This week’s FCS Top 25 saw four new teams enter the fray, the most newcomers of any week of the poll this year. The top remains as steady as ever. But behind the juggernauts, things are ever-changing. Teams like Delaware and Holy Cross continue to rise while others like Villanova and EKU took mighty falls. Here’s where we sit heading into Week 5.
The Top 25
#1 North Dakota State (3-1) - Last Week: #1
NDSU got the win they were supposed to get in Vermillion last weekend but it didn’t come without trouble. South Dakota actually led at halftime but, as they’ve done so many times before, the Bison poured it on for the final 30 minutes. Hunter Luepke rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns. In total, the North Dakota State ground game produced 356 yards and smothered the Coyotes. There are some things to touch up but we’ve seen this movie before. They’ll still be #1 as they welcome in Youngstown State this Saturday.
#2 South Dakota State (3-1) - Last Week: #2(T)
No one had a bigger win last week than South Dakota State. A road trip to then-#6 Missouri State didn’t faze the Jacks as Mark Gronowski threw four touchdowns. The Janke brothers had themselves a day with each going over 100 yards receiving and bringing in at least one touchdown apiece. Even more intriguing, however, was the fact that SDSU’s defense rendered Jason Shelley and the Bears offense quiet for much of the day. When all was said and done, the Jacks came out with 28-14 victory. They’ll head back home to face Western Illinois this weekend.
Final in MVFC:— FCS Football (@FCS_STATS) September 24, 2022
No. 2(tie) South Dakota State (3-1, 1-0) 28,
No. 6 Missouri State (2-2, 0-1) 14
SDSU QB Mark Gronowski: 22 of 29, 319 yards, 4 TDs (two to Jadon Janke)
MSU QB Jason Shelley: 19 of 29, 185 yards, TD, 2 INTs
#3 Montana (4-0) - Last Week: #2(T)
Robby Hauck is now the all time leading tackler in Griz history and yet somehow that wasn’t his most impressive feat of the day against Portland State. Hauck also returned a missed field goal 99 yards for a touchdown. Montana routed the Vikings in front of an electric crowd at Washington-Grizzly. Lucas Johnson continues to shine as does that stout UM defense. PSU didn’t even hit 200 yards on the day. The Griz are 4-0 for the first time since 2009 and it seems as though no one can stop them right now. Idaho State is up next.
#4 Montana State (3-1) - Last Week: #4(T)
The Bobcats put up a gutsy performance against Eastern Washington on the road last week and managed to escape with a 38-35 win. “The Inferno” is not an easy place to play and yet MSU has now won twice there in as many years. Tommy Mellott went down after a scary hit but Sean Chambers rallied the troops and rushed for 144 yards. Fourth-string running back Elijah Elliot ran for 141 more and the defense did just enough to get by Gunner Talkington. Head coach Brent Vigen will want his team to clean up some penalties and special teams miscues, though, as UC Davis makes a trip to Bozeman this weekend for a game under the lights.
#5 Sacramento State (3-0) - Last Week: #7
Sac State entered last Saturday’s game as two-point favorites over FBS Colorado State and the Hornets covered that spread in spades. Asher O’Hara was responsible for three touchdowns and Jake Dunniway tossed another. The defense bottled up the Rams for a mere 75 rush yards but perhaps the most impressive stat was the fact that the Hornets were only flagged one time all game for just five yards, showing great discipline for a road team. Sacramento State are proving themselves to be heavyweights, not just in the Big Sky but in the FCS as a whole. Up next is Cal Poly.
#6 Delaware (4-0) - Last Week: #8
Nolan Henderson is playing on another level right now as he threw five more touchdowns against Hampton, bringing his season total up to 14. He’s completed 100 of his 145 passes this year, good for a completion percentage of 68.9%. The Pirates, on the other hand, didn’t hit 100 yards passing or running and didn’t convert on a single third down. All that resulted in a big 35-3 win for UD and the scary thing is, Delaware did all that while turning the ball over three times. If they clean that up, it’s hard to imagine just where this team’s ceiling is but right now the CAA path runs through Newark. They’ll play host to Towson this Saturday.
