OVC heats up with three in STATS FCS Top 25

(STATS) – Just in time for the start of conference play, the Ohio Valley Conference has three teams ranked in the STATS FCS Top 25. It’s going so well for the conference that even Austin Peay has ended a 29-game losing streak.

Yes, everybody’s ready to take their best shot at three-time defending champion Jacksonville State in the much-improved OVC.

Coming off a bye, the Gamecocks held their No. 5 ranking in the national media poll Monday. In fact, the top eight teams went unchanged, led by No. 1 James Madison, the 2016 FCS national champion.

Jacksonville State (3-0) faces a big test Saturday when it hosts No. 19 Liberty in a nonconference game, but the rest of the OVC is set to open their conference schedules, and the other Top 25 matchup is even more important: No. 24 UT Martin hosts No. 20 Tennessee State.

UT Martin (2-1) is appearing in the Top 25 for the first time since Sept. 30, 2013, and it may have come a week late because the Skyhawks, coming off a strong showing at Ole Miss, won 21-7 at Chattanooga on Saturday to knock the Mocs out of the Top 25 for the first time in four years.

“It makes my job easier on the motivation and guys are ready to play,” UT Martin coach Jason Simpson said. “It’s going really well.”

Tennessee State (3-0), which opened the season by beating Georgia State for its first FBS win, just defeated rival Florida A&M 24-13 in the Tampa Classic.

“It’s very important to be 3-0 right now. It builds confidence in the team,” said wide receiver Patrick Smith, the OVC’s preseason offensive player of the year. “It helps you think about being 4-0, 5-0 and take it one game at a time. We feel like the only people who can stop us is us.”

Still, someone is going to have to stop Jacksonville State, which has won 24 straight OVC games – the longest conference streak in the FCS.

The longest winning streak in the subdivision belongs to James Madison (3-0), which stretched it to 15 games by routing Norfolk State 75-14 on Saturday. The streak began against Maine last September and that’s who the Dukes host this week as the CAA Football schedule, and conference games across the nation, begin to heat up.

James Madison claimed 156 of the 163 first-place votes (95.7 percent) and 4,067 points to hold a sizeable lead over No. 2 North Dakota State (2-0), one of the poll-high six teams from the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

Following in the Top 10 were No. 3 Sam Houston State (2-0), South Dakota State (3-0), Jacksonville State, Youngstown State (2-1), Villanova (2-1), Richmond (2-1), Wofford (2-0) and The Citadel (3-0).

Eastern Washington (1-2) moved up one spot to No. 11 after routing Fordham. The Big Sky power was followed by Central Arkansas (2-1), South Dakota (3-0), Illinois State (2-0), New Hampshire (2-1), Liberty (3-0), North Dakota (1-2), Samford (2-1), Western Illinois (2-0) and Tennessee State.

Rounding out the Top 25 were North Carolina A&T (3-0), which gained an FBS win over Charlotte; Grambling State (2-1); Weber State (2-1), which had been out of the rankings for one week; UT Martin; and Holy Cross (2-1), whose 51-26 upset of New Hampshire earned its first Top 25 appearance since Sept. 13, 2010.

Chattanooga, Charleston Southern and Northern Iowa fell out of the rankings.

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.