FCS football ranking: Sam Houston is No.1 in 2021 preseason poll

After an unprecedented 2020-21 spring football season, FCS fall football is back. The same goes for the Stats Perform Top 25 preseason poll.

Sam Houston will enter the year as the No.1 preseason as he looks to defend his title.

With the first games kicking off on August 28, here’s a look at the top 25 teams in the August 9 poll.




Final 2020-21

1 Sam Houston (39) 1228 1
2 James Madison (8) 1180 3
3 South Dakota State (4) 1156 2
4 North Dakota State 1116 5
5 Delaware 1017 4
6 Weber State 927 9
7 Southern Illinois 888 8
8 North Dakota 886 6
9 Montana 778 NR
ten Jacksonville State 744 7
11 Eastern Washington 659 ten
12 Montana State 654 NR
13 Monmouth 618 11
14 Central Arkansas 561 NR
15 Southeast Louisiana 559 20
16 Villanova 440 16
17 VMI 397 12
18 Chattanooga 295 NR
19 Kennesaw State 255 17
20 Austin peay 227 23
21 Northern Iowa 219 NR
22 Nicholls 173 25
23 UC Davis 172 14
24 State of missouri 168 13
25 North Carolina A&T 159 NR

Also receive votes: Murray State (157), Richmond (113), ETSU (99), Sacramento State (57), Alabama A&M (49), Florida A&M (47), New Hampshire (42), Alcorn State (35), Holy Cross (22 ), Samford (20), UIW (19), Sacred Heart (17), Albany (14), Illinois State (10), Rhode Island (10), South Carolina State (10), Stephen F. Austin (10), Duquesne (4), Southeast Missouri (3)

The top 5

1. Sam Houston (WAC)

Sam Houston starts the 2021 season with hopes of defending his first national title. The Bearkats haven’t lost since November 2019 and return to a talented roster with many preseason All-Americans. Led by junior Redshirt quarterback Eric Schmid and senior defensive lineman Jahari Kay, Sam Houston looks to continue his winning streak.

CHAMPIONS: Relive the race for the 2020-21 Bearkats Championship

2. James Madison (CAA)

It’s been five years since we’ve seen James Madison lift the Championship trophy in 2016, but he has remained a top program in the FCS. This year shouldn’t be any different as the Dukes enter 2021 with redemption in mind after taking a 24-3 lead in last year’s semi-finals. Still dominant in Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) conference play, James Madison has championship aspirations fueled by five returning All-Americans.

3. State of South Dakota (MVFC)

The Jackrabbits failed to win their first title last spring, losing 23-21 to Sam Houston in the Championship game. Still, that loss comes with extensive playoff experience as South Dakota State returns 10 starters on both sides of the ball. That includes Walter Payton Award finalist, junior running back Pierre Strong Jr. The State of South Dakota enters the season as a favorite in the always-competitive Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC).

4. State of North Dakota (MVFC)

For the first time since 2017, North Dakota State will not start the season as the defending champion. This is a rare event for the Bison, who have won eight of the last 10 FCS Championships. With one of the FCS’s top wide receivers, Christian Watson, the North Dakota State roster is talented as always with a handful of NFL prospects.

WINNER: schools with the most FCS championships

5. Delaware (CAA)

The Blue Hens burst onto the scene last spring, advancing to the semifinals after missing the playoffs the year before. With playoff experience under its belt, Delaware is here to prove that last season wasn’t an accident. On offense, Delaware has a rushed offense powered by CAA Returning Player of the Year, running back Dejoun Lee and All-American left tackle David Kroll. Combined with fellow safe All-American Kendrick Whitehead patrolling the defense, the Blue Hens enter the season with talent that should have them as a top team again.

Surprise movement

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A look at the leaderboard will show three teams in the top 15 unranked at the end of last spring. Montana (9), Montana State (12) and Central Arkansas (14) may surprise unsuspecting fans with their preseason rankings, but there’s a good reason behind their sudden surge. Montana State did not play last year. Central Arkansas and Montana have played a handful of non-conference games in the fall and spring, respectively. When fall kicks off for these three teams, they will look to remind FCS why they belong in the conversation with the best in the country.

SURVEYS: Find out where your team ended up in the FCS preseason standings

24. State of Missouri (MVFC)

While the state of Missouri’s position in the preseason poll doesn’t differ much from other national rankings, it does stand out. Missouri State finished last season with an MVFC title share and playoff experience. The Bears have dropped 11 spots in the offseason. With the return of seven players from all preseason conferences, including All-American cornerback Montrae Braswell, Missouri State’s drastic drop in the standings could be a bit of a surprise.

Other teams to watch

8. North Dakota (MVFC)

At No.8 in the preseason poll, North Dakota are looking to build on a season that ended with a share of the MVFC title and playoff quarterfinals. With US running back Otis Weah in the backfield, the Fighting Hawks can make some noise in the deep MVFC.

10. Jacksonville State (ASUN)

Last spring we saw Jacksonville State advance to the FCS quarterfinals before a narrow loss ended their season. Now members of the ASUN conference, the Gamecocks will look to improve their result from last season. They should get a boost with the return of quarterback Zerrick Cooper, who missed the game last spring with an injury. Cooper enters the year just 161 yards from being the school’s all-time best passer.

15. Southeast Louisiana (Southland)

Any program firing a Walter Payton Award winner should be on everyone’s radar. Southeast Louisiana and reigning award-winning quarterback Cole Kelley have caught the attention of many after a season where he scored 27 total touchdowns. With the help of All-American defensive end Ferlando Jordan, the Lions could shock some teams in 2021.

HISTORY OF THE WALTER PAYTON PRIZE: Meet the past winners of the Walter Payton Prize

25. North Carolina A&T (Great South)

North Carolina A&T received 159 votes in the preseason poll. No longer part of the MEAC, the Aggies will play their inaugural season in the Great South this year. Before leaving MEAC, the Aggies won the last three Celebration Bowls. With preseason All-American running back Jah-Maine Martin in the backfield, North Carolina A&T will look to make a statement in their new conference and advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

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