Eagles No. 5 in STATS Preseason Top 25 poll - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Eagles No. 5 in STATS Preseason Top 25 poll

Courtesy: EWU Athletics Courtesy: EWU Athletics

By EWU Athletics

The reigning national champion James Madison Dukes were picked Monday (Aug. 7) as an overwhelming preseason No. 1 in the STATS NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Top 25, with Eastern Washington ranked fifth.

James Madison, which won the CAA Football title and only lost to North Carolina in a 14-1 season, collected 134 of the 163 first-place votes and 4,034 points in the national media poll. On the way to winning their second national title, the Dukes ended North Dakota State's five-year championship run in the semifinals. Last year's FCS runner-up, Youngstown State, is ninth.

NDSU was picked second in the preseason poll, followed in the Top 5 by Sam Houston State, South Dakota State and Eastern Washington. The Missouri Valley Football Conference had a poll-high six teams and the CAA was second with five. Eastern received 3,270 points, with fellow Big Sky Conference members North Dakota ranking eighth (2,871) and Cal Poly coming in at No. 23 (427). Eastern doesn't play Cal Poly, but takes on North Dakota on Nov. 11 in Grand Forks, N.D., in a showdown of undefeated Big Sky co-champions in 2016 (both were 8-0 and didn't play each other).

Highlighted by an 11-game winning streak, the Eagles finished the 2016 season 12-2 overall. Eastern was the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs, and ranked third in the final STATS FCS Top 25 regular season poll. After rolling through its first two opponents in the playoffs, Eastern suffered a heartbreaking loss to Youngstown State in the semifinals. Eastern ended the year ranked fourth in the final poll after coming so agonizingly close to returning to its first NCAA Division I Championship game since 2010 when the Eagles won the national title.

The Eagles had their 11-game winning streak ended by the Penguins, who needed an improbable catch with one second left to pull out the 40-38 victory. EWU hadn't lost since falling to five-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State 50-44 in overtime on Sept. 10, and one week before that had knocked off Washington State of the Pac-12 Conference 45-42.

The Eagles scored 69 unanswered points in the playoffs in defeats of 31-14 over Central Arkansas (ranked 15th in this year's preseason poll) and 38-0 over Richmond (seventh in the preseason). Eastern entered the Youngstown State game with shutouts in seven of eight playoff quarters, and had allowed a total of just 449 in two games. However, the Eagles had just 56 offensive plays to 80 for the Penguins, which out-gained EWU in total offense 506-478.

Top-seeded North Dakota State had won five-straight FCS titles and 22-consecutive postseason games before top-seeded NDSU was defeated at home by fourth-seeded JMU 27-17 in the semifinals. James Madison went on to beat YSU 28-14 in the NCAA Division I Championship Game.


 

More on the STATS Preseason Top 25 Poll . . .

James Madison has reloaded its lineup for a potential championship repeat, adding some FBS transfers to a lineup that already featured 12 returning starters. Tight end Jonathan Kloosterman, left tackle Aaron Stinnie, defensive end Andrew Ankrah and safety Raven Greene earned STATS FCS Preseason All-America honors. The Dukes have begun fall camp in preparation for their season opener, Sept. 2 at East Carolina.

North Dakota State was a motivated team at the start of preseason camp, having not returned as the FCS champion for the first time in six years. The Bison (12-2), however, are coming off a share of their sixth straight Missouri Valley title. Coach Chris Klieman's team returns 14 starters plus All-America linebacker Nick DeLuca, but it lost All-America defensive end Greg Menard to a season-ending knee injury in preseason practices.

Sam Houston State, like North Dakota State, was eliminated in last year's playoffs by James Madison. The defending Southland Conference champion Bearkats (12-1) return 13 starters, led by quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe, the 2016 STATS FCS Walter Payton Award recipient, and defensive end P.J. Hall. Their coach, K.C. Keeler, won the 2016 STATS FCS Eddie Robinson Award.

South Dakota State earned a share of its first Missouri Valley title last season, and this year coach John Stiegelmeier and the Jackrabbits (9-4) have national championship aspirations. Among their 15 returning starters are the dominating triumvirate of quarterback Taryn Christion, tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Jake Wieneke.

Eastern Washington will seek its fifth Big Sky title in six seasons as another of the national title contenders. The Eagles (12-2) no longer have coach Beau Baldwin leading the way, but veteran offensive line coach Aaron Best has taken over in a likely seamless transition. Quarterback Gage Gubrud, who threw for an FCS single-season record 5,160 yards, is one of 14 returning starters.

The rest of the Top 10 was Ohio Valley Conference champion Jacksonville State (10-2); Richmond (10-3); Big Sky co-champ North Dakota (9-3); Youngstown State (12-4), 2016 the national runner-up; and Villanova (9-4).

Wofford (10-4) held the No. 11 ranking, followed by Chattanooga (9-4), New Hampshire (8-5), Big South co-champ Charleston Southern (7-4), Central Arkansas (10-3), Southern Conference champ The Citadel (10-2), Patriot League champ Lehigh (9-3), Northern Iowa (5-6), Samford (7-5) and Illinois State (6-6).

Rounding out the Top 25 were SWAC champ Grambling State (11-1), Fordham (8-3), Cal Poly (7-5), Albany (7-4) and Western Illinois (6-5).
A national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries select the STATS FCS Top 25. 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 will be released every Monday afternoon during the regular season, except for Sunday morning, Nov. 19, 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. 6 in Frisco, Texas.
 

STATS FCS Top 25
Preseason Rankings
Rank School Votes Prev
1 James Madison (0-0) 4034 (134) NR
2 North Dakota State (0-0) 3874 (19) NR
3 Sam Houston State (0-0) 3610 (7) NR
4 South Dakota State (0-0) 3385 (2) NR
5 Eastern Washington (0-0) 3270 NR
6 Jacksonville State (0-0) 3081 (1) NR
7 Richmond (0-0) 3041 NR
8 North Dakota (0-0) 2871 NR
9 Youngstown State (0-0) 2658 NR
10 Villanova (0-0) 2628 NR
11 Wofford (0-0) 2543 NR
12 Chattanooga (0-0) 1995 NR
13 New Hampshire (0-0) 1741 NR
14 Charleston Southern (0-0) 1710 NR
15 Central Arkansas (0-0) 1685 NR
16 Citadel (0-0) 1545 NR
17 Lehigh (0-0) 1369 NR
18 UNI (0-0) 924 NR
19 Samford (0-0) 893 NR
20 Illinois State (0-0) 876 NR
21 Grambling State (0-0) 692 NR
22 Fordham (0-0) 604 NR
23 Cal Poly (0-0) 427 NR
24 Albany (0-0) 418 NR
25 Western Illinois (0-0) 367 NR


Others: North Carolina Central (326) , Weber State (322) , Northern Arizona (307) , McNeese (261) , San Diego (250) , Montana (215) , North Carolina A&T (198) , Kennesaw State (154) , Liberty (134) , Tennessee State (102) , UT Martin (90) , South Dakota (87) , Harvard (36) , Saint Francis U (31) , Delaware (27) , Princeton (23) , South Carolina State (22) , Nicholls (21) , Southeastern Louisiana (20) , Southern Utah (17) , Penn (14) , Duquesne (14) , Stony Brook (13) , Maine (11) , Montana State (6) , Mercer (6) , Southern Illinois (5) , Alcorn State (4) , William & Mary (4) , Eastern Illinois (3) , ETSU (3) , Wagner (3) , Eastern Kentucky (2) , Indiana State (1) , Bethune-Cookman (1) , Dayton (1)
 

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