Elon, Albany, others on rise in STATS FCS Top 25

(STATS) – Welcome to the year of the underdog in the FCS.

Well, try telling that to James Madison and North Dakota State.

But the storyline of the 2017 season isn’t just about the national powers. Elon joined the STATS FCS Top 25 on Monday for the first time since Oct. 11, 2010, marking the fourth team this month to appear in the rankings after at least a four-year absence.

The CAA Football program has earned its way in after back-to-back upsets of Top 25 teams, Charleston Southern and Richmond, to improve to 3-1.

The Phoenix weren’t the only team to rise in the national media poll. Albany, which had been in the preseason poll, returned at No. 19, while Western Illinois and UT Martin also used big wins to climb six spots each to No. 13 and 18, respectively.

“For us, it’s nice. The fans loved it,” Albany coach Greg Gattuso said Monday about his team’s first-ever win over Villanova, 19-10 in overtime. “But for the football program, the first thing we talked about after the game was we knew Elon had upset Richmond and we know how big that football game’s going to be. We don’t really celebrate it too much, we just try to look forward to the next week and try to keep some momentum.”

The top six spots in the rankings did not change heading toward a weekend in which there will be five games, including Albany-Elon, that match Top 25 teams. Reigning national champion James Madison (4-0) beat Maine 28-10 after trailing in the third quarter of its CAA opener and claimed 154 of the 162 first-place votes (95.1 percent) and 4,041 points.

“For us,” JMU coach Mike Houston said, “to face some adversity, be able to keep our nose to the grindstone and kind of keep fighting, keep plugging and then find a way to win it there in the second half, just really pleased with it.”

North Dakota State (3-0) shut out Robert Morris 56-0 in its final nonconference game to hold at No. 2, gaining five first-place votes. Third-ranked Sam Houston State (3-0) had two first-place votes and No. 4 South Dakota State (3-0) one. Jacksonville State (2-1) was fifth and Youngstown State (2-1) sixth. Youngstown will host South Dakota State on Saturday in one of the week’s biggest games.

Southern Conference powers Wofford (3-0) and The Citadel (3-0) made slight moves up to No. 7 and 8, respectively, while Eastern Washington (2-2) was ninth and South Dakota (3-0) 10th.

Central Arkansas (2-1) gained a spot to No. 11 heading toward its pivotal Southland Conference matchup against Sam Houston on Saturday. The Bears were followed by Illinois State (3-0); Western Illinois (3-0), which routed FBS member Coastal Carolina 52-10; Villanova (2-2); New Hampshire (3-1); Richmond (2-2); North Carolina A&T (4-0); UT Martin (3-1), which beat Tennessee State 31-16 in a big Ohio Valley Conference matchup; Albany (3-1); and Weber State (3-1).

Rounding out the Top 25 were defending SWAC champion Grambling State (2-1), Liberty (3-1), Elon, Tennessee State (3-1) and Samford (2-2). Elon’s inclusion in the rankings gave the CAA a sixth team to tie the Missouri Valley Football Conference for the poll high. All of the Valley teams were ranked in the top 13.

North Dakota and Holy Cross fell from the Top 25 following losses.

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 is 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.