#7 Missouri State (2-2) - Last Week: #6
That loss to South Dakota State might end up being one MSU really wants back come November. Outside of a few flashes, Jason Shelley and the offense just couldn’t find any footing against a very good Jacks defense. The Bears ran for just 73 yards and Shelley was uncharacteristic with two picks. Jacardia Wright did find the end zone once, but he was the only ball carrier besides Shelley to get a touch. Bobby Petrino will need to open up the playbook a little more this week with another big matchup against North Dakota.
#8 Weber State (4-0) - Last Week: #12
It wasn’t as easy as their first three wins but the Wildcats stay unbeaten thanks to a 17-12 triumph over UC Davis. The Aggies threw all they could at Weber State but Josh Davis’ 100-yard game and Bronson Barron’s 201 passing yards were just enough to get it done. If there was ever a win that might make head coach Jay Hill unhappy, however, it was this one. His team turned the ball over three times and got beat in nearly every major offensive category. All that matters in the end is the score, however, and the Wildcats were again on the right side of this one. They will now have a week off to prepare for Eastern Washington.
#9 Jackson State (4-0) - Last Week: #11
Jackson State made life miserable for visiting Mississippi Valley State. Shedeur Sanders continues to be a human highlight reel and now has a staggering 14-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His 425-yard performance against the Delta Devils now puts him at 1,381 on the year. For the third time this season, JSU scored at least 49 points in yet another rout of a win. The Tigers stay undefeated heading into their bye week and are only getting better as they tear through their SWAC schedule. After the week off, they’ll see Alabama State.
#10 Holy Cross (4-0) - Last Week: #13
Colgate hung around for a little while against the red-hot Crusaders but ultimately Holy Cross did what they’ve done all season up to this point. Matthew Sluka only completed 10 of his 21 throws but had two touchdowns and did not turn the ball over. The defense forced three takeaways and bottled up the run game. As they continue to climb the rankings, making an appearance in the Top 10 for the first time this season, Holy Cross will turn their attention to a good Harvard team.
#11 Incarnate Word (3-1) - Last Week: #4(T)
Incarnate Word suffered their first loss of the season last week to Southland counterpart Southeastern Louisiana. The Lions fed off their home crowd as they overpowered UIW in what turned out to be a 41-35 loss for the Cardinals. Lindsay Scott Jr. still put up big numbers but his 333 pass yards and three touchdowns weren’t enough. The defense surrendered 407 yards and allowed SLU to go 10-of-16 (62.5%) on third down. One loss isn’t killer but it will make things that much harder to catch up in the league standings. The Cardinals will host McNeese next as they search for their first Southland win.
#12 Chattanooga (3-1) - Last Week: #10
It was a long night in Champaign last Thursday for Rusty Wright’s team and the Mocs are probably happy to be looking ahead to SoCon play. Preston Hutchinson was stymied all evening against Illinois, as was his offense. Chattanooga put up only 142 yards and they turned the ball over twice. An ugly combination of interceptions, missed kicks and overall poor play kept them off the board as the Illini ran away with a 31-0 win. Ailym Ford broke off a couple nice runs and looked solid, despite the overall team performance. The Mocs now look ahead to ETSU.
#13 Mercer (3-1) - Last Week: #17
The Bears keep moving up and are looking more and more like a legitimate contender for the SoCon with each passing week. Last Saturday they put a 45-14 smackdown on Gardner-Webb. Fred Payton is four games in and still hasn’t thrown an interception and for the third time Mercer has won a game by at least 17 points. Opponents are averaging just over 17 points per game against the defense right now and offensively the Bears are putting up over 400 yards per contest. Winners of two straight, Drew Cronic’s team will look to keep things rolling this weekend against a struggling Wofford squad.
#14 Villanova (2-2) - Last Week: #9
Monmouth is clearly better than many had given them credit for and Villanova found out the hard way last Saturday. The Wildcats will take a fall in the polls this week after the Hawks came in and dispatched them 49-42. Connor Watkins threw two fourth quarter interceptions that ultimately spelled doom. Big individual performances by running back Jalen Jackson (187 yards and three touchdowns) receiver Jaaron Hayek (136 yards) were overshadowed by the untimely turnovers. ‘Nova’s playoff hopes aren’t dead this early of course, but the aspirations of a CAA title took a hit. A bounce back opportunity at Maine is around the corner.
#15 UT Martin (2-2) - Last Week: #18
The new kids on the block showed some fire coming out of the gate, but in the end UT Martin made light work of Lindenwood. Zak Wallace had a mammoth day running with 204 yards and two TDs on 11 carries. Sam Franklin rushed for three more scores as the Skyhawks offense took out some recent frustrations on the Lions. Dresser Winn is nearing the 1,000-yard mark for the season and has thrown nine touchdowns. Things are clicking for the offense right now as Tennessee Tech rolls in this weekend.
The longest rush by a FCS player in 2022!— Ohio Valley Conference (@OVCSports) September 25, 2022
97 yards to the by @zak21wallace as @UTM_FOOTBALL pulls away from Lindenwood in the second half.#OVCit | #OVC75 | #MartinMade | @UTMSports pic.twitter.com/uSo3fGog6A
#16 Samford: (3-1) - Last Week: #21
The Bulldogs have catapulted themselves into the SoCon conversation in a big way this September. Their only loss of the season so far has been to last year’s FBS champs Georgia and they just took care of business against Western Carolina. Michael Hiers is up to 12 touchdowns this year and is completing nearly 70% of his passes. Receiver Chandler Smith is making plays all over the field and the defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown in over four quarters of play. They’ll face a more formidable opponent this week when they meet up with a 3-1 Furman squad.
#17 Richmond (3-1) - Last Week: #22
The Spiders should no longer be considered as a dark horse in the CAA. They are a bonafide contender and showed that in their 51-3 beatdown over Stony Brook last week. Reece Udinski tossed five TDs and completed an outstanding 83.3% of his passes against the Seawolves on 42 attempts. The Richmond defense held Stony Brook to under 200 offensive yards on Saturday and authored three turnovers in doing so. The Spiders controlled the ball for over 37 minutes in what was their highest offensive output of the season up to this point. They take on a rising Elon squad next in what should be a great conference game.
#18 William & Mary: (3-1) - Last Week: #14
For the first time this season William & Mary will fall in the rankings. Elon put an end to the Tribe's undefeated season in a surprising 35-31 upset. It was a tough day for the offense despite some big yardage numbers. Quarterback Darius Wilson tossed a pick and lost a fumble resulting in two of his team's four turnovers. The defense broke down at the end of the game and allowed a furious comeback. Next week's bounce back opportunity will be against Stony Brook on the road.
#19 Southern Illinois: (2-2) - Last Week: #24
Once at 0-2 and reeling in the worst way, Nick Hill’s Saluki team has salvaged their season thanks to two straight wins over some high profile opponents. Southern Illinois, after shockingly winning against Northwestern a couple of weeks ago, took down a ranked North Dakota team at home last Saturday. Nic Baker was on fire with another four-touchdown day. SIU’s defense only allowed seven second-half points against the Hawks and held UND’s ground attack to a measly 38 yards. Illinois State is now waiting.
#20 Eastern Washington (1-2) - Last Week: #15
Eastern Washington did just about everything right in their loss to Montana State until it really mattered at the end. Gunner Talkington and the offense moved the ball practically at will but, an untimely fumble late in the game allowed the Bobcats to take the win. The Eagles had some big, explosive plays thanks to running back Micah Smith and receiver Efton Chism III, but the defense struggled. The unit gave up 466 total yards and 38 points. Things don't get any easier from here either. The team will be tested greatly again this week as they have a date with the Gators. Whether or not the game will happen in Florida remains to be seen in the wake of Hurricane Ian.
#21 Southeastern Louisiana (2-2) - Last Week: NR
One surefire way to get back into the Top 25 is to take down a team like Incarnate Word. It didn’t happen until the final play on Saturday night, but the Lions dispatched their Southland enemies 41-35 in Hammond. It was beginning to look as though no one could stop the Cardinals but Eli Sawyer came in for an injured Cephus Johnson and threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns, none more dramatic than the 59-yard walk-off winner to CJ Turner as time expired. Now the Lions are 1-0 in conference play and likely got the the toughest contests on their schedule out of the way. They will now prepare to take on Murray State this weekend.
