13-2) returns All-America quarterback Eli Jenkins and top wide receiver Josh Barge. Plus, the two-time defending Ohio Valley Conference champions are motivated following their disappointing finish against North Dakota State.

"We did not give them our best shot, so we want to get back to that game and play well," coach John Grass said. "You can live with it if you played well, but we didn't. We have a hunger to get back there, but you have to take it week-by-week as each week is its own season."

Richmond (10-4) returns its quarterback, Kyle Lauletta, as well. But the Spiders, who earned a three-way share of the CAA Football title, are particularly well-rounded. They return eight starters on each side of the ball.

Northern Iowa (9-4) will butt heads with NDSU in the Missouri Valley, and the physical Panthers pose the biggest threat with two returning 1,000-yard rushers: quarterback Aaron Bailey and running back Tyvis Smith.

The rest of the Top 10 is No. 6 Chattanooga (9-4), which has won three straight Southern Conference titles; Charleston Southern (10-3), the defending Big South champ which opens the FCS season Aug. 27 against North Dakota State in the FCS Kickoff; South Dakota State (8-4) from the Missouri Valley; William & Mary (9-4), a defending CAA co-champ; and Illinois State (10-2), a defending Missouri Valley co-champ.

Defending Southland champ McNeese State (10-1) was No. 11, followed by James Madison (9-3), another CAA champ last season; Montana (8-5); Eastern Washington (6-5); The Citadel (9-4), which shared the Southern Conference title; Coastal Carolina (9-3), which is playing an independent schedule in its final season on the FCS level; Portland State (9-3); Northern Arizona (7-4); North Dakota (7-4); and Western Illinois (7-6).

Rounding out the Top 25 were No. 21 Colgate (9-4), the defending Patriot League champ; New Hampshire (7-5); Villanova (6-5); Towson (7-4); and North Carolina A&T (10-2), which won a share of the MEAC title.

The first teams outside the rankings were Youngstown State and Fordham.

The power conferences ruled the preseason Top 25 with the CAA collecting six selections, and the Big Sky and Missouri Valley gaining five apiece. Nine conferences had at least one representative.

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. 20, 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. 7 in Frisco, Texas.

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