FCS review: Who's No. 1?

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(STATS) - The most interesting debate this week may make Clinton and Trump appear like best buds.

Fans of North Dakota State, Sam Houston State, Jacksonville State and Eastern Washington can all beat their chests and clamor for No. 1.

Top-ranked North Dakota State's 19-17, last-second loss to No. 11 South Dakota State on Saturday has opened the door to a possible new No. 1 team when the STATS FCS Top 25 is released Monday afternoon.

Voters were quick to lower NDSU after this same weekend one year ago, when they dropped from No. 2 to 8 following a loss to South Dakota.

Will it happen in the national media poll again? Probably, but should it?

Southland Conference leader Sam Houston State (6-0), which is rolling behind quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe, would be next in line to move up from No. 2 and is one of two unbeaten teams in the FCS along with The Citadel.

Two-time defending Ohio Valley Conference champ Jacksonville State (5-1) has only lost to an FBS opponent, while Big Sky power Eastern Washington (5-1) has only lost to North Dakota State in overtime.

NDSU deserves to be ahead of Eastern because it did win the head-to-head matchup and has other quality wins over Charleston Southern, Iowa and Illinois State.

The Bison also routed Jacksonville State in last year's national championship game and have tormented Sam Houston in three of the past five postseasons.

Those games have nothing to do with this season, you say.

Well, they don't. But if FCS followers could agree going into the weekend that NDSU had separated itself from the rest of the competition by winning a record five straight national titles, then should a loss to a surging rival on the final play from scrimmage be enough to knock the FCS standard from the top spot?

Maybe not.

When New Hampshire became No. 1 late in the 2014 regular season, coach Sean McDonnell was quick to say NDSU was still the best team in the FCS. It proved to be that way by the end of the playoffs.

Then again, a new No. 1 would stand to stir the pot a little more and make the upcoming FCS playoffs all the more anticipated.

Let the campaigning begin.



Ten more observations from the FCS weekend:

1.) Team of the week? Maybe South Dakota State, maybe The Citadel, but then there's Holy Cross, the other team that knocked off an unbeaten squad. The Crusaders (3-4) ended Harvard's 16-game winning streaks on both the road and outside the Ivy League with a 27-17 triumph. Senior linebacker Kyle Young led a defense that had six sacks and quarterback Geoff Wade threw for two touchdowns.

2.) Led by South Dakota State's 19-17 win at North Dakota State, the Missouri Valley Football Conference's five conference games were decided by a combined 15 points. Youngstown State rallied to a 14-10 win over Northern Iowa and three games were decided by three points each - South Dakota won 33-30 at Indiana State in double overtime, Western Illinois won at Missouri State 38-35 and Illinois State held off Southern Illinois 31-28. That was an incredible day of thrilling action.

3.) It's possible three teams which run a triple option offense could make the FCS playoffs. The Citadel (6-0), which leads the FCS in rushing, is in first place in the Southern Conference and primed to return to the postseason. But Wofford (4-2) is still very much in the SoCon picture, though it needs to beat The Citadel next weekend. Cal Poly (4-2) also is having a big season out of the Big Sky, with wins over Montana and South Dakota State and close losses to Nevada and North Dakota.

4.) As expected, Columbia came up short in second-year coach Al Bagnoli's return to Penn on the opposing sideline. It's Penn that's part of a three-way tie for first place in the Ivy League with Harvard and Princeton following its 35-10 win over Columbia. The Quakers have defeated the Lions in 20 straight seasons - the first 18 with Bagnoli leading the way.

5.) If any team is going to challenge defending champ Charleston Southern in the Big South, it might as well be the conference's most successful program, Liberty. The Flames (3-3, 1-0) not only beat Kennesaw State 36-21 in their conference opener, but they became the first team to reach 50 all-time Big South wins. Coach Turner Gill's Flames had to retool after suffering key graduation losses, but they tested themselves out of conference and have a chance to be unbeaten in the Big South when they host Charleston Southern on Nov. 12.

6.) Some of the conference title races have surprise contenders challenging the powers. North Dakota moved to 4-0 in the Big Sky and a half-game ahead of Eastern Washington, but dark horse Weber State is keeping the pressure on at 3-0. Pioneer League power San Diego is 4-0 in the league, while Marist, which often overachieves, is right behind at 3-0. Stony Brook, 3-0 in CAA Football, is right behind front-running James Madison, which is 4-0. Wagner already has more Northeast Conference wins this year at 2-0 than last year's one-win campaign. The Seahawks will benefit from co-leader Saint Francis and defending champ Duquesne playing next weekend.

7.) North Dakota (5-2), which rolled past Southern Utah 45-23, hadn't won a game on the same day North Dakota State lost one since Nov. 12, 2011. The Fighting Hawks will always be in the shadow of the program downstate, but they have done well to build their own winning program under coach Bubba Schweigert. Quarterback Keaton Studsrud has figured it all out and the running game is strong, with the Fighting Hawks still playing physical on defense. With an easy conference schedule this season, they could win their first Big Sky title and appear playoff-bound.

8.) Two-time defending SWAC champion Alcorn State was starting to look in trouble a couple weeks ago, but it has responded from three straight losses to win twice and move back atop the East Division. The Braves (3-3, 3-2) beat Texas Southern 23-20 when De'Lance Turner blocked a punt deep in the Tigers' territory in the fourth quarter and scored on a 2-yard run on the next play. They are a different team with quarterback Lenorris Footman back running the offense, but he suffered a shoulder injury in the win.

9.) No running back in the FCS is hotter than North Carolina A&T senior Tarik Cohen, who has reached 200 yards in three straight games, including 220 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-35 win at Bethune-Cookman. He scored on an 87-yard run to go with his FCS-season-best 94-yarder against Hampton. The MEAC's all-time rushing leader is the active rushing leader in the FCS and needs 79 yards to surpass 5,000 for his career.

10.) Even good teams with new coaches can struggle, such as Eastern Kentucky, McNeese and Montana State. The best performances among new FCS coaches have been at The Citadel (Brent Thompson) and CAA leader James Madison (Mike Houston), which are both in the Top 10, as well as Western Illinois (Charlie Fisher), which is closing in on the Top 10. Those three teams are a combined 17-2.



While North Dakota State hopes to rebound next Saturday at Western Illinois, the two Missouri Valley co-leaders will get together as South Dakota State hosts Youngstown State.

Other key conference matchups include: Big Sky, Montana at Northern Arizona and Weber State at Southern Utah; Big South, Monmouth at Liberty; CAA, Albany at Villanova; Ivy, Harvard at Princeton; MEAC, North Carolina Central at Morgan State; NEC, Duquesne at Saint Francis (Friday night) and Wagner at Bryant; Ohio Valley, Eastern Kentucky at Jacksonville State; Southern, The Citadel at Wofford; and Southland, Sam Houston State at Nicholls.