WALKOFF IN HAMMOND!!! @LionUpFootball scores from 59 yards out on the final play of the game to give the Lions a 41-35 win over No. 4 UIW in the #SouthlandStrong opener! What a game!!! pic.twitter.com/ni2iVSEShs— Southland Conference (@SouthlandSports) September 25, 2022
#22 Austin Peay (4-1) - Last Week: NR
It’s about time Austin Peay found their way into the rankings. Winners of four straight, the Governors are one of the hottest teams in the FCS right now. They are fresh off toppling then-#16 Eastern Kentucky behind a 181-yard rushing day from signal-caller Mike DiLiello. Drae McCray has five touchdown receptions on the season and is pacing an offense that averages 223.6 yards per contest through the air. The Govs are making a serious case for the auto bid from the AQ7 (WAC-ASUN) as they get ready for a road trip to face Central Arkansas.
#23 Elon (3-1) - Last Week: NR
The Phoenix are in the poll for the first time this season thanks to an impressive upset win over William & Mary. Elon scored 19 unanswered in the fourth quarter on Saturday to escape Williamsburg with their third win of the season. Freshman running back Jalen Hampton had himself a big game against the Tribe, rushing for 145 yards (his second 100-yard game of the year) and three touchdowns. Transfer quarterback Matthew McKay threw for 207 yards in the win and Elon is off to their best start since 2018. Now, a big test awaits against Richmond.
#24 Southeast Missouri State (3-1) - Last Week: NR
Also making their first showing in the rankings this year is SEMO. The Redhawks beat Central Arkansas for their third straight win last weekend and now at 3-1, they’re looking to make some noise in the Ohio Valley this year. Paxton DeLaurent has thrown for 1,115 yards and 10 touchdowns while Geno Hess continues to see more action in the running game. Linebacker Bryce Norman played out of his mind, recovering two fumbles in the win over the Bears. Lindenwood will be up next.
#25 Eastern Kentucky (2-2) - Last Week: #16
EKU will remain in the Top 25 despite their loss to Austin Peay but there’s a lot that needs cleaned up. The ground attack struggled to find any traction as the Colonels only ran for 116 yards and the defense got gashed for 322 rush yards on the other side. Third down was also a big issue as the team converted just three of their 14 tries. They failed on their only fourth down try as well. There’s still plenty of time to turn things around but it has to start this weekend when Southern Utah comes to town.
North Dakota (2-2) - Last Week: #19
North Dakota takes a big tumble this week after losing to conference foe Southern Illinois. Tommy Schuster went cold for the Hawks last weekend and couldn’t find the end zone at all. Tyler Hoosman did run for two scores but he was also the team’s leading rusher with 31 yards. Not being able to get it done on the ground will almost certainly spell disaster against a very good (and mad) Missouri State this week so they’ll need to fix things in a hurry.
Rhode Island (2-2) - Last Week: #20
Pittsburgh was just too much and now URI has lost two straight. The Rams defense couldn’t get off the field as the Panthers converted 10 of their 14 third downs and held the ball for over 35 minutes and seven penalties on the day didn’t help things either. Kasim Hill still had a solid outing throwing and the offense didn’t turn the ball over plus they did score 24 points so it wasn’t a total blowout. As of right now, though, Rhode Island is trending in the wrong direction. They’ll have a date with Brown on Saturday.
Stephen F. Austin (2-2) - Last Week: #23
It’s easy overlook a runaway win over an NAIA team but it should be pointed out that SFA nearly broke 100 points on Saturday. That’s a staggering number against anyone regardless of division or level. If nothing else, this may have served as a “get right” game before the Lumberjacks take on much stouter FCS competition. Trae Self threw four touchdowns then his three backups all combined for the same amount later in the game. Lots of guys got playing time on both sides. What else is there to say about a 98-0 win? The only reason SFA falls out is because other teams behind them had more meaningful victories. Sam Houston is next on the slate and a win there would surely propel SFA right back in.
North Carolina Central (4-0) - Last Week: #25
Much like Stephen F. Austin, the only reason NC Central takes the dip this week is because their win over DII’s Virginia-Lynchburg wasn’t nearly as impactful as those of the squads behind them. That being said, the Eagles still had another really good day. The defense didn’t even allow 200 yards and the offense put up 59 points despite turning the ball over five times. Of course those mistakes will need to be addressed but right now NC Central is one of the few undefeated teams remaining. They’ll play Campbell this weekend.