Friday, January 28, 2022

College football top 25: North Dakota State tops final CBS Sports FCS Power Rankings for 2021 season

Maybe the ending to the 2021-22 FCS football season was a bit anticlimactic with North Dakota State steamrolling Montana State 38-10, but don’t let that one game cloud what has been a fantastic year in the subdivision. 

First, congrats to the Bison for capturing their ninth national championship in eleven years. Their level of consistency and dominance is without rival, regardless of subdivision. Coach Matt Entz won his second championship since taking over in 2019, and he was able to get the job done with multiple QBs this year. With the growth we saw from one of them, Cam Miller, the future continues to be bright in Fargo, North Dakota. 

We also saw outstanding play from a bevy of teams, including two from the SWAC in Jackson State and Florida A&M. The Rattlers became the first SWAC team to make the FCS playoffs since 1997.

When you combine those stories with ridiculous seasons from quarterbacks like Cole Kelley, Cameron Ward and the eventual Walter Payton Award winner Eric Barriere, 2021 will go down as one of the best seasons in FCS history.

Here’s a look at my final FCS Power Poll to put a bow on the season. 

1. North Dakota State (14-1): The Bison used the 2021 FCS Spring season as motivation for the fall campaign, taking their frustration out on the Bobcats and winning the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball for 60 minutes.

2. Montana State (9-3): Losing QB “Touchdown” Tommy Mellott on the first series in the national title game was a tough break for the Bobcats. “What could’ve been” is going to be the theme of the offseason, but that still shouldn’t put a damper on a fantastic year, which ended with the program’s first national title game appearance since 1984.

3. South Dakota State (11-4): The Jackrabbits will lose some star power, but RB Isaiah Davis returns. He should be in the running (pun intended) for the Walter Payton Award in 2022.

4. Montana (10-3): I like the brand of football Montana plays, and it should be considered one of the preseason title favorites next season.

5. James Madison (12-2): The Dukes are off to the FBS and the Sun Belt Conference. They leave the FCS with two national championships (2004, 2016).

6. Sam Houston (11-1): The 2021 calendar year was special for the Bearkats, which won their only FCS national championship in the spring and ran the table during the fall regular season. Until their loss to Montana State in the playoffs, the Bearkats had won 21 straight games. Simply remarkable. Like James Madison, Sam Houston is now off to the FBS.

7. Eastern Washington (10-3): Losing Barriere to graduation will be a big hurdle to overcome, but if there’s one thing we’ve seen EWU do rather well, it’s reload at quarterback. 

8. Villanova (10-3): Defensively, the Wildcats should be excellent again next season. What will they do at QB will be the biggest question.

9. Kennesaw State (11-2): Coming off of a rare “down” season during the spring, the Owls ran — literally — all over the competition during the fall. 

10. East Tennessee State (11-2): One of the best stories of 2021 in the FCS was the rise of the Bucs. Even with stud tailback Quay Holmes off to the NFL, Jacob Saylors is ready for the spotlight after running for more than 1,000 yards with 10 rushing touchdowns last season.

11. Southeastern Louisiana (9-4): Replacing QB Cole Kelley will be the primary goal for the Lions this offseason.

12. Incarnate Word (10-3): What a spectacular season for the Cardinals, led by QB Cameron Ward, who has leveled up and transferred to Washington State. Such is life in this era of college football, and thus it creates a huge void at the most important position for UIW.

13. Sacramento State (9-3): The Hornets had an excellent 2021 season, going undefeated in Big Sky play and hosting a home playoff game.

14. Jackson State (11-2): Coach Prime’s Tigers were the talk of the season and, currently, the offseason after landing two top-50 recruits for the 2022 class (Travis Hunter and Kevin Coleman). Expect the Tigers to be a top-25 mainstay for as long as Coach Prime is in Jackson. QB Shedeur Sanders walked away with the Jerry Rice Award for top freshman and Coach Prime took home the Eddie Robinson Award.

15. UT-Martin (10-3): The Skyhawks were one of the good stories of the season, but now they must replace QB Keon Howard, who played a major role in their turnaround this past season.

16. UC Davis (8-4): The Aggies were a bit erratic and faded down the stretch, so expect HC Dan Hawkins to tighten up on the consistency next season.

17. Missouri State (8-4): This will be one of the fun teams to watch in 2022. Coach Bobby Petrino has the Bears headed in the right direction.

18. Dartmouth (9-1): One of the best coaches in football, Buddy Teevens, is coming off yet another Ivy League title, his fifth all-time at his alma mater. 

19. Stephen F. Austin (8-4): “Any time, anywhere” is the motto of the Lumberjacks, and they should be one of the favorites to win the WAC next season.

20. Florida A&M (9-3): The Rattlers were able to kick through the FCS playoffs door, representing the SWAC for the first time since 1997 — their inaugural year in the conference after leaving the MEAC. Coach Willie Simmons has his squad primed for a Celebration Bowl appearance in 2022.

21. Holy Cross (10-3): The Crusaders upset an FBS team this past season (UConn) and won their third straight Patriot League title under coach Bob Chesney.

22. Southern Illinois (8-5): I dubbed them the “Cardiac Salukis” this season, but make no mistake, the amount of talent in Carbondale is a big reason why they are never out of a ball game.

23. Princeton (9-1): Coach Bob Surace and his Tigers took home a share of the Ivy League title in 2021. With a strong roster, he will keep Princeton in contention for the Ivy crown every year.

24. Sacred Heart (8-4): The Pioneers will look to remain atop the NEC next season after a stellar 2021. This team is built the right way on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

25. South Carolina State (7-5): What coach Buddy Pough does from a developmental standpoint is remarkable. He does more with less than any other coach in college football. The Bulldogs have produced prospects that not only garner Senior Bowl invites — Alex Taylor, Javon Hargrave, Darius Leonard and DeCobie Durant among them — but also end up being NFL Draft picks. They ran the table in the MEAC and upset Jackson State in the Celebration Bowl. Never count out a Pough-coached team. SC State could be a problem in 2022.

Teams that could surprise in 2022: Alabama A&M, Eastern Kentucky, Merrimack, Fordham, Mississippi Valley State, William & Mary, Monmouth